Tattooed Bums & Sailor Jerry Rum

So now I’m obssessed. It isn’t enough that I am quickly covering my entire body with random tattoos, but now I almost only find happiness when surrounded by others who are obsessed with covering their entire body with tattoos. Last night I went to The Gutter, 200 N. 14th St. (Brooklyn), my new favorite place to get some ink from, to celebrate the life of Sailor Jerry Collins from Sailor Jerry. The crowd, the tattoos, the music, the Sailor Jerry Rum. and the hot dogs (even the vegan ones) were all wonderful. People threw darts at a dartboard and got the tattoo that was posted up on it.

Todd Weinberger, the creative director of Inked, got a hammerhead shark just ahead of me. Matt Van Cura of Invisible NYC did mine. He’s great and I’m heading to him next week to get myself a Ramones logo in memory of my pal Arturo Vega who just passed. A young lady who I was chatting up wore the famous logo t-shirt last night in Arturo’s honor. She said she didn’t know him but wanted to show respect. The gesture jolted me from depression over his passing into thinking how well he spent the time he had. 

Sadly, I must report the passing of yet another dear friend: Elizabeth Connor Bursis died in San Francisco after a courageous fight with cancer. Some remember her as a Danceteria bartender or from the Eulenspiegel Society – the largest BDSM society in the U.S. – or just being their looking marvelous. She was one of my mentors, and talked to me in her calm voice and open mind about the journey I was taking. Until recently we kept involved on Facebook, but then she drifted away. I didn’t know why until yesterday. I had been meaning to connect with her just as the news came.

A friend comforted me by telling me that we know a lot of people, and many of those people have lived hard but exciting lives and that many of them are getting up there in age. I guess for club types, 60 is the new 80. Liz left us all too soon. 

My friend Kim Vu is soft-launching Bristle + Creme at 416 Third Ave. (29th and 30th). It’s a saloon and coffee shop and a lot more. The ambitious, beautiful Kim will bring much needed pizazz to that Murray Hill/ Turtle Bay strip.

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Hot Stuff at Hotel Chantelle, Surf’s Up, and Gay Pride

Help me, I’m melting! I actually need someone to pour water over me as I just don’t do well in the heat. In a heat-of-the-moment decision, I decided to DJ for free, something my manager Adam over at 4AM frowns upon. The occasion was the Surf’s Up soiree over at Aspen Social Club, which was converted to “Aspen Surf Club” to catch the wave. When I got settled and shook a bunch of hands and kissed the babes on the cheeks I went to the DJ booth where DJ Life was killing it. His offerings of hip-hop, pop, and R&B was just what they wanted so I opted out and headed to Hotel Chantelle where I really wanted to catch Luc Carl’s set.

The Aspen Surf Lodge event had a door proceeds benefactor in the Rockaway Beach Alliance. Every hipster I know is heading out to beaches in Fort Tilden and Rockaway these days. The night before at The Darby I dined with Marky Ramone and his wonderfully-made Marion and my gal Amanda. Marky felt strongly that a street in Rockaway should be named after Dee Dee Ramone, who penned the classic Ramones track “Rockaway Beach.”

That song has tourists from all over the globe flocking there. Marky pointed out that Joey Ramone Place is at 2nd Street and  Bowery, just a hop, skip, and jump from what is affectionately called the Ramone’s loft. It is actually the loft of artist, lighting designer, road guru and all-around genius Arturo Vega who I named my Chihuahua after. “Rockaway Beach” is one of the most recognized tracks from this seminal NY punk band, and a street for Dee Dee would indeed be sweet.
The air-conditioning failed to meet the test at Chantelle and, although we DJs did our best and the crowd tried to make a go of it, everybody ended up on the roof and partied under the stars. I had fun playing tracks that had some sort of heat reference including "Hot Stuff" by The Rolling Stones, "I’ll Melt with You" by Modern English, and eventually "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana. They say the air will be fixed, but it was a bit too late for last night’s party. I’ve always been taught to "never let them see you sweat"…last night, I failed.

I would be remiss and subjugated to much emotional distress by my friends celebrating Gay Pride if I didn’t mention it. My fabulous friend and fiend Patrick Duffy has done it again. A fabulous event will mark my introduction to OUThouse within the THE OUT NYC resort complex. The space is behind a red unmarked door at 510 west 41st Street between 10th and 11th. This is a private affair with a $50 6pm-9pm champagne-and-curated- cocktail reception so if you want into OUThouse you better hustle.

