By Madeline Bocaro

photo by Anthony Catalano
photo by Anthony Catalano.

Can you believe that 1977 was almost 40 years ago?! I saw a great documentary on VH1 called NY 77 The Coolest Year In Hell, about the summer of ’77.

Wow – it’s amazing to see it all now in perspective. Elliot and I were two spoiled 18 year old kids who laughed about everything back then, from our safe houses in the suburbs. We thought New York City was the greatest thing. Now, seeing the footage and commentary about the extent of the decadence, murder, depravity and danger is really incredible. The aftermath of the infamous blackout in July with all the looting and riots looked like scenes from Iraq! Burning buildings, trash everywhere, police chases, gunshots and people scattering and looting…total chaos! Elliot realized and appreciated the danger more than I did. I was too naive. It was the hottest summer on record. Son of Sam was on the loose. We thought it was all a big laugh, and loved going to the city; me for the music; Max’s and CBGB, and him for discos and turning tricks.

NY 77 The Coolest Year In HellAlongside the decay was exhilaration and cultural evolution. I remember Debbie Harry & Chris Stein telling us at CBGB one night that we should come uptown to these wild clubs where “It’s like a party – people just talk in rhymes over the music – like stream of consciousness.” I was sure they knew what was cool and it was probably legit, but I could also tell that it wouldn’t be my scene – I was more of a Punk – so we didn’t go. (It was Grandmaster Flash whom they were going to see).

photo by Tom Hearn

There were other great stories about CBGB in the documentary, but the most interesting one about the city was when rap artists spoke about the origins of scratching and Hip-Hop culture. I always wondered how they had those sound battles with turntables in the parks. Where did they get the electricity? They explained that they dismantled the bottom of street lamps, hooked up the electrical wires to several extension cords, snaking their way all the way into the park! The most cred was given to the guys with the LOUDEST sound. They battled, scratching and blasting Queen’s song ‘We Will Rock You’ and blew each other out of the park. Then, on the night of the historic 25-hour blackout, all the poor ghetto kids who had their eye on the finest amps, speakers, and turntables in the windows of electronics stores, looted and stole all the equipment they’d ever dreamed of having – and that was the night hip-hop was born! Then the sonic battles became bigger & louder. The contraband high-end equipment was really desirable, so each DJ had to guard all his stuff from rival rappers, each with their own posse of gunmen in the park. Sick stuff!

NY 77 The Coolest Year In Hell

The documentary also illustrated graffiti artists’ pride in their achievements in leaving their mark on the trains. They would steal spray-paint cans from the stores by pinning the sleeves of their denim jackets closed, putting 4 paint cans down each sleeve and slinging their jackets over their shoulders. The stealth artists descended into the tunnels at night to paint in the dark, after practicing their drawings for weeks, also in the dark for that sole purpose. They considered their paintings works of art, but the public viewed them as garbage.

There were also segments on Discos like Studio 54, and Plato’s retreat with their all-night orgies.

Elliot would always take me to Times Square late at night, where the most prominent letters on all the marquees was ‘XXX’. There was a huge poster store on a corner, which had rare British Glam rock posters mixed in amongst thousands of movie star posters. I would spend up to three hours in there looking through each and every poster, while Elliot said he was going to the disc-O-mat record store. Years later, he told me that he really went to 53rd & 3rd to turn tricks. My mom thought I was ‘safe’ in the city going with a ‘guy’ to protect me!

8th Avenue featured hundreds of peep shows, over a thousand hookers, and pimps in alcoves who whistled at me– oblivious to the danger in my Glam outfits. The 10-block stretch of 8th Avenue from Times Square an upwards was known as the ‘Minnesota Strip’ because teenage prostitutes flocked there by the busload when Minnesota toughened up its’ prostitution laws. There were some book stores there too – with pathetic, disgusting fat old cigar-smoking men sitting amongst stacks and file cabinets of dusty old movie posters, and glamorous publicity photos of 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s movie stars. One of them sold back-issues of Circus Magazine with Ziggy Stardust or Mott The Hoople on the cover. I went there to search for the magazines. I would have paid $100 for this one Ziggy magazine! When I asked the guy how much, he said 25 cents! I quickly handed him the quarter and got the hell out of there before he would realize that he had just sold me the holy grail!!! He couldn’t care less.

NY 77 The Coolest Year In Hell

Elliot and I would walk around Christopher Street at night, and eat at Taco Rico, watching the gay couples walk by wearing leather or drag. I loved the queens and trannies – they were so committed to the art of being themselves! It was like all of the characters from a Lou Reed album coming out in one place! One walked by dressed in a nurse’s uniform with blood all over, dragging a headless doll. We hadn’t realized it was Halloween because people looked so weird and fabulous there every night!

In Greenwich Village, we’d run into the Ramones, Blondie or the New York Dolls buying boots or jeans at Trash & Vaudeville or Manic Panic. We literally bumped into Andy Warhol a few times in Union Square…and Lou Reed during the Halloween parade!

I remember being in a NYC taxi with my innocent mom. She escorted me from the suburbs to a concert in the city. Some women walked in front of the cab, and mom said, “Look at those girls– they’re dressed like hookers!” I replied, “Ma, they ARE hookers!!” Those were the days!

In the late 70s, there was a billboard near Times Square for the Waterfront Crab House in Long Island City. It read, ‘The only place in the city that still has crabs!’