From left (in background) Eliot Kidd, Janis Cafasso, Cyrinda Foxe and Gail Higgins. Photo by Eileen Polk
This is Part One of the original interview that Legs did with Gail Higgins for Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk.
Gail’s Bio: In New York I worked in fashion and retail for major department stores like Gimbels and Barneys. I then went to London and became Leee Black Childers assistant and The Heartbreakers road manager. After running my own mid century vintage store in London for over 25 years, I now live with my husband Jasja Boelhouwer in San Diego and together we own The Girl Can’t Help It – mid century quality vintage clothing for men and women. 3806 Grim ave, San Diego,ca 92104. www.thegirlcanthelpit.com
L – When did you first go to Max’s?
G – The same time that Nobodies was open.
L – Can you describe Nobodies?
G – I preferred Nobodies because that’s where all the rock stars hung out ha ha ha… you walked in the front door, there was a bar on the right, tables along the left and then there was a back room with a round table… actually the first place I ever had tequila and it was with Janis Joplin.
L – What did Janis say?
G – Janis [Cafasso, Gail’s cousin] wasn’t with me when I met Janis Joplin.
L – No, what did Janice Joplin say?
G – Oh, she smacked me on the back, practically knocked me over, and went, “Here, try this…” slammed it on the table, you know, poured the salt on my hand…
L – How old were you?
G – I was in my early 20s.
L – So Janis Joplin introduced you to tequila..
G – And then me and Johnny Thunders and my cousin Janis used to take bottles of tequila to Central Park and drink them there, watching those Central Park concerts.
L – Who did you see?
G – Everyone. We had fourth row center seats at the Fillmore, for every single solitary show…
L – How did you get them?
G – Alan Arkush, the one who did the Ramones movie, he used to work in the box office, and for some reason he took a liking to us and so he saved us these fourth row center seats for every single show… that’s where we met Johnny Thunders—in the lobby, ‘cause he used to go all the time as well—we saw everyone there.
L – Who was the best?
G – The Who, they were my favourite then… I mean during The Fillmore days…
Gail: Once John and I were tripping at Nobodies and Arthur walked in, looking as Arthur does ha ha ha. And John and I both looked at each other and we went, “People like this are just sent when you’re tripping, they’re just sent on purpose!” I mean, here was this BIG Frankenstein, that’s what he looked like, he was dressed all in black, with that long blond hair with HUGE black boots .. and that’s what we thought, that he had been SENT into Nobodies.. ha ha ha …”
L – When did Johnny come into your life?
G – Well, after we started seeing him every week in the lobby, we eventually just started talking and he lived in Jackson Heights, and we lived on Long Island so we used to give him rides home.
L – What did he look like when he was standing in the lobby?
G – A more innocent version of the Dolls you know, the long hair, the scarves; very much that look but, a much more innocent version of it.
L – How old was he?
G – He was 16 or 17.
L – Did you have a crush on him?
G – No, Janice did.
L- Was he this cute puppy dog?
G – Yes, he was definitely appealing… he definitely had charm. You know, he didn’t take drugs then or anything like that.
L – Was he playing his guitar?
G – No, but when we moved into the city together, the three of us, me, John and Janis got an apartment on First Avenue. We lived right behind a Spanish restaurant… and no, he didn’t play guitar.
L – What was he doing?
G – He was doing nothing ha ha ha… sometimes he worked, I think he had a job for a day maybe in a clothes store on Bleecker Street, that was it.
L – Did you guys go out every night?
G – Yes… to Nobodies, and The Fillmore, and to Max’s.
L – What was Max’s like? Were Warhol people there?
G – Yeah, Max’s was very the more arty crowd at that time and Nobodies was more the rock & roll crowd. It wasn’t till much later that it started to blend… yeah, Max’s was all Warhol people, you know, all those stories, dancing on the tables and taking their clothes off and throwing up in the bathroom and all of that…
L – What was it like living with Johnny?
