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Notebook for Night Owls: The Velvet Underground

Nineveh

Andy Warhol’s new discotheque seems to be an attempt to instill permanence into a private joke. Presided over by the Velvet Underground, and decorated with colored lights, slides and films, it occupies a long mirrored room atop the Polski Dom on St. Mark’s Place, and has the air of a dancing party out of “The Masque of the Red Death.” Most discotheques seem to have been constructed around Sartre’s famous principle that hell is other people, but Warhol, being an innovator, has gone further than other entrepreneurs. He has so arranged his discotheque that his patrons tend to feel, after five minutes in the place, that they have wandered into some evangelist’s vision of Nineveh and that perhaps it is time to mend their ways.

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The room is, of course, very dark, and it is streaked with reddish light. The Velvet Underground, consisting of three guitarists, two dancers, and a pretty girl named Nico who sings a little, disport themselves for most of the evening on a raised stage against a back projection of films and slides. Since the musicians in the group, although loud, are comparatively unskilled, the patron’s attention is mainly focused on Gerard Malanga, who dances continuously, in a style which combines feverishness and languor, in front of the band. He wears leather pants and a tee-shirt imprinted with a picture of Marlon Brando, and he is occasionally partnered by a girl named Ingrid Superstar. But the real star of the show is a strobe beamed upon the audience but usually kept focused on Malanga. When he dances inside the strobe beam Malanga shimmers as if he were in a St. Vitus attack.

Halfway through their set Gerard Malanga and Ingrid Superstar pick up a couple of coiled leather whips and, while the musicians play a song of which the only distinguishable line is “Whip your mistress till you reach his heart,” they do a sadomasochistic ballet which ends with Malanga kneeling with his head against Ingrid Superstar’s thighs while she pantomimes whipping him. This piece seems to impress the audience profoundly. All the dancers on the floor stop to watch (all except one couple who appear to be part of the show and who continue all night to dance a sort of ritualistic Watusi), and a few people whisper to their partners that poor Malanga needs a rest. Then the group swings into a fast number, complete with whistles and sirens, the lights begin to flicker wildly, half the audience covers its ears, and Malanga dances off the stage to recover from his exertions.

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It was at this point, on the night I was there, that a thin dark girl in a blue pants suit seized her escort and announced to him that she was going immediately to church. Her partner, who was dressed like Lord Byron in a flowing ruffled shirt, pointed out quite sensibly that since it was past midnight she might be better off going to bed, but the girl said that the weight of her sins had grown so heavy upon her that she could not rest another minute without confessing them. Several people in her vicinity nodded approvingly. ♦

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES Scene THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Documents Link Studio 54 to Mob

The Ties That Bind: Documents confiscated from Studio 54 reveal some interesting connections

A detailed inventory of all documents seized Decem­ber 14 by federal agents in the Studio 54 raid reveals ties between the disco’s owners and alleged organized-­crime figures.

Contrary to disco attorney Roy Cohn’s claim that all the IRS Organized Crime Strike Force found was  “… an appointment book and a list of parties coming up at Studio 54,” agents confiscated materials linking owners Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell to Sam Jacob­son, the alleged Queens-Williamsburg loan-shark king and racketeer.

Rumors of Studio 54’s link with organized-crime figures began when it became known that Ian Schrag­er’s father was the late Louis Schrager, also known as ”Max the Jew,” the legendary chief of Williamsburg loan-shark and racketeer operations. Louis Schrager was described in the State Liquor Authority file on Stu­dio 54 as “… a convicted felon who was a known as­sociate of Meyer Lansky and was second only to Her­man Siegel in Lansky’s loansharking and numbers rackets.”

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Meyer Lansky, the mob’s financial wiz and a key figure in the development of Las Vegas, turned gangsters into “businessmen,” fun­neling much of the mob’s activities into the high-profit, cash-laundering businesses of entertainment, night clubs, and resorts.

The late Louis Schrager left a large estate and trust for his wife Blanche and son Ian consisting of various businesses and real estate. According to State Liquor Authority files, the late Schrager’s alleged Queens-Wil­liamsburg criminal activities were taken over by the Jacobson brothers, Sam, Dan, and Ralph.

Ralph Jacobson was convicted on income­-tax charges and extortion in 1975. Ralph and Dan were both indicted in 1972 for the mur­der of Queens nightclub owner Conrad Greaves, in an alleged loan sharking and ex­tortion con. They were never convicted. Also indicted for the murder were Tommy DiLeo and Pasquale Macchairole (Patti Mac), whose bodies were found recently in plastic bags in the trunks of their cars. Sam was indicted but not convicted of tax fraud in 1972.

When Studio 54 applied for a liquor li­cense in the spring of 1977, the SLA inves­tigator asked Ian Schrager about his relation­ship with Sam Jacobson. The investigator’s sources indicated that Jacobson not only took over the late Louis Schrager’s business but moved in with Schrager’s widow, thus be­coming Ian Schrager’s surrogate father. Ian Schrager, in a sworn statement to the SLA, denied any connection with Sam Jacobson, stating that while he knew Jacobson, he hadn’t seen him in many years, that he had “… no contact with him and have no per­sonal knowledge whatsoever about him or his activities.”

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However, the IRS inventory, a matter of public record now filed at the U.S. Court Clerk’s office, appears to show that Sam Jacobson managed aspects of the Louis Schrag­er estate. The evidence includes two letters concerning Schrager estate matters labeled “441,” addressed to Sam Jacobson and dated May 8, 1970, and March 13, 1970. Also found in the raid was a brown accordion fold­er marked SAM JACOBSON-PERSONAL. That file contained, among other things, one letter dated May 5, 1974, a promissory note dated March 12, 1975, a number of legal pads marked SAM, and a financial statement dated March 17, 1975.

The most damaging document that may indicate that Sam Jacobson had an undis­closed financial interest in Studio 54 is a five­ column payment sheet with the main head-ing, STEVE RUBELL—SAM JACOBSON. The first of 11 entries reads, “W/E [week ending] 6/25, $2500.” The final entry reads “$22,500.” More information will certainly come out as the IRS develops its case.

Unlike the State Liquor Authority, the IRS has muscle. And while the State Liquor Authority was on the right track in question­ing Schrager about the source of his funding, the agency failed to produce a strong case be­cause the co-owners balked at supplying requested financial records. The agency report states that some of the checks Studio 54 did present as evidence “… never cleared a bank, bearing no imprint on the front or back.”

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Roy Cohn also claimed that the search war­rant, obtained by the strike force on Decem­ber 12 from U.S. District Judge Robert Carter, was based on “a phony tip.” Who sup­plied the information that justified the search warrant? That fact is currently “sealed” by the courts, even from Cohn. Studio 54’s law­yers are challenging the order and demand­ing that the material be unnealed. (If it is un­sealed, the basis for the search might be chal­lenged, if and only if the information was in­deed “phony.”)

Meanwhile, Studio 54 is taking the matter very seriously, having hired two additional law firms to represent them. Caplin and Drysdale, a high-powered, Washington­-based firm, will represent Studio 54 in the matter of possible tax fraud. “We will be representing the corporation only,” says Caplin. “As individuals, the co-owners are represented by Paul, Weiss.” Mortimer Cap­lin was the IRS commissioner from 1961 to 1964 and is one of the nation’s best tax law­yers. The second firm, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison, is highly respected in New York. Both these firms will have to ex­plain how it was that, according to the books, Studio 54 lost money at certain times, as its owners have sworn to the State Liquor Au­thority. They will also have to explain countless weekly cash payout envelopes. According to one key former Studio 54 employee and other sources, Studio 54 was not just skimming a few bucks here and there; they were walking off with from 50 to 70 per cent of the cash take. That’s millions.

