Before Kristian Hoffman regularly played CBGB in the Mumps with his best friend Lance Loud, they both appeared in the first weekly reality series, An American Family, which premiered on January 11, 1973 and became an immediate pop culture sensation.
Bruce Eyster first laid eyes on Jackie Curtis in a Chicago art house theater that screened Warhol’s 1968 film Flesh, her film debut, and after arriving in New York, Eyster went to Max’s Kansas City because he heard they had great hamburgers. He had no idea it was also a Warhol hangout, so when Curtis walked into the front area Eyster exclaimed, “Hey, it’s Jackie Curtis!” They became fast friends. Eyster recalled that being with Curtis was akin to running around with Harpo Marx in a slapstick comedy—like one time when they needed to cross a busy street and Jackie hailed a taxi, then crawled through the cab’s backseat and came out the other side, then crawled through the back of another car, and then another. “We did four cars to get across the street instead of just taking the crosswalk,” Eyster said. “He was just so hilarious. Jackie would walk into a room and you could feel the electricity. He really did have a movie star quality about him.” Kristian Hoffman, whose band the Mumps would later become regulars at Max’s and CBGB, vividly remembered the time when someone asked Curtis to do something “camp” for them. “Camp? I’ll give you camp,” Curtis shouted. “CONCENTRATION CAMP!”
From Chapter 17 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
When An American Family went into production, Lance Loud and Kristian Hoffman didn’t think twice about having cameras record every moment of their lives, for it was all part of their master plan. “We were in a self-deluded dream that we were going to somehow become big rock stars or big artists like Andy Warhol, or some crazy thing,” Hoffman said. “So when this opportunity came to us with An American Family, it didn’t seem unnatural at all. It just seemed like, ‘Well, life is progressing like we expected. Someone is paying attention,’ so we’re going to move forward and do something crazy. Also, we were young and thought we were the most fascinating people in the world. It didn’t really occur to us that we might not be that interesting.” When filming started, Lance was living at the Chelsea Hotel with roommate Soren Agenoux (who had written the twisted version of A Christmas Carol that debuted at Caffe Cino in 1966). “My first clash came immediately,” wrote Pat Loud in her 1974 memoir A Woman’s Story. “I flew to New York to spend a few days with Lance, who, as the world now knows, was staying at the Chelsea Hotel, a place I’d pictured as a nice, quaint, middle-class hostelry where a white-haired grandma type with a big bunch of keys at her waist clucked over boys far from home and brought them hot toddies and did their laundry.” She soon discovered otherwise. “Lance had endeared himself to Soren Agenoux, who was a kind of creepy guy,” Hoffman recalled, “but he had an apartment in the Chelsea Hotel. So that’s who Lance was living with when Pat first visited Lance in New York.”
From Chapter 23 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Having been obsessed with the Andy Warhol scene since he was an adolescent, Lance Loud was already an avid Velvet Underground fan. The two friends ducked out one night and saw them play in Los Angeles, which best friend Kristian Hoffman counted as one of the greatest concerts of his life. “I wasn’t prepared for seeing them,” he said. “Lou Reed came out and he was pretending he was going to hit you in the head with his guitar. He would swing it like an ax right in between the heads of people in the audience. For me, it was eye opening and exciting.” Loud and Hoffman formed a band during high school and eventually moved to New York—where Loud became reacquainted with Warhol and formed a punk group that regularly played CBGB and Max’s Kansas City. “Lance was one of the most curious and terrific kids around,” recalled Warhol, “and I always told him that he had the best band around, called the Mumps.” Loud, in turn, described Warhol as “the greatest father figure . . . [of ] that generation,” noting that, “He was always parental.” The New York economy had crashed, so the rents were low enough for the two friends to put down roots in the city and live on next to nothing. “That’s why these landlords were desperate to rent an apartment to anybody,” Hoffman said, “because why else would a landlord rent an apartment to unemployed seventeen-, eighteen-year-old kids?”