The gift bags are a "must" with “a gorgeous equality candle, jewelry by Chris Habana, and a skin spa gift and much more. The gala has a name: “The Garden of Earthly Delights," a very special Pride benefit for the Courage Campaign and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Campaign. The shindig is hosted by the ever-fabulous Amy Sacco, Peter Davis, Christopher Valiante, Michael Warner, and of course Patrick Duffy. DJ Angola will set the tone, and my favorite Monday Night Bingo buddy Murray Hill will perform. I wouldn’t miss it for the world …unless their air conditioning is on the fritz.

Remembering My Old Friend & Ramones’ Logo Designer Arturo Vega

A Saturday afternoon text told me about the passing of my old friend Arturo Vega. You may not know the name, but you know his work. He designed and produced all those Ramones t-shirts. He helped begin the band and was involved with their legacy through the website and merchandizing, long after three of the fabulous four or more had also shuffled off this mortal coil.

Joey, Johnny, Dee Deeand now Arturo left us too soon but left us with so much. The affect of the Ramones on our world will be debated long after all of us have moved on. They helped shape not just a sound, but a downtown culture. They took us from there to here as much as anyone. Financial success eluded them for most of their run, with t-shirt sales far surpassing album sales. Arturo’s contribution  – a graphic identity as well as a brilliant lighting display during shows – cannot be underestimated. The Ramones’ slick punk image appealed to a cognizant set that demands creative aesthetics. Spin placed the band just after the Beatles in influence.

Marky Ramone is touring the globe with a Ramones cover band, with Andrew W.K. playing the lead. It’s doing well. He was in Argentina when the news came. His Marion and I talked about the loss, how he didn’t tell us, and how our world is accumulating casualties. Vera, Dee Dee’s wife, was also "freaked out" to offer much more than:

"The news of Arturo Vega’s passing has been numbing, and all too familiar. Good Times and Great Memories…..I will miss him. R.I.P. Arturo – All Good Cretins Go To Heaven." 

Arturo’s facebook page was a thousand quotes and photos from people he touched from all over the world.

I barely remember the beginning, but can’t get a handle on this end yet. I met him at CBGBs. He was tough, sharp, aloof, but interested. We suddenly became friends. He was there for me always. I am saddened that I wasn’t there for him when he was going. According to plan, I’ll remember him as he was. 

I named my best dog after him. My chihuahua Arturo loved the human Arturo unconditionally. I guess dogs can sense the importance their best friends feel for another. I’d bring him by the loft and Arturo the human would just laugh at the feisty little guy who might bite everyone except for those he loved and even those peeps sometimes.

What happens to the loft and all the art now that Artie’s no longer home? The brilliant collection that chronicled downtown, the file cabinets filled with history. I remember when he tossed all of his clothes out and dressed in workers’ jumpsuits. Then it was marathons and mountains. 

I’ve been reading Please Kill Me author Legs McNeil;s facebook page. He was real close to Arturo. His girl Amy is best friends with my gal Amanda and I guess Arturo is all up in that. He posted: 

"One of the best friends anyone could ever hope for. I knew and hung out with Arturo since 1976 – 37 fucking years, if my math is correct – and if it weren’t for Arturo, Joey and I would’ve starved to death in those early years. Artie was so fucking fun– he made everything into an adventure. The world just became a much colder and lonelier place –  as if it wasn’t getting that way already. Fuck, I miss him so much already."

I’m going to be a little short of eloquent today. I feel like I’ve been hit with a sledgehammer, and that sword that dangles above all of our heads just moved a lot closer to mine. Arturo expected a lot from me. He supported me and my work. He never said yes when he meant no. He never said great when he meant so-so. He expected the same from me. The silver lining of this dark cloud is that I have reconnected with so many that I love and don’t see very much of anymore. 

In fact, an old friend that Arturo told me had passed is found out to be very much alive. Hopefully, some gathering to celebrate his life will bring us together. I hear there’s a small gathering tonight at Manitoba’s. I’m gonna show.

