Paul Zone

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Paul Zone, who would join his brothers’ group the Fast in 1976, had already earned a job at Max’s Kansas City as a house DJ (along with Wayne County) when he was in his early teens, and had success in the 1980s with the dance duo Man 2 Man with his brother Miki.

 

Rock and Rimbaud at the Disco

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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


Suicide Terrorize Audiences at the Mercer Arts Center

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“At the Dolls shows at Mercer’s,” Paul Zone said, “there would be opening act Eric Emerson and the Magic Tramps, and Patti Smith would be doing poetry, and Suicide would be in one of the other rooms.” Suicide keyboardist Marty Rev and frontman Alan Vega eschewed the traditional rock group lineup by forgoing bass, drums, and guitars altogether—opting instead for synths, drum machines, and vocals. “We weren’t interested in rehashing the same rock ’n’ roll,” Vega said. “We wanted something new, and we weren’t even necessarily thinking musically, but theatrically.” Suicide tried to bring Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty into music by breaking down the boundaries between performer and audience. As he physically and psychologically terrorized the audience, a rigid Rev produced a wall of sound from behind a bank of primitive keyboards and other crude electronics. “As you were leaving Mercer’s, you would hear something,” Zone recalled. “You would open the door and it would be Suicide, with no one in there, and of course we would go in. Alan would be in silver makeup and wearing a blond wig.” Vega wasn’t that crazy about the New York Dolls’ songs, which to him sounded like backward-looking 1960s party music. “The Dolls’ audience definitely didn’t like what we were doing,” Vega said, “but when we played the Blue Room their audience had to walk through it when they exited, because it was like a central corridor. If the Dolls’ room was like a party, our room was like a scene of carnage. Sometimes I would block the exit if people tried to leave. People thought I was fucking insane, and I guess I was, but I never, ever tried to hurt people. Myself, yes, I hurt myself. I would cut myself with a switchblade. I would always do it so that I got the most amount of blood with the least amount of pain.”

From Chapter 27 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


The Downtown Rock Scene Coalesces Around the New York Dolls

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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


Club 82’s Eclectic Atmosphere

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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


Future Punks Converge on Club 82

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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.”

From Chapter 30 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


Mickey Ruskin Sells Max’s

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When Mickey Ruskin sold Max’s Kansas City in 1974, it was renovated by new owner Tommy Dean, who made it resemble an airport lounge, complete with a bad disco band. “He asked Wayne County, ‘What have I done wrong? Why is my club empty?’ and Wayne referred him to me,” recalled Peter Crowley, who booked bands at Max’s from 1974 to 1981, after working at the Living Theatre and managing coffeehouses in the 1960s. “I told him everything he did wrong. At first he gave me Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, and I started bringing in all the CBGB bands. Basically I just stole all Hilly’s acts—Television, Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, all the usual suspects.” During this time, Zone became the new house DJ at Max’s, along with Wayne County (who changed her name to Jayne in the late 1970s). “Wayne was heavily focused on early British invasion, but also played comparable American records,” Crowley recalled, “and the same more or less with Paul.” Zone added, “When I was the DJ with Jayne at Max’s in ’74, ’75, ’76, the only music we were playing was sixties music and glam music. There was no other music. There were no punk records yet. All we played was sixties girl groups, British Invasion, Beach Boys, and we were playing the Dolls and some other glam, T. Rex and Bowie. Or I would play disco songs I thought were really good, like ‘Waterloo’ by ABBA and things like that.”

From Chapter 30 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


The Early CBGB Scene

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Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye noted that the early CBGB scene was quite small. “It was the same twenty-five or thirty-five people in the audience,” he said, “and you would get up onstage and play, and then go offstage and hang out and watch your friends play. Everybody had a sense of the destination, but the fact that this destination was so improbable allowed you to develop at your own speed.” Doorwoman Roberta Bayley also recalled that CBGB was practically deserted in the beginning, noting that only people they didn’t know ended up paying the two dollar cover. “1975 was the best year,” said Paul Zone, who would soon join his brothers as the lead singer for the Fast. “It really was, because no one was signed and everyone was there. Every single night you could see the main characters.” The bands sounded quite different from one another but were united by a sense of spirit and discovery. “We weren’t competing with each other,” Chris Stein said. “Television, Talking Heads, the Ramones—we all shared equipment and had each other’s backs for the first year, when everything was starting to come together.” Debbie Harry acknowledged that there was certainly some animosity between certain people, “but in a pinch, if you asked nicely, you could borrow an amp.”

