Ramones manager Danny Fields was a ubiquitous presence downtown, which he documented in his column for the SoHo Weekly News.
There were few places to present video in the early 1970s, aside from screening venues like the Kitchen (in the Mercer Arts Center) and the pirate broadcasts of Lanesville TV. Into this vacuum emerged public access channels on cable television. In the early 1970s, public access stations began popping up around the country, channeling underground culture into people’s living rooms. Before Chris Stein cofounded Blondie in 1974, the guitarist collaborated with his friend Joey Freeman and some former members of the Cockettes on a public access show called Hollywood Spit. “It was the four of them—Fayette Hauser, Tomata du Plenty, Gorilla Rose, Screaming Orchids,” he said. “They considered themselves kind of the Drag Beatles. We just edited in the camera, carefully in sequence, as we were shooting, and it was just a weird, ahead-of-its-time drag situation comedy. Unfortunately, the tapes were destroyed in a fire in my friend’s loft.” Interview magazine contributor Anton Perich—who documented the scenes at Max’s Kansas City and the Mercer Art Center with his Super 8 film and Portapak video camera—also began making his own public access show, Anton Perich Presents, which debuted in January 1973. “Video was the freshest flower in the machine garden, fragrant and black and white,” he said. “The Portapak was this miraculous machine in a miraculous epoch. It was truly a revolutionary instrument. I was ready for revolution.” In one infamous episode of Anton Perich Presents, downtown scenester (and soon-to-be Ramones manager) Danny Fields acted out a scene in which he tried to cure a television repairman’s hemorrhoids by inserting a lubricated lightbulb into his anus. “The show was censored during the cablecast,” Perich recalled. “They inserted a black screen and Muzak. It was the biggest scandal. Every major media outlet did a story about it.”
From Chapter 28 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
When CBGB shifted the downtown’s center of gravity to the Bowery, the longtime hipster venue Max’s Kansas City had to play catchup. “CBGB was definitely in the forefront,” Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye said. “When Max’s started booking the local bands, they did it in emulation of CBGB. They borrowed all the bands and the concepts because they knew that’s what was happening.” Enumerating Max’s various cliques in the early 1970s, Tony Zanetta recalled, “I was part of the underground theater freak tribe, and there was also the Warhol people. And there was another group at Max’s, which was Danny Fields, Lisa and Richard Robinson—the rock writers, which then led to more of the rock and rollers going there because they were the most influential rock writers in the United States.” Patti Smith recalled that the scene at Max’s began shifting by the start of the 1970s. “One could still count on Holly Woodlawn sweeping in, Andrea Feldman dancing on the tabletops, and Jackie [Curtis] and Wayne [County] spewing cavalier brilliance, but increasingly their days of being the focal point of Max’s were numbered.” Kaye also began hanging out at Max’s during this time. “I started going there when the Velvet Underground played upstairs in the summer of ’70,” he said, “and that’s when I was able to establish my ‘regular’ credentials—so I could just walk in there.” Back when the Warhol crowd dominated Max’s back room, future CBGB regulars Joey Ramone and his brother Mickey Leigh didn’t really feel welcome there. “It was also not exactly a ‘We accept you, you’re one of us’ kind of thing with my brother and our friends,” Leigh said. “They were the beautiful people and we were us, from Forest Hills, Queens.”
From Chapter 30 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
In 1975, Blondie performed as the backing band in a revival of Jackie Curtis’s Vain Victory, with Debbie Harry playing the role of Juicy Lucy and the boys in the band wearing identical blue sharkskin suits that Chris Stein found at a discount store on Broadway. Danny Fields wrote about the show in his SoHo Weekly News column, which was the first time Blondie was mentioned in print. “That was big for us at the time,” Stein recalled, “and we got a lot of attention. We got exposed to a lot of the intelligentsia through that.” Local media outlets like the SoHo Weekly News, Village Voice, and the soon-to-be-launched New York Rocker played a pivotal role in the development of the downtown’s various arts scenes. Influential rock writers like the Voice’s Robert Christgau publicized what was happening and accelerated their momentum, creating a kind of feedback loop. Tony Zanetta was also cast in the revival of Vain Victory with Blondie, which was directed by the ubiquitous Tony Ingrassia. “I think a singer or a star needs to be able to magnify their own personality,” Zanetta said, “and Tony was really, really good at that. I mean, he worked with Debbie Harry, Patti Smith, Wayne County, and Cherry Vanilla, and I think they all took something from those experiences.” Back in 1973, when the Stilettoes were performing at places like Bobern Bar and Grill, Harry and Stein hired Ingrassia to help the group with choreography, projecting a cohesive image, and singing with attitude. “Tony did a lot of stage work,” Stein said. “He was a very flamboyant and a loud guy, and was responsible for a lot of cool projects, even though he was very unsung.” Harry added, “He was a slave driver. He was making us work very hard and not to sing technically, but to sing emotionally. And that was a great lesson, to make sure that you really had a connection with what you were saying or talking about or singing about, rather than just singing a nice melody with good technique.”