Hey BD, want to know how to sucessfully manage the Chelsea Hotel? Listen to the man who was able to manage the hotel for 50 years. (Video interview with Stanley Bard originally shown at the Museum of the City of New York 4/4/08)
Hey BD, want to know how to sucessfully manage the Chelsea Hotel? Listen to the man who was able to manage the hotel for 50 years. (Video interview with Stanley Bard originally shown at the Museum of the City of New York 4/4/08)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
As a Drummer and Drum Builder to the stars, Johnny Craviotto has been involved in the music business for nearly half a century. He began his professional playing career in the early 1960s and quickly progressed to touring and performing with such rock-and-roll legends as Ry Cooter, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Moby Grape, and Neil Young.
Legends: How’d you get interested in drums?
Johnny: My mother was a pianist, so there was always music in our house. By the time I was 12 I knew I wanted to be a drummer.
Legends: How did you hear about the Chelsea Hotel?
Johnny: I was jamming with some hippy guys and one of the guitar players knew Buffy Sainte-Marie. They had run into her on the beach in Hawaii. Buffy wanted to go from being a solo performer to having a trio, so during the first week of November 1968 I flew to New York for an audition with her. I auditioned for Buffy at the Chelsea on a stack of New York City phonebooks with sticks and brushes. She said, “It sounds great. You’re hired.”
Legends: How’d you score your room at the Chelsea?
Johnny: Before we moved to New York we had gone to the Fillmore in San Francisco to see Rod Stewart and while we were at the concert our car was broken into and all of our bags and stuff were stolen. We then got on a 2 a.m. flight to New York. When we arrived, Stanley Bard was in the lobby. I told him, “we’ve got no money and no clothes.” He looked at us kind of funny, as if to say, “You mean to tell me you came to New York with no money and no clothes?” But he gave us a room. I went straight out of the mountains of Santa Cruz to 23rd Street and the famous Chelsea Hotel.
Legends: Can you describe the Vibe of the Hotel at the time?
Johnny: We moved into the Chelsea in Jan 1, 1969. Holy Moses! I can’t even begin to describe the vibe in the lobby. It was really rock & roll. There would be a surprise every time you got off of the elevator. You’d find Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin hanging out, or the Grateful Dead just sitting around in the lobby. I think the owners of the Fillmore East had a deal with the Chelsea whereby they put up the musicians at the hotel when they came to New York to perform. Anyway, I hope these new people don’t try to modernize the lobby. Can’t you guys say “NO MALL in this joint!” (Photo: Janis Joplin at the Fillmore East in 1968)
Legends: We’ve heard that Leonard Cohen drove everybody crazy with all his incense. Do you know anything about this?
Johnny: Buffy Sainte-Marie set us up in a room with a kitchenette & a fireplace right next door to Leonard. And yes, now that you mention it, he did burn a lot of incense. I didn’t know who Leonard Cohen was from Adam when Marie introduced me to him. After I got to know him, one time he took me to a Turkish coffee shop. You had to climb three flights up the fire escape and go through the window to get inside. There were all of these little old Turkish guys sitting around smoking and drinking some really strong espresso.
Legends: Did you get to Hobnob with any other celebrities?
Johnny: I was 21 or 22 years old and everything was like a whirlwind. Honey, I saw Joe Crocker & The Grease Band the very first time he ever performed in the U.S. That was at Stephen Paul’s The Scene. I went to a lot of jazz clubs. Slugs in the East Village and the Village Vanguard were great. Vanguard Studios was next door to El Quixote and that was where everybody went to record. (Maynard Solomon was the owner) So that accounted for a lot of the musicians hanging out at the Chelsea. We used to go down to El Quixote and get drunk. How’s the Sangria these days? Is it still as good as it used to be? [Editor’s note: yeah, it’s holding up pretty well] (Photo: Jimi Hendrix at the Fillmore East in 1968)
Legends: How has the Chelsea changed since you lived here?