1-2-3-4, Joey Ramone & the Time Before

imageMy club career began a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. I was sort of a friend, accessory and co-conspirator of the Ramones. I was dragged to see the band one night by a Staten Island girl named Teressa, who could have gotten me to go anywhere. At that time I was listening to classical music and jazz and was a regular at places like Fat Tuesdays and Smalls. Teressa dragged me through the throngs until we were a foot from Ramones’ bassist Dee Dee. I had never seen anything like them. Three or four minute explosions of catchy tracks with only a 1-2-3-4 shouted into the mike by the nearby rockstar to indicate that a new song had actually begun. Eyes that would later see through the frenzy and noise of crowded nightclubs to some necessary truths began to analyze what could endear me to my new obsession. I noticed the needs of the roadies, the only other calm people in the room that night, and the next week I caught up with the band at a Long Island gig with a couple of neighborhood blondes of bad reputation.

I hung with the roadies, who liked my friends and gave me access to the band and most importantly to my dear friend Arturo Vega. Arturo was the artist behind the band. He designed and hawked the famous logoed t-shirts, did their lights, and more importantly owned the loft on East 2nd Street — now Joey Ramone Place — which was the epicenter of all things Ramone. My chihuahua and true love of my life is named Arturo after my skinny and sometimes quick-tempered friend from Chihuahua, Mexico. Later I would befriend Dee Dee, who had slapped me in the face as he banged his bass at that Teressa-inspired gig. At the end of the show, he flipped me a guitar pick with “Ramones” stamped into it. The same stamp was inside my forehead, and jazz and classical music would be reserved forever for taxi rides with intellectual cabbies. I approached Dee Dee one afternoon before sound-check at an Amityville, Long Island hot spot. I was with the two neighborhood sluts who had also succumbed to a Ramones addiction.

We approached the volatile rock star armed with only a silly question, “Hey Dee Dee, do you like playing these small club gigs as much as the larger concert halls?” He replied by putting on his spy sunglasses and leaning his head against the clubs’ facade. Not a glance and no words, only cigarette smoke from Dee Dee. He, of course, had no obligation to answer a silly question from some annoying fan, but I stood there with my two groupie companions and chatted about Queens, Long Island, and I’m sure lots of embarrassing stuff. About 20 minutes later, Dee Dee lowered his sunglasses and said something like, “I like the big concert clubs but I like the small places too. I can get real close to the crowd.” He hadn’t been ignoring me, but taking his time and thinking about a query from one of the most important people in his life: a fan.

That attitude, that the fan — or in my case, the patron of my clubs — was one of the most important entities in my life is what made me successful. Dee Dee’s ex-wife Vera wrote a book about her experiences, which will be celebrated this June 7. I caught up with Vera on Facebook recently, and it was grand. It was Vera who asked me to produce a Dee Dee birthday bash, which would be the first party I ever threw. In months to come I became a fixture around the Ramones’ haunts and a regular at Arturo’s’ loft where Joey and his gal Linda where living.

One summer afternoon my roommate, Ramones roadie Danny Zykowski, Joey, and I went to an amusement park in New Jersey where the lanky rock n’ roll icon was rarely recognized. A couple of 12-year-old boys took delight in tormenting the gangly Joey in the bumper boats, and I was beyond hysterical seeing his knees above his head as he sat impossibly in a go-cart designed for humans with a different shape. He laughed all day, always taking time to sign an autograph or make someone feel important. Joey would be talking to you while crossing the Bowery, and just as you would be about to step on the curb on the other side of the street, he would dash back to the safety of the starting curb. My association with Joey, Dee Dee, and later Johnny gave me some juice at nightclub doors. I would double-date with Johnny, who had political views a little to the right of Attila the Hun. I tried to overlook our differences and celebrate what it was that we had in common. This Dalai Lama approach to friendship had its rewards, as doors in hotspots around town noted the fact that I had famous friends.

Later, Johnny would betray Joey, stealing his gal Linda away from him, and it was never the same backstage after that. Even I stopped believing in Johnny, except for his ability to keep the band going and stay true to its fan base. Joey referred to this betrayal by his right-wing guitarist in the song “The KKK Took My Baby Away.” “She went away for the holidays / Said she’s going to L.A. / But she never got there / She never got there / She never got there, they say,” is how it went. I remember hearing it for the first time in disbelief that Johnny was playing lead for it. I never got up the guts to ask him if he knew it was about him. I’m sure he would have said, “Of course, but it was a good song.”

