An Influx of Sleaze on the Lower East Side

An Influx of Sleaze on the Lower East Side

The Holy Modal Rounders’ Peter Stampfel remembered the neighborhood surrounding Tompkins Square Park as being relatively safe in the early 1960s (with “relatively” being the operating word). “A lot of speed freaks had a bad reputation for running around stealing and being sociopathic and that sort of thing,” he said, “which was partially true. Things started getting a little dicier in 1962, which was the year a lot of runaway kids hit the Village, so then the Forty-Second Street sleaze started hanging around the set. But when the Summer of Love bullshit happened, it really went downhill. The counterculture suddenly became something everyone was aware of. Around 1967, the flower people were being touted far and wide in the mass media, so every ex-con semi-sociopathic creep in the country was like, ‘Teenage girls who fuck, take drugs, let’s go!’ So there was a huge influx of sleaze.” Richard Hell, who arrived in the Lower East Side in late 1966, recalled, “When I got over there, hippiedom was peaking, while at the same time it was collapsing, where ripeness turns to rot. There were head shops everywhere, and barefoot kids with flowers in their hair who were panhandling and were tripping. But then every few months there would be a headline story about a Lower East Side crash pad where somebody had overdone it and put out everyone’s eyes with an icepick, taking ‘flower power’ a little too far.”

From Chapter 14 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


Tompkins Square Park
E 10th St, New York, NY 10009