Wednesday, September 30, 2009
By Walt Cessna
All photos by Walt Cessna 05-09
I started going out to nightclubs back when they were still called that. It was 1980 and I was living in Bayside, Queens (New Yawk). I read feverishly about Studio 54, Xenon and Hurrahs, but Mudd Club was my ultimate fantasy destination. When I graduated from a rather strict Lutheran school in 8th grade, my parents plunged me unsuspectingly from their sheltered world into one of the largest public high schools in New York City. At first I was scared shitless. By the second week I had a dyed black crewcut, four earrings and took to wearing combat boots and Minor Threat t-shirts. This was the direct result of my first friend, a punk rock girl named Helena (pronounced Ee-lay-na) who had a Mohawk, nose ring and millions of dirty magazine pictures plastered all over her bedroom walls. To say I idolized her ability to not give a fuck about anything, period, was an understatement.
The biggest thing we had in common was the dream of getting into the Mudd Club. Since we were 14, this posed a problem. Not with the clubs mind you, just our extremely strict and freaked out about their punk rock kids, parents. In those pre-Guilliani days, it didn’t really matter how old you were to get into a club. It was how you looked, what you wore, how cute you were. It came down to, could you work it, or were you destined for a life of dreary suburban boredom, going to bed at eleven and never having your skull busted in a mosh pit. Since I had just gotten the shit stomped out of me at a Bad Brains show at Irving Plaza, my choice had already been made. I was destined for a life of funky haircuts, strange clothes, rude stares at my tattoos and piercings and generally becoming the black sheep of my somewhat shamed yet amused family. I fucking loved it. Going out was to become my life.
We decided to tell each of our parents that we were sleeping over the others house. Instead, we hightailed it into NYC on the 7 train from Flushing, where we prowled the punk morphing into new wave boutiques like Patricia Field on 8th St, scarfing pizza while tripping on mushrooms, running blindly through red lights and feeling as if the world was never going to get in our way. Finally, as the clock on Union Square slugged it’s way towards midnight, we hopped the R to Canal St. and precariously walked through the as yet unyuppified neighborhood now known as Tribeca. Finally, we reached the legendary address of White St. and the illuminating presence of a dimly lit doorway halfway down the block.
The doorman, George, leered invitingly at us and our naïve sense of alternative fashion. I was wearing a black Hassidic Jew Hat and several layers of musty, thrift shop suitings that I had stolen from my deceased Opa’s closet. My hair was buzzed under my hat save for a shelacked wave pushing out the front making me resemble Tin Tin. Helena was wearing more holes than actual clothing, the centerpiece of which was her newly dyed magenta vs. chrome yellow exaggerated almost to Patti LaBelle like extremes hair. We were granted comped admission (something of which I have been highly addicted to ever since. Let’s not even get on the subject of drink tickets), then slowly, almost silent film like, made our way into what we perceived as the ultimate temple of fierce cool. The Mudd club was and always will be the breeding ground and central zero point for most of NYC’s authentically tweaked club experiences.
Where else could you see the B-52’s rocking out while infamous club denizens like Debbie Harry, Jean Michele Basquiat and some punked out secretary from Queens, were all serving it up majorly on the dance floor or in assorted dark corners? The legendary Anita Sarko was the upstairs DJ, but I was too intimidated to actually meet her until a year later at Danceteria, the second coolest club that ever ruled NYC. Looking around the dance-floor, It was everything we had hoped, prayed for, expected and so much more. Every legion and downtown look or scene was correctly represented. The cool ska kids in freshly bought Canal Jeans vintage black raincoats with checkered hats and carefully groomed creepers. Scary but sweet hardcore chicks mingled with eccentrically posed mannequins of the night whose sole survival purpose was to serve us with a drop dead gorgeously fucked up visual effect.