Roy Cohn will be representing Ian Schrager in Schrager’s more immediate criminal complaint: “intent to distribute a Schedule II narcotic … cocaine.” While Peter Sudler, the assistant U.S. Attorney in charge of the case against Studio 54, refused to comment any aspect of the case, his complaint states that Schrager walked into Studio 54 on De­cember 14 at 9:30 a.m. just after the federal agents had arrived. Schrager was carrying books, records, and other documents. After the agents identified themselves, Schrager placed these materials on the floor. On top of the pile an agent found a white envelope with five packets of what turned out to be unusu­ally high-quality cocaine — about 50 per cent pure, unlike common street cocaine that is usually only 10 to 20 per cent pure.

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Schrager’s indictment on the narcotics charge will be handed down in a few weeks and his trial must follow within 90 days. The charges could mean up to 15 years if Schrager is convicted.

While 300 Quaaludes were found in the Studio 54 safe, it is unlikely that criminal charges will result because of the difficulty in proving individual possession,

How will all this affect Studio 54? For the time being, it won’t. There are two agencies that license liquor-serving discos, the State Liquor Authority and the Department of Consumer Affairs.

Consumer Affairs is short staffed and al­most powerless in this area. Studio 54 has been operating without a cabaret license since August 28. All Consumer Affairs can do is send one of its three investigators charged with enforcing the cabaret laws for all of New York City to Studio 54 and slap them with a summons. The fine is usually $25 — a parking ticket can cost more — and the summons can be challenged in court and dragged out for years. Reno Sweeney, the 13th Street caba­ret, has never been licensed due to its resi­dentially zoned area. Despite this fact, Re­no’s has remained open for years. There is no reason that Studio 54 can’t do the same.

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Consumer Affairs Commissioner Bruce Ratner doesn’t think he should be in the dis­co-licensing business. “Ask me about TVs or unit pricing,” he said. “That’s where we can and should put our energies. Don’t expect us to keep organized crime out of New York night life!”

The State Liquor Authority has a wait­-and-see attitude. “We have nothing to do with the IRS case or the narcotics charge,” says Commissioner Lawrence Gedda. “And until there’s some resolution of the allega­tions, Studio 54’s status will remain the same.”

In fact, the State Liquor Authority tried to fight Studio 54 once before and lost. Accord­ing to a key SLA source, that attempt to deny the club a liquor license was a joke. Michael Roth, the head of the agency at the time, had political aspirations (he recently lost his bid for election as the state attorney general). Roth was at a party near Studio 54 when he heard that the disco was serving liquor with­out a license. Instead of sending in SLA in­vestigators night after night for a few weeks to establish continuous illegal sale of liquor, Roth stormed out of the party and raided 54 in grandstand style. The SLA’s case was therefore based on only one night of illegal sales — a minor charge. For this kind of ac­tion, Roth earned the nickname within the agency of “Mickey Mouse.”

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Even if Schrager is convicted, Studio 54 will no doubt be able to get around the State Liquor Authority. While it is illegal to have a convicted felon as the owner or co-owner of a licensed premise, Studio 54 can reincorpo­rate, dropping Schrager as a co-owner. That’s just a little paperwork. Then Schrager might be legally hired as a manager or consultant and paid whatever salary the “new” corporation feels he’s worth.

­

Studio 54 will remain the playground of the chic for now, pulling in $12 a head at the door, $3 a drink, and making lots of money  on private parties. The crowds will continue circling the door clamoring for admission. But the documented inventory of the IRS raid indicates that long after the chic set has moved on to a new watering hole, Rubell and Schrager will be busy with their battery of lawyers. ♦

 

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CULTURE ARCHIVES Dance Archives From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Scene THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Lost in Music: An Oral History of Disco

The Dancing Machine: An Oral History
Rock & Roll Quarterly, Summer 1993

GLORIA GAYNOR: I started out singing jazz, singing top 40 in clubs, and between sets, disc jockeys would come in to play and I knew that was the next storm coming; I saw that we were going to be phased out. We saw disco coming and decided we were going to furnish music for that.

LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY: Disco was the greatest time ever, and I am happy that I experienced it. When they went out, they went out with one thing in mind, and that was to party. Today it seems like there’s always a lot of fights. People had no hard­ness or no bad thinking on their mind, and everything was free. And it seemed like the peak to me.

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BARRY WHITE: The ’70s was very glamor­ous — the very first time I ever saw regular jeans go from $5 to $250. The consumers dressed up like they were the stars.

FELIPE ROSE: Disco was like a sense of youthfulness and decadent innocence that the era had. It was just a hot, hot, hot time.

KATHY SLEDGE: I honestly saw it happening but I wasn’t allowed to go out dancing. We were minors at that time period.

BARRY WHITE: It was a freedom time­ — more people experienced things and tried new things, whether it was drugs or whatev­er. It wasn’t about sex but love and sensual­ity, communicating, relating. There’s a world of difference between making love and having sex, and the ’70s was ap­proached as if it was a woman being ro­manced and made love to.

FELIPE ROSE: You wanted to look your hottest, and damn if you forgot your tam­bourine when you got that hit of acid. (I stole that from David Hodo who says it in the show.) You were going to meet fabulous people and you were going to party not just for that night, you were going to party for days.

KATHY SLEDGE: Disco snowballed the way it did because it got to be not just music, it got to be peoples’ social lives. People got to be stars and shine on their own.

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FELIPE ROSE: Every night was a different club, one after another, and there were real­ly no barriers in the clubs. There were blacks and whites, gays and straights — it was really more a harmonic thing. You never felt threatened when you went to a club. It’s not like today when you have to wonder who’s carrying a gun or something.

AUGUST DARNELL: We were very fond of disco because every artist needs some sort of movement to make them larger than they really are, and disco did that for us. It sort of gave us a niche, if you will, and a place in history. Some radio stations were calling us Dr. Buzzard’s Original Disco Band, and we never had a problem with that because we were all disco children. We used to hang out at Studio 54 so much that we should have been paying rent.

KATHY SLEDGE: When our song “He’s the Greatest Dancer” came out, it was after the Saturday Night Fever trend and everybody thought they were the greatest dancer. We literally had people come backstage and say, “I am the person you’re singing about.” They were definitely not introverts.

RAY CAVIANO: With disco, you were not an observer, you were a participant. You weren’t going to the party, you were the party.

JUDY WEINSTEIN: In a word? Drama.

RICHIE RIVERA: Party.

AUGUST DARNELL: I’d describe it as pas­sion or, better, neopassion — a passion for the modern times.

BARRY WHITE: Explosive, mystical, magi­cal. Disco brought a lot of smiles to peo­ples’ faces and I saw it everywhere in the world.

RAY CAVIANO: A disco record doesn’t let you dance, it makes you dance.

LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY: The producers, like Norman Harris, took the music and stressed it in the studio; when they started playing they never stopped. When I put down the vocals on “Hit and Run,” they told me to come back the next day and just work out on the break and I thought, This is the longest song I ever sang in my life. The music just went on and on.

KATHY SLEDGE: Disco music to me was musical elation. I think people forgot who they were for a minute: it had a way of lifting you, making you forget about your worries or your problems — almost like mesmerizing you. It was another way of reaching out and feeling like you’re a part of or belonging to the crowd.

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AUGUST DARNELL: Hurrah’s was one of the first clubs I went to, but I frequented Danceteria, the Mudd Club, Studio 54, the Continental Baths, Electric Circus — and there were at least a dozen after-hours places that  we used to hang out at. I’d have to look into my diaries to find out their names.

