Mudd Club Plaque - Photo credit: CC Wikimedia Commons - user Wickkey
Photo: CC Wikimedia Commons - user Wickkey

Here’s Mudd Club in Your Eye

Richard Boch’s book about the iconic club brings back the glory days of post-punk decadence

“A mattress on the floor, a makeshift shower and some basic third-hand furniture were all I needed. I had a stereo, boxes of records and a roommate who loved music and liked to get high.” – Richard Boch

Richard Boch was young, broke and full of dreams in an economically depressed New York City. What could possibly go wrong?

Absolutely nothing! Especially since Boch’s job was as the doorman at the era-defining Mudd Club, which was in operation from 1978-1983. Boch tells the tale in his new memoir, The Mudd Club (Feral House). He had the enviable job of choosing the winners and opening the velvet rope at 77 White Street to the famous and the not-so, including David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Marianne Faithful, The Ramones, Lou Reed and many others. He also sets the debauched scenes at Max’s Kansas City, CBGB’s, Hurrah, Studio 54, The Ritz, Club 82, as well as other clubs and gay hot spots.

In short, The Mudd Club is an elaborate portrait of what life was like in this much envied era of creative provocateurs and drug-addled partiers. For example, the B52’s played the opening night party at the Mudd Club for the outrageous sum of $2.52. Artists felt free and inspired to create with cheap studio spaces available on top of the crime-ridden streets. Steve Mass, a Georgia native who studied philosophy and anthropology at Northwestern University, started the Mudd Club.

Legs McNeil remembers him as, “The only person at the time with an American Express card.” Mass was generous with his friends and, as a club owner, he gave away millions of drinks at the club. Clem Burke of Blondie remembers hanging out with Mr. Mass, “I drank champagne out of test tubes with Steve.”

Punk Magazine had their awards show after-party at the Mudd Club the night after the horrible tragedy that was Nancy Spungen’s death in the Chelsea Hotel. Nancy’s boyfriend, Sex Pistols’ bassist Sid Vicious, was the accused. On October 13, 1978 a mob of young punks came rushing into the club after the Punk awards were doled out at the sleazy Club Hollywood on Second Avenue in the East Village. The bar made money that night and officially opened a couple of weeks later on Halloween.

The word on the street was out. The best place to end your night and (either get lucky or high) was at The Mudd Club after seeing a band at CBGB. The Cramps descended upon the club in January 1979, the darkly camp Lux Interior buzzed around singing, “I’m a human fly and I don’t know why, I’ve got 96 tears and 96 eyes…”

The Mudd Club had the best inappropriate parties where everyone dressed up as if it were Halloween. To name a few, there was: The Joan Crawford Mother’s Day Celebration, Combat Love and The Dead Rock Stars Rock N’ Roll Funeral Ball. The bruised and bloody, coked-up crowd laughed and danced in twisted delight. Providing the atmospheric sounds were bands like James Chance and the Contortions, Iggy Pop, The Ramones, X, and post-punk groups like the Bush-Tetras.

Klaus Nomi, Brian Eno, Richard Hell, Cheetah Chrome, Johnny Thunders and Richard Lloyd frequented the space on the regular. “Saturday Night Live” comics like Bill Murray, John Belushi, and Gilda Radner came by to get crazy. William Burroughs would do readings of his up and coming work for only $5 a ticket, and the legendary husky-voiced Nico would perform. Fashion designers Betsey Johnson, Anna Sui, and artists Jeff Koons and Christopher Wool were frequent patrons.

Royalty even came to 77 White. Caroline Kennedy and Princess Caroline of Monaco both got down on the dance floor, while snooty Sly Stallone snubbed the party by storming out after only a couple steps in. Bowie came by one night without bodyguards, snorted some offered lines of cocaine as Basquiat worked the projector, which featured Motown videos, and dancers grooved to the Supremes on the dance floor. Bowie left with a new girl on his arm. This was a normal evening at 77 White. It was an equal playing field inside those doors. NYC has always been cool like that, leaving the stars alone to relax.

David Azarch, Anita Sarko, musician Howie Pyro of the Blessed, and Milk N’ Cookies vocalist Justin Strauss were regularly spinning vinyl for the dance floor. Howie sometimes threw in a Chipmunks song to stump the audience. In the L.A. area, you can still see Howie Pyro DJ at all the best bars and Justin Strauss has a regular DJ gig in NYC at luxury hipster den, the Ace Hotel.

As you can imagine out of a doorman who dealt with turning down admittance to angry wannabe patrons, Boch was no pushover. He once spray painted, “Fuck you,” on the building of a man who dumped him by phone call, after stealing his Hawaiian shirts, Patti Smith book, and oak file cabinet. This is something most of us have dreamed of doing to an ex-friend or lover, but dealing with the repercussions held us back. It was a different New York City in the late 1970s, more like a war-torn Berlin, and the cops didn’t come out for graffiti crime.

As photographer Marcia Resnick said, “It was a democratic society once you got inside.”
The Mudd Club was home to a scene where all sorts of people from various backgrounds mixed and mingled. Even Sam & Dave and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins performed. Boch called the uptown outsiders who looked a little uneasy as they approached the club in their fur and diamonds “the tourists.” Writer Steve Lewis commented that they were just slumming it for sex and drugs.

This book has sex, drugs, teens, rock stars, glamour, grime, and violence. For some of us, it’s a step into a time we weren’t lucky enough to be around to experience. For others, this book rehashes some of the best nights of their lives. The flavor has come and gone from this city.

Earlier this week, there was a Mudd Club book release party at the Django club, inside the Roxy Hotel. The Bush Tetras performed and Boch did a reading from the book. Rock photographers Bob Gruen and Marcia Resnick floated around the crowd. Amos Poe, director of Blank Generation, attended the party. I walked over to Clem Burke who was sitting at a table drinking a glass of red wine as the party died down. “Wow, I guess we are all old now,” he joked, “It’s not even ten and everyone’s gone! Definitely not like the old days at The Mudd Club.”

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