From Joey Ramone to Andy Warhol, These Were NYC's Baddest Boys
I walked into the Hudson Dinner in the West Village, and waited a whole 26 minutes. And then I realized that I was an entire day early to my interview with photographer Marcia Resnick and writer Victor Bockris. The next day, I was running behind. Despite these missed connections, meeting the pair was well worth the wait.
I greeted Bockris, who was wearing a sharp three-piece suit and a bowler hat while drinking a cup of coffee. He told me that Resnick would be right back, and as we waited for her, Bockris told me a bit about their relationship. “Marcia has been my muse in many ways. I wrote an article, ‘Why I Hate My Girlfriend,’ about Marcia,” Bockris said, with a sharp pronunciation of every letter in her name. “I wrote another piece called ‘Negative Girl’ – obviously the double entendre.”
When Marcia sat down with us, I could immediately see the enduring appeal. She dressed head to toe in black, with red hair, tinted circular glasses, and fingers covered in rings. She spoke in a soft and mellow voice, a sharp contrast to Victor’s enigmatic way of speaking, and she told me about her life as a young photographer in New York City in the late 70s. I then truly understood the charm that led her to become friends with her subjects, including Mick Jagger, Jean-Michel Basquiat, William S. Burroughs, and Johnny Thunders.
Resnick’s latest book, Punks, Poets, and Provocateurs: New York City Bad Boys, 1977 – 1982, was recently released. It features work by Bockris as well, and it’s an incredible collection of stories and photographs of some of my favorite icons of all time. I spent an hour with with Victor and Marcia, enchanted by the tales of art, life, and rock & roll that make up their lives.
How did you both meet?
Victor Bockris: We met at an opening of a photography show for Christopher Makos called White Trash, in September of 1977, which I went to with Debbie Harry and Chris Stein. It was the beginning of that whole period, and Marcia sort of appeared out of the crowd like a vision. I started hanging out with her the following week. We spent a lot of time talking to each other about what was going on. It was a very exciting time.
I met Marcia the month that she began this book, by coincidence. She was totally turned on by the glamour of the punk musicians, and originally that’s what it was – the bad boys of punk. Then through me, to some extent, she met William Burroughs and Andy Warhol and taking pictures of them, and started broadening the scope of the whole thing. You know, Burroughs was a bad boy, and Warhol was a bad boy, and Muhammad Ali was a bad boy, and the images were of bad boys. Really the richness of the book is the connection between the three generations: the Beats, Warhol, and the punks. No one else has touched on that.
How did you meet Burroughs?
VB: I met him at Max’s Kansas City. Burroughs had been living outside of the States for 25 years, until he returned to New York and set himself up in the Bunker on the Bowery. After Nixon resigned, there was a huge re-birth of the counterculture, which had begun to collapse in the early 70s because of the administration. But everyone suddenly rose again in 1974 and started to climax in ’77. I call them the beat-punk generation. There were a lot of us who were equally influenced by the Beat generation as the punk generation.
Marcia Resnick: When I photographed the four Beats – William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Peter Orlovsky – that was like photographing a band. But getting them all at the same time to look good is the challenge, and it was especially difficult with those four because they are huge egos. Usually in a band everyone knows their own ego locations, but these were four equally huge egos, so there was only one picture I liked.
You mention this book is a confrontation to men. In a world that was so filled with men, how do you think your role brought about a different side to these larger-than-life characters?
MR: The interchange that I had was between men and a woman. It’s a kind of seduction. A lot of these people were seducing me as much as I was seducing them. Women were really asserting themselves at that period in time, and I caught the bug [Laughs].
Who was the baddest of the boys?
MR: The baddest of the boys would actually be the ones who were the most resistant to my photographing them. I remember Tom Verlaine was really difficult, and after he saw the pictures it’s like he was a different person — “Oh, these are really good,” as if he expected nothing to happen. In terms of popularity for being a bad boy, I would say Burroughs.