JUDY WEINSTEIN: The first club I ever went to was in downtown Brooklyn, called COCP; it was all black and I snuck out there on the weekends. I was like 16. Then there was Salvation, Sanctuary, Tarot across from Max’s, and Max’s for a minute. The Loft, 12 West, Flamingo once or twice. The Gallery, the Garage, Better Days, Infinity, Le Jardin, Studio 54, but those were work-related — the other places I lived at. I was a Loft baby.

RAY CAVIANO: The first club I can remember going to was the Firehouse, early in the ’70s. It was the first place where gay people could get together in an uninhibited way away from the bar scene.

RICHIE RIVERA: The first club I played at was the GAA Firehouse, on Wooster Street. Then Footsteps, Buttermilk Bottom, the Anvil, the Sandpiper on Fire Island, Fla­mingo, the Cock Ring, the Underground, 12 West (which became the River Club after the Saint opened), Studio 54, and back to the Cock Ring.

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FELIPE ROSE: We were like G.I. Joe action dolls under the strobe lights. The intensity back then was stronger, the volume was bigger. We were one of the only groups to go live with a band into the clubs, and when we appeared in stadiums, we brought motorcycles, a tepee, a Jeep, and Portosans — for the construction worker — on stage.

AUGUST DARNELL: We were a band with a mission — to bring dance music back to the world — and we felt like the crowds almost lived by a credo that dance is everything. In England now they have all these rave par­ties, but when people say there’s nothing like a rave, I say I saw all this in 1976 at Studio 54. Studio 54 was like ritual escap­ism to the max.

RAY CAVIANO: There was no question about it: the DJ was in full control — almost mind control — of the dance floor, and he had the capacity to take you on a trip. In some cases people felt it was a religious experience of sorts. It was almost a physical thing too — quasi-sexual. The DJ was ma­nipulating the dance floor through a whole steeplechase of sounds. I wanna take you higher.

RICHIE RIVERA: People got to trust me and we bounced off one another. I had a feel for what they might like so I’d go two or three degrees further, and they usually went along.

DAVID MANCUSO: Rule number one: Don’t let the music stop.

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RICHIE RIVERA: It was difficult for me to accept [Donna Summer’s] “Last Dance” when it came out. It was such a drastic change. For years, everybody had been refining their style so the music flowed non­stop. And all of a sudden here came a song where it stopped — and people needed that. They’d been dancing nonstop for years at that point.

RAY CAVIANO: Never speak to a DJ when he’s got the earphones on and mixing. Know when to talk to the DJ, not to inter­rupt his artistic flow. You’re talking to him during his performance.

JUDY WEINSTEIN: A DJ should always pay attention to his dance floor and entertain­ — that’s his job, to read the audience and react to what they want. Make them scream when they’re good and punish them when they’re bad.

DAVID MANCUSO: A night at the Loft was like three bardos. There was the coming together, calmness. In the first two hours, it starts out very smoothly, gathering. Second bardo would be like the circus: music, lights going, the balloons. Third bardo would be the reentry — going back to where you came from, maybe not the same person, but you land back on your feet gently, a little wiser and a little more sociable.

RAY CAVIANO: Every club was different. At Flamingo the DJ was like the Svengali of the dance floor, the maestro. Funhouse was a little more casual; Jellybean was looser.

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RICHIE RIVERA: At Flamingo, it was like Moses in a scene from The Ten Command­ments. At the Anvil, the booth was right in the middle of everything and people’s faces were like three or four feet away from me, so it was really like being in the heart of the whole proceedings.

RAY CAVIANO: The most famous booth in the industry was at the Paradise Garage. It was literally a who’s who of the music business in New York — from Frankie Crocker to any number of record company promo people. If a hot new record got played, word would spread like a bullet from that booth and within 48 hours you’d have a hit.

JUDY WEINSTEIN: At the Garage, I was the godmother of the booth. As the evening progressed from midnight on, there was a pattern as to who showed up. Early on, it was members of the music industry who came to promote their records but not necessarily to dance. They’d try to set up the DJ, Larry Levan, with a test pressing. After two, those people would disappear and the serious record people would show up. That’s when the party would start. After four or five, the booth would be void of anybody who wasn’t there to seriously dance or listen to music, and those people stayed until closing, sometimes until noon the next day.

RAY CAVIANO: The Infinity booth was famous for DJ groupies. The booth was high above the floor at one end of the room and Jim Burgess ruled. But the groupies had a certain amount of influence; they could get the records they liked played when some promo person didn’t have a chance.

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AUGUST DARNELL: I’d have to say my favorite club was Studio 54, it was so deca­dent and so exciting in that period to be part of something you knew was a world movement. It was a bit magical and the music was devastatingly loud. I was never into the alcohol or the drugs, so the appeal of the club was different for me from its appeal to other members of Savannah Band who will go nameless here. I went primarily for the glamor of it — so many beautiful women hanging out in one place. Steve Rubell did make it ridiculous after a while. He could stagger around higher than any­one I ever saw and still be coherent.

RICHIE RIVERA: In the course of a night, the tempo would generally curve downward, but sometimes the manager thought it was too gradual. People needed a remind­er when it was time to take the downs. They told me, You’ve got to do something to make them realize it’s time to start com­ing down — something dramatic. Some peo­ple showed up at four because they wanted to hear all that down stuff, what came to be known as sleaze music. They didn’t blend in with the earlier crowd, who were like Saturday Night Fever and just wanted to take speed and fly.

JUDY WEINSTEIN: Leaving the club, we’d hit the streets looking terribly ugly because we were all very worn out and soiled and everybody out there was fresh. We’d go out to breakfast and talk over the records, the show, the dish of the night, then go home and try to sleep. Come Sunday night, you were fried but not ready to call it a week­end, so Better Days was the dessert when Larry Levan had been the appetizer and dinner.

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LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY: I was working this gay club, right? And I talk a lot before I start to sing. And I said I want a lady to come up onstage that don’t mind being a bitch. I told her to look around for whatev­er man she wanted and I’d bring him up. And then I brought a guy — he was gay — up and instructed him to call up whoever he wanted and put his tongue way down their throat. He looked around for a minute and then grabbed me and turned me way over — you know how you do — and kissed me! The audience went crazy, but I never did that again.

FELIPE ROSE: In different clubs they would throw different things on the stage. Girls would throw bras, and guys would jump on stage and take off their shirts and flex for “Macho Man.”

KATHY SLEDGE: We did the club circuit in New York, and during the Son of Sam period, I learned how much people looked forward to going out at night and when they couldn’t how much they missed it. I re­member so clearly Disco Sally was at one of our shows. I saw her in the bathroom with this long brown fall on. They said Son of Sam was preying on women with long brown hair, and when I told her that, she just whipped it off and put it in her bag.

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BARRY WHITE:  I loved the people, the attitude of the people. The consumer participated not only listening to the music but dressing to the music.

GLORIA GAYNOR: I kind of liked trendy and funky clothes. I don’t like women showing more of their body than is really necessary, but I like fun clothes — sparkle blouses and all.

AUGUST DARNELL: The thing about the style of disco, in retrospect it was quite ridiculous and laughable. To be quite hon­est, I didn’t think much of the clothing, but the Beautiful People who came to 54, they did have style. The good thing was it gave people a reason to say “Let’s get dressed up and go out.”

JUDY WEINSTEIN: The downside was monotony — how a certain style of music I would be totally driven into the ground before a change would come. Like the whole Eurodisco thing: no change, no growth.