We recognized downtown notables who would later be replaced by un-notable club kids and other lunch box carrying second stringers with a zest for clubbing, but not a single shred of fierceness. There were the thrift store girls wearing odd layers of forties suiting or fifties cocktail dresses with carefully applied black eyeliner and thickly red rouged lips that their Stray Cat looking rocker boyfriends would smear all over their faces as they furiously made out in the back booths. Let’s face it, clubs will forever be about getting fucked up and getting fucked. You wannna socialize? Go the fuck over to the Four Seasons. People had sex everywhere in the Mudd Club, but it never seemed as if they were doing it for the sheer spectacle or tabloid attraction of it. It was more about actual attraction rather than social climbing castration.
Helena and I couldn’t believe the night we had. We forged friendships with people that I still see strolling down St. Marks and politely nod to as we bask in the fond memories of club nights gone by. We danced to records we had never heard before and had way too many Screwdrivers for our fourteen-year-old heads to actually handle. We stumbled out of the club at 4am and raced for the subway station, laughing out loud and sharing in what was the first of many sleepless nights for our parents as we turned into total club trolls. We were treated like superstars the next morning at school, arriving fresh from taking a two-hour nap in Union Square Park till it was time for first period. We looked like punk rock vagrants in need of a toothbrush and some fierce hangover remedy. What happened next quickly deflated our bubbles.
At homeroom, as we treated yet another roomful of our friends to the past nights events, both sets of our parents as well as the principal suddenly appeared and whisked both of our scared asses home. Turns out my mom called her mom, hoping to catch me before we left for school. I had left my school bag on the kitchen counter. Duhhhhhh Walter. How stupid”, I thought to myself as I finally returned the hard stare of my father and the gleam in the metal buckle of his belt. I was grounded for a month, but after that there was pretty much nothing my parents could do about it. I left home at fifteen, moved into the Chelsea Hotel in NYC, dropped out of school and decided to make Edie Sedjwick, Andy Warhol, Jann Wenner and fledging Soho News editor and future publisher Annie Flanders my respective icons, inspirations and hopefully future employers. Although I never got to meet Edie (she was dead), or Jann (he was still in the closet), I did work for Flanders as one of Details (pre Conde Naste or Cunty Nasty as we used to call it) earliest fashion editors and later styled Warhol for a Mario Testino shoot in Italian Vogue. He stole the leather Versace coat I put him in after the shoot by simply smiling at me as I protested and walked away. Testino silenced me, saying simply, “Andy gets to keep anything he wants. He is Warhol after all.” Ah, the perks of celebrity.
I started working by day as a sketch artist and designer assistant on Seventh Avenue and by night as a club promoter and publisher of a crudely Xeroxed fashion and club zine called The Key. I got a job throwing parties at Danceteria and my life as a club troll officially began. I served as fashion director at the Palladium, Club USA and later at the Tunnel. I ingested enough cocaine to completely cover NYC as if it had been hit by the worst snowstorm ever. I met everyone, yet can’t remember half the things they said, though the things that I do would make even Karen Finley blush. On my last night in NYC, ironically, the day before Halloween, I did a reading of one of my short stories at Jackie 60, the only true club left in NYC that cared anything about the downtown arts, true supervixenism, subversive, ironic humor and the old scene as well as the future. Everything went well and although I tend to ramble, the crowd roared with approval. I figured it was a nice way to exit. No more Mr. Alternative Fashion guy. No more coke whore rep, no more day after hangover blues and funny phone numbers scribbled on Camel napkins.
It had taken me sixteen years to get off the payroll of one club or another. I moved to San Francisco around the time of my thirtieth birthday. Now I go to clubs strictly for fun, unimpressed by those who still try to impress me, but still deeply stimulated by the awesome visual display that certain cool kids are still capable of coming up with. I’ve watched as Mohawks morphed into glow sticks and comped entries turned into $25 admissions with an invite. It’s just not the same, but I still have the fever. Some may say I won’t grow up, but as long as there is a major beat beckoning me to the dance-floor, or a new scene that I sense strangely coming out of an old one, I’m gonna party like it’s 2099 (maybe just not as hard. I am an old man now, after all.)