Johnny: We moved out of the Chelsea when Buffy went to LA to record a semi-rock album with Jack Nitzsche, the guy the Rolling Stones’ song “Jumping Jack Flash” is about. We moved back to the Chelsea in 1971, and though it was still great, I didn’t see Leonard around anymore. We did a lot of concerts upstate and in Europe, but the Chelsea was always our homebase. But once the Fillmore East closed, the vibe at the Chelsea changed. It wasn’t as vibrant a place for musicians to hang out. After the Fillmore closed you stopped seeing people like the Allman brothers in the lobby. Soon, Buffy wanted to go in a different direction, so I moved back to the Sunset Marquee in LA [Editor’s Note: another famous rock & roll hotel] and that was the end of the Chelsea for me. I’ve never been back since. I went on to work with Ry Cooter on his first solo album. He was demanding, but a great artist.
Buffy Sainte Marie performs her hit "Universal Soldier" in 1970.
Joe, Casebeer & Tosh booked their room back in April before the despicable hostile takeover of the hotel. In other words, the reason they wanted to come to the hotel was for the Bard family and the Chelsea Hotel family, not for the 99 cent Internet room specials that BD is promoting to drive up the short-term occupancy rate. When they found out about the take over they didn’t know whether to come to the hotel or not because they certainly didn’t want to be seen as supporting BD in any way. They decided to come on anyway and show their support for the Bards. Since they are peaceful folks torches and pitchforks were out of the question. These great tee-shirts are what they came up with.Leave it to the Chelsea tourists to find a creative solution. (Some residents may recognize this family as they lived here at the Hotel in 2000 & 2001. Joe is a musician and Casebeer is a painter. Be sure to welcome them home.)
(Photo: Tosh, Casebeer & Joe check in to the Hotel wearing their "Bring Back the Bards" tee-shirts designed by Casebeer. Click through to read their fascinating story!)
In a sporty rhinestone t-shirt, bandana and black jacket, author Julia Bell betrayed her punk rock roots. Her first two novels were marketed as YA (Young Adult), and dealt with, respectively, eating disorders and sex trafficking, but the one she’s working on now will break that mold: it’s about creative writing and literary snobbery. Julia teaches at Birkbeck College of the University of London which was originally founded as a working man’s college. She’s visiting America on a sabbatical, earned after 10 years of teaching and 3 years of tenure. But even after such unexampled drudgery she appears to be enjoying herself in America, spending most of her
vacation sabbatical in the mellower climes of San Francisco, but coming east to meet the American publishers of her second novel, Dirty Work, the one about sex trafficking. They are “correcting” the English spelling to accord with American usage, so that we TV-watching Yanks can read it without fear of befuddlement. Over dinner at the El Quijote, we didn’t get a chance to ask Julia that many questions, but she told us a lot of stories. I guess that’s why she became a writer: lots of stories to tell. (Photo: Ed immediately becomes attached to Julia's book.)
What was your biggest surprise about New York? The size of it. I knew it was big, but the physical reality of it is another story. It’s much bigger than I expected. But the vibe of New York is much the same as London. The last time I came to America, they didn’t even tell me my novel had been published here. I saw it in City Lights in San Francisco. They had done the deal a year earlier, and my agent had lost it under the couch or something. Now I’ve got a new agent and it’s a better experience. This time I’m doing it up right, meeting people, shaking hands. It was a real treat to meet my publishers on Fifth Avenue I took a boat tour around the city today. The gap in the skyline where the twin towers stood was very noticeable. It made me very emotional, though I didn’t think it would. I think it was the experience of actually seeing the site that did it. Seeing it on TV is just not quite the same.
I also visited Harlem, with all its amazing old brownstones, some blocks neglected, and others gentrified. The same thing is happening in London, with the gentrification. Starbucks will open two stores, one on each end of the block, and run an Italian café out of business. That’s what we have instead of diner in London. All the cafés are run by Italians.
My visit coincided with Queen Elizabeth’s. So another surprising thing was watching on TV as George Bush winked at her. It was absurd! You don’t wink at the Queen!
