Writer Joe Ambrose has always loved the outré culture associated with the building, so much so that he wrote, Hotel Chelsea, Manhattan, a book that includes interviews with William Burroughs, Paul Bowles, Herbert Huncke, Richard Hell and numerous Warhol collaborators. Ambrose is also the author of Moshpit Culture (2001), an investigation of covert punk culture from inside the moshpit, and Gimme Danger (2002), a biography of punk icon Iggy Pop.
What do you do?
I do all kinds of things within the arts. I work as a DJ and member of experimental hip hop group Islamic Diggers. Islamic Diggers produced the Dutch East India/Sub Rosa 2CD, 10%; File Under Burroughs which features tracks by Brion Gysin, Bill Laswell, Herbert Huncke, Chuck Prophet, Marianne Faithfull, John Cale, and William Burroughs. In 2000 Islamic Diggers organised NO EXPECTATIONS, an evening of 60s Super 8 movies by Anita Pallenberg. These films, featuring Pallenberg's pals like Keith Richards, Allen Klein, Marianne Faithfull, Mick Jagger and Brian Jones were shown at the ICA and The Chamber of Pop Culture in London. I write regularly for www.outsideleft.com and www.thehandstand.org
When did you live in the Chelsea?
2001 and 2002.
What inspired you to live in the Chelsea?
After reading in the Protestant Times a dodgy piece which managed to make one of the most fascinating places in the world seem like the most boring, I thought about the Chelsea. Despite the soporific nature of the article it reminded me all over again that the Hotel existed and, since I had to go to New York anyway, I decided to give the Chelsea a shot. Frank Rynne reminded me that Miles, the counterculture activist and Allen Ginsberg biographer, had said to mention his name to Bard, who would then fix me up with someplace decent. Miles said Bard was an old sweetheart about whom he had nothing but good things to say.
Miles was right. Bard told me on the phone that he wouldn’t give me a reduced rate but that when I got there he’d charge me their lowest rate and ensure that I had a good suite. He was as good as his word, I got good rooms in the heart of Manhattan and was properly looked after.
I stayed at the Chelsea Hotel as a sort of whimsical joke to, and on, myself. All my life I’ve loved the outré culture associated with that building, everything from the queer/junk-orientated Beat Generationers (principally Burroughs and Huncke) through to the punk rock mythology of the Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith and Richard Hell - scenarios also well tinctured with touches of junk and queerness. It would be fair to say that, insofar as I can be said to stand within any movement, I am happy to make my stand within the broad parameters of culture as defined by early Seventies New York punks.
What is your favorite Chelsea Hotel story?
This is one of my own Chelsea stories, from the book on the place which I'm working on.
Suicide King and One Eyed Jack, who lived in reduced circumstances in small rooms alongside one another on the Chelsea's teneth floor, were the best of friends. Every Friday night they tried their hands at the poker game that Hannah Reed ran on the third floor. So, when Suicide needed money one day, One Eyed Jack pulled out a roll of tens.
Later they fought because Suicide King refused to pay back the loan, though his circumstances had greatly improved.
"Un hombre duro!" Suicide King said sarcastically about his old pal, when Jack got annoyed and threated to do something about it.
"Despotico!" One Eyed Jack replied, sad to have lost his friend over so very little money.
Would you move back to the Chelsea?
Yes, when I move to Manhattan, which I will, though not in the immediate future.