PIL & Suicide

Hi & Welcome,

You’ve come here to see my post about the Clash/Epic letter, which follows. I’m going to seize the moment and cross post from two of my other blogs about some video work¬†likely to interest punkers young and old ūüôā

Public Image Viz-Efx ReMix Collage (1980)
Frankie Teardrop ‚Äď Scary Video Gets Respect

Paul D.

p.s. Not mentioned in most articles – this is a blog about my documentary in progress about the origins of the NY punk scene called “Punk Before Punk.”

Why the first Clash LP was not released in the U.S.

Ok, I was nuts about the¬†first Clash LP and p*ssed off when I discovered it would not be released in the U.S. in 1977. ¬†So filled with righteous punk-rock indignation I wrote Epic records and incredibly got this thoughtful reply from A&R Man Bruce Harris. ¬†Really amazing letter and amazing that he wrote back at all. ¬†Hat’s off to you Bruce, The Clash did well in the USA and thanks for writing back to a young punk:) ¬†CLICK LETTER IMAGE TO SEE FULL SIZE

CBS Epic Clash letter p1

CBS Epic Clash letter p2


(This is a postscript added 6/17/15.) In 1977 I was bitterly critical of Epic Records (from whom I received this reply) for not releasing the 1st Clash LP.¬† I was struck by recent commentary and reactions to this letter that ridiculed the author. I’m adding this PS to suggest this ridicule is a form of 20/20 hindsight to some extent. Today we all know that “punk” won, but it happened slowly.¬† The powers that be (in 1977) such as Rolling Stone and FM Radio willfully ignored punk.¬† Here is a WPLJ full page ad from Fall 1977, the playlist is hopelessly retro. For most 1977 was *not* the year of punk!


Can you imagine what people aligned to this playlist, thought of this Clash LP (image)?


So in Bruce’ Harris’s defense‚Ķ he wanted a powerfully produced recording that could not be written off as garage or lo-fi, a reception that would blunt the US debut of the Clash. Today these tags are badges of honor to some extent, but to the gatekeepers of 1977, they would be grounds for dismissal. The upshot is that Epic successfully “broke” the Clash in the US.



Roberta Bayley at the Met.

I recently attended “Sunday at the Met: Origins of Punk” – one of several panels meant to coincide with the exhibit “PUNK: Chaos to Couture.” The panel or “conversation” featured Jon Savage and Roberta Bayley, and was moderated by Glenn O’Brien.

Because of my history and my on-going efforts with my punk origins documentary, I have been to many such panels and seen many more “punk” documentaries. This ‘conversation’ at the Met might have been my favorite.¬† It was relaxed, sophisticated and bombast free. Congratulations to the participants and members of the team behind it. (Two of whom I met in the months of their research leading to the exhibit, ¬†Andrew Bolton and¬†Amanda Garfinkel.

The public associates punk with gutter snipes and there is something to that, but many of my associations with early punk involve witty, urbane characters. Think Danny Fields and Terry Ork. (Those two along with Jane Friedman were practically mid-wives of the scene.)¬† This panel reflected that side of “punk.”¬† None of the tensions over London-New York “punk ownership” were on display either.¬† All concerned treated it as two sides of the same coin.

Grand Dames of the Scene ¬†from May 2013 “Just Chaos!” opening.

There is more to her than‚Ķ doing the door at CB’s in 1974, being the original photographer at Punk Magazine and snapping some of the scenes most iconic photos.. but I’ll let you look that up on her site and elsewhere. I’ll now let the elegant Roberta speak for herself here.

Roberta Bayley on early Television and CBGB’s

Arturo Vega RIP 1948-2013 Ramones Art Director

Arturo Vega was one on my favorite interviews. He’s a great story teller and has a youthful sparkle about him.¬† There is nothing “Punk from Central Casting” about him*.¬† Before coming to NYC he had a very rich colorful life. ¬† I’ll cite a bio blurb from a panel he did at the New Museum recently as evidence of that.

“Arturo Vega: Arturo Vega began his creative affair with rock ‚Äėn‚Äô roll in 1967, having spent the Summer of Love in San Francisco and performing musical theater in Mexico City. Vega relocated to New York in 1971, where he began painting and silkscreening. For twenty-two years, he acted as artistic director, guardian, and close friend to the Ramones, creating their logo, t-shirt, and stage designs. In November of 2012, a mid-career retrospective of Vega‚Äôs work will open in La Casa Redonda, the largest art museum in his hometown of Chihuahua, Mexico.”

Parallel Lines: Visual Art, CBGB, and Downtown Nightlife

At that panel I came to better appreciate his theatrical roots. There is a hidden theatrical aspect to punk origins I pursue in my documentary.

The thread in the interview that probably interested me the most was that Arturo was among a surprisingly large group of NY scene originals who witnessed the “Summer of Love” in San Francisco.¬† He spoke about it in some detail (in another part of the interview).¬† In talking about it he had none of the anti-hippie derision common to younger punks.¬† He spoke very fondly of seeing the Byrds, Janice Joplin, et al and how much rock music and culture meant to him.

Arturo does a nice job here describing the first Ramones gig and (for me) all important context atmosphere.

*Come to think of it and can’t think of anyone I interviewed being “Punk from Central Casting” That may reflect on my interview choices, but more to the point, the punk clone evolved after London 1977, and everyone I interview predates that.

