Wednesday, 18 April 2012

P is for Punk Pilgrimages

“Most of my heroes never used their real names, so I thought I’d join them,” explained Bobby Pinn, my punk-worshipping guide on his decision to adopt a pseudonym. “Who knows, by the end of the afternoon maybe you’ll have one too.”

As the skin-searing sunshine pierced through the high rises of New York’s chaotic streets, Pinn welcomed me to his Rock ‘n’ Roll Walking Tour – a two-hour jaunt around the musically rich East Village. As the zip code that witnessed the conception of music’s most raw and honest genre, I was desperate to see, hear and feel where punk was born.

On the southwest corner of East 9th Street we gazed skyward to the apartment block across the road, counting up ten floors. It was here, Pinn informed me, that a quarter of one of New York’s most famous musical exports resided for over two decades. Jeff Hyman, more commonly known as Joey Ramone, once owned three of the apartments here and spent much of his downtime battling his Obsessive Compulsive demons within their four walls. One of punk’s most unlikely forefathers, The Ramones’ wiry frontman is a key figure of this walking insight into New York’s musical heritage.

Joey Ramone's former residence

Past toothless, crazed drunks demanding quarters for beer, we came to a 35-year-old Aladdin’s cave of punk rock attire. Behind its peeling paint and well-worn exterior, St Marks Place’s Trash and Vaudeville has many stories to tell, having dressed everyone from Iggy Pop to Joan Jett over the years. Photos of its famous frequenters are proudly displayed behind the counter, but a signed Slash top hat is one of the most impressive aspects of the décor.

Trash and Vaudeville

Fittingly, it’s here that one of the genre’s best known photographers happened to stroll by, personifying the area’s punk history. Roberta Bayley, the photographer responsible for the iconic cover of The Ramones’ debut album, happily dished out her business cards, emblazoned with the iconic image of the leather jacket and denim-clad gang of four skulking in front of a wall located right here in the East Village.

Roberta Bayley's iconic photograph on The Ramones debut

It was a tribute to one of the UK’s punk greats that was, for me, one of the highlights of the tour. A vibrant portrait of Clash legend Joe Strummer stands as a proud memorial to the inspirational singer on the side of Avenue A’s Niagara Bar, it’s creation filmed for the video of his cover of Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’. As I posed for a photo, Pinn pointed out that it is the only wall in the area that never gets tagged by gangs or graffiti artists.

Me and Joe

More snaps were enjoyed by other East Village icons, many of which would go completely unnoticed were it not for Pinn's extensive work tracking them down, including the Led Zeppelin building on St Marks Place (see previous 'L' post).

After two hours, my time was almost up and as a fitting end to a fascinating ramble, it was the venue that gave birth to punk that became our final stop.
Unrecognisable from its glory days, 315 Bowery was once home to the genre’s most famous haunt and is as interwoven with the story of punk as the bands that spawned it. Forced out by rocketing rents, CBGB’s is today the home of plush menswear store John Varvatos.

CBGB's Then

CBGB's Now

Stepping inside, I was met by the refreshing cool of Varvatos’ air conditioning – an atmosphere a million miles from that of punk’s Mecca at full capacity. Having poured over tales of the sweat-soaked shows held here from 1973 until its dying breath on 16th October 2006, I know that personal space and modern luxuries were not characteristics of CBGB’s. I was relieved however to see its mark on the building hadn’t been entirely stripped away; lovingly salvaged from the gutting process, entire sections of the graffiti-drenched walls hang proudly within Varvatos’ spacious interior, offering visitors an insight into the building’s place in the punk history books.

CBGB's Then

CBGB's Now

Pinn talked positively about Varvatos’ dedication to keeping its heritage alive with features from its past and in-store performances, but I couldn’t help feeling I was too late. When I closed my eyes I could almost feel the reverberations of a thousand and one punk gigs and at that moment I would have given anything to experience the chaos and intensity of one of those legendary shows.

As for my punk moniker, I’m still working on that one.

1 comment:

  1. just stopping by from to A to Z to say Hello!