How did you learn about the Chelsea? I knew about Dylan Thomas since I’m Welsh. I had also heard about it through punk rock: Sid and the Ramones. I thought at least it would be unlike a Holiday Inn. I had also heard about Stanley, but when I got here I was pleasantly surprised to see him working the desk. I told him I was an author and showed him my book. He was very friendly. I also told him I was going to interview with you guys for the blog. When I showed him my reservation he said, “Oh, you booked a room through the web, so you got a bad one. I’ll give you a better deal, but the next time call and talk to somebody in person.” [Ed. Note: she booked through Travelocity. Stanley did indeed give her a pretty good room, so be sure to mention the blog when checking in!] He showed me the London Times article, and seemed very proud of it, but he wouldn’t let me hold the magazine. Some body stole his other copy, he said, and this was his last one. I also met the other guy, Jerry, and he said, “I talked to your publishers and they said your book was going to sell well.” That’s what I like about New Yorkers, they have a good sense of humor. Not like the people in San Francisco, who are sometimes rather slow on the uptake when you make a joke. Which reminds me, I’ve been in San Franciscoso long that when Stanley gave me my key, I said, “Thanks, dude.” He gave me quite a priceless look. I don’t imagine he’s used to being called dude very much. Kind of like winking at the Queen, now that I think of it!
You’ve been in America too long. But don’t worry, Stanley has been called worse than that.
But what about your views on literature? Do you think creative writing can be taught? Yes, I think it can be, but only if you concern yourself with the mechanics, and don’t focus so much on the subject matter. You have to provide a non-competitive, non-judgmental, cooperative environment. If you do that, you can give people a vehicle to express whatever they want. When I did my MA at East Anglia, I learned nothing, since it was too competitive. The instructors were unhelpful. I remember a course I took with the famous poet Andrew Motian: he would read your paper and hardly even comment on it, and when he did it would be something trivial, like, “don’t use a comma here.” It was a nasty, bitter environment. Everyone thought they were going to get the booker prize, and then the reality set in that not everyone was going to publish. It was a prime example of how not to run a writing program. I keep it in mind, so I can be sure to provide a more open, accepting environment where I teach at Birkbeck.
Oh, I might mention that my offices are at Bloomsbury, in the same place that Leonard and Virginia Wolfe and Lyton Strachey lived. It’s no longer housing; it’s now university rooms, but we have the same view as they did. I’m attracted to places such as this, with a literary history. The Chelsea is the same sort of place.
Do you think the Chelsea has a special creative energy? Certainly there’s an atmosphere unlike anywhere else. There are an extraordinary number of people walking through the lobby that I feel I’d like to know, or at least talk to. Another strange thing about the Chelsea is that I lose my sense of direction every time I step out of the hotel. I always get the idea it faces downtown, so I’ll walk the wrong way. I think it must be some kind of vortex in the space/time continuum.
That’s what we always say! Hey, have you been reading the blog? Yes, I must confess, I have. Well, that doesn’t change the paranormal reality of the situation.
What do you think of the Star Lounge in the basement of the Chelsea? I read your review, and I’m sure their “stars” are just the little dweebs from the latest crap Indie band that no one will remember in two months.
We forgot to ask Julia if she witnessed any sex trafficking during her stay at the Chelsea. And actually, now that I think about it, it would have been interesting to discuss her new novel! That shows you how swift we are. After our dinner at El Quijote, Julia sat in the lobby for awhile and ran into one of our resident celebrities, Stormé DeLarverié, and together they stood outside and made fun of the costumes of the dweebs entering the Star Lounge.
The British painter David Remfry is justly famous for his delicate watercolor renderings of dancers in the act of dancing. His paintings are for the most part an upbeat, optimistic celebration of the vitality of life, and we were able to view several of his large, life-size canvases in what seems like their natural setting of his high-ceilinged, light-drenched studio at the Chelsea.
Among his many honors, we were most curious about one in particular: his status as a knight of the British Empire. David says he hasn’t actually, technically, been knighted, just made a “Member of the British Empire,” which is one of the orders of knighthood. But we’re Americans, and so can’t be expected to know the difference. All we know is that the Queen showed up in person to confer the honor, and so we are duly impressed.
