Mike Katz and Crispin Kott comb the boroughs for any and all hints of rock & roll’s roots and put it all inside one handy-dandy guidebook; the Rock and Roll Explorer Guide to New York City
Legs McNeil’s Foreword to the Rock and Roll Explorer Guide to NYC:
When I was a kid the world moved at such an excruciatingly slow pace that I thought the planet would never change. The hands on the clock seemed to be revolving backwards, and the only way to judge time moving forward was when a new copy of Mad magazine hit the magazine rack at Morton’s Pharmacy. I’d sit at the soda-fountain counter with my Vanilla Coke and Ring Dings, with my thumbs in my ears, trying to absorb the entire issue in one sitting since I couldn’t afford to buy it.
Other than a new issue of Mad, nothing much happened.
But somewhere along the way the world moved into hyper drive. I don’t know exactly when that was, maybe it was at the end of the ‘70s when everyone started doing cocaine in an attempt to crash into next week? Or maybe it was in the ‘80s when MTV made it seem like more was happening than it was? Or maybe the ‘90s when the internet suddenly made the world very small? Or the 2000s when all the rules changed?
Yeah, somewhere along the line, technology launched us into the future, and before anyone had time to catch their breath, we became nostalgic for yesterday. Yeah, the more we fear the future, the more we recycle the past, which is probably why you’re reading about this book.
Yeah, I know, you were born too late. I know you’d like to go back to your favorite time in rock & roll history, and maybe, just maybe, imagine yourself being there when the Beatles stepped off the plane at JFK Airport? Or hanging out at the Apollo Theater with Little Richard and Buddy Holly tearing up the place? Or puking backstage at Max’s Kansas City with Johnny Thunders and Sid Vicious?
Yes, the possibilities are endless!
And, thanks to this book and a bit of imagination, you can go anywhere and be anyone you want, because this isn’t really a book! I’ll let you in on a little secret, this book is actually a rock & roll time machine! That’s right, a time machine!
If you operate this book correctly, it will transport you back to those wondrous days of yesteryear when rock & roll was the only language spoken here, and the only thing that mattered was whether you had tickets to see the Stones at Madison Square Garden tonight!
Or Patti Smith performing at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project with Lenny Kaye!
Or Danny Fields introducing Iggy Pop to David Bowie at Max’s!
Geez, I’m getting pretty nostalgic myself right now, making me think, “Which part of the past would I like to revisit?”
Hmmm, I’d like to go back to my first threesome at the Punk Dump at 365 10th Ave., the Punk Magazine offices that also doubled as our apartment. That’s when I thought I wasn’t being kinky enough, so I dumped maple syrup over the two girls during the sex and ended up glued to the sheets in the morning after my companions left.
That’s when I learned that food and sex don’t mix.
Or maybe I’d head over to Nany Spungen’s apartment a few blocks away on West 23rd Street to take a shower and watch Nancy practice her new striptease routine over a plate of scrambled eggs she cooked for me. (Nancy was a lot nicer than you’ve been led to believe.)
Or maybe I’d go over to Anya Phillips’ apartment on St. Marks Place between 1st Ave. and Avenue A (which later became Café Mogodor) to take a bath? Did I mention we did not have a shower at the Punk Dump? I was so dumb that when Anya suggested she tie me to the bed and watch her masturbate, I answered, “Why the fuck would I wanna do that?”
I was not well-versed in the art of S&M culture.
Instead, I had her make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which I ate in the tub while Anya played the new Talking Heads record. Hey, I was hungry, okay?
But most of all I’d like to go back to Arturo Vega’s loft at 6 E. 2nd St., right around the corner from CBGB’s, and hang with Joey Ramone, Robin Rothman, and Tammy Scott, the little redhead that was always dressed in a cute little Girl Scout uniform at CB’s.
Or maybe it was a Brownie uniform?
Robin Rothman would always be giving me shit for suggesting the Ramones do a benefit concert to provide bulletproof vests for NYC policemen, since they had to buy them with their own money. Yeah, NYC was really that broke back then.
Robin was a real hippie and didn’t appreciate the irony of a bunch of Bowery losers like ourselves providing lifesaving equipment for the cops, and we’d spend the morning arguing until I eventually talked her into lending me a buck fifty to buy a quart of beer and a pack of Marlboros.
Yeah, things really were that cheap.
Joey would just stand there, twirling his hair, with that sly smile of his, as Robin and I quarreled, waiting for it to be right again.
Or maybe I’d like to take the subway up to 34th Street, to Madison Square Garden, the closest subway stop to the Punk Dump, and stare at the Hustler magazine ads that read “Think Pink” and appreciate how truly pornographic New York City was. And I’d think how lucky I was to live in a city that had a half dozen “Happy Ending” massage parlors on every midtown street corner! Yeah, NYC really was that filthy, in dirt and in mind!
So take this book, read it, and then go explore all the dreams, desires, and fantasies of the past, and know that you’re not alone. Then put this book away, and go start living them.
The future belongs to you!
Legs McNeil recently spoke with Mike Katz and Crispin Kott about their explorer guide:
LM: What made you do the book? Did you want to know all this cool stuff? Or did you already know most of it?
Mike Katz: We thought it would be a great idea to chronicle New York’s rock legacy like a travel book and document historic music places the way it has been done for the sites of the Revolutionary War. Like a lot of obsessive projects, we were way past the point of no return before we understood just how insane it was to tackle something like this. Luckily, we’re both knowledge junkies and weren’t afraid to do the homework needed to do it right. It could very easily have spiraled into something completely unmanageable, but ultimately I think it does what we intended.