RICHIE. RIVERA: It did get a little repetitious. It became so “in” that everybody did it, or thought they could. I mean, Ethel Merman doing a disco album?

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KATHY SLEDGE: There was less pressure then. People came out to dance and have a good time, but it was kind of a double­-edged sword. Especially when the hustle came out, you could feel the cohesiveness on the dance floor, but it was also a lonely time. Like the place would be crowded with people, but a lot of them would be dancing alone.

JUDY WEINSTEIN: My best memory is standing in the middle of Paradise Garage in the early evening before the club filled up. Larry Levan was playing the O’Jays’ “I Love Music” and I was totally straight and just about totally alone and dancing by my­self and actually got lost in the music, trav­eled with the music and within the sound system — just me and the club.

DAVID MANCUSO: The night of the black­out, people stayed over all night. We had candles and played radios and people were sleeping over, camping out. It was very peaceful, a little Woodstockish. The party still went on.

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GLORIA GAYNOR: Disco started out as a sound and unfortunately evolved into a lifestyle that Middle America found dis­tasteful — and that was the demise of disco. It got into sex and drugs that really had nothing to do with the music but that was the lifestyle that identified with disco.

AUGUST DARNELL: The most decadent I got was dancing with two girls simulta­neously, but the decadence of it was great to observe. In the bowels of Studio 54, there was a higher high. But I was like an observer more than a participant. I was like a journalist witnessing a national event.

DAVID MANCUSO: If people were using drugs, they were mild and recreational, where today it’s all about economics. But three-quarters was purely spontaneous energy.

RAY CAVIANO: In hindsight, the experience was exhausting and the lifestyle was obvi­ously way beyond the call of duty. We were going to have a good time even if it was going to kill us. We wanted to take the trip as far as we could take it.

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LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY: What killed disco? The people behind the desks. They do what they wanna do. They changed disco into dance and they changed dance into house. But when you listen to it, it’s still all the same.

AUGUST DARNELL: I would imagine what happened is the same thing that will kill every innovative form: greed — people who don’t have the heart and soul of the music but just want to cash in on it. They think they have the formula without realizing that disco was much more than that at the beginning.

JUDY WEINSTEIN: Disco killed disco. The word disco killed disco. Like pop will eat itself, disco ate itself. Anything that be­comes too popular is apt to be destroyed by the same people who gave it the name.

AUGUST DARNELL: The music today — I call it disco part five.

BARRY WHITE: Disco was a sexy smooth era, very chic era. Now things are mechani­cal, more raw, closer to the streets. The attitude in America is distrust and disillu­sion. Now it’s time to rip, take the money and run, sell the country, sell your mother.

AUGUST DARNELL: It was a good period to go through because it was exaggerated and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you find your balance eventually. ♦

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THE PLAYERS

RAY CAVIANO: Parlayed his success as disco’s most persuasive promo man into a high-powered but short-lived deal for his own RFC label at Warner Bros. Al­though cocaine abuse left him broke and in jail (and landed him on the cover of the Voice in 1986), he bounced back to become a perennial promotion man of the year, most recently with MicMac, the New York freestyle indie, which let him go in March. Since then, Caviano’s dropped from sight.

AUGUST DARNELL: Cofounder of Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, lead­er of Kid Creole & the Coconuts, whose 1992 album, You Shoulda Told Me You Were… was their last for Columbia; since being dropped by the label, the group’s been without a deal. Darnell spends much of his time these days in Manchester, England “playing daddy” to two children, Ashley and Dario.

GLORIA GAYNOR: Crowned the first Queen of Disco after “Honeybee” and “Never Can Say Goodbye,” Gaynor orig­inated one of the most imitated disco formulas but faded from the American scene after “I Will Survive.” Her recent work has been in Italy (where her Gloria Gaynor ’90 album went gold), the Middle East, and Asia, but she says,”I think I’m ready to come home.”

LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY: One of the clubs’ fiercest ruling divas with “Hit and Run” and her Dan Hartman duet “Re­light My Fire.” She still rules, both as sampled wail and featured vocalist, most famously on Marky Mark’s “Good Vi­brations.” She’s currently preparing a second single for the Select label, due early fall.

DAVID MANCUSO: Mancuso turned his lower Broadway loft into a balloon-filled private party once a week in 1973, play­ing both DJ and host. One of the earliest New York membership clubs, the Loft has moved twice and shut down periodi­cally since then but remains a fixture, with Mancuso in full effect.

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RICHIE RIVERA: One of New York’s most popular and powerful DJs during the disco boom, Rivera last played at a club in 1983. He’s currently working in the chart department at HMV’s Upper West Side branch.

FELIPE ROSE: Discovered dancing on platforms in New York clubs by French producer Jacques Morali, Rose, a Puerto Rican Native American, was recruited to play the Indian in the Village People. Still wearing a feathered headdress, still singing “Macho Man,” he’s among the original People celebrating the group’s 16th anniversary this year.

KATHY SLEDGE: Thirteen when Sister Sledge was formed, Sledge “grew up in the business.” “We Are Family” remains the group’s anthem, but Kathy, now mar­ried with children, went solo last year with the album Heart.

JUDY WEINSTEIN: The cofounder of New York’s influential For the Record DJ pool in 1978, Weinstein is partners with DJ/remixer/producer David Mo­rales in Def Mix Productions which rep­resents Frankie Knuckles and Danny Madden.

BARRY WHITE: His “Love’s Theme” was the first disco single to top the pop charts in 1974. White continues his reign as king-size pillow talker with a retrospective boxed set on the market to be joined by a new album, Love Is the Icon, in September.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Scene

An Ofay’s Indirect Address to LeRoi Jones

The Press of Freedom: An Ofay’s Indirect Address to LeRoi Jones
March 4, 1965

Four men — each a well-known practitioner of one of the arts — appeared on a recent Monday night in the small basement room of the Village Vanguard to address an overflowing crowd on the grandly entitled subject “Art vs. Politics.” The men were Larry Rivers, painter; Archie Shepp, musician; Jonas Mekas, film-maker; LeRoi Jones, play­wright. The audience was predominantly — predictably — white, liberal, middle-class. They had come to be entertained and instructed. They stayed to be­come serious or delighted. They left in a roar of confused frus­tration, feeling as though they had, with unexpected stunning, been dealt a kick in the stomach and a few swift blows to the side of the head. For LeRoi Jones and Archie Shepp, whose evening it was, had told them repeatedly, “Die baby. The only thing you can do for me is die.”

It is almost impossible for me to train total recall on a con­versation which developed with the bewildering speed of a bar­room brawl. But here’s the gist of it:

Larry Rivers led off, reading from a prepared statement. Speaking of the artist’s relation to his audience, Mr. Rivers traced that changing phenomenon through Courbet, the Im­pressionists, the Futurists, the Surrealists, coming at last to the present time, in which, he concluded, the artist is his own audience; this not merely in the sense that a painter works for himself, but in the broader sense that in our time the art­ist’s greatest urge is to emphasize the similarity between his own fundamental desires and those of every other member of society. He put it something like this: I want to eat good, fuck good, work good … just like everybody else.

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Uneasy Stir

Archie Shepp, the next speaker, gaped for a moment at Ri­vers, seemed a bit nonplussed, muttered something about “Art, art. What the hell is all this talk about art?” and, with a shrug of the shoulders, launched into a comparatively mild ram­ble about a book he’d been reading the other night which described the first passage of slaves to this continent, a passage in which two-thirds of those slaves had died in the hold — and if this (Shepp’s) life and work didn’t represent an attempt to pay the homage of eternal remembrance to those two-thirds, well then … He ended by looking out at the au­dience and telling them that while he didn’t particularly want to put them down for the ofays they obviously were, still they couldn’t hope to understand what he was talking about.