G – With John? Well, ha ha ha… before he started taking drugs it was actually quite fun… you know, we would drive eight hours to go see the MC5 and the Stooges in high schools in the middle of New Jersey. Those were our two favourites so we would drive anywhere to go see them.
L – Didn’t you and Janis show up at The Funhouse at this time Ann Arbor?
G – Yes.
L – Had you ever met Iggy?
G – No… ha ha ha…
L – How did you know which house it was?
G – Hmm, how did we get the address? We probably just asked people, because we used to find them whereever they were. I mean,we literally just went up and knocked on the door.
L – Who answered the door?
G – Iggy.
L – Iggy? And what did he say?
G – “Hi!” ha ha ha, and we said, “Oh, we were driving cross country and ..” and he said, “Come in… ” and there was a chicken hanging on the porch, one of those rubber chickens and like mattresses on the floor, and very, very bare necessities, and we stayed and hung around for a few hours.
L – Was Iggy nice or…
G – Yeah, really nice, friendly..
L – Was he coming on to you guys?
G – No. Well, that was one of the funny… Janice J and I we went to like EVERYTHING and met every group but we weren’t groupies; we never slept with any of ‘em, we really were just into the music.
L – So what did you do with Iggy for a few hours?
G – Sat around and talked, that was it.
L – Was anybody around, or was the house was empty?
G – There was. I can remember some other people being there but I can’t remember them being anybody that I remembered..
L – Then you got in your car and where do you drive to?
G – Well, we went to see the MC5 in Ann Arbor also. But we were driving cross country so we drove to whatever the next city was.
L – How was the MC5?
G – Well, they were my favourite, favourite, favorite band. I loved them. Literally we would drive eight hours to see them, in any direction, wherever they were playing.
L – Was Kick Out The Jams out yet?
G – Yeah.
L – Did you meet them? Who did you like the best?
G – Michael Davis. Michael Davis actually was the second person I ever slept with in my life. Yeah, he was my favorite. Well, he was the cutest one, ha ha ha..
L – Wasn’t Rob Tyner?
G – Ooooh, no! We used to hide behind the pole and hope that he didn’t see us.
L – Was Wayne Kramer nice?
G – Yeah, yeah, he was always really funny, Rob was always scary.
L – Did they impress you as hippies or greasers?
G – Not hippies, but they were political. That was when they were involved with John Sinclair.
L – So did you fall for that political stuff?
G – No. I never thought politics and music should mix, ever, ha, ha ha. You know you sort of just ignored that, to me they were just a fantastic rock & roll band.
L – Can you tell me how the Dolls came together?
G – Well, John and I were living there, we were just there by ourselves then, and that was when he was teaching himself how to play guitar, and I used to sit in the other room and go, “Give it up, John!”
L – How bad was he?
G – Bad! And then David [Johansen] and them were hanging around..
L. – Did you ever go see David in any of the Charles Ludlam plays?
G – Oh, in the theatre things? Yeah. We went to see all of the ridiculous, all those things… everything was really camp. They were dressing up in the women’s clothing and stuff was mixed from that whole scene.
L – Very drag queen and speed freak kind of scene?
G – I mean, when we moved into that apartment we found a piano in one of the rooms–I still can’t believe we did this– anyway, we decided this piano had to go because there wasn’t enough room for all our beds… but when we started to take the piano out, it fell apart and we found a bag of pot in there, and we were all freaking out, including John, going, “What are we gonna do with this bag of pot? Oh my God, call up our friend Charle, he’ll sell it for us… get it outta the house! You know, we’re gonna get arrested, we’re gonna…” I mean really, really innocent. Hard to believe it’s the same boy…
L – How did Johnny and David meet?
G – Just from going to the same places.
L – Were they fast friends, buddies right away?
G – They were never friends, I’d never call them friends..
L – What was the attraction?
G – I think the glamour and the you know, hey, let’s get a band and you know, you look good and I look good, and that sort of thing. I don’t think there was ever any great comraderie.
L – Who was David hanging out with?
