William Burroughs was the author of Naked Lunch and was a Beat era icon who, by the mid 1970s, was living with poet John Giorno in the Bowery, a couple blocks south of CBGB and a few doors down from the Blondie Loft.
In 1967, Ed Sanders began collaborating with Shirley Clarke and fellow filmmaker Barbara Rubin on a satirical anti-Vietnam project, Fugs Go to Saigon. (Sanders also suggested several alternative titles: Eagle Shit, Aluminum Sphinx, Oxen of the Sun, America Bongo, Vampire Ass, Gobble Gobble, Moon Brain, and It’s Eating Me!) After Rubin took Sanders to see the Velvet Underground at Café Bizarre in late 1965, they began discussing ideas for the film, which was to star the Fugs alongside William Burroughs, LeRoi Jones, Allen Ginsberg, and a host of other downtown denizens. Clarke attempted to fundraise from summer to fall of 1967, but she still wasn’t being taken seriously as a filmmaker, despite her previous successes with The Connection and The Cool World. Clarke’s inability to get funding for Fugs Go to Saigon may have also had to do with the outrageous “plot” ideas supplied by Sanders: “William Burroughs dressed as Carrie Nation attacks opium den with axe,” he wrote. “LeRoi Jones as homosexual cia agent. naked viet cong orgasm donuts suck off gi’s with poisoned teeth. . . . horny priests disguised as penguins fight savagely for captured viet cong grope boy. . . . Shower of candy canes comes from sky over us headquarters in Saigon.”
From Chapter 10 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Craig Leon, who produced early singles and albums by Blondie, the Ramones, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, and others, would sometimes see dead homeless people on the Bowery’s sidewalk. “It was right on the borderline between the bohemian upmarket West Village and the very underground Beat scenes and junky neighborhoods,” Leon said. “It had a mixture of old fifties and sixties Beat people living there.” William Burroughs lived with poet John Giorno in his “Bunker” residence in that part of the Bowery, just a few blocks south of CBGB—where his friend Patti Smith recalled that the sidewalks were often lined with burning trashcans that helped warm the street people. The Blondie Loft was located just up the block from the Bunker, an area that was populated by many a musician, writer, junkie, and/or all of the above.
From Chapter 30 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
“The people that were at Club 82,” Clem Burke said, “Lenny Kaye, Joey Ramone, Tommy Ramone, myself, Gary Valentine, Debbie and Chris, Johnny Thunders—essentially, everybody took their platforms off, cut their hair, walked around the corner, and wound up at CBGB. That’s basically what happened, because everyone was living in the neighborhood. It literally was around the corner from CBGB.” Hilly Kristal didn’t change his Bowery bar’s name until late 1973, but it’s not as if he did any significant renovations when it became CBGB. “It was pretty much the same when it was called Hilly’s,” Suicide’s Alan Vega recalled. “The bathrooms were already horrific, even before it was renamed CBGB.” After Marion Cowings’s band Dance broke up following the Mercer Arts Center collapse, he was in a band named Squeeze that occasionally played at CBGB. He recalled that Hilly’s dogs used to run loose and defecate on the floor, so people had to watch where they stepped. “He was like a wild Bowery guy,” Cowings said, “just wild and dirty. At that time the Bowery was the Bowery. There were lots of bombed-out buildings and fleabag hotels, and lots of people sleeping on the street.”