Rivers’ head went back; the audience stirred uneasily (what was this? they were here as partisans — was this how you talked to partisans?); LeRoi Jones laughed softly and said “Take it easy, Archie. We’ve got all evening.” (The man is a veritable prophet.)

Mekas then struggled through a vague and rather incoherent speech (unfortunately because I suspect his point was, ultimately, the most worldly of them all) about how the experiences of wartime Europe had led him finally to understand that man’s only valuable occupation was his struggle to fashion for himself a more beautiful soul.

Theatre of Victims

Then Jones took the stand. He read a piece entitled “The Re­volutionary Theatre” (a piece, he informed the audience, which had been commissioned by the New York Times and then re­fused). In language of  poetic and highly imaginative insistence Jones claimed that it was the business of the theatre to reflect life … to stir up such hatred and such feeling that when the curtain comes down the theatre seats are soaked in the blood of split heads (needless to point out whose blood and whose split heads). This, he maintained, is a theatre of victims; by Western standards (sneer) perhaps a theatre of heroes … but victims all the same. He went on to quote the famous Oxford professor Wittgenstein as having said: “Ethics is aesthetics” and to point out that the white world has never understood or accepted this pro­position, intimating that the new Negro artist does understand it and will make damn sure that the whites do before they die.

In the long give-and-take (to be generous about it) that then ensued among the panelists, the dominance beat was one of unflagging insult from Shepp and Jones to the audience, the city, the country, the world — that is, to that section of it which was white, pure white. Nor did the other (white) panelists get off the hook. Mekas, who had been describing an interview between himself and Jack Smith and Mike Wallace, was suddenly asked by Jones: “Tell me, of you can, what is the difference be­tween Jack Smith and Mike Wallace.” To which Mekas had enough humorous composure to reply: “Mike Wallace would never be interviewed by Jack Smith.”

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The Different

But it was Larry Rivers who bore the brunt of the assault:

Shepp would turn to Rivers every now and then and say: “Man, you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.” And then: “They hire YOU at the Five Spot; they don’t hire me; that’s the whole difference, right there.” And then: “How do you feel about that? I know how I feel. How do you feel? What would you lay your ass on the line for? Nothing! That’s what. Or you? (To the audience, now.) You wouldn’t lay your asses on the line for shit!”

Jones told Rivers he was the exponent par excellence of the middle-class white world: “You aspire to the society of those faggoty uptown art dealers. You paint for them … ”

A round of protesting noises now went up from the audience. “What are you talking about?” cried a woman.

Shepp spoke with elaborate disdain or open anger of the pain with which he lived every day of his Negro life. Finally, in an eloquent outburst, he spoke of James Chaney, the young Negro who was murdered last summer In Mississippi:

“They beat him until unrecognizable. Unrecognizable! They only KILLED Schwerner and Goodman, but they beat Chaney to a pulp. They beat the humanity out of that boy. And in that act, in that heinous crime, in that unspeakable crime they accepted Schwerner  and Goodman and refused me. Even in death they are embraced and I am refused. Even in death America accepts its own. You” — he swung on the audience —  “you accept your own —and refuse me. And in that fact lies my pain.”

A boy in the audience, agitated now beyond endurance, jumped up and screamed, “Oh shit!”

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‘World ot Pain’ 

Shepp turned a glance of loathing on the boy. “Oh man,” he sighed,  “sit down. Just sit down. You hear that?” he ask­ed the audience, ”you hear that? Between me and that ‘Oh shit’ is a world of pain.”

“Oh shit, baby,” the boy screamed again. “I’ve been up tight for a year because of you!”

“Man,” said Shepp, “I don’t want to hear your life story. Will you listen to that? We’re getting a confession here.”

Then LeRoi Jones made a re­mark of stunning contempt. “His life story?” he sneered. “Why, you can turn on the TV set and get it any day of the week on ‘The Guiding Light.’ ”

From that instant it was cry­stal clear that the night be­longed to Jones — and had from the very beginning. (One had the feeling that Shepp had been tak­ing cues all along.) His anta­gonists multiplied by the min­ute … and, with incredible ease, he swung like a beam of light from one to another; his retorts came with deadly speed and precision; it was no sweat for him, no sweat at all, because it was abundantly clear that there were no separate faces in that audience for him. (For when it suits his purpose, Jones produces in his mind a vision of the “homogeneous American soul,” a soul whose only relevance consists in the fact that it dwells in a white skin.) The distinctions of age, sex, background, occupation were as though they never existed. Jones was talking to The Man and only The Man.

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What to Do

A small, round, bespectacled man, shaken with emotion, rose: “As a Jew and as a white man, I hear you.” (“Could you pos­sibly hear me in any other way?” interjected Jones.) “You say we are all guilty. What do you want us to do? What on earth do you want us to do?”

“Do, man? Do? There’s noth­ing you can do!” The malicious pleasure in his voice was thick enough to cut with a knife.

A woman with a contorted face and an eerie fluff of sil­ver-blonde hair shrieked: “What about Schwerner and Goodman? Don’t you care about them?”

“Absolutely not,” rapped out Jones. “Those boys were just artifacts, artifacts, man. They weren’t real. If they want to assuage their leaking consci­ences that’s their business. I won’t mourn them. I have my own dead to mourn for.”

A civil rights worker, his eyes popping behind his glasses, yelled: “These are not the facts! Maybe we are guilty be­cause we’re white. But God­dammit, we’re not all equally guilty. Some are more guilty than others.”

“Sort of like being ‘almost pregnant,’ Isn’t it?” laughed Jones.

A Women Strike for Peace type lady called out: “This af­ternoon 400 people marched on the U.N. to protest the bomb­ing in Vietnam. There wasn’t one Negro among them.”

“Why didn’t you send buses down to the garment district to collect some Negroes if you wanted to be all nice and representative? I mean, man, man, when were you marching? At three in the afternoon?” An answer for all eventualities.

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Clowns and Gorillas

A roar of anger began to fill the place; out of it Jones was suddenly saying: “You’ve all elected a Texas cracker to represent you, all of you!”

A sandy-haired man dressed in denims jumped to his feet. “Now that got to me,” he said in a soft Southern voice. He be­gan a rambling retort on the variety of pains to be suffered in this world, blurting out: “Man, I’ve paid my dues. And you know it, LeRoi.”

No-mercy Jones, a little tired now: “So you’ve been in jail and you write your confessions for the Saturday Evening Post.”

“I don’t write for the Satur­day Evening Post!” the blue-­jeaned man cried. “Just ’cause they buy it, don’t mean I write for ’em. I write for people … ” (Thus is passion seduced by farce.)

Casting a cold eye on the increasingly infuriated audience, Shepp said (straight into the mike): “Look at them. The clowns who come to throw peanuts at the gorillas. Only in this case it’s gorillas throwing peanuts at humans.”

Well, why go on with this? By now the direction of all this was obvious. By the end of the evening the audience was reduced to a screaming plead­ing, degraded, bewildered mob: Jones goal from the very beginning, of course.

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LeROI JONES LOOKS into my ofay face with cold steady eyes and in a soft, seductively rea­sonable voice accuses me:

  • You can never — but NEVER — understand the nature of my pain. To wake up in my skin, fall asleep in my skin, and live all the hours in between in my skin — this you can never know. There is nothing on earth you will ever experience that will give you the remotest clue to my life …
  • All whites are equally guilty — ALL — of the unforgivable crime of attempting to destroy my humanity.
  • The world under white au­thority has become a disgust­ing place: weak, shallow, cow­ardly. When we Negroes are in command things will be differ­ent. Your sins, your failings, your mistakes will be unknown among us; we will prove to be a better people.

