Chris Sullivan's Memories Of New York Clubland In The '70s and '80s

You can always judge a city by its nightlife and as such, New York, from the late seventies till the mid eighties was one big mad bag of, drug-fuelled excess where pretty much anything went...
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You can always judge a city by its nightlife and as such, New York, from the late seventies till the mid eighties was one big mad bag of, drug-fuelled excess where pretty much anything went...

Certainly the most decadent, sexually liberated, free thinking era that yours truly has ever witnessed, it was  in short…. absolutely bloody marvellous.

Of course, we’ve all read about Studio 54, the club that paved the way for much of the excess to follow. Owned by Steve Rubel and Ian Schrager, it was located in a former TV studio on West 54th Street and was in truth, just one big hairy arsed gay disco about 100 metres long with silver banquettes and a mirrored diamond-shaped main bar located under it’s balcony. Undoubtedly, while poppers and bucketfuls of cocaine (usually snorted from virtually obligatory little silver spoons) were the order of the day, gay sexual congress was rampant on the balcony and in the Rubber Room (so called because it was lined with rubber so that all the ‘stuff’ might be easily washed off). And while much was made of the zillions of celebrity  patrons who allowed the gaff more publicity than God himself, most were in fact, ushered in from a tiny door on 53rd Street straight down into the VIP room in the basement -with a   pinball machine and a few white plastic lawn chairs - never to be seen again.

Certainly, ‘Studio’ music policy via the auspices of DJ’s Nicky Siano and Richie Kaczor was pure unadulterated let your hair down, DISCO – Ring My Bell by Anita Ward, Shame by Evelyn Champagne King and Good Times by Chic- that filled the clubs massive   parquet dance floor with all sorts of uber glam gorgeous gals and guys with bad haircuts who hustled next to the club’s strobe-lit columns that descended from the ceiling.I'd have to say my favorite club was Studio 54,” remembers August Darnell, cofounder of Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band and leader of Kid Creole and the Coconuts. “It was so decadent and so exciting in that period to be part of something you knew was a world movement. The good thing was it gave people a reason to say 'Let's get dressed up and go out!"

Equal to, if not even more exclusive, was the Mudd Club, a scruffy labyrinthine downtown site on 77 White Street where one might see punks, rockabillies, the New York literati, artists, transvestites, strippers, Bronx beat boys and Wall Street bankers all shaking a leg to DJ Anita Sarko’s seductive mix of raw funk, Latin, fifties rock’n roll and show tunes. Named after Dr Samuel Alexander Mudd, who tended to John Wilkes Booths leg after he shot Abraham Lincoln and was thus imprisoned for his efforts, the club was owned by Steve Mass who opened the gaff in 1978 with Anya Phillips, the stylist, singer and girlfriend to James Chance of James White and The Blacks, while the door was run by the Vivienne Westwood attired Gennaro. Simply one of the finest clubs I have ever attended, it was not unusual to see Allen Ginsberg talking to Debbie Harry who, standing in front of Truman Capote might have a view of Jean Michel Basquiat clowning around with David Byrne.  And as for the bands I saw among others, Bow Wow Wow, The Brides of Funkenstein, Levi and The Rockats, Debbie Harry rapping with Fab Five Freddie, The Talking Heads, The Dead Boys and Lydia Lunch.

‘Coke, smoke, dope, PCP, MDA, THC, ludes, LSD – we can take you up or we can take you down, in out and around the town’

And then there was Danceteria that opened late Spring 1980 first on 37th Street, just east of Eighth Avenue and was run by Jim Fourat (former Minister for Information for the White Panther Party and a founder of New York’s Gay and Liberation Front) and the thoroughly Germanic Rudolf who, raised in Argentina, had made a few bob after opening Brazil’s first disco launderette) the club had three floors, a video lounge and a roof terrace and served liquor without a license (one bought drink tickets from a booth and exchanged them over the bar) until 8am. Madonna was the lift operator (and available squeeze for anyone with a British accent) while in the summer of 1980 busboys included one Keith Haring. A truly ground breaking club that featured among others, Mark Kamins, Walter Durcots, Freddy Bastoin and Shaunn Casset behind the decks playing a mix of disco, Motown, punk, Africa beats and Latin while the likes of The Lounge Lizards, Klaus Nomi, The Cramps and the B52’s played live. There has been much speculation as to where the name came from: “We were building the after-hours place on 37thSt. And we needed a name...fast,” recalls Rudolf. “ I was walking in front of Dubrow'  with 2 other guys and we commented about the fabulous neon, and then, one of guys said "Fuck this cafeteria, I want a danceteria! And I said, "That's it! That's the name of our club! Danceteria!"

