August 24, 2015 | by Brian Cullman
There was a time when I didn’t know Gordon Bishop, but that time’s not worth talking about.
I met Gordon in his shop, Tropics, sometime in the early eighties. I’d been walking through Soho and noticed a store I hadn’t seen before. Inside was a jumble of Javanese antiques—carved doors; four-poster beds; objects that seemed decorative, ceremonial, and incomprehensible—along with fabrics and wall hangings and kites and sculptures. It looked like Santa’s workshop, if Santa had a penchant for priapic statues of half-dressed men with enormous erections and wicked smiles.
No one seemed to be working there, but I heard flute and gamelan music coming from the back room. There was a curtain separating me from the music, along with the sort of velvet rope commonly seen in discos, and a hand-painted sign fixed to the rope: DO NOT ENTER. Read More »
March 20, 2015 | by Brian Cullman
This was not quite what I’d expected.
I’d come to the psych wing of Butler Hospital, in Providence, Rhode Island, to present a music seminar or, more properly, a sing-along, as part of a community service requirement for my college. This was in the late seventies. I was in a brightly lit dining hall that smelled of tobacco and medicine. There were twenty-five or thirty folding chairs but only thirteen or fourteen patients, all of them sad and doughy, middle aged or older. I sat facing them on a gray wooden stool and looked out at the assembled not-quite crowd. They looked like retired firemen, metalworkers, or lunch ladies; men with mustaches, pensions, and bad habits; women with secrets; people who rode the bus, who stood in line and then stood in the same line again. I’d read The Bell Jar, some Randall Jarrell, and I had a vaguely romantic, if ill-defined, sense of life on the other side of what passes for sanity. But this was not a good advertisement for crazy. Read More »
January 11, 2014 | by Brian Cullman
My father bought me a Swiss watch when I was seven. The strap was too big and needed adjusting, but when I could finally put it on, I felt a surge of electricity pulse through me, as if I’d just been shackled to time’s wrist. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get the ticking of the second hand to sync up with the beat of my heart.
I stopped wearing it and kept it in my pocket, only later finding the proper use for it: timing the forty-fives I bought and listened to in my room, checking the accuracy of the time on the label to the time on my watch. The Beatles’ singles, I found, all listed the correct times. The Rolling Stones’ singles, not so much. They’d often claim their songs were fifteen or twenty seconds shorter than they really were, hoping to get more airplay from DJs, who would often opt for a song they could run right into the news break. For me, it was the first hint that time was negotiable, that with the right connections no one had to pay full price for an hour. That being the case, what was the point of a watch? I haven’t worn one since. Read More »
October 28, 2013 | by Brian Cullman
How do you say good-bye to Lou Reed?
For many of us, he’s been unavoidable, not just as a musical touchstone but as a cranky éminence grise: walking his dog, sitting in cafés with Laurie Anderson and berating waitresses (“Oh, c’mon, you know how I like my eggs.” “No, sir.” “The fuck you don’t!”), turning up at tribute concerts at St Ann’s, Tibet House, and Town Hall.
For a while, he and Laurie Anderson could be found at Les Deux Gamins, on Waverly Place, every morning around nine A.M. After Laurie left, Lou Reed would continue reading the New York Times, then look around the café to see if there was anyone who hadn’t noticed him. If there was, he’d slowly get up, saunter over, and tap them on the shoulder. “Hey. Hey listen. You got a cigarette?” The casual no, no, sorry was then followed by a visible HOLY SHIT! IT’S LOU REED, as he leaned over them with solicitous menace. If they looked sufficiently disturbed, he’d whisper, “Could you go get me one?” They sometimes did.
The tenderness and mercy and wonder of songs like “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and “Pale Blue Eyes” and “I’m Set Free” wasn’t always easy to find in the geezer who seemed to have more ways of saying fuck you to well-wishers and critics alike than Eskimos have words for snow. But if you could get him talking about Doc Pomus or Dion or Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, the light of the true believer would shine in his eyes.