As to the veracity of the first accusation: who is there to say him nay? Certainly not I. His pain, he claims, is relevant, and mine is not. I believe him. I believe every word of it. His ex­perience will remain forever foreign to me. This too I believe. Every now and then one looks into a man’s face or overhears an exchange or reads a page of print or sees a photograph and for one hideous instant there is revelation: blind, wordless, over­whelming. You stumble in your tracks, you have difficulty breathing, there is a terrible pressure in your head. That is the most, I think, that we who pass for white can ever know. That is the closest I can get to realizing the words of a young Negro woman I once knew — the intelligent, restrained, pro­foundly bourgeois daughter of a Harlem doctor — when she said, in an unbearable moment: “There are mornings when I get up and walk out in the street wishing I had a rifle with which to mow down every white face I see.”

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Lines Broken

As to the second accusation: where does one begin — in the name of reason and justice — to unravel the half-truths and the painful falsehoods? Now­here. Here the lines of communication are entirely broken down. Thus every white works now (in or out of the civil rights movement) on the side of the Negro does so in the knowledge that he is committing an act of conscience, an act which is essentially lonely and which to a large extent is unwelcome, unrewarded, unremarked. And rightfully so. The Negroes who tell us: “You’re doing this for yourself, baby, not for me,” are right. Or at least they should be. So now, in America, white men of conscience find themselves in the same ironic position that the Russian Jews who fought in that remote Revolution found themselves in. Anyone with half a brain could see that in anti-Semitic Russia, comes the revolution, the first ones to be purged as counter-revolutionaries would be the Bolshevik Jews … and sure enough. But what choice did those Jews have? By the same token, many white men know now that when the barricades are thrown up in the streets of this country, they will have no choice as to the side they find themselves on, even though comes the revolution, they too will probably be in the first purge.

In Jones’s eye there is blood and in his system a raging bile. The burning sword at his side (or is it the hatchet inside his breast pocket to which he continually and ominously alludes?) is his blanket indictment of white America. For him now there is only passion … which is not always the same as truth. His effectiveness as a revolutionary lies in the emotional power with which he seeks to wrest his humanity from his oppressors by in turn denying them — every last one of them — their humanity. From this wretched vantage point in these bloody terms, I supposed we ARE all guilty. Who is there to give the final judgement?

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Naive Belief

It is to the third accusation that I most strenuously address myself — this utterly wrong-headed insistence that when the Negro’s turn comes to rule, he will do things differently. Under his authority the precious fluid of the human spirit contained in a chalice broken in white hands will be scooped up and treasured as the white world never knew how to treasure it. In the lifetime of Negro authority a particular level of spiritual decrepitude, moral rot, and demeaning weakness will vanish. The human race will develop a lovelier form, occupy a handsomer skin. The Negro will, once and for all, show the white world how a man can and ought to live.

This entire speculation turns on the incredibly naive belief that suffering has ennobled the Negro, that his pain will continue to exert an influence over him even long after it has passed from his life.

What rubbish! The sad, sad point about suffering is that there is no point at all. The lesson to be learned is that there is no lesson. It is simply a fact of life which has no after-life. While it endures it is the entire universe. On the very instant that pain ceases, the process of forgetfulness already begins. (And this is an element of white experience that no Negro can comprehend for the simple reason that while a man is suffering, he is unable to en­vision a time when it will have no meaning for him.) The scars begin to fade, the memories be­gin to dull, the relaxed hand can hardly remember the shape of the clenched fist. If there is any single great lesson to be learned from the 20th century it is this lonely and barbarous fact (witness “Hiroshima, Mon Amour”), which is at once the salvation and the irony  of our lives. If we retained the memory sharp and clear of every  wound ever inflicted on us, we surely could not survive; and the fact that we do not remember our wounds makes or our lives a primitive and unexalted thing. For all men in all conditions at all times this has been true. It is therefore hardly likely that it will be less true for the Amer­ican Negro. When it’s all over but the shouting, the American Negro will lose along with his soul-destroying fury the memory of that fury; his spirit, in time (in a generation, in two generations,) will become as flimsy and as shapeless and  as impoverished as the spirit of that decadent white bourgeoisie he now so comfortably despises.

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‘Starting Point’

Poverty of the spirit has nothing whatever to do with the life of a race. It has to do with the seduc­tion of men’s souls at the hands of that prosperity. For men do not thrive on the good life; they are, rather, atrophied by it. Thus very few men are in possession of the middle-class life; mainly they are possessed by it. And for the most part there is no escaping it. For the point is not so much that the nation has aspired to the middle-class life, but rather that, in the absence of certain specific tensions, it has acquired it. Without war, without depression, without foreign troops in occupation, without social oppres­sion, without combat with the elements … what is one left with? One is left with what nine­-tenths of the world spends its life fighting for: freedom from want, the so-called starting point of life. But freedom from want is not enough. Not enough? It doesn’t even come anywhere near the mark. The demons are still with us, in fact they loom larger than ever, and oddly enough, they even get harder and harder to identify. Thus freedom has become a desperate affair. Freedom from what? Toward what? FOR what? Very few men have the talent or the imagina­tion to know what to do with themselves once they have achieved the good life. They never did have it — in no class and during no age. In some remote and distant time (say, 50 years ago?) there did exist a belief in a unifying structure of principle, a perception of contin­uity, a conviction that he lived at the center of his universe, which allowed a man to live out his life relatively unshaken in his faith in the validity of the pursuit of life. In our time those principles have been shattered, and we have been left with nothing — nothing but the rotten hoax of he good life and the contemplation of futility. And so in the Land of Peace where the Meaningless is King, there exists an insatiable hunger, an unfillable emptiness, a numbing aimlessness — in response to which we open more supermarkets and more psychoanalysts’ offices. In a frenzy we seek the orgy of accumulation: the accumulation of more goods, more personal loyal­ties, more uncommitted opinions. The result, of course, intolerable isolation, so that instead of being the master of his split-level dovecot, a man finds himself wandering about its rooms as though under house arrest. And still he will not open his doors to strangers …

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There is no one in this country who understands the meaning of this condition better than the American ex-radical. What des­troyed him was his insight into the paltriness of the political vision, that long look down the road to Utopia which told him suddenly that the enemy was inside us, not outside us. The passion of the American radical was certainly as whole-souled (and as naive) as that of the Negro revolutionist, and the loss of that passion drove half of them into existentialism and made of the other half gibbering idiots, men terrified of the void, who — in the most literal sense of that word — copped out after 1938 by simply refusing to take further note of the world’s changing knowledge.

It is one of the bitterest ironies of our life that the tension that keeps men alive in their nerve­-endings and equipped with a sense of urgency is the tension of deprivation. And deprivation is what — with an imperative need  — we work to rid ourselves of. Jack Kerouac and Norman Mailer have both written with understanding about the first half of this proposition. It is on the second half that they screwed up. To romanticize oppression in order to stimulate waning passions is a disgusting perversion, and the yearnings of these two finely confused men for the Ne­gro’s life-sense (knowing it is based on his unspeakable condition) are on a parallel with the Japanese tale of the businessman who encouraged an affair between his wife and a young doctor and then spied on them while they were making love in order to awaken his own failing sex­uality. It was with obvious truth and in perfect justice that James Baldwin declared that should Kerouac or Mailer get up on the stage of the Apollo Theatre and recite one of  their white Negro hymns, they would be stoned to death. If there is justification on any level for the Negro’s contempt for the white liberal, it is certainly on this one. Norman Mailer sitting in his Columbia Heights mansion, drawing thousands in royalties, complaining of his lost appetites … Christ!