Of course there were other clubs such as Xenon, AM/PM, Tier 3 and later, Jefferson and Save The Robot but the most efficacious club of all was, The Paradise Garage, situated on King Street in Soho. Formerly a parking garage, its proprietor, Michael Brody, had wisely based it on David Mancuso’s legendary Loft parties. No alcohol was sold, fresh fruit and soft drinks were free, it was not open to the general public and had the best sound system in the world. Of course, as with many clubs back then  the clientele was largely gay, made up of mainly Hispanic and black Nu-Yoricans who turned out in droves to catch the Godfather of house music, Larry Levan, on his three turntables mix up the likes of, The Peech Boys, Don’t Make Me Wait, and Sylvester’s, Mighty Real, with The Clash, Pink Floyd and The Eurhythmics into one seamless never ending groove using percussion breaks, beats and accapella’s.  Indeed, the crowd were there to dance and dance only. It wasn’t about chitchat it was about moving, while the first time I visited ‘the Garage’ was in August 1980 and, with glamorous girlfriend on arm, I felt a little out of place as I passed the gauntlet of drug dealers shouting, ‘Coke, smoke, dope, PCP, MDA, THC, ludes, LSD - we can take you up or we can take you down, in out and around the town,’ then up the ramp and past the never ending queue of young men in slashed T shirts, shorts and sneakers. Dressed in a three piece Edwardian suit, spats, gloves, cravat, watch, chain walking stick and to top it all a monocle in the right eye I was certainly not one of the boys and, as I walked by, I felt almost Messiah like as a Mexican wave of gobsmacked patrons either hit the deck in paroxysms of laughter or were so shocked that they couldn’t move.

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Watch An Amazing 2 Hours Of The Last Night At The Paradise Garage

Huey Morgan's Musical History Of New York

Inside it was pretty much the same. In fact I brought the place to a complete standstill in part I’d guess because many of the patrons  (including my gang) had partaken of the purest, strongest MDMA  ever to leave a lab which at the time was 100% legal. And then Levan played, Do What you Wanna Do, by T Connection, and I took to the dance floor, pulled out a selection of my best moves as created in  Wigan Casino and honed in Crackers of Wardour Street in 1975 - fast steps- sixteen beats to the bar-  eight spins on the run, a back drop, the splits and back up for more absurdly fast footwork. By the time the 15-minute track had slipped into another the whole club had gathered around to watch ‘Sherlock Holmes busting moves.’ And when I stopped the place erupted into applause. Later as I sat down to nurse my near coronary with a fruit juice Levan came over with Frankie Knuckles and sung my praises but I could see in their eyes that they thought that someone might have spiked their drink and I was just yet another apparition. But as I told them, ‘one should never judge a book by its cover.’

Indubitably, if New York had been a book then it would have been a battered and discarded old pulp noir paperback, its faded and ripped cover entirely indicative of its financial bankruptcy while its dog eared pages showed signs of many abusive owners. But just like said tome, inside its environs there was substance and excitement and drama and danger and everything any young rapscallion might want. But all that changed when in 1994 Rudolph William Louis "Rudy" Giuliani took over as Mayor and led the city into an era of zero tolerance and killed it stone dead. Even though still a great city New York today is now a quite marvellous place for ladies who  lunch.

Studio 54 disco faves

1.    54th Street   -Mick Jackson
2.     I love the nightlife (Disco Round)  -Alicia Bridges
3.    (Push push) In the bush    -Musique
4.    Don't leave me this way   -Thelma Houston
5.    Everybody dance   -Chic
6.    Fly Robin Fly  Silver -Convention
7.    Good times  -Chic
8.    Turn the beat around   -Vicki Sue Robinson
9.    He's the greatest dancer    -Sister Sledge
10. Hot stuff  -Donna Summer
11. I got my mind made up    -Instant Funk
12.  Instant replay   -Dan Hartman

Mudd Club

1.     The Way I walk – The Cramps
2.     Tear the Roof off The Sucker – Parliament
3.     Night Train- James Brown
4.     Contort Yourself – James White and The Blacks
5.     Jungle Love – Cristina
6.     Wheel Me Out- Was Not Was
7.     Heatwave -Marilyn Monroe
8.     Foot Stomping Music – Hamilton Bohannon
9.     El Watusi- Ray Barreto
10.  Fever- Peggy Lee
11.  Harlem Nocturne - Lounge Lizards

12.   Cowboys and Gangster- Gichi Dan

Danceteria

  1. Shoot the Pump - J. Walter Negro and The Loose Joints
  2. Out Come The Freaks- Was Not Was
  3. Rock The Kasbah- The Clash
  4. Rock Lobster- B52’s
  5. You Make Me Feel Mighty Real – Sylvester
  6. I Want Candy- Bow Wow Wow
  7. Me and Mr. Sanchez instrumental – Blue Rondo a la Turk
  8. Psycho killer- Talking Heads
  9. Wordy Rappinghood –Tom Tom Club
  10. Me No Popeye- Coati Mundi
  11. Tighten Up- Yellow Magic Orchestra
  12. Deputy of Love- Don Armando’s 2nd Avenue Rumba Band.

Paradise Garage

  1. Don’t Make Me Wait Peech boys
  2. Life Is Something Special- Peech Boys
  3. Let No Man Put Asunder- First Choice
  4. I who Have Nothing- Sylvester
  5. Ooh I love it – Salsoul Orchestra
  6. Is It All Over My Face Loose Joint-
  7. Disco Dance- Michele-
  8. Serious Sirius Space Party - Ednah Holt
  9. Hot Shot- Karen Young
  10. Boogie Oogie Oogie    -A Taste of Honey
  11. Brick House – The Commodores
  12. You can't have your cake and eat it too  - Brenda Taylor