Crispin Kott: I can’t remember what I thought I knew at the beginning anymore because at this point it feels like a million years ago. But it was certainly only a fraction of what I know now. But wanting to know all this cool stuff is what made us do the book. Walking by buildings for years without realizing it used to be a club where Jimi Hendrix used to jam, or a place where the Dead Boys once lived, or, I don’t know, Jim Morrison fell down…Well, that probably happens to lots of people who live in or visit New York. So the idea of identifying as many of these historic places as possible was exciting for us. That’s a book we wanted to read, but since it didn’t exist we had to write it ourselves.
LM: How did you split the work?
Crispin Kott: I wrote the Velvet Underground chapter first to see whether it was even possible to mix an interesting narrative with geographic information. Thankfully it was. We both worked on different artists or venues or whatever from the ‘60s and ‘70s, and generally – though not exclusively – Mike tackled the ‘50s and earlier, and I hit the ‘80s through the present. It’s not as cut and dried as that, and there was crossover throughout, but that’s how most of it shook out.
Mike Katz: We both did an enormous amount of research then pooled it all and divvied things up by subject and era to avoid redundancy. We handled the artist chapters separately, but compared notes for consistency and accuracy. We also created certain rules to present a fairly even tone throughout. I also schlepped all over the five boroughs taking pictures of the locations, most of which we couldn’t use due to space considerations. Also – surprise – many New York apartment buildings look remarkably alike.
LM: What was the most fascinating part of the book for you?
Crispin Kott: Confirming what I already suspected, that there was much more interaction between different groups and different genres than you might expect. Will Hermes did a great job of illustrating that in his book Love Goes to Buildings on Fire, as did you and Gillian with Please Kill Me. Look at old ads in the Village Voice for CBGB or Max’s Kansas City or Kenny’s Castaways and you’ll see seemingly very different bands playing together on the same bill. And in many cases, that exposure to different sounds had a lasting impact on some of these bands. Talking Heads, Blondie and the Beastie Boys are three groups just off the top of my head who changed so much because they were open to trying new things. And that’s culturally very New York City.
I was also fascinated by how little of this history is officially acknowledged by the city. A few street names have changed in recent years honoring New York’s musical history, but other than the concerted efforts of fans like those who’ve found creative ways of drawing attention to the former Mudd Club or the Fillmore East, it’s hard to spot most of these places if you’re out walking around, especially those that don’t exist anymore.
Mike Katz: One of the interesting challenges was trying to find a place in history to start. As most people know – I hope! – rock & roll didn’t actually begin neatly in the mid-fifties with Elvis and Bill Haley; it has roots that go much deeper, and New York played a huge role in the development of the music that led to that point in time. It was difficult but fun to document those people and places that set the stage and blazed the trail for all that came afterwards. I learned quite a bit about musical history and New York history. We actually go back as far as 1920, when the first commercial blues record was made – on W 45th St, no less!
LM: What was your least favorite part?
Mike Katz: I have to admit, pulling multiple all-nighters and trying to find elegant ways to cram gobs of information into easily digestible paragraphs had me throwing things across the room and howling at the moon on more than one occasion. There were a lot of late night and early morning runs to the candy store just to get me out of the house and stay sane.
Crispin Kott: There were times where it’d feel like we’d produced a hell of a lot of material, and then I’d go back to the list of bands and locations we still needed to complete and realize we weren’t even close. Those days often coincided with the discovery of some other location we hadn’t even considered before, so it felt like the more we accomplished, the further away from being finished we were.
And sometimes trying to thread some of the microfilm machines in the New York Public Library made me borderline insane. I found so much information in old newspapers and decades-old phone books that it was ultimately worth the incredible aggravation. And as far as that goes, much of the issue was probably down to my clumsy 21st-century fingers trying to use mid-20th century machinery. But, man, what a pain in the ass.
LM: Everyone always says to me, “I was born too late, I wish I grew up in the 70’s!” Did you run into that thinking before you did the book? Was that a factor?
Crispin Kott: Absolutely. It certainly happened before we started the book, but it probably happened even more after we really dove into it. Legs, I’ve known you since I was a teenager, so I’m sure I buried you under an avalanche of the same “What was Dee Dee really like?!?!?” kinds of questions you probably get asked every goddamn day of your life.
And that curiosity is true for me with pretty much every era we’ve covered in the book, going all the way back to the first half of the 20th century. What would it have been like to head uptown and hear doo-wop groups like the Harptones or the Five Crowns? Or to hear Bob Dylan when nobody really knew who he was? Legs, in the foreword you astutely compared the book to a time machine, and that’s as good a description as any I could cook up. In a way, that’s what we want it to be for readers, a visit to a bygone age. Because it’s certainly been that for us. And hopefully that sense of wonder comes through on the page.
Mike Katz: I actually did grow up in the late ‘60s and ‘70s and visited New York many times, especially the Village, but was largely oblivious to the now-legendary events on The Bowery and elsewhere. What can you do? New York City is just so huge and culturally expansive that no one scene, no matter how cool, can really dominate the way it can retrospectively. As you know, for every person who actually set foot in CBGB, a thousand more claim they did. There are plenty of musical eras I would love to have experienced firsthand, but it’s impossible, and I accept that. What we’ve tried to do is help provide an appreciation of all that great music history in the city. If it gives people those pangs of frustration and regret the way you describe, we’ve succeeded.