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Rewards and Payments 

The point is that this is what we are stuck with. The rewards and the exacted payments of Western culture are the accumu­lation of goods and the existen­tialist’s sense of loss. “Western culture!” LeRoi Jones sneered the other night. But it’s ridiculous. After all, who the hell does the man think he is? He’s not a Chinese communist or an African soldier or a Hindu religious. He is a Western man, and the shape of his anguish and of his longings has been determined by Western culture. When he says he wants his, what he means is that he wants his share of this life — and no other. And he will reap the rewards and the losses of this life just as every other American has. For Negroes are, indeed, men like all other men, which means that for the most part they are weak and greedy and anxious, of limited imagination and hopeless mediocre ambition. While suffering depresses their spirits and causes rage to flare up in them, it is true that their sensibilities are dipped in fire. But when that suffering ceases (and as sure as the sky is blue and the grass is green, it will cease), the fire will die down, the holocaust will pass, its former existence will be marked only by ashes which eventually will be kicked into oblivion … and Negroes will live exactly — but exactly — the same lives as every other American now lives.

In answer to all of which LeRoi Jones will beyond a doubt reply: “Yeah, baby. But I want my chance. My time is coming, and I want my chance. You dig?”

I dig. And he will get his chance. He’ll get more than that, he’ll get everything he is now straining for. And then he will live, to his everlasting sorrow, to look up one day, aged 75, at his grown grandchildren, leading utterly ordinary lives — absorbed in taking Johnnie to the dentist and not opening the door at night to strangers and telling a psychoanalyst once a week, “Doctor, I don’t know what’s the matter with me. No matter what I do I have this strange feeling of emptiness … ” — and, remembering these draining days, he will say (as OUR revolutionary grandfathers have said to US): “Is this all? Is this what it was all about?” And his grandchildren will answer, with affection and mild irritation, “Oh, for good­ness sake, Grandpa! This is 2005, not 1965. All that stuff is over and done with!”

Like the man said: “That’s the way it is, man. That’s the way it really is.”

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Scene Theater Uncategorized

Candy Darling, Where Were You the Night Jean Harlow Died?

We were seen around New York, Candy Darling and me, for a week or two we had a little whirl, a movie star and reporter in Alan Ladd trenchcoats sipping Singapore Slings at Daly’s Dandelion, watching home movies at Taylor Mead’s apartment — Candy all milkskin white curled up in a bed, bored until her face appeared on the sheetscreen, last summer at Fire Island, the arrival of the legend in black dress and pieplate sun­glasses, “stop the camera, Tayl­or, can you run it in slow motion” — at Holly’s opening, Max’s Kansas City, the Pink Teacup, Francesco Scavullo’s Ash Wednesday party, the Cine Malibu with Candy’s cinema voice honeypouring from the screen, “I’m only a woman. What have I to offer? A glittering facade?” A glittering facade.

When the milkskin darling was a little darling, he had other names, a male first name and a surname that was Irish. He was very close to his mother and he loved going to the movies.

At the age of nine, his life took on a direction. He saw “The Prod­igal.” Lana Turner, the high priestess, blonde and pure, clad in scarlet, stockinged in gold, gilded, glittering, beautiful beyond belief. Men kissed Lana’s hand and died for her, and Lana, in true Metro tradition, leapt to her death from a 1000-foot pedestal into a ring of fire. Then handmaidens gasped and the pagan drums boomed. This is how life should be. The young boy from Forest Hills had to have it for himself. He became Candy Darling.

Alone in the house, Candy would conjure up a Lana scene. She’d run a lukewarm bath and drop blue food coloring into the water. She’d move the potted palm from the family living room to a spot next to the hamper, perfume the room and drag her mother’s ocelot coat out of the closet, a royal bath carpet for ruby toenails to tread on. She’d play Yma Sumac music and recite Lana lines. “When they see me, they will stop this madness.” Then she’d drape herself in a towel, held together by mama’s rhine­stone broach, and slink through the house, a regal empress, her French poodle a movie tiger by her side.

Candy Darling, CANDY DARLING, she wrote in her diary. The name is magic.

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Sixteen, and already ensconced in a cloak of sexual ambiguity, she left home to live with her uncle in Greenwich Village, spending little time at the apart­ment, freewheeling it on Chris­topher Street where sex is nei­ther one thing or another but a collage. Candy’s collage was an unorthodox mixture accepted by lesbians, scorned by the middle­-ground “unsure of status” male homosexual, lusted after by straight men and macho gay, envied and feared by the plain­-jane male transvestites with illusions of personal grandeur. Candy didn’t give a damn about her rivals. She stood aloof, a glacier in a sea of open-mouthed whales, stunning, a genuine un-genuine woman.

One sunny summer day, her uncle, in a jealous rage, told her never to darken his doorstep again. Candy then began what was to be a series of affairs with men who abused her, humiliated her, raped her, made love to her, but seldom loved her. Love became internalized. With the help of Photoplay and Silver Screen and the mirror on the wall, Candy began a romance with her­self, a love affair with an image that was a reality — and also a commodity. Candy Darling, the supreme package, blonde, glit­tering, gilded, beautiful beyond belief, high priestess, eternal virgin on the brink of rape, queen of films, queen of the universe, the last laugh at them all.

The commodity was picked up by Andy Warhol about five years ago. Candy was playing an actress in Tom Eyen’s “Give My Regards to Off-Off Broadway.” Andy saw the show and put Candy in “Flesh.” The impression was POW. She became a Warhol darling, floating around Andy’s New York, the galleries, the right parties, the wrong parties, ruby lips and platinum hair at society bashes. Candy, shy and demure, with Marisa Berenson and the Brenda Fraziers and Cobina Wright, Jrs., of the ’70s, at movie premieres exchanging lipstick and boyfriend information in powder rooms with best friend Sylvia Miles, then hitting Chris­topher Street and the dives with sycophants, often dragging her­self home to mama Teresa “Darling’s” modest home in Mas­sapequa Park for an hour or two of sleep — and the dreams.

The dreams. Candy remembers them and writes them down in her notebook. One night, around New York, we talked dreams, Candy and me. Here’s one she dreamt after attending a George Plimpton party with Gerard Malanga, whom she was in love with at the time.

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“I was going to the opening of a night club,” said Candy from a divan in an empty room, a flash­back look seeping from widow’s peak to jaw, as though a camera were panning in for a close-up. “It was the biggest club in the whole world. It had an Olympic-sized swimming pool, surrounded by trees and tables covered in white. I was with Andy Warhol and Gerard. Andy hated the gown I wore, a gray-blue see-through with rhinestone sequins and feathers at the bottom. I wore my trenchcoat over it. Andy thought I looked cheap. Yet he introduced me to everybody at the night club. I was to be paid $500 for being there. After a while, several wealthy men talked to me. I told them, ‘I’m so happy you asked me here,’ but was anxious to get away from them. I looked over my shoulder and saw Andy walk out, like he always does, leaving me frantic and alone. Finally, I got rid of the two men I was talking to and saw someone with a black leather coat who I thought was Gerard. I walked over to him quickly and it wasn’t Gerard at all. ‘Did you see Gerard?’ I asked. The man in the coat turned his back on me. All of the other men were standing in little groups, closed in among themselves. I went running from one group to another” (Candy got up from the divan and acted out the dream vi­gnette: she ran to different corners of the room, breathlessly, hysterically). ” ‘Is Gerard here? Is Gerard here?’ The men all turned their backs, they wouldn’t look at me. Finally someone said, ‘Oh, Gerard left 10 minutes ago.’ And I was left there completely alone. But I still had the $500 in my trenchcoat pocket and I felt it and held it and took it out and when I looked at the money it was velvet on one side and it wasn’t real money. That’s when I woke up. I was terrified.”

