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