Pianist and singer/songwriter Adam Rushfield, who goes by the professional name of Jaz Jericho, comes from a long line of musical talent: his great grandfather banged singer Sophie Tucker! When we met with Adam in his tiny room/music studio recently, he played us a tape of longtime resident 87-year- old Stormé DeLarverié belting out an old standard, "Since I Fell For You," her voice still as impressive as in her heyday in the 50s and 60s, husky, evocative, and powerful.
Of course we immediately asked Adam if we could share Stormé's song with our blog readers, but it turns out he wants to keep it under wraps for awhile, as he is working on a song cycle partially revolving around the remarkable recording. (The work will delve into the lives and lore of Chelsea residents as well as other stories.) He played us a couple of pieces on his piano and they expertly evoked the dysfunctional family dynamic of the Chelsea.
Where are you from?
I was born in Okinawa, Japan in 1979. I grew up in Las Vegas, where I lived from the time I was six months old. It's a very comfortable place to live, but not easy for a musician unless you play cover tunes and don't care if people listen to you or not. Everybody wants to get out, but nobody does anything about it. But by this point in my life I was ready to go, I needed a change. Some of my friends who were musicians moved to LA, but that wasn't for me. I visited NY three years ago and something about it just grabbed me.
How did you hear about the Chelsea?
Just from folklore and movies and books and then later through my work in music. When my friend and I visited NY it was too expensive to stay here the whole week, but on our last night we walked in to check the place out and the guys at the front desk were really cool and offered us a discount, so we decided to stay one night. We rode up in the elevator with Rene Ricard, of all people. He was carrying an envelope and he opened it and showed us that there was a knife inside. He said, jokingly, that we'd better not be up to no good. If we were here to steal the art, we'd have to answer to him. That was when I knew I had to move to the Chelsea.
How did you become interested in music?
My Dad's a musician. He plays in a 50s and 60s rock band. So I grew up around all kinds of music. My great grandfather played in a big band, and banged singer Sophie Tucker. That's his claim to fame.
What are your main musical influences?
Bowie, Beatles, Motown, everything. In college I was a musical theatre major, and I'd like to write musicals someday. Or maybe not, since they're so cheesy. Rock Operas, really, that's what I'd like to write.
You moved into the hotel in February of 07. How did you score your room at the Chelsea?
I called Stanleyfrom Vegas and told him I was thinking of coming to New York soon, and asked if he had any rooms available. He said not right now but just let me know when you're on your way and I'm sure we can find something for you. I called him when I crossed the Mississippi. When I got here he brought me right up to this room and I took it, the first one he showed me. It was pretty expensive and he was charging me by the night, as a transient guest ($75/night, plus hotel tax), but he said he'd try to get my rent down, and he did lower it at one point, right before he left ($70/night, plus tax). I believe that he would have eventually offered me an affordable, permanent, monthly rate.
At that point he was forced out by the minority shareholders and BD Hotels took over. What did BD say about your rent?
They still tried to charge me the high rate. I said I had been here long enough to be considered a permanent tenant and I was being illegally overcharged and they needed to reduce my rent, but they refused to listen to my arguments. I decided not to pay until the courts could resolve the issue. Though I kind of feel like I was cheated out of my full Chelsea experience since Stanley's no longer around, I plan to get as much as I can out of what's left of it.
Where will you go if you have to leave the Chelsea?
Well, I think the Chelsea has spoiled me, so no place else in New York would do. Maybe the Lower East Side, but everything's too expensive anyway. I have some friends living in Providence so maybe I'll crash with them for awhile. There's a pretty cool art's scene there, with lots of space in all the abandoned factory buildings. The Chelsea is a place where I can just relax and be, and I know it's not going to be easy for me to recreate that vibe somewhere else.
Withholding his rent allowed Adam to buy some time at the Chelsea, time well spent, it turns out, as he has been using it to soak up the inspirational atmosphere and transform it into music. I accompanied him to Housing Court on Wednesday, Dec 12, hoping I could at least offer moral support. He met with BD's lawyer and they negotiated a deal whereby Adam will be given an affordable rent through the end of February, at which time he will be expected to leave the hotel. So, while it certainly wasn't an ideal result, at least it will make a full year that Adam has lived at the Chelsea. We'll be sorry to lose Adam, as he seems a perfect fit for the Chelsea, with his respect for the history of the hotel, coupled with a forward-looking creative impetus to celebrate and reinvigorate that tradition. On the other hand, he's not gone yet--and no one knows what the situation at the Chelsea will be in two months. -- Ed Hamilton
Born on Christmas Eve, 1920, in New Orleans, Stormé worked professionally as a drag king and torch singer.Pictures of her in drag show her to be suave and handsome; uncompromisingly androgynous, you could mistake her for a man trying to look like a woman.In the forties through the sixties she was the emcee—or, better yet, the ringmaster--for the Jewel Box Revue, a traveling gay drag show, the first in America to be integrated.Playing to mixed race, as well as mixed gay and straight, audiences, the revue gained mainstream acceptance in larger cities around the country.In this context, Stormé was the subject of the 1987 film, Stormé: The Lady of the Jewel Box.Produced by DC filmmaker Michelle Parkerson, the movie emphasized Stormé’s appropriation of male symbols of power, such as suits and ties, in furtherance of the gay rights struggle.
But Stormé’s real claim to fame is that she’s the person who threw the first punch at Stonewall, the rebellion (named for the bar) on Christopher Street that gave birth to the gay rights movement.Prior to Stonewall, gay people were subject to arrest, pretty much arbitrarily, for such offenses as kissing or holding hands in public, or for dressing in the clothes of the opposite sex.The police staged raids on gay bars at unpredictable times, arresting whoever they pleased.The night of July 27, 1969, was seemingly like any other, with one exception: earlier that evening the city had mourned the passing of gay icon Judy Garland in a funeral attended by twenty-two thousand people.Whether this had anything to do with what happened next is open to speculation, but this time, when the police raided the Stonewall Bar in the early hours of July 28th, they soon found that the gay people had had enough and were ready to fight back—in particular one formidable drag king.
I doubt that Stormé went there that night looking for trouble, but she wasn’t going to run from it either.When a plain-clothed policeman punched her outside the bar, she retaliated, slugging him in the jaw.When asked what the policeman did next, Stormé, in an interview for the gay TV news magazine, In The Life, replied, with characteristic terseness, “He was on the ground. Out.” (Excerpt from Legends of the Chelsea Hotel: Living with the Artists and Outlaws of New York's Rebel Mecca)
Last year we compared our Chelsea Hotel christmas tree with that of the Allerton Hotel on 22nd and 8th Avenue, and found that our sawed-off little runt came up seriously short. But this year we blew them away! (Photo: Chelsea Hotel Lobby, 2007) Seriously, the Allerton which closed over the summer, was home to the most destitute among us and its loss was a serious blow to the Chelsea community. Those who applauded its closing are most likely the same people who would like to see the Chelsea turned into a Pod hotel. Thankfully we have more resources to draw on than the residents of the Allerton, but wherever those displaced souls ended up, we hope they landed on their feet. Here's wishing them a safe and happy holiday season. -- Ed Hamilton (Photo: Allerton Hotel Lobby, 2007)
If you live at the Chelsea, it has perhaps come to your attention that a beloved long term employee—here for almost three decades—was last week unceremoniously removed from his or her job.Though discretion prevents us from revealing the employee’s name, position, or the nature of his or her alleged offense in a public forum, we feel that no matter what his or her offense, the employee shouldn’t have been fired without a warning.We feel, furthermore, that he or she should be given a second chance.
(The Scrooges at BD tried a similar move against another employee and were stopped dead in their tracks.)It’s important, however, for all of us to show our support by demanding the employee’s timely reinstatement.Ask around among your acquaintances at the hotel to find out what you can do to help.
What’s happening here is that BD is gradually chipping away at the foundation of the Chelsea, eroding everything that makes the place unique: here they evict a vulnerable tenant, there they institute a restrictive policy, and sooner or later the place is unrecognizable and there’s nobody left to fight back.BD’s ultimate goal is to throw out everything related to the old guard.
The injustice of this removal is of course compounded by the fact that it occurred over the holiday season.What should be a joyous time of the year is turned into a miserable, unsettled time.In addition to the loss of his or her salary, don’t forget that the employee was probably also counting on your holiday tips.So ask around the hotel, and someone will no doubt tell you the contact person who will deliver your cards.You might also want to throw in a little something extra, because despite our best efforts it might be awhile before this employee sees a regular paycheck again. -- Ed Hamilton
We’ve heard it through the grapevine that BD is getting set to reveal their plans for the future of the hotel.Among their many less-than-innovative ideas, they apparently plan to install key cards on the doors of the transient rooms.What a brilliant stroke of genius, and a tremendous waste of money.Hey, News flash: the Chelsea is an old time hotel, and people who come here --tourists and residents alike – are attached to the slightly down-at-the-heels grandeur of the place.We have beautiful, heavy, solid wooden doors of a craftsmanship seldom seen these days, and the last thing we need is for these philistines to cut holes in them for their diabolical Big Brother madness.Which brings me to another rpoint: the people who stay here prefer to come and go as they please.You have to be a bit of a free spirit to want to stay at the Chelsea. . -- Ed Hamilton
Surprise! Glennon got an early holiday gift in the form of a wanted poster pasted in the elevator.It’s a good thing to as he was getting really jealous over all of the attention being paid to David Elder. If I remember correctly the reward was higher for Elder – a bunch of virgins or something.But then again he was guilty of leg humpin whereas Glennon is only a snitch (he ratted out a resident to the cops for supposedly smoking pot, something we still find hard to believe has happened at a place like the Chelsea).
As you can see by this year’s holiday employee list, Glennon Travis, the man lately posing as manager of the Chelsea, has had the unparalleled audacity to actually suggest that residents send him a holiday card (presumably filled with money), to reward him for his services for the past half-year. This is unprecedented in the annals of hotel mismanagement for at least two reasons: first, management traditionally doesn’t go begging like this (aren’t they paid enough?); and second, Glennon treats people like dirt, refusing to take resident’s concerns seriously. For him to actually think anyone would reward him for his “services” means that he is either living in some sort of hip hotel fantasy land, or else he wants to try to shake down residents and make them feel like they had better pay him off if they want any heat this winter. But don’t worry, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give Glennon his just deserts this holiday season. Send in your gift suggestions and we'll compile a top 10 list.
Bettina had never allowed us into her apartment before, but the painter Robert Lambert described it as a bat cave, with narrow corridors winding through piles of papers and boxes that stretched almost to the ceiling.Hotel workers couldn’t get in to repair the radiator, and so Bettina, who lacked the physical strength to move the boxes around, had to heat the place with electric space heaters.
And so it is.It turned out that those papers and the contents of those boxes represented a lifetime of work in painting, photography and sculpture.Now, the inessential carted away, and the bulk of the work neatly sorted and stored on newly erected shelving units, the more spectacular pieces can finally once again be properly displayed in all their glory in Bettina’s large, wide-open, airy studio.
The change came about due to the timely intervention of Sam Bassett, a documentary film maker who recently moved into the Chelsea.Sam is documenting the life and work of several of the Chelsea’s older residents, and as part of his project on Bettina, he enlisted a crew of volunteers to clean and restore the artist’s live/work space.He came down and filmed us as we toured the rooms.
“In her work, Bettina seeks to reveal the Noumenon [the mystical aura or spiritual substance] in the Phenomenon,” Sam says, revealing that Bettina takes inspiration from the writings of spiritualist guru P.D. Ouspensky’s Tertium Organum, an influence she shares with another of Bassett’s subjects, poet and mystic Ira Cohen.
Sam’s goal, now almost fully realized, is to provide Bettina with a proper living, working space again, as well as a place where she can showcase her art, so that critics and the public can view the artistic treasures that have been buried away for all these years.The next step in the process, Sam says, is to engage a knowledgeable person to archive Bettina’s huge collection of photographs and papers, with the ultimate aim of finding a gallery or museum to stage a long overdue retrospective of her work.
Highlights of the newly reopened Institute include: Bettina’s marble sculptures which she made while studying in Italy in 1970 (the curved surfaces were cut with a straight blade using a special technique); her non-Euclidean wooden sculptures from the Watergate era, reminiscent both of space-age forms and simple clam shells; her splash paintings, representing her frustration with corporate structures, which somehow morph into organic, calming forms; her series of photographs, from the early 80s, of the same square of concrete beneath her window as various people walk by; her folded paper sculptures; her non-converging line paintings and sculptures, and her large print of a dandelion leaf that looks like a Japanese character, its poignancy increased by Bettina’s revelation that it was plucked from the grave of her father.A series of photographs comments on the relation of the city’s buildings to its people, showing the similarity in their forms in an attempt to bridge the gap that alienates New Yorkers from the surroundings that physically dwarf them.And in a boxed series of photos, a man unloads boxes from a pallet, the resulting creation coming to look oddly similar to one of Bettina’s own sculptures, as the life of the street comes to mirror Bettina’s own inner reality that she has in turn recreated in her art.
Bettina’s life’s work is extensive and varied, but all her pieces demonstrate, as the name of her institute suggests, the whiff of the spiritual that lies just beneath the surface of the mundane, animating and invigorating what would otherwise be lifeless and ultimately uninteresting phenomenological forms.The rebirth of Bettina’s Institute for Noumenological research was long overdue, and restores to the Chelsea an important and vital—and still ongoing--part of its glorious history in the magic realm of the creative arts.It also helps us to better understand and appreciate a beloved and integral member of our Chelsea community.
Bettina certainly enjoys the renewed attention, and was spry, smiling and seemed years younger when we visited her studio last week.When asked to describe Sam’s filmmaking techniques, she said, “He inserts himself into your life and then films the results,” becoming a part of the finished creation.However he does it is OK with us.But for Sam, it was clearly a labor of love, as he reveals that he had to sit outside Bettina’s door for two months before she would let him into her room.Highlights of the as yet unfinished documentary include a scene where Sam skateboards down 23rd street with shelves purchased from Home Depot, and—what’s sure to be the highlight of the film—footage of Sam repeatedly carrying Bettina up a hill at the Strom King Japanese sculpture garden. I can’t wait to see that. Oh, and by the way, hotel workers, now able to gain access, recently installed a brand, spanking new radiator in Bettina’s studio.Now it’s warm and toasty in there, so Bettina doesn’t have to sit around in her coat anymore.
And in London, Ira Cohen’s famous mylar images which he created in the late 60's in his loft on the Lower East Side, New York City are on display at the October Gallery through January 26, 2008. Among the artists reflected in his mirror were John McLaughlin, William Burroughs, Jimi Hendrix and Angus Maclise. A culmination of the photographer’s fascination with the mirror, these photographs come from the very heart of the mirror from the fabled other side. (Photo: Ira Cohen, Jimi Hendrix, 1969, Pigment Print, 76 x 102 cm, Ed 10.)
Finally, here in New York, stop by the David Barton Gym's annual toy drive on Tuesday, December 11 from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m.
In an interview with Paul Hawkins, former Chelsea Hotel resident Joe Ambrose says that the Chelsea’s heyday was over long ago (see my recent essay for a rebuttal) and that we’re all just a bunch of rich, whiney cry babies who should shut up and move out.Well, I know I’m filthy rich, and certainly my apartment is the size of an upper middle class family home, and if whining means fighting to keep the Chelsea from becoming just another high-priced apartment building for bond traders, then I guess I’m guilty of that as well.What do the rest of you think?
One of our fellow Bohemians recently alerted us that “manager” Glennon Travis called the police because he imagined that someone was smoking pot in the hallway. Reportedly, the cops showed up but didn’t consider the situation life threatening and left without doing anything. (I hope they expressed their annoyance to Glennon for wasting their time.)
With all of the responsibilities involved in running a large hotel, our question is: Doesn’t Glennon have anything better to do than hassle people? We also hear that he's got time to patrol the halls looking for unattended animals. If Glennon wants to put on his Sherlock Holmes hat (better skip the pipe), maybe he can solve the mystery of who’s been swiping pieces of our famous staircase.
Glennon’s Gestapo tactics are an outrage, to say the least, since the Chelsea has always been a bastion of the live-and-let-live attitude. People come from around the world to breathe the Chelsea’s famous “air” of freedom. I wonder how beach bum Glennon would like it if we took his margaritas away from him? If we find out where you can purchase that tee-shirt, we'll let you know. You may be able to add other slogans such as "Animal Patrol" or "Why Does Everybody Hate Me?" Ed Hamilton
In a recent article in The New York Sun, experts are quoted projecting a glut in the number of new hotel rooms coming onto the New York market in the next few years. One of the Chelsea Hotel overlords, Richard Born, foresees doom and gloom for the hospitality industry in New York City.“There will be a lot of pain…” Born said. “…I am very worried about the fate of the hotel industry over the next two to four years…”He predicts “a potential 50% decrease in projected gross revenues and a near total wipeout of operating profits.”Born thinks that visitation to the city will soon level off and that “…we will see an enormous plunge in room rates.”If Born really believes this to be case, then why is BD Hotels trying to create more transient rooms here at the Chelsea Hotel?Perhaps a better solution would be to take in more permanent tenants.
Besides that, aren’t Richard Born and Ira Drukier partially responsible for the glut?How many hotels have they developed in Manhattan recently?I guess they don’t mind a little pain.
Back in the nineties I used to run into Abel Ferrara frequently, marveling at him as he lumbered around the hotel, a paper-bagged bottle of Bud in one hand, and usually accompanied by one or more beautiful women.A larger than life character if there ever was one, when I talked to Abel recently he said he had only just begun to read Charles Bukowski, which struck me as ironic, because he’s a Bukowskian figure to be sure.(In a story that may or may not be apocryphal, my friend said he ran into Abel in the Hamptons one time, and when he said he liked his movies, Abel punched him in the stomach!)Being a director rather than a writer, Abel’s got prettier women than Bukowski, that’s all. Though I never spoke to him back then, I knew Abel by reputation, as I was a big fan of his gritty depictions of the dark side of New York, in films like The King of New York, The Bad Lieutenant, and my personal favorite, The Addiction. If ever anyone could make a film that does justice to the Chelsea Hotel, it’s Abel.And so it was with a sense of excited expectation that I witnessed Abel, like a whirlwind force of nature, descending upon the hotel, barking orders to his crew in his thick Bronx accent. The first time I ran into him on his present visit was when he was filming actress Elizabeth Pugh, who used to live down the hall from me.I was sitting out on the fire escape watching the sunset when Abel popped his head out the window and sat his ubiquitous Bud-in-a-bag outside to keep cool.“Come on out,” I said.But when he saw me he quickly retrieved his Bud.I guess I looked like somebody who might be getting rather thirsty.
The film is to be a documentary, replete with interviews of the famous and obscure denizens of this bohemian flophouse, past (we’ve seen Viva around the place recently) and present, but also with dramatized (perhaps fictional) scenes set around the hotel.Abel says it’s going to be a sort of love letter to the Chelsea. Early one Sunday morning, running into Abel on my way out for coffee, I asked him what some of the dramatized stories were going to be about.“Well, gotta have Sid,” he replied.“Yeah, I had to have Sid in my book too,” I said.We agreed that the trick is to tell the story in a unique way, from a fresh perspective, instead of just recounting the same boring details of the slaying. Early on in the shooting, Abel’s huge crew jammed into our tiny room to film Debbie and I in all our Bohemian splendor.When the equipment was all set up and Abel finally swept into the room, the first thing he did was to complement us on, of all things, making our bed—apparently some of the people he had interviewed before us hadn’t bothered!After that Abel was all over the place, running in and out, talking more than asking questions, and the interview seemed to have no rhyme or reason.But that was standard Abel, engaging and entertaining, and it was a lot of fun to work with him.As with all of Abel’s movies I’m sure there is method to the madness, and he’ll sort through all this material and give us an important and gripping historical record of the end of an era at the Chelsea Hotel.
Scenes from Abel Ferrara's Chelsea on the Rocks, a layered, lyrical portrait of the hotel- including 50 interviews with former and current residents, re-enactments and archival footage.
Bijou Phillips and Adam Goldberg in character as, guess who?
(Some of the real stars of the movie hanging out on the set. Photo courtesy of Linda Troeller.)