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Downtown Freaks Take Over Public Access Television

Downtown Freaks Take Over Public Access Television

There were few places to present video in the early 1970s, aside from screening venues like the Kitchen (in the Mercer Arts Center) and the pirate broadcasts of Lanesville TV. Into this vacuum emerged public access channels on cable television. In the early 1970s, public access stations began popping up around the country, channeling underground culture into people’s living rooms. Before Chris Stein cofounded Blondie in 1974, the guitarist collaborated with his friend Joey Freeman and some former members of the Cockettes on a public access show called Hollywood Spit. “It was the four of them—Fayette Hauser, Tomata du Plenty, Gorilla Rose, Screaming Orchids,” he said. “They considered themselves kind of the Drag Beatles. We just edited in the camera, carefully in sequence, as we were shooting, and it was just a weird, ahead-of-its-time drag situation comedy. Unfortunately, the tapes were destroyed in a fire in my friend’s loft.” Interview magazine contributor Anton Perich—who documented the scenes at Max’s Kansas City and the Mercer Art Center with his Super 8 film and Portapak video camera—also began making his own public access show, Anton Perich Presents, which debuted in January 1973. “Video was the freshest flower in the machine garden, fragrant and black and white,” he said. “The Portapak was this miraculous machine in a miraculous epoch. It was truly a revolutionary instrument. I was ready for revolution.” In one infamous episode of Anton Perich Presents, downtown scenester (and soon-to-be Ramones manager) Danny Fields acted out a scene in which he tried to cure a television repairman’s hemorrhoids by inserting a lubricated lightbulb into his anus. “The show was censored during the cablecast,” Perich recalled. “They inserted a black screen and Muzak. It was the biggest scandal. Every major media outlet did a story about it.”

From Chapter 28 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore