The Mudd Club in Tribeca had an art gallery curated by Keith Haring, performances by Ginsberg & Burroughs, was frequented by Lou Reed, David Bowie, Johnny Thunders, Blondie, Nico, Lydia Lunch, Basquiat and many more. But if you wanted to get in? That was up to Richard Boch.
Consider the “Doorman”… a confounding title, really. At a well-appointed apartment building, the person holding that particular job is there to help: unload your car, help with grocery bags, hold the door open for you. But – and here’s the rub – only if you live there. Only if you belong.
In a city so well-known for its nightlife, “the Doorman” figure can take on mythic proportion. The doorman can decide (based on what, Lord knows), whether you have a good night or not. Whether you have fun, whether you get wasted, whether you get laid. For a job that doesn’t pay much, the person in that position wields an awful lot of power. They are the gatekeeper – and they don’t look you in the eye. They look past you.
For much of its brief existence, Richard Boch was the doorman at the legendary Mudd Club in lower Manhattan. Described by TheNew York Times as “a dance hall, drug den, bar and pickup joint. And within that, an incredible incubator for talent,” the Mudd Club brought together a fantastic mix of artists, musicians, avant-guard actors, wannabees, scene makers and scam artists. And Richard Boch was the gatekeeper.
In preparing for this interview, I asked a friend, who was a regular, about the Mudd Club and about Richard. John Lurie, actor, painter and former frontman and saxophone player of the Lounge Lizards, had this to say:
“Richard was an absolute sweetheart. I can’t really figure out how he managed to maintain that disposition, considering his job. The psychic drain of a large crowd of people, all clamoring to get in and you’re the one who decides if they can come in? Dealing with all that hate and outrage? It is a dreadful feeling, but somehow Richard remained sweet through it all.”
Richard Boch’s new book, The Mudd Club is published by Feral House.
Todd McGovern: Hi Richard – thanks for sitting down with Please Kill Me.
Richard Boch: My pleasure!
TM: So, tell me…where are you from and how did you end up in Manhattan?
RB: I was born in Ridgewood, Brooklyn and grew up in New Hyde Park, Long Island. After college, I went to UConn and I planned on attending grad school at NYU. I rented an apartment on Bleecker across from the Village Gate and two floors above a dump called Mills Tavern. It was an easy walk to CBGB.
TM: How did you first hear about the Mudd Club?
RB: I was always going out and hanging out. I heard people mention it. I knew about a Punk Magazine party that happened there prior to the official opening. Then I noticed a flyer on a wall somewhere.
TM: Can you describe the physical space of the Mudd Club?
RB: There isn’t much to describe. It was basically the first floor of a loft building painted gray and black. Pipes and ductwork on the ceiling. There was a long narrow two sided bar right as you walked in with bartenders in the middle and a makeshift DJ booth at the end closest to the dance floor. The stage was a modular plywood thing and was high… like maybe 4 feet. The second floor was a whole other story when it came to vibe and appearance. Diner style booths, grammar school desks and some ratty upholstered furniture scattered around for additional seating. There was a human size steel cage in the middle of the room built by artist Ronnie Cutrone. The second floor bar started out as a couple of folding tables. An ice filled claw foot tub chilled the beer. It was when people showed up that the magic got made. Often times it was just a beautiful mess.
TM: How did you get hired as the doorman at the club and what type of work did you do?
RB: My friend Pat Wadsley was writing for the SoHo News. She had the ear of Steve Mass, who owned the club. When he complained that people couldn’t get into Mudd, she suggested he call me. She told him I knew everyone. I kept my mouth shut and let him believe it. Eventually I guess I got to know almost everyone. Prior to Mudd, I worked as a bartender in SoHo.
TM: What was the vibe like at the Mudd Club and how was it different from a place like CBGB?
RB: There were a lot of the same characters/clientele hanging out in both places. CBs was more of a venue in that there were double and triple bills playing sets throughout the night. Mudd Club was a little more of an “anything might happen at anytime time kind of place” and it was heavily anchored in the art world. Some nights there was no live music or entertainment. Other nights there might be Marianne Faithfull, Talking Heads or Frank Zappa not to mention Lydia Lunch, DNA, Johnny Thunders or X on stage; sometimes even legends like Mary Wells or Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Still, it was more about the club itself rather than a specific band. There were poetry readings and way, way, way off- Broadway theatrical presentations. William S. Burroughs and Kenneth Anger did their thing on the Mudd Club stage too. With the exception of the Mudd Club newsletters—or a band or party flyer—we didn’t often announce things in advance.
TM: The Mudd Club has been described as the anti-Studio 54. As they were both open at the same time, what kind of overlap was there of people going to both? How did they fit in (or claim to fit in) in both environments?
RB: Studio 54 opened April 1977, Mudd on Halloween 1978. They did run a parallel time for a while but with Mudd it was very different vibe. There was certainly crossover but there were also people who didn’t ‘get’ Mudd and those who didn’t ‘get’ Studio. The anti-Studio 54 label is a bit of a myth, a made up talking point. Sometimes people waiting outside would tell me that Studio lets them in. That was a favorite of mine.