They celebrated the life of Joey at a benefit at Irving Plaza last night. Rock legends, with every part of them aged save for their hairdos, gave tribute to a real nice man who lead a group of misfits out of the boredom of Queens and into international stardom. Before there was the Ramones, there was pre-Stevie Fleetwood Mac, and a boredom of music that was similar to our current club circuit. Punk changed the way we looked at rock. The genre took club life out of the doldrums and infused it with a basic energy and raw sexuality that has been lacking lately. Not since the birth of house and hip hop in the 80s has a musical genre taken the club world into a new, vibrant direction. Mash-up and electro and sounds spinning off of those are only now bringing excitement to a Serato-pacified DJ class. The Ramones lifted me up and put me down in a new and more enlightening place. I’ve got to thank my dear old friend Joey — or as some called him, Jeffrey — for taking the time to show me a better world. He, Johnny, and Dee Dee have all passed, yet they are now recognized as one of the most important rock bands ever. Spin magazine named them number 2, only behind The Beatles. It was Paul McCartney’s often-used alias Paul Ramone that inspired the name. Say it ain’t so Joey! Jeffrey Hyman, a.k.a. Joey Ramone, would have been 58 yesterday.

A New Space Under the Street?

imageI took a week off to regroup and begin the New Year. I was around town, visiting clubs and trying to get a grip on what will be, and on Thursday I attended an art opening at a former assistant’s gallery. I’ve had a hundred or so assistants over the years, and the one thing this diverse group has in common is that they hate being called assistants.

Ivy Bernhard, who is now Ivy Brown, used to coordinate fashion shows for me back in the day when I made my living producing and choreographing these affairs. It was long before the tents, and we did our shows at clubs because lights, sound, techies, stages, and such were all available at these spots. And at that long ago time before the great meteorite whacked all the dinosaurs, it was cool to have a show at a trendy nightclub. I went to a Susanne Bartsch presentation of Vivienne Westwood, loved what I saw, and ran with the ball. I ended up doing about 400+ shows, including some real good ones: Katherine Hamnet, Matsuda, Stephan Jones, Martine Sitbon, Moschino, and like 395 others. This was before I tried my hand at nightlife — well, back then Ivy was my right hand (and often my left as well).

So, I popped in to see her at the Ivy Brown Gallery, which is in the Meatpacking District in that triangular building which defines 14th and 9th above Vento and Ara and Hogs and Heifers. As I was walking up the four flights, Yoko Ono was walking down. She has had a long relationship with photographer Bob Gruen, and Bob’s wife Elizabeth Gregory-Gruen was the artist showing her work. Cut-Work is amazing stuff and I urge you to check it out. I immediately ran into my mentor and the man I named my Chihuahua after, Arturo Vega. Although he’s accomplished many things, Arturo is best known for creating the artwork for the Ramones, being the guy that introduced them to those who babysat them in the beginning, and he also toured with them as their lighting director. Anyone fortunate to have seen the Ramones witnessed a lighting display that was unparalleled in its day. Arturo later ran the Ramones’ website and merchandising until deaths and differences occurred. We chatted about the work, bathed in the crowds filled with stunning beauty and intelligence, and then chatted up Ivy.

Ivy and I invariably talked about the project going on under the cobblestone of 9th avenue between 13th and 14th streets. There is a vaulted space under the street that Steve Hanson and the owner of 675 Hudson Street have been trying to develop for quite awhile. This never-before-used space has been shown around town to A-list owner and promoter types for well over a year. With 12-foot+ ceilings and actual street manhole covers as part of the ceiling, it is a wondrous room. I was a part of the design team with Chris Sheffield when I was co-owner of SLDesign. I left this project behind when I moved on, but it has always intrigued me. I was told that the community board had signed on, and the troubles they were having with the Department of Transportation were being solved. Yes, since it literally lives under a street, the DOT must be in the loop. The entrance to the space was to be through Ara, the small joint on 9th between 13th and 14th named for the building’s owner. A little bird told me that construction had begun again, but Ivy said she hadn’t seen any. Indeed, no dumpster was on 9th Avenue that evening, and I’m left to wonder what has happened. As it is a new year, I’ll start off lazy and not investigate. There’s a part of me that just doesn’t care anymore about what happens there. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to let that part win a few.