G – Who were David’s friends? I’m not sure who his friends were, because John was always friendlier with Syl [Sylvain] and Billy [Murcia] so they were always around more than David, and I can remember exactly meeting Arthur [Kane] but I don’t remember any of the exact times of meeting the other ones.
L – Had you seen Arthur in the clubs?
G – Well once John and I were tripping at Nobodies and Arthur walked in, looking as Arthur does ha ha ha. And John and I both looked at each other and we went, “People like this are just sent when you’re tripping, they’re just sent on purpose!” I mean, here was this BIG Frankenstein, that’s what he looked like, he was dressed all in black, with that long blond hair with HUGE black boots .. and that’s what we thought, we thought he looked like a HUGE Frankenstien, sent because we were tripping. He was SENT into Nobodies.. ha ha ha …
L – Did you talk to him?
G – Yeah.
L – What did you say?
G – Well, probably non-sensical giggling, you know, nothing.
L – Did you become friends with him that night?
G – Yeah.. I think John just liked the absurdity of Arthur.
L – Was he funny?
G – Well, he’s very low key, dry and that kind of funny, you know?
L – Billy Murcia.
G – That was John’s best friend in the band. Yeah, that’s who he was the closest to. I mean that really upset John when that all happened.
L – Do you remember getting the phone call?
G – Well, Janice was in London with them when that happened. I was in New York. So Janice called me to tell me what happened, and John was really shook up about that when he came back, for a long time.
L – What did they tell you had happened?
G – They said he drowned in the bath that someone had given him drugs and he was, he choked on it, and … I can’t think if they thought it was … they didn’t think it was fishy.
L – They were just shocked.
G – Yeah, yeah.
L – When they came back, what did they do, was John living in the apartment with you and Janis and… how was it?
G – Well John, he was really depressed then for a long time, then, that was when The Mercer Arts Center was open and that was when he met Jerry Nolan, and Jerry was very much a Dolls fan. And Jerry was in another band then, they were playing there though, at The Mercer Arts Center.
L – They signed pretty soon after Jerry gets in, Marty Thau comes in, and then they get signed to Mercury…
G – Yeah, yeah.. and that’s when they started playing the Mercer Arts Centre a lot..
L – Can we go back and talk a little bit about David and the plays… was he dressing up in women’s clothing; was it very drag queen?
G – Yeah yeah yeah.
L – Do you remember him in women’s clothing up onstage?
G – Yeah but I didn’t remember HIM any more than anyone else, because I didn’t know who he was, you know?
L – Did he stand out at all, was he a star? Did he have a presence?
G – No. No.
L – So he was just another…
G – Yeah, just another person.
L – Another freak in a lot of freaks. Did you like David?
G – I liked David, yeah.
L – So they weren’t buddy-buddies… David and the band?
G – No. Like I said, I never felt there was any friendship there, they were just in a band together. See also at that time, there was lots of stuff going on which I won’t talk about, but there was lots of stuff going on with John and Janice, and the apartment and everything, so there were other things that I was paying more attention to. But i knew the band would get together, because John was determined.
L – He was determined to become a rock star?
G – Yes, ha ha ha. I got the first record he ever wrote… “Dirty, Dusty Dungarees,” and he recorded that and me and him sang “Duke Of Earl” at Coney Island in a little booth on one of those recording machines, ha ha ha, and that was the first song he ever wrote, “Dirty Dusty Dungarees.” No, he was determined… I mean, he was playing that guitar EVERY DAY and NIGHT until he taught himself. Sitting in his room, by himself, till he learned it.
L -Did Billy and Syl come as a package?
G – Yeah, definitely.
L – So when do they start …
G – The rehearsal space was the one uptown with the bicycles and stuff. I mean we used to go up there and watch them, so that was basically the full band then.
L – What year was that?
G – No you can’t ask me years… ha ha ha YEARS ARE GONE ha ha ha… No such thing as years…
L – Do you remember Debby being at the bicycle shop?
G – Yeah, yeah…there was always just loads of people, it was really small, and crowded.
L – Do you remember David being in love with Debbie?