If you were a hardcore Mudd regular you didn’t give a shit about Studio, except maybe the night James Brown played a show there.
TM: What was the drug scene like at the Mudd Club and how did it affect you in terms of both being an employee and being a recipient of drugs as tips?
RB: Drugs of all kinds were rampant: Quaaludes, coke, heroin and the always-reliable spliff. Those along with lots of cocktails and beer were the main ingredients in the nightly mix. There were a few people who didn’t indulge, relying on the natural high they’d catch from the music, the dance floor, maybe meeting Bowie or just some easy casual sex in the alley or the bathroom. There’s lots of gruesome details in the book.
As far as tips, everything I just mentioned was offered. Saying NO was hard work if not impossible. I was a good employee; I always showed up, I did my job and at the end of the night I was still usually standing. Mudd Club owner and mastermind Steve Mass pretty much let me do my thing.
TM: What celebrities gave you the hardest time?
RB: Cheryl Tiegs pissed me off when she didn’t want to pay, but she’s not really a celebrity except maybe in her own mind. There was a fake Rod Stewart and some Earth, Wind & Fire impersonators. Linda Blair came once and I have no idea WTF was wrong with her. She paid to come in. For the most part everyone one was cool. That being said, I’ll get to Paul Simon in a minute.
TM: Why did you turn away Meat Loaf and Paul Simon?
RB: One was just too big and sweaty and I thought his music sucked—showed up on a crowded weekend and would’ve taken up room for maybe two other people.
The other one had a really shitty attitude possibly trying to make up for what he lacked in physical stature. He did that whole number saying, “Do you know who I am?” and he said it with such a smug attitude. Then he wanted my name. It was pretty lame for anyone, not to mention such a talented songwriter.
TM: Who were the most gracious, friendly celebrities? Can give a few examples?
RB: Keith Richards and Patti Hansen were sweet, really nice and friendly. Caroline Kennedy was the same way. Artists like Rauschenberg and Warhol were always polite. Warhol was very cool and friendly where Rauschenberg was a bit friskier.
Guys like Iggy (I called him James to torture him) or Jagger were cool but they had their different personas depending on the night or maybe the drugs.
David Bowie was a prince…always.
TM: Who were some of the most regular customers?
RB: Well Bowie for one. He came every night when he was in town. John Cale was there all the time, so was Frank Zappa when he was around. Anita Pallenberg was always there, either charming people or terrorizing them. I loved Anita. The great Cookie Mueller was another every night regular. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Talking Heads, Johnny Thunders, John Lurie, Cheetah Chrome, Stiv Bators, Nico, Vincent Gallo, Jeff Koons and Sylvia Miles among many others were all part of the nearly every night mix. The list goes on and on.
TM: How much was live music the focal point of the Mudd Club?
RB: It was always important though it wasn’t an every night occurrence. It gave the club a real kind of ‘Wow’ vibe because the bookings were so varied and sometimes out of left field. It was a tough crowd to get up in front of but it was a great place for a band to play.
TM: Who were some of the most popular musicians playing?
RB: Playing at Mudd? Talking Heads, Zappa, Marianne Faithfull, Sam & Dave, Lene Lovich, Psychedelic Furs, Steel Pulse, X, Captain Beefheart, Brides of Funkenstein. Lots more but keep in mind these were one-off shows with the exception of ‘the Furs’ who did two weekend nights. The book has lots more.
TM: How long did you work at the Mudd Club and why did you leave? How about New York City?
RB: I worked at Mudd for 21 months. I started in March ’79. I left partly because I thought I might not survive another season and partly as the result of bad decision-making. Drugs had a lot to do with both.
I sold my loft in Tribeca where I had lived for nearly 28 years in 2005. I still keep a small apartment on the far Upper West Side but I spend most of my time upstate NY.
TM: When did the Mudd Club close and why didn’t it last?
RB: As I mention at the end of the book, the Mudd Club limped into 1983. There had to be an expiration date, given how crazy hot that place burned from the day it opened in the Fall of ’78 and through a good part of 1981. By mid-1982 it started a slow fade.
TM: Why do you think the Mudd Club doesn’t have the same name recognition among the general public as Studio 54 or CBGB does?
RB: Like Chris Stein says in The Mudd Club, the place was secret, there was never a logo or a T-shirt (or matchbooks or anything like that). I mean really… remember matchbooks! People had never even heard of White Street at the beginning. The real recognition is that we are talking about it more than 35 years after the fact. People loved that place. People still have their Mudd ID cards. The place was a mark in time—a wild time, a golden time. That’s the recognition it was meant to have.
TM: Your work is now focused on art. Can you talk about your painting?
RB: I’ve always been a painter. I studied printmaking and painted in college. I was always lucky enough to have a studio to work in. I was also very interested in the written word and I often scribbled thoughts around the edges of a drawing or painting. Since I began working on the book in Spring 2010, the paintings or mixed media pieces have sort of mirrored the book. I use words, phrases and passages from the book and inkjet them onto good cotton stock. Then I start painting or scribbling or making marks. Somehow it all comes together. The visual work made me a better writer and the book made me a better painter.