At Jenni Muldaur’s birthday party last year, she had an old Victrola set up, and I brought a box of forty-fives—the Bobby Fuller Four, the Drifters, the Hombres, the Shirelles, Nervous Norvus. Lou Reed started looking through them admiringly. He stopped when he got to the Jaynetts’ “Sally Go ’Round the Roses,” holding it up like you would the Holy Grail.
“I love that record,” I murmured.
He tilted his head and gave me a look equal parts who the fuck asked you? and me too, me too!
September 11, 2013 | by Brian Cullman
More and more, I find that some of the people I remember best were bit players in my life, ones who were on the edge of my consciousness but who registered more deeply than I knew at the time: the pretty singer who lived on the seventh floor and who hummed to herself in the elevator; the mournful-looking barber who stood in the window of Paul Mole’s Barbershop on Lexington, watching the schoolboys pass; the club owner who laughed whenever he saw me coming and would wave me in to see Tim Hardin without paying; the West Indian doorman of the building on east Sixteenth Street who liked to work the night shift with no shoes on. I barely remember the guy I traveled with the summer I hitchhiked cross country, but I remember the fifteen-year-old runaway I met. Gay Monday Sad Tuesday was her name. It looked like there’d been very few Mondays in her life. I thought about this a few days ago when I learned of Mayer Vishner’s death by his own hand in late August.
Mayer wasn’t a close friend, but our paths crossed repeatedly over the last thirty years, first when he was a late night radio host on WBAI and booked music at Dr Generosity’s (an Upper East Side dive remembered for free peanuts, cheap beer, and an over-zealous sound system), later when he helped run the Saint Marks Bookshop when it was still on Saint Marks Place; more recently as someone who was constantly wandering the upper reaches of MacDougal Street with his laundry or his cat. Sometimes we’d stop for coffee at one of the overpriced cafes near Washington Square. Mostly we’d talk about doing that and figured we’d do it next week, after the laundry was done, after the cat was fed.
All the time I knew him, Mayer looked very much like what he was: an anarchist with a wicked sense of humor and the best pot on the block. He wanted to blow up Wall Street, but he didn’t want to hurt anyone’s cat in the process.
A prankster, albeit a cranky one, he ran with a crowd of full time troublemakers: Abbie Hoffman, Ed Sanders, Paul Krassner, Phil Ochs, among a few others committed to revolution, psychedelic and otherwise, and committed to the possibility of peace and love. But it’s hard to wage a revolution in an age of property and complacency; Ochs and Hoffman both gave in to doubt and depression and took their own lives. Last week, Mayer followed suit.
A natural contrarian, he distrusted any and all forms of authority and was deeply bewildered by the news that I’d become a father and was raising a son. He simply couldn’t imagine telling anyone what to do. “It’s not like that,” I tried to explain. “The moment they can talk, they start telling YOU what to do.”
He wasn’t entirely convinced, but he agreed to rethink his position.
A shame. He would’ve made a kind and wonderful parent.
July 22, 2013 | by Brian Cullman
Lillian Roxon died forty years ago this August.
Lillian was an Australian journalist who moved to New York in the late 1950s to cover popular culture for the Sydney Morning Herald and who fell madly in love with the city and with the sixties rock scene as it emerged. An unbridled enthusiast, scenemaker, and troublemaker, she was also one of the original Wild Grrrrls: bawdy, carousing, fiercely independent, unashamedly smart women on the town. Together, she, Germaine Greer, and Linda Eastman terrorized the city. At least the parts of the city that men frequented.
I met Lillian when I was about sixteen. She had just published The Rock Encyclopedia, and I devoured it, read it cover to cover. This was pre Creem, and almost all there was for music junkies was Hit Parader, Teen Beat, and 16 Magazine. So of course I bought her book. And corrected it. The spirit of the book was wonderful, but the facts were all askew, and for a young trainspotter that was unforgivable. She had John Stewart from the Kingston Trio listed as a member of Buffalo Springfield. Things like that. I sent her about thirty handwritten pages of corrections, and she sent back a note graciously asking if I’d like to work on the second edition with her.
There was no second edition, but she became my patron, taking me off to Max’s Kansas City and to clubs I never could have gotten into, not to mention taking me to all the back rooms and backstage scenes I didn’t even know existed. Read More »