Before moving to San Francisco, meeting Hibiscus, and joining the Cockettes, Pam Tent lived in downtown New York—where she met future New York Dolls frontman David Johansen, and eventually resettled with a new boyfriend, Dee Dee Ramone.
Pam Tent lived in downtown New York in the late 1960s before moving to San Francisco and joining the Cockettes. She was squatting in a rundown building on East Third Street that was populated by a biker gang, the Aliens, who rode their motorcycles up and down the stairs. “It was pretty wild,” she said. “It was a very scary scene, very dubious, so we didn’t stay there long.” Tent didn’t have a steady job, so she panhandled in the streets while singing “Pennies from Heaven” and catching coins that people threw at her. She had been a natural performer since she was a child, when her mother made curtains and set up bleachers in their backyard for a “circus” that she produced every summer. While she was still living downtown, Tent met future New York Dolls frontman David Johansen. He was working after high school in a clothing store in the St. Mark’s Place area that had all sorts of garish clothes strewn throughout—fantastical outfits with boas, rhinestones, and other glitter-camp materials. “It turns out that he was making costumes for Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company,” Johansen said of the store’s owner. “So I started going around to where they would rehearse and getting involved in that, playing guitar or doing the sound and lights. Sometimes I would be a spear-carrier or something.” He appeared in a few Ludlam productions, such as Whores of Babylon, where he appeared as a lion, nude with teased hair. “David was walking down the street and we got into a conversation,” Tent said of the first time they crossed paths. “There was never stranger danger. Everybody just was brothers and sisters. David and I used to sit around St. Mark’s Place, which was a place for all the hippies.” The two became quite close, and he introduced her to Max’s Kansas City, where he had worked.
From Chapter 20 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
When Patti Smith began transitioning into music, she staged a series of shows playfully dubbed “Rock and Rimbaud.” On November 10, 1974—the anniversary of the death of her favorite poet, Arthur Rimbaud—the Patti Smith Group kicked off the series at the Le Jardin disco in the Hotel Diplomat. She recalled looking out in the crowd and seeing Susan Sontag and other downtown luminaries, then realizing that something was really starting to happen. Also in attendance at the Le Jardin show was Cockette Pam Tent, who was dating bassist Dee Dee Ramone. “It was so crowded with people,” Tent recalled, “and it was so hot and sweaty and filled with energy that Dee Dee and I actually had sex standing up in the crowd.” On another night of the series—this time at the Blue Hawaiian Discotheque—the Fast’s Paul Zone captured Smith’s performance with an unlikely photo that included the raggedy punk singer and a glittering disco ball in the same frame.
From Chapter 21 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Looking to bring in new customers, the management inverted its name from the 82 Club to Club 82 and began booking underground rock bands like the New York Dolls, the Stilettoes, Wayne County, and Television. David Bowie, Lou Reed, and Bryan Ferry would also drop by when it was operating as an after-hours club (County recalled that Club 82 was where Reed met Rachel Humphries, the transgender woman who was his live-in lover for three or four years in the 1970s). “It was basically geared to look like a scene from Liza Minnelli’s Cabaret,” Paul Zone said, describing its elongated stacked stage, glittery curtains, and fake palm trees. “It was for drag shows—so the stage was elongated—but it was basically a basement.” Blondie’s Chris Stein added, “The most impressive thing it had was a photo wall in back. There was a photo of Abbott and Costello with a bunch of drag queens, which I thought was utterly amazing.” The butch lesbian bouncer rocked a classic 1950s DA haircut and wore a white T‑shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve, which added to the venue’s eclectic atmosphere. Club 82’s mix of theatricality and gender-bending made sense, given that it was located next to La MaMa. Off-Off-Broadway and underground rock audiences often overlapped during the first half of the 1970s, especially when local bands such as the New York Dolls or Wayne County and the Backstreet Boys began playing at Club 82. Aside from a few bands that played there, by this point it had evolved into a shoddy underground disco. “It was a basement club, and this was the age of disco,” recalled the Cockettes’ Pam Tent. “Lights and glitter everywhere. Alice Cooper was there, Jobriath was there, Lou Reed was there. Everybody who was anybody in New York would turn up the 82 Club, and we all would do cocaine and dance all night.”’
From Chapter 30 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Cockette Pam Tent and Dee Dee Ramone were already an item when he joined the band, which provided the Ramones with a connection to the various downtown arts scenes. He got his cosmetology license and was working for the Pierre Michel Salon, but as Tent recalled, “Dee Dee wanted to be this nasty rocker around downtown. He and I had a lot of fun. Oh, my god, did we have fun. He was like a little boy and he would giggle at things. He would read comic books, but he used to drive me crazy. I came home from work once, and he let Johnny Thunders babysit my four-year-old son. He took him out on the town—Johnny Thunders, of all hare-brained people!” After the Cockettes’ disastrous New York debut in 1971, Tent resettled in the city because she was already friends with David Johansen, who had just started out with the New York Dolls. “David was a good friend and he was around,” Cockette Lendon Sadler said. “Pam had an East Coast connection to lots of people.” She performed in The Palm Casino Revue at the Bouwerie Lane Theater with people from the Cockettes, Ridiculous, and Warhol crowds, and also was a member of Savage Voodoo Nuns. That drag group also included Fayette Hauser, John Flowers, and Tomata du Plenty—all from the Cockettes—as well as Arturo Vega, who later became the Ramones’ longtime lighting designer and also created their iconic eagle logo. Tent was staying with Hauser and Flowers in a loft at 6 East Second Street, right around the corner from CBGB, and Vega lived below them. “We introduced Dee Dee to Arturo,” she said, “and after I left New York it became the Ramones hangout, that whole place.”
From Chapter 32 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore