Extreme living in New York's Chelsea Hotel, from the Beats through Punk, and on into the present day.
I stayed in the Chelsea in 2001 and 2002, and this book is based on diary notes which I kept during my stays. I call this book "extreme travel writing" and, for it, I spoke to Warhol superstar Gerard Malanga, Chelsea Hotel owner Stanley Bard, Brendan Behan biographer Ulick O'Connor, and a host of others. The book contains a lengthy previously unpublished interview with William Burroughs done by my pal Spencer Kansa, essays by Beat Generation legend Herbert Huncke, an interview with Paul Bowles, and my conversations with punk veterans, high class drug smugglers, sexual outlaws, and beat/punk author Victor Bockris. Gene Gregorits, whom I got to know when Islamic Diggers were doing shows with Lydia Lunch, provided a long interview with Rockets Redglare in which the actor gave a detailed account of Sid Vicious' final days. Redglare's version of events differs widely from the accepted myth.
Julian Schnabel is sitting in the lobby, flanked by a flunky, talking to some obnoxious looking satiated stoat in his early twenties who might be interviewing him for some lesser print organ or who might be willing to suck his cock. Same difference. Schnabel looks impressive and manly, what my cock-mad cousin Sara would call "a fine figure of a man," whatever the fuck that means, and he is issuing forth a few reasonable enough aphorisms. "When somebody says "reputable art dealer" think "reputable drug dealer."" is a good one that gets a cracken awakes-like caw or laugh from the asshole who's been granted the painterly audience. Then the conversation drifts off into other painterly directions so I'm drifting towards the gig ads in the Village Voice. Just then another ambitious young man in his early twenties, this one thin and reasonably well presented, approaches the satiated stoat to say hello and how're ya doin? Genuinely unaware that his fat pal is in the company of greatness. But the stoat won't let anybody step on his blue suede shoes.
"Hey Jim, long time no see." says the walking thin one. "Oh Hi, George," says Jim the stoat doing his best imitation of a Bret Easton Ellis-style asshole, turning away from his old chum in the direction of the painterly amusement emanating from Schnabel, who must see something of his younger self in George because he is beaming with a painterly, fatherly, smile.
"I just got my first work in three months. I think it's a good part. Things have been really slow." says George laconically, about to move on. "Look! What do you want?" asks the irritated stoat, blowing his gig. Schnabel almost bursts into a giggle. Thin George heads towards the lift, a Chelsea permanent resident.
JOHNNY THUNDER'S APARTMENT / BATTLE FOR BEIRUT
This story goes back a few years. A track from the vaults. Previously unreleased material. Six newly discovered tracks plus a whole CD of live material. Three thin but strong brown lines chopped out on its cover.
I was once in the apartment of Johnny Thunders in the company of that other great needlepoint maestro Phil Lynnot. It was the time of that great atrocity, the Battle for Beirut. I was always seeing on my color TV fresh news of the bombed out basements and the torn apart habitations of the onetime Beirut bourgeoisie.
I'd bumped into Lynnot earlier that afternoon in a small soul food place on Chicken Street that I used to frequent in those days, called Chicken Little. I was arguing with my girlfriend so Lynnot couldn't help but pick up on my accent. Turned out we had mutual pals like members of Irish rock bands, midget junkie music biz publicists, and seven or eight of the more enterprising drug dealers in Dublin. He had to go, that very day, to hang out with Thunders who was, temporarily, billeted at the Chelsea in the apartment of a former girlfriend who'd split for Europe for a year, leaving Johnny to protect her home!! And did I wanna meet Johnny Thunders? Yes. So see you in front of the Chelsea at 2.30.
Lynnot was very much a stylish customer and considerably further up the food chain, with all Thin Lizzy's European hit albums and sold out stadiums under his belt, than poor old Thunders who was more or less at the end of his "career." Lynnot, despite the bangles and beads of his Top of the Pops triumphs, was a good person and a notable songwriter not to mention being a worthwhile noisesmith with his bass. He assured me that Thunders was an interesting dude and pleasant too.
We met in the Chelsea lobby, took the elevator to Johnny's floor, fobbed off two Chinese junkies who were panhandling on Johnny's corridor. The place was really run down then, as dangerous as Alphabet City. A lot of people were paying very low rent and some of them were paying no rent atall. We shared the lift going up with a transvestite who, it subsequently turned out, made home deliveries of heroin to some of the more infamous residents.
Philo was anxious to get indoors because he had a fat baggie of smack on him that he'd just scored and needed to party with. Despite frantic Dublin knocking and shouting, there was no response from Thunders' room. We were knocking on Johnny's door for a good ten minutes, getting nowhere. Lynnot was all set to go downstairs and flash his platinum card to get us a suite of rooms of our own, right there right then, when these sorta spider-like scratchings emanated from around the area of Mr Thunders' door lock.
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"It's an absorbing book. I suppose the phrase 'essential study' may be a little overdone but there is no other way of describing it. Its easy style, its arguments, makes it an involving read." - Peter Somerville Large
on 'Dan Breen and the IRA'