From Chapter 31 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


Lance Loud Forms the Mumps

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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


The Fast Turn Heads in Suburbia

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Not having the faintest clue about where to buy the platform shoes they saw in rock magazines, the Zone brothers assembled their own version with a hammer and nails. They sawed wood blocks and nailed them to the bottom of boots, which they painted silver and decorated with fake jewels; after their mother taught the boys how to sew, they began frequenting fabric stores as often as record shops. Paul Zone wasn’t in his brothers’ band at this point, but he was still heavily involved with the Fast. “Making costumes was just one of the many things that I had a part in,” he said, “along with taking pictures and doing their lights and sound while they were performing, when I was about thirteen. By the time I hit high school, even in seventh and eighth grade, I was already wearing clothes that were just completely not accepted in a Brooklyn suburban neighborhood. I had platform shoes on. I was wearing satin pants.” What was it like growing up looking like that in Borough Park, a largely Italian and Hasidic Jewish working-class area of Brooklyn? “Of course, the people who would see us, slurs would come out of their mouths,” Paul said. “They would obviously just think we were some sort of flamboyant homosexual, but that never even dawned on us. It was like, ‘This is what British rock and rollers dress like!’ It wasn’t working out, believe me. The band definitely never won the battle of the bands.” But they tried. At one high school dance in 1970, the Fast played in front of a homemade backdrop of cut-out lollipops and stars, and other times they dressed a friend as Alice in Wonderland while other friends outfitted in nun costumes handed out cookies in the audience. Within a couple years, they found more likeminded people in downtown venues such as Max’s Kansas City and the Mercer Arts Center.

From Chapter 32 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


The Zone Brothers Band Together

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For every band like the Ramones, there were dozens of CBGB acts that didn’t achieve wider acclaim, such as the Fast. Both bands shared a similar pop sensibility and emerged from unhip outer-borough neighborhoods (the Fast’s bandmates grew up in Borough Park, Brooklyn, while the Ramones hailed from Forest Hills, Queens). Unlike the Ramones—pretend “bruddahs” who adopted the same surnames—the Fast actually were brothers: Paul, Mandy, and Miki Zone. Together, they became a ubiquitous presence on the downtown scene, spanning the glam, punk, and post-punk eras. “We were a working-class family,” Paul Zone said, “but I can’t remember not having enough or not getting anything we wanted or needed. So my family could provide it if we needed an amplifier or a new guitar.” The postwar economy of abundance fueled the growth of both the suburban middle class and underground culture. Bohemians benefited from the trickle-down of the economic boom, which allowed them to live on next to nothing; a part-time job or welfare benefits could subsidize a life in the arts. And out in the suburbs, the Zones’ father could buy his kids musical instruments and other gear, even though he was a blue-collar sanitation worker. Miki played guitar from an early age, middle brother Mandy sang, and Paul tagged along and followed his older siblings’ lead. Miki obsessively bought rock magazines and gravitated to the photos of flamboyantly styled musicians, particularly late 1960s British bands like Faces and the Rolling Stones. “I always remember going to record stores with my brothers,” Paul recalled, “and picking up the covers where the members looked somewhat different than everyone else.”

From Chapter 32 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


The Zone Brothers Take Manhattan

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Even though the Zone brothers were oddballs, their family was still very supportive—especially their mother Vita Maria, who was the Fast’s biggest fan. “We started growing our hair long,” Paul Zone said, “and that was a big thing back then, when a lot of kids could have been ousted from their family for that. But even aunts and uncles, they just never really thought of us as strange or outcasts.” Still, they knew suburban life was not for them. “As long as I can remember,” he added, “we wanted to get to that train as quick as we could to get to Manhattan. It was only a few stops away.” When they started seeing ads in the Village Voice for an odd-looking band that turned out to be the New York Dolls, the brothers began frequenting the Mercer Arts Center, Club 82, and other venues. Peter Crowley began booking bands at Max’s Kansas City in 1974, and the Fast were among the first to regularly play there. “I met them hanging out at Max’s, a little bit before CBGB’s,” recalled Chris Stein. “We met Jimmy Destri, our keyboard player, through them, and we did a lot of shows with the Fast at CBGB’s.” In 1976, Paul Zone debuted as the Fast’s new frontman, and Debbie Harry introduced them at CBGB by waving a checkered racing flag. “We had a pretty good start because the name was established,” he said, “so people knew who the Fast were.” The future looked bright when they recorded a single with 1960s pop producer Richard Gottehrer, who helmed Blondie’s first international hit singles, but the Fast were done in by a combination of bad management and bad luck.

From Chapter 32 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


Inventing “Punk”

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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.”

From Chapter 33 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


New York Punk’s Bubblegum Roots

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Punk’s bad boy image was codified by corporate and indie media outlets soon after the rise of the Sex Pistols. The loud-hard-fast music of the Ramones, for example, further solidified the perception of punk as music made by and for angry young men who rejected “girly” prefab pop. The punk explosion supposedly reset the cultural clock to Year Zero, but far from rejecting the musical past, many early New York punks who hung out at CBGB embraced the guilty pleasures of their youth during the Brill Building era. “Our number one main influence was the sixties,” Paul Zone said. “The Ramones, you listen to their songs and they’re complete bubblegum pop, without a doubt.” Lead singer Joey Ramone readily admitted, “We really liked bubblegum music, and we really liked the Bay City Rollers. Their song ‘Saturday Night’ had a great chant in it, so we wanted a song with a chant in it: ‘Hey! Ho! Let’s go!’ on ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ was our ‘Saturday Night.’ ” The Ramones wore leather biker jackets and ripped jeans and had tough scowls on their faces, but that pose was also underpinned by a Warholian irony and poppy fizz. Craig Leon noted that they embraced bubblegum and 1960s pop as “a return to the rock ’n’ roll roots. Even the manufactured stuff like the Shangri-Las was young people speaking to other young people.”

From Chapter 33 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore