At last we get a real rock star in this hotel! Bruno Wizard, singer and songwriter for the seminal 70s punk band The Rejects, and later for The Homosexuals, checked into the room right next to us last weekend. Abandoning our usual rule of making people write these answers out, we interviewed him in person last Sunday afternoon. Bruno is tall and thin, youthful for his age, and, inkeeping with his rock star image, he wore a red polkadot shirt and a snazzy blue plaid blazer. He talks pretty much non-stop, and is very engaging, so hopefully I was able to take notes fast enough to do justice to his words.
What do you do? Along with Anton Hayman, I sing, write, and co-produce The Homosexuals, a band that Anton and I put together in 1977-78. We recently gave our first performance in 20 years at London's Madame Jo Jo’s, which used to be a glam bar for transvestites—though not all gay transvestites. It’s more for the old type of transvestites, who may be bikers, mailmen, what have you, men who like to dress up in women’s cloths and go out on the weekend. It's now one of the hippest glam, rock, indie, electro, tranny, fetish, trisexual club hangouts in London.
Why did you change the name of your band? I lived through the 60s and I saw how the establishment pulled the teeth out of that revolution. In 1976 I was 26 and I saw the same thing happening all over again to Punk. The Rejects were opening for bands like The Adverts and The Damned, but these bands were all selling out. (The Rejects opened also for Generation X, complete with Billy Idol, who were managed at the time by another Hotel Chelsea resident Norman Gosney. We also opened for X-Ray Spex and The Jam.) Once again the Holy Grail turned out to be a replica. The Rejects were like dropping the bomb, but there was nobody there with me. We weren’t exactly as clear-thinking as we are now, but I think calling the band The Homosexuals was a way of saying to the record companies: we’re not ready to deal, you have nothing to offer us. They want to fuck me in the front, fuck me in the back, and then take my money for doing it. Back then it was more of a reactionary thing, a way of keeping these people away, whereas now it’s more of a conscious artistic decision.
When did you live at the Chelsea?
I lived here in the early 90s, when Dee Dee Ramone was here. I was bringing designer clothes over from London, and so I lived here off and on, maintaining an apartment here with my girlfriend, traveling back and forth between New York and London. Since then, I’ve been back several times, and I always stay at the Chelsea. (Even before my stay in the Nineties, I used to sneak into rooms with an Italian girlfriend of mine in 1986/87.)
How has the Chelsea changed over the years? I haven’t been here long enough this time, but I would say in general that over the years it’s remained the same, with the same mix of characters, though the individuals have changed. Dee Dee is gone, but you might meet someone on the lift and say, oh, he’s carrying the energy of Dee Dee. I see the Chelsea as a metaphor for life itself, society in rarefied microcosm. Whilst there is nothing NEW under the sun, at the same time EVERYTHING changes!
Can you tell us any stories about Dee Dee Ramone? Dee Dee was the instigator and the driving force of the Ramones. When punk kicked off in London, one of its crystallizing moments was when the Ramones played the Roundhouse. Punk was to sweep away anything to do with the hippies, and the Roundhouse was a symbol of the hippies. Just to see that gig was a momentous experience for me. When I got to know Dee Dee later, he came to stay with me in London. I took him out to the Rave clubs, and it was amazing to see how all the DJs worshiped him and bowed down to him, dropping all pretense, because even though it was part of their thing to say that his music was for old people, they realized what an enormous influence it had had on them. I knew Dee Dee when he had cleaned up, and that’s why he liked hanging out with me, because he knew I wouldn’t be whipping out some cocaine or something and saying, hey come on Dee Dee, let’s do a line.
One time we went to a party with the Hell’s Angels at a club called the Lions Den. Dee Dee was like a God to them because of his reputation for fast living. He was trying to stay sober, but he was worried about letting them down. He was nervous because he thought they’d kill him, saying, ah we’re doing you a favor Dee Dee, you’ve gone soft. (They were very respectful to Dee Dee but he was somewhat overwhelmed by their perception of him as a fast living hellraiser etc. which was entirely understandable.) It was OK at first because nobody much was there. But then all these bikes roared up and they all surrounded Dee Dee and he disappeared into a sea of leather and beards and beer bellies and nose hair. It wasn’t until much later that night that I saw him again, and, well, the rest goes without saying.
Another time, I was in Stanley Bard’s office—it’s like being called into the headmaster’s office—for not paying the rent. I remember him saying, “I’m gonna change the lock,” but he always said dramatic things like that and I knew he wouldn’t do it. But right when he said that, I looked out the window and something came crashing down onto the pavement. Oh my God, I said, and I ran out to see what it was. At that moment I ran into Dee Dee coming back into the hotel, his face white as a ghost. This was right at the time he was trying to quit using drugs, and he had just worked up the courage to go out after staying locked in his room for several days. What had happened was that a woman had thrown herself from a window on the 9th floor. The operator had called her and said she had to check out, and she had said, “I’ll be right down.” And it was right at that moment that Dee Dee stepped out of the hotel. [Editor’s note: You wouldn’t believe it if it was somebody else, but that was just the sort of thing that always happened to Dee Dee.]
Dee Dee was very sensitive and struggled to find meaning in his life. At the time he was asking himself, can I live my life without drugs? Music was central to his being. He was a blues purist, but neither the other Ramones, nor his fans, wanted him to deviate from the kind of music he was famous for.
What about Sid and Nancy? I didn’t know them at the Chelsea, but I knew them in Britain. When I met Sid I already saw The Sex Pistols as being like The Beatles. Replacing Glen Matlock on bass with Sid was like replacing Paul McCartney with George Bush -- in the sense that it was a political move on the part of McLaren, Machiavellian in the sense that Sid was an intended sacrifice to the God Of Mammon, and that Sid like Bush had somebody else's fist up his arse working his tonsils!!! Malcolm McLaren didn’t care if Sid could play bass, and he didn’t care if he died. He hired Sid because of his excess, knowing he’d kill himself. Sid was a blood sacrifice and McLaren knew it. Sid was a necessary sacrifice so they could all become millionaires. Sid was a poor innocent boy, clueless and not too bright. I knew him, but not to talk to him. He was always passed out in the toilet of some club. Who would want to talk to somebody like that?
We have a question that we always ask everybody... 8 inches and thick.
No, that wasn’t it. Or, actually, maybe that is a pretty good answer. The question is, Do you think the Chelsea has a special creative energy?
It is unique, there’s no denying that. But you can’t say that the building has an energy in it’s own right. Without the people who live here it’s just bricks and mortar. It’s the people who are the spirit of the Chelsea. They are already creative when they come here. Some people don’t see that: they think that if they stay at the Chelsea they will become great artists, like making a pilgrimage to some kind of Punk Lourdes. Editor’s note: before the interview began, Bruno told us that people in Europe see the Chelsea more in terms of popular culture, as a center for the exchange and dissemination of ideas, where different art forms can come together and cross pollinate and form movements. New Yorkers, he argued, only see the Chelsea in terms of their own personal interests.
Why does Stanley Bard call you Borris? He resists the fact that I am the spiritual owner for the Chelsea. Actually, I don’t know. He just got it in his head one time, and then he can’t get it out.
The Homosexuals have a new CD coming out in the next few months. In the meantime you can buy their 3 CD set, Astral Glamour online at www.hyped2death.com and at many places around town, including Other Music on East 4th St. Bruno’s jacket is from KoKon 2 Zai of London.
(Photo: Bruno by Hiroya's Dee Dee Ramone painting.)