VB: There was an article about photography in Rolling Stone, where they took 12 photographers and the question was —
MR: “If you could be anywhere, in any place, with anybody, and any camera, what would it be?” And I said, “I’d be in bed with Iggy Pop and a Polaroid.”
VB: That really rings the bell of this book, in a sense — that statement. There’s definitely a sexual energy that runs through this whole book.
There’s a sexual intimacy that let you get these photos, that maybe a man could not have gotten. But you, Victor, got so many incredible interviews and access from being a man in a man’s world. Who was your favorite person to talk to?
VB: I think that Andy Warhol was the most extraordinary man I’ve ever met in my life. I love Burroughs more than anyone, but Andy stands out as the most extraordinary person. He was a unique character.
Marcia, you use the phrase, “enchanted, endangered, and unrepeatable time.” What happened after 1982 that burst that bubble?
MR: The AIDS epidemic killed nightlife. People were fluid sexually and open to anything and experimentation, but then everybody became paranoid and afraid.
VB: And that came on top of a heroin epidemic. Authorities put a heroin supermarket right next to where punk lived in order to destroy it. Every band has a junkie in it, and people like Johnny Thunders or Burroughs became very romantic and very cool. Heroin gives you an ability to chase your inhibitions much further than normal. It’s very seductive. It gives you a lot but it takes everything from you.
Who had the most rambunctious story?
VB: Was it Jean-Michel?
MR: He wasn’t rambunctious; he was very affable. I photographed him over time. I photographed him when he was SAMO the graffiti artist, and the pictures in this book were actually taken at the Mudd Club.
VB: Well, [Marcia’s] relationship with Thunders is the most interesting because he lived with her.
MR: In a lot of the photos I took of him he was high, sometimes extremely high, sometimes needing to get high. He loved to perform in front of a camera all the time. He was an intuitive genius and a lovely charming guy who was a slave to heroin. We were, at first, an unlikely pair because I was teaching college and he was playing the guitar in a band. I photographed [the New York Dolls] the first time they played together, at a party, and I never knew I had those photos until Photoshop.
It’s interesting too, because some of the people that you photographed in this book were a product of the heroin epidemic going really awry. You actually took the last photo John Belushi.
MR: Well, the last professional photo shoot. I asked him, “When can I photograph you?” at 3 in the morning, and he said, “Now.” I didn’t believe him so I went about my business, and when I got home there he was in a limo waiting. I actually did see him a few days before he died to show him the contact sheets. He was rushing off to the limo to go to the airport to go to California and I handed him the contact sheet. He took them and said, “Oh these are terrible,” and handed them right back [Laughs].
I think that the nostalgia of this book is so captivating, especially because the iconic places that you both frequented and where you took a lot of these photographs don’t exist anymore.
VB: I don’t think it’s nostalgia, I think it’s very much in the present time. It’s not just looking back at something in the past. It’s being reminded of how the art ambience of that time is very much needed now. We’re in a culture where we have no culture, and so many people complain to us, “We’re so envious of your culture, we have no culture.” That’s a really strange thing, but it’s true.
Do you think there’s still freedom in New York to be a punk, a poet, or a provocateur?
MR: The freedom to be like that exists, but the propensity and motivation is different because of the Internet.
VB: We did a video interview where the first question was, “What was your financial plan?” And we both laughed, because back in ’77 we weren’t thinking in terms of an actual financial plan – or anything financial! We were just doing the work we wanted to do and found ways of supporting ourselves. Marcia was a teacher. I worked for various magazines. We didn’t think about money. So yeah, it’s much harder to be a punk, poet, or provocateur in NY nowadays because people are so trapped in this need to make money out of it. You don’t make money out of being a poet. But on the other hand it’s a very rich thing to do, because what it gives you is a reflection on the culture, which can become very valuable over time.
Punks, Poets, and Provocateurs: New York City Bad Boys, 1977 – 1982 will be featured in a gallery in NYC in February. In the meantime, get your copy here.
All photography by Marcia Resnick.