“The press response [to An American Family] was totally bewildering because we expected it to be reviewed as a documentary, and instead they reviewed the family,” Kristian Hoffman said. “The vitriol was just palpable. So that started to hurt after a while.” Writing for the New York Times Magazine, journalist Anne Roiphe exemplified the mainstream critical reception—particularly her treatment of what she called “the flamboyant, leechlike, homosexuality of their oldest son, Lance.” For these critics, he epitomized both the stupidity of mainstream television programming and the perversity of underground culture. “Lance Loud, the evil flower of the Loud family, dominates the drama—the devil always has the best lines,” Roiphe wrote. “Lance is twenty years old and living in the Hotel Chelsea in New York as the series opens. He describes his family with a kind of campy wit and all the warmth of an iguana singing in the driving rain. The second episode shows Pat Loud coming to New York to visit her son at the Chelsea. It was in this episode I most admired her strong self-control. She is confronted, brutally and without preparation, with the transvestite, perverse world of hustlers, drug addicts, pushers, etc., and watches her son prance through a society that can be barely comprehensible to a forty-five-year-old woman from Santa Barbara.”
Punk compatriots Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine followed a similar path from poetry to music. Born Richard Meyers and Tom Miller, they met in the mid-1960s at a boarding school in Delaware and were both drawn to New York. They settled into a life of letters and worked at several bookstores, including Cinemabilia, where future Television manager Terry Ork and An American Family’s Kristian Hoffman worked. Verlaine also hung around the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, a block from his apartment, and Hell had already been publishing his own poetry magazine, Genesis : Grasp. Hell started the Dot Books imprint in 1971 with the intention of publishing a list of five books, including Patti Smith’s poetry, but he wound up printing only a collaboration between himself and Verlaine, as well as a book by Andrew Wylie—who became the infamous literary agent known as “the Jackal.” During this time, Hell and Verlaine began writing collaborative poems, sharing a typewriter much as Smith and Shepard did with Cowboy Mouth. As their writing experiments progressed, Hell thought it would be fun to conceive of it as a work of a separate third person. Verlaine liked the idea and suggested making the author a woman, Theresa Stern. “Feminism and androgyny and transvestitism were in the air,” Hell wrote. “We’d cash in! I started imagining her biography.” Theresa Stern became a Puerto Rican prostitute-poet who worked the streets of Hoboken, New Jersey. Her debut book, Wanna Go Out? was published in 1973 just as Hell and Verlaine were forming their first band, which evolved into Television. “I had a book of Patti’s that we had compiled with me as editor, and there was a book of mine, and a book of Tom’s,” Hell said. “But it was just Andrew’s book and Theresa’s book that were actually published. The other books were ready to go, but then I got into rock ’n’ roll and I just transferred all my energies to music. And so did Patti.”
From Chapter 25 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Lance Loud and Kristian Hoffman found out about the Dolls when the British music weekly Melody Maker raved about them. “Lance and I thought, ‘God, they’re just playing right down the street,’ and so we went and saw them, and then we went every single time they played.” They would sometimes bring along Lance’s mom, Pat Loud, who was game for anything. “I have pictures of Pat Loud in the audience at Mercer’s,” Hoffman recalled. “I was on the dance floor right in front of the stage and I had my Brownie Instamatic, and she got in the picture in front of the New York Dolls.” Their new friend Paul Zone had first seen the Dolls at the Hotel Diplomat, where the crowd numbered about a hundred and everyone dressed in their own original styles. “It just seemed so different from anything that we’d ever seen before,” Zone recalled. “We just knew right then and there that there was a place that we could feel like we can express ourself without feeling like an outcast.” The New York Dolls became downtown stars after they began performing every Tuesday night in the Mercer’s two-hundred-seat Oscar Wilde Room, which was perfect for the group because of its theatrical lighting. “Just walking into the Mercer that first time and seeing them onstage and everyone in the audience,” Zone said, “you were just like, ‘This is it.’ ” Richard Hell was also drawn to the Dolls’ simple songs and sloppy performances, which he found riveting. “Their gigs were unlike any I’d ever experienced,” Hell recalled. “They were parties, they were physical orgies, without much distinction between the crowd and the band.” The Dolls attracted future members of Television, the Ramones, Blondie, and other early punk bands to the Mercer Arts Center.
From Chapter 27 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
The close proximity of underground theater venues and punk clubs created other social connections. The Mumps’ Kristian Hoffman lived right down the street from CBGB, and the first thing he did every evening was stop by the bar to see what was happening. “Then we’d go to Phebe’s and have a blueberry pie and ice cream,” he said, “then wait for friends to show up.” Located on the corner of Bowery and East Fourth Street, Phebe’s was known as the “Sardi’s of Off-Off-Broadway” (the Times Square hotspot Sardi’s drew an uptown Broadway crowd). “You needed a place to hang out,” Agosto Machado said, “and Phebe’s offered a safe refuge. Not every bar wanted theatrical people, because it was a conservative Eastern European neighborhood.”