As we were sitting down to talk with David, we noticed a small portrait of another famous British queen, the Naked Civil Servant himself, author Quentin Crisp.
Yes, I did, though I didn’t live here at the same time, and I knew him before that too. I was teaching a drawing class in London about 35 years ago, when I saw his picture in a book of available models. I hired him and painted him. He was a good model: he adopted impossible poses, but was able to hold them. Years later, when I had a studio on 26th Street, I called him at the Chelsea Hotel and asked him if he remembered me and if he’d like to sit for me again. He said sure, on the condition that I buy him lunch. Quentin loved New York. He felt that everything is better here: the people are beautiful, and he could be flamboyantly gay and no one would bother him. I used to take him to the Empire Diner on 10th Avenue. He was very frail and elderly by that point. A woman name Bea Lyons used to play standards on the piano there, and one time she came to our table and asked Quentin if he had any requests. “Yes, I’d rather you didn’t play,” he said. The poor woman’s face fell when she heard that. “I don’t mean to be unkind,” Quentin said, “but I just don’t like music.”
Tell us about your childhood. How did you become interested in painting?
Do I have to? I was born in Sussex, England, then after that my family moved to Calcutta, India for a time. I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. Even from early childhood, I said I was going to become an artist. I could simply think of nothing elsea I wanted to do. No one in my family was an artist; I had no role model. My parents never even took me to a museum. It was all in my mind. I was completely self-motivated.
Watercolor is considered a whooses medium. The watercolorists of the 17th and 18th century are unsurpassed, and besides, oil paint smells good. I trained in oil, but got into water by accident. What happened was that I contracted a viral illness called a sarcoid, and as a result developed the most chronic form of arthritis. I couldn’t paint for 8 to 9 months; all I could do were little drawings. But then this guy from LA called and said he wanted to do a show. I did a mental calculation of what Americans were like and it didn’t include patience, so I decided not to mention my illness. All I could do to was work in watercolor, which is less strenuous. After that I was hooked. It runs away with you. I like the fact that lots of accidents happen in watercolor: runs and drips. When I moved to New York, I started to produce larger works. People here aren’t afraid of scale. You see that sign on my wall? [David points to a small bumper sticker that says “Say Yes”.] I keep that there for inspiration. It’s a very American sentiment. (Photo: David with his painting of Amy, the daytime phone operator.)
Tell us about your interest in dancing.
It’s a terrific vehicle to get people embracing, and a great metaphor for life and all kinds of things. Principally for life—we often speak of the Dance of Life—but there is also the Dance Macabre, the Dance of Death. Most of my work is upbeat, though when I lived in England it was a bit darker. Club life in England is more violent than it is here, especially in the north of London. [Ed. Note: David’s painting that hangs in the lobby represents a scene form a club in England.]
Lately, I’ve been sketching in a place called the Triangular, which is a tango bar. The Roseland used to be terrific, but I no longer go there. Often I get people to dance here in my studio, which has proved fairly easy to do. I pay people if I can, a small amount. I feel people should get something, though of course I’m getting much more. If they don’t want money, sometimes I’ll promise them a drawing, though in the end I might not want to part with it. I’d rather just pay them. (Photo: David's painting of a few former residents.)
Yes. A friend of mine named Patrick Hughes—he’s the artist who painted the oil of rainbows over the elevator in the lobby--lived here for 4 years in the 80s. He said, “Don’t ever say I recommended it to you!” I called Stanley and he said he didn’t take reservations, but we should just show up and he’d see what they had. Caroline and I showed up at 10 at night with 18 pieces of luggage. This was in 1995. Caroline, who is Irish, won a green card on the lottery, and so there was no reason to go back. I got my green card much later through more traditional channels.
It’s certainly very conducive to creativity. I can see how people could be sidetracked by the energy, but I’ve never been happier. It’s hard to say whether living at the Chelsea has affected my direction or output. People ask me how they can become a painter and I must confess I’m at a loss as to how to respond to that. I’ve always had the motivation to paint, no matter where I’ve lived.