Marty Rev talks about Suicide’s early gigs at the Mercer

Marty Rev was one of my favorite interviews.  Sadly the interview was cut short because we started late (no fault of his) and the location that was kind enough to host us (thank you Motor City), needed us to leave before they opened for business.

We spent a lot of time talking about the Mercer Art Center and the early days of Suicide.  Marty is half of the duo Suicide, Alan Vega is the other half.  Suicide was one of the few bands that straddled the Mercer and CBGB era.  They also really endured, made their mark on history and are around still as solo performers and sometimes together.

Suicide can make a valid claim to be the ultimate “punk before punk” outfit. I suspect this 1970 ad and flyer was the first time punk was used to promote a show.

By way of full disclosure – I came into Suicide’s orbit in 1977 though video artist Jaime Davidovich. He introduced me to his artist neighbors in Soho, who were friends with Alan.¬† Walter Robinson and Edit deAk had made a super-8 film slash multi-projector performance piece set to the song Frankie Teardrop. We collaborated in shooting more (both Super -8 & video editing in a high-end video facility where I worked. The film/video was finished in 1978 and my brother and I became great fans of the band.

punk_Before_punk Hero

Though he is unlikely to be in my documentary, I knew someone well before the punk era who was truly “punk before punk.” I’ll call him Bud C and this is my tribute to him. ¬†As a teenager I worked as a messenger at a high-end photography studio in the summer of 1971 and sat next to Bud’s desk. He was effectively my boss, but wow what a boss – he was a riot. ¬† It was the summer before I went away to college, I was 17 and he had to be at least 5 years older.

We worked in the basement which was primarily devoted to the darkroom.¬† Bud probably rode herd on all photo prints, negatives, etc being trafficked around.¬† To get Bud’s pre-punk bonafides out of the way‚Ķ he wore black everyday, spoke like Mae West most of the time, and most importantly ‚Äď gave me the Stooges first LP as my going away gift at the end of the summer.¬† (The Stooges were not very popular in those days.) He mentioned spending time in the back room at Max’s but seemed fed up with it by the time I met him.¬† He was obsessed with James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. There were others in his pantheon I can’t remember, but they all were dead.

Bud combo big

That’s Bud in the sunglasses. For the young folks, this would be a typical Bowery scene.

I was the only young messenger, the other two were much older and I guess you could say they were a little ‘slow.’ I was really the only person down there Bud could talk to. Rock music first established a bond between us. I was that I was always reading a rock magazine, Rolling Stone of course but there were other pulp ones too.¬† We would talk about rock.

When we worked together he was clean shaven (unlike these photos) and had an a campy, almost Hendrix way of moving. He also had a filthy mouth that had me in stitches. The voluptuous older Swedish woman who ran the darkroom was also amused by Bud even though she was the subject of his sexual commentaries (that were made up)  which also involved the older messengers. Speaking like Mae West, he went well beyond innuendo. It would make us all blush and laugh.

Bud C big bar w title

Bud and unknown company.

As a postscript I’ll say as a result of going to college in upstate NY and only back home for the summer, the trash-chic direction the NY rock scene took on was pretty alien to me. (Until 1974 when I “got punk.”) The vibe of the New York Dolls in 1972/73 was a big challenge to the good-vibe hippie consensus and caused a schism among rock fans. There was a lot of polarization. I was not ‘ready’ for the Dolls until the end of ’73. Later I would remember thinking back about Bud and his deviance from the standard hippie model, there was no rift then. Lines were not drawn between opposing camps, that would come later. There wasn’t a label for Bud then, NY Rocker? ¬†I sort of feel like that rift has never fully mended*. I guess today it might be manifest as those who like punk and those who don’t.

I lost track of Bud during my college years, but he gave me a lot of great memories especially given my later punk preoccupations *and* he turned me into a Stooges cult member:)

All these photos came from his DIY greeting cards he sent to me while I was in college. He was moving in a butch direction. He was big fan of (dead) boozy era Jim Morrison’s a la “Morrison Hotel” – the¬†tough Stooges Detroit look is in evidence too.¬† He was ‘street’ and ‘noir’ before it was cool.

*This might sound bitchy but even though I can like it doses, a radio station like Martha’s Vineyard Radio is a planet that punk never reached. There’s the gap. It well evokes college tastes of the early 70’s before and apart from Glam, Dolls and Punk. That’s the other side of this life.

Punk party-line… in 1970!


While researching I came across a nugget I’d like to share. It’s an article about Alice Cooper in October 1970. In the interview Alice gives voice to a pretty spot-on version of punk rhetoric, usually associated with Ramones or Sex Pistols, five or 6 years later. This is the first evidence I’ve seen of the schism that characterized rock music in the 70’s and maybe ever since?

proto-punk style

The original punk style as defined by Television in 1974 was urban. ¬†Youth culture is very urban now, it wasn’t then. When I saw early Television perform with Hell at Max’s in August ’74 (and especially their Village Voice ad) I thought they looked like urban hillbillies. I guess that another way of saying Elvis aka “the Hillbilly Cat.” But TV wasn’t 50’s – there were the future and channeled the style of their adolescent youth, film noir, the Bowery Boys, French boho and frankly “spade clothes.”*

This video is not part of the Pk B4 Pk doc but might get in there is some form

* I don’t meant to give offense but the son of a clothing store owner who offered the same selection we see in this video used that shorthand for what his father did “he owned a store that sold spade clothes.”