From Chapter 30 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Future Blondie members Clem Burke and Gary Valentine also hung out there when they were crashing at a friend’s storefront pad. “I was living in New York,” Valentine said, “and I was basically leading a kind of decadent juvenile delinquent life in the East Village. I was hanging out at Club 82 prior to when I was playing in Blondie.” Burke played drums in a band called Sweet Revenge, which sometimes performed at Club 82, where they covered David Bowie and Mott the Hoople songs mixed with some originals. “One of our big songs was called ‘Fuck the World,’ ” Burke said, “which was kind of punk rock.” Paul Zone, who would join his brothers’ group the Fast in 1976, was also at that Dolls performance at Club 82. It was there that he met Harry and Stein, as well as Lance Loud and Kristian Hoffman—all of whom would go on to play a big role in his life. “We all met at that Dolls show,” Zone recalled. “That was one of my first times with Kristian, at a Dolls show.” Hoffman added, “Paul and his brothers knew who we were, like, ‘Oh, it’s An American Family!’ Something like that. So Paul just came up and just started talking to us. Paul wasn’t in the Fast yet. He was kind of like the designer-manager person for the band.” Also in attendance was Roberta Bayley, who later worked the door at CBGB and shot album cover photos for the Ramones and Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Bayley had recently moved from London to New York and heard about the New York Dolls, but hadn’t yet seen them. “It just happened that the Dolls were playing directly downstairs from the loft where a friend of a friend lived on East Fourth Street,” she said. “That was Club 82.”
After An American Family became a hit in 1973, The Dick Cavett Show flew singer Lance Loud, keyboardist Kristian Hoffman, and the rest of the band out to New York to perform on the show. The two best friends had already made one attempt at living in the city and returned to Santa Barbara in defeat—“We had our New York experiment,” Hoffman recalled, “and we didn’t meet the Velvet Underground”—but this time they stayed. After their television debut, various managers and record companies encouraged the band to change their name to Loud in order to cash in on their fleeting fame. “We hated that idea,” Kristian recalled, “and Neil Bogart, who ran Casablanca Records, also wanted us to call the band An American Family.” (They eventually settled on the Mumps.) By this point, Lance Loud and Hoffman had fully immersed themselves in the downtown underground and become regulars at the New York Dolls’ gigs at Mercer’s. “We went there every single show,” he said, “so we quickly met all these wonderful people like Paul Zone, who introduced us to everybody in the Lower East Side rock scene. Everyone happened to live in a one-mile-square neighborhood, and you would just see them every day. So we did everything together—the Mumps, the Fast, Blondie. All of these things intersected, and all of these crazy people hung out together.” Because of the hype surrounding An American Family, Loud was probably the best-known person in the nascent punk scene. “Lance was a larger-than-life figure,” Blondie drummer Clem Burke recalled. “He was probably the first bona fide celebrity I ever met.” He was a magnetic frontman, though not necessarily the greatest singer (but this was punk rock, so it didn’t really matter). “Lance loved performing, and he would sweat gallons,” said Persky, who became a good friend. “He was just so blissed out when he was onstage.”