I don’t see either. My interactions are more in the spirit of a passing camaraderie. I run into the the painter Robert Lambert and the poet David Lintner downstairs and we have exchanges from time to time, teasing each other and such. It’s not unlike a village. You can engage if you want, but you don’t have to.
What was it like painting Bonnie [the night telephone operator]?
She didn’t dance, she just stood there. But she has the most extraordinary face. She said, “Better be quick, because I have an exploratory operation coming up.” Sure enough, one day she didn’t show up for our appointment. Caroline and I went to visit her often in St. Vincent’s. While she was unconscious, the nurse said her feet were starting to turn in, so I bought her a pair of converse in gaudy colors so her feet could have some support.
On the night of the fire [that gutted Bonnie’s room] we were on our way to the restaurant Beppe. We could smell the fire and we meant to call from the restaurant and see if everything was OK but we forgot. When we got back to the hotel we ran into [the photographer] Julia Calfee, wringing her hands and saying Bonnie’s killing herself with alcohol in El Quijote. We went up to our apartment and found that the firemen had smashed in the door. Luckily they hadn’t sprayed any water in the apartment, since I had several of my canvasses stored there. After securing the apartment, we went down to the El Quijote and comforted Bonnie. (Photo: David with his painting of Bonnie, the former night time phone operater.)
Dee Dee Ramone. I tried to anyway. He wouldn’t be still for long. When he had had enough, he told me to come downstairs and look at a painting he had done himself. When he opened his door the smell of acetone hit me so hard I had to take a step back. I don’t know what he had been doing in there! He had been gone for two hours, so the room should have aired out. He had painted a sort of rendering of the hotel. [Ed. Note: This was the painting that Dee Dee did for his novel, Chelsea Horror Hotel.] It was terrible, but I didn’t want to say anything. He had apparently had a falling out with the fellow in the guitar store downstairs, and so over his shop he had written the words, “Crappy Guitars.” [David chuckles]
One time Dee Dee was coming down the stairs screaming at the top of his lungs at Stanley Bard, and Stanley turns around and says, “Dee Dee, why are you yelling?” And then Dee Dee started whispering.
Another time, Dee Dee told me that he was mad at his next door neighbor [Ed. Note: luckily, not us!] and so he poured honey under his door in order to attract roaches.
[Ed. Note: as mentioned above, it was, technically, another sort of honor, but why quibble?] Someone called me and asked if I would reject the honor if offered. I said, no, of course not. I stood before the Queen together with a bunch of people who were far more worthy than I. It’s nonsense, it means nothing, but as long as you’re aware of that it’s great. My father attended the ceremony, which took place a few years before his death, and I believe he was rather proud.
No, I’ve gotten lazy, and now I just go to the gym.
For our interview, Mikkel Astrup wears a futuristic black vinyl track suit. He has two favorite art works in the lobby: the Chelsea Dogs, and Robert Lambert’s painting of the man feeding the chickens. A Samuel Beckett scholar, when Mikkel discusses his discipline, most of what he says is rather hard to follow (which is probably inevitable given the notorious opacity of Beckett), much less transcribe, but I managed to get a bit of it down, hopefully without misrepresenting Mikkel’s thought too egregiously.
I’m from Oslo, Norway and I’m a research fellow at the University of Oslo. I’m working on my PhD. dissertation on Beckett and sickness. My field may be described as Literary Theory, or Cultural Theory. I work with doctors and psychoanalysts, discussing the relationship between literature and health, the arts and medicine. I am also interested in Beckett’s relation to Abstract Expressionism.
Is this your first time at the Chelsea?
Yes. I usually stay with friends when I come to New York, but I thought I’d try the Chelsea this time. I had heard about the Chelsea from some people who had stayed here long ago, and I wanted to see if it was the same as they said it was, with all the creative people. I found that this was still the case. It is exciting, a good place to work, and very central. I have been spending my days doing a lot of writing.
How would you describe the atmosphere of the Chelsea? There is an atmosphere of creative freedom which is permissive, yet discrete. One is