Sunday, April 20, 2014

Nightclubbing—in a Previous Incarnation

The other week I went to a panel discussion and reception for the current exhibition Gonightclubbing at the Fales Collection of the NYU Library. This includes a reconstruction of the Video Lounge at Danceteria, a Manhattan club that in its first incarnation existed briefly in 1980. The videos were by Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong and mainly consisted of concert footage from a range of punk bands, shot at CBGB, the Mudd Club, and Danceteria. My interest was entirely personal, for in those days I inhabited the latter two of these venues nearly every night.  

As I suspected, word had gotten around. When I arrived at the Fales Collection, I had a glimmer of that sensation which Proust describes towards the end of his novel, when he attends a reception after a long absence from society and is faced with people who both do and do not look familiar. For here was a room full of nightclub regulars, all of us thirty years or more older than when we had last seen each other, a sea of sixty-year-old eccentrics, all now shockingly gray.

The first person I recognized was Richard Boch, who appears to have weathered the intervening years quite well. Richard was always a painter, but is remembered by many of us as the doorman at the Mudd Club. He's recently finished writing a memoir of the era, 77 White, which is attracting considerable interest.     

Marvin Taylor, director of the Fales, introduced the discussion. Michael Parker, formerly of Ballistic Kisses, declaimed a poem in praise of the era’s late-night clubs and the people who worked in them. Pat Place of the Bush Tetras stood at the back of the room, as severe as she was years ago when she sang “Too Many Creeps…”  Then I spotted a dark haired woman who was a keyboard player, a slender vampiress then, a slender vampiress now, a few delicate lines in her face.

Richard Boch proceeded to interview Ivers and Armstrong, who related how they met while working at Manhattan Cable in the 1970s, how they started shooting bands like the Dead Boys, Television, and the Ramones at CBGB, then moved on to the other clubs. They reminded us that the original Danceteria was completely illegal, that they were paid in cash every night, and that the club was open until eight in the morning. They also related how delegates showed up during the week of the Democratic National Convention, name tags and ties askew.

Danceteria lasted six months before it was closed by the police. The thing was, in the middle of all this club madness, Pat and Emily were working, lugging their heavy equipment around, trying to get decent footage under difficult lighting conditions. They were working and we, the regulars, weren’t.

There are commentators who attempt to put a veil of art historical propriety over all this. This is a mistake. Those of us who went out night after night in those days were generally on the run from everyday life, in revolt against what is commonly termed “the real world.” There was nothing normal about any of this, nothing of the day, except when we stumbled from the club the next morning, pale and drained, and somehow made it home.

Shattering daylight, shattering light
How the hell did I make it through the night?

After the panel discussion, the reception provided a fitting postscript. Everyone was far friendlier than in the past, when we used to stand stony faced and hostile in these places. My wife was amused by the scene. “These are people who have never worked in an office.” Well, perhaps some of us have, in the intervening decades.