From Chapter 32 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Pat Loud took a job in publishing in 1974 and followed her son out to New York, where she opened her small Upper West Side apartment to Lance and his friends. “She’s the most marvelous mother,” Kristian Hoffman said. “I mean, I really think of her as my other mother. She takes care of us all the time, to this day. So when she met Lance’s colorful panoply of insane artsy friends, she would just invite them into her house for dinner without prejudice. They had a little kitchen about the size of a California closet, and she made all of this magic happen in that room.” Pat also used to drop by CBGB and other downtown venues to see her son’s band play. “The Mumps were on the bill when she went to see Television,” Roberta Bayley said, “when Richard Hell was in the band. I remember Richard dedicated a song to her from the stage, which was nice. I also remember Lance’s mother invited Richard and I to an Oscar party at her apartment. I think she was just culturally open to different things and seeing what was going on, and really supportive of her son and his friends.” Despite Pat Loud’s initial dislike of the Jackie Curtis play Vain Victory, the two eventually became very good friends; Pat even contributed to Curtis’s drag wardrobe after taking revenge on her cheating husband. “One of his mistresses owned a clothing shop in Montecito,” she said. “I went over to that clothing shop and I bought everything that fit me—which was a lot of stuff. I put it on a bill, and they let me walk out with all of these clothes.” Having no desire to keep them, Pat donated the expensive fashions to the Off-Off-Broadway star (“I gave Jackie lots of stuff,” she recalled). Lance Loud was also good friends with Hibiscus, who often came over to Pat’s place for dinner. “That’s why there’s pictures of me there having dinner with Jackie Curtis,” Hoffman said. “Holly Woodlawn was there. Hibiscus was there. You would think having all those crazy people there would be kind of like an art salon,” Hoffman said, “but it was more like Pat cooking a delicious meal for love birds that had wet wings and they were lost. It was a place to go to get warm and have a good meal with someone who is completely accepting and loving.”
Before Debbie Harry appeared on the cover of major magazines like Cosmopolitan and Rolling Stone, her first-ever cover story was in New York Rocker, shot in Blondie’s loft on the Bowery. Publisher Alan Betrock launched his DIY paper in early 1976, right around the time Punk magazine debuted on the scene. When Lisa Jane Persky joined New York Rocker as a founding staff member, she had been dating Blondie bassist Gary Valentine and had already taken several rolls of film at the band’s loft on the Bowery. So when Betrock said he wanted to put Harry on the cover of the third issue and was looking for a photo, Persky realized, “Oh, I’ve got the perfect one.” Other small-scale zines had already started covering what would become known as punk music—such as Teenage Wasteland Gazette, started in 1973 by the Dictators’ primary songwriter Andy Shernoff. The same year, Lisa and Richard Robinson launched the photo-heavy magazine Rock Scene, which employed Lenny Kaye as an associate editor and Lance Loud as a contributing writer. Several other little publications existed, such as the Anglophile zine Trans-Oceanic Trouser Press, but it was New York Rocker that struck at the right place and right time. “Alan kind of invented the scene with New York Rocker,” Kristian Hoffman said, “because it made it seem like, ‘Oh, all these bands are in the same magazine,’ so it all coalesced into a scene.” A symbiotic relationship between local indie media and the downtown scenes had deepened since the early days of the Village Voice in the mid-1950s, Ed Sanders’s Fuck You during the 1960s, and a host of smaller mimeo publications.
From Chapter 33 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
The word punk had previously been used by a handful of rock writers, such as Lester Bangs, Dave Marsh, and Lenny Kaye, but it hadn’t yet circulated widely as a music genre name. “Nobody in New York wanted to be called ‘punk,’ ” said Ramones producer Craig Leon. “There were no real tags except ‘New York Rock.’ ” By early to mid-1976, just after Punk began publishing—and could be purchased at CBGB’s bar—mass media outlets located in midtown began taking notice of this subculture that was brewing nearby. “I think punk,” Kristian Hoffman observed, “the name that got attached to our bands, happened because Punk magazine existed.” Punk magazine’s John Holmstrom added: “Punk rock didn’t really start with Punk magazine, but we really put it on the map. We brought media attention.” Even though some on the scene hated Punk—or at least thought it was sexist, knuckle dragging, or just plain clueless—they still hoped the magazine would write about their bands, because media coverage was hard to come by. Unfortunately, this eventually had the effect of flattening the diversity of New York’s underground rock scene, reducing punk to a one-dimensional parody of itself. “I think Punk was more about the cartoon aspects of the music,” Kaye said. “It was not a lot about the music. It was mostly a caricature of the music, which is somewhat valuable, and somewhat limiting.” The British punk band the Sex Pistols never had a Top 10 hit in the United States, but their media presence was substantial. US news outlets latched onto the sensationalistic, violent aspects of the British punk scene—which were then projected onto groups like the Ramones, much to their chagrin. This attracted boorish types who thought that being ‘punk’ was about starting fights, so most American record companies kept their distance from the scene. “Once the Sex Pistols and the British music scene embraced the word punk, it was very, very bad to have that word associated with the New York bands,” the Fast’s Paul Zone recalled. “It was hurting all of the New York artists to be called punk, because it was associated with the whole Sex Pistols fiasco.”