A couple of nights before St. Pa­trick’s Day, Candy and I were caught in the rain. We ducked into a spot for a drink. Never straight bourbon or scotch, always some­thing fancy with a swizzle stick. The music from the machine was playing sentimental, an oldie, “a telephone that rings but who’s to answer.” In the corner of the cafe, caught in the mood, Candy played true confessions, a touch of Kim in “Lylah Clare,” a dab of Ava in “Pandora.” I remember how she looked at me, those hazel eyes shifting from my hazel eyes to linger on my lower lip, and I remember exactly how she looked and what she said. She looked like every blonde product who has ever made it from the earring counter at Woolworth’s to be molded into a director’s Dada, total myth outside, myth fighting to win control over reality inside. And she said to me, “I’ve been here before. My spirit was once that of a movie star’s. I believe it was once Jean Harlow’s. I was captivated by her death as far back as I can remember. I read all of her obituaries on special microfilm. She died during the shooting of ‘Saratoga’ and they photographed much of the film with a double showing back shots. Long before the Harlow revival, I had my hair dyed platinum and my eyebows plucked and pen­ciled. When I was young, I drew a lot, mostly animals and women. The women all had white hair. Jean Harlow or Kim, before I knew them, or looked like them.”

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Death, the glamor of early death, often runs through Candy’s mind. Kim Novak dying young in “The Eddy Duchin Story,” Kim Stanley dying young in “The Goddess,” Carole Lombard, Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe dying young on Page One. Make it big when you’re blonde and beautiful, pound out that imprint for eter­nity, leave the worshiping masses a glorious platinum memory.

The second night of our town-tripping, Candy had given instructions to a friend, what to do on the death of Candy Darling. Nothing morbid, just movie star security. I couldn’t worm it from her. Cremation? Forest Lawn? A red rose on a white casket? Call AP, UP, mama, and Rona Barrett? “All I can tell you is that I’d will my money to a Candy Darling Me­morial Theatre Fund to help struggling actors. Let’s talk about the future.”

The future, Candy would like to do a Broadway show. A revival of “Little Me” would be nice. She’d adore the Eve Harrington role in “Applause” with Sylvia Miles as Margo Channing. There’s a possibility of playing a Marlene Die­trich “Destry” slut in Paul Mor­rissey’s soon-to-start Italian west­ern. A couple of films shot in Germany are on their way — Candy’s big in Germany. “Women in Revolt,” after a short run at the Cine Malibu, is soon to play the boondocks, and “Some of My Best Friends … ” shows up intermittently on 42nd Street. Videotape, too, is on Candy’s mind. She does a bad take-off of a drug-crazed junkie — Needle Park would laugh rather than panic — but Candy wants the world to know she’s an actress as well as a star and will shortly dance the heroin blues for a hand-held camera. She’s also talking of needling Tennessee Williams into pulling out a masterpiece or two from his trunk: Candy as Blanche in “Streetcar” or Alma in “Summer and Smoke” or Ariadne in “Sweet Bird of Youth.”

She’s happiest when she’s work­ing. “I’m like Jeanne Eagels. I don’t care if it’s a big Hollywood part or a small role, as long as I have something to say about it. So often I have to do exactly what directors say and so often I know more than the directors. ‘Some of My Best Friends … ‘ is one movie where the director should have listened to me. He treated me like a child, as if I were a very touchy delicate thing. It was hard for me. I consider myself an ar­tist. Of course I want admiration and I want them to like me, but I can take criticism.”

She can also give criticism. She told Holly Woodlawn “you’ll never be a star because you can’t boil an egg” which led Holly to crack “it’s just like Candy, so im­practical, when I become a star I’ll have my cook boil my eggs.”

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Candy admits her impracti­cality, her ambivalence toward men, toward stardom, toward life. She admits “I’m filled with guilt and instability. I tremble when I go places and hear people calling Candy Darling, CANDY DARLING, yet I love it.” She describes herself as soft and vulnerable and strong as an ox, a barometer — “I am what I am now, in a few minutes I’ll change and be something else.” She says in one breath that she wants to be an actress, and in the next she’ll tell you she’s a star. She’ll tell Jackie Curtis, “Your thoughts are so strong, I’ve got to be alone with my own thoughts,” then question her own thoughts out loud — “Should I be cooperative, tell them everything they want to know, how much I eat, what I weigh, what color underwear I wear, how many times a day I go to the bathroom, or should I be mysterious so that they’ll always come back for more.” She’ll say that men are kings and that women were meant to be slaves, then confide that she’s all for women’s liberation. She’ll coyly demur that “most men are really afraid of me, they think I’m a delicacy or something, too rich for their blood,” then, under Taylor Mead’s nose, vamp away his boy friend of the evening and whisper to me, “I’d hate to have this be the highpoint of my life.”

 

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NYC ARCHIVES Scene THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Capturing the Grit and Lights of New York Holidays

The holidays in New York feel similar to most days in New York, albeit with a little twist. Instead of figuring out how to haul your bike to your third-floor walk-up, you’re trying to get a six-foot Christmas tree and a weird bag of cinnamon pinecones up the stairs. Chestnuts become a welcoming side dish to your street hot dog or pretzel. It reminds me that existing in this city is a constant test of your ability to adapt. 

The sights, smells, and sounds are all still there, but with a little extra jingle and whiff of pine. The occasional feeling of loneliness and the grittiness of the city cannot be masked by holiday spirit. Rather, the gaudy lights of Dyker Heights and flashy windows on Fifth Avenue accentuate it. And that’s how I like it.

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NYC ARCHIVES Scene THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Off the Beaten Holiday Path

 

When I think about the winter holidays in New York, Fifth Avenue shopping in Manhattan and Rockefeller Center is usually the first thing that comes to mind, rightfully so. It’s the destination for families near and far, a staple for classic Christmas movies, and the holiday spirit and energy is practically unmatched. As wonderful as that all may be, I decided to take a look at holidaygoers off the beaten path. I walked the streets of Harlem and Brooklyn in search of authentic moments as the weeks lead up to Christmas and the New Year. I ended up capturing moments that may not seem newsworthy, but these photographs highlight the life and pride of the city that I’ve grown to love.

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NYC ARCHIVES Scene Uncategorized

Thanksgiving Leftovers

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NYC ARCHIVES Scene THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Damp but Not Defeated: A Marathon Scrapbook

The weather for yesterday’s New York City Marathon was soggier than it’s been in recent years, but that didn’t stop the city from turning out in force to cheer on more than 50,000 runners on their exhausting five-borough tour. Shalane Flanagan became the first American woman to win the race since 1977, and Geoffrey Kamworor of Kenya won the men’s division.

We checked in on the race in Bay Ridge, Bed-Stuy, Williamsburg, Harlem, and the Upper East Side. At each location, all of the day’s usual block-party elements were in place — goofy signs and shouting day drinkers; little kids begging for high fives; neighbors handing out bananas, Halloween candy, salty pretzels, and sheets of paper towels — while dozens of bands and DJs all along the route kept things lively. The NYPD was out in force but kept things low-key, allowing people to have fun with the event.

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Neighborhoods NYC ARCHIVES Scene

Halloween

Smoke machine in the West Village
West Village

West Village
West Village
MAGA costume, SoHo
Police-lined street in SoHo
SoHo
SoHo
Canal Street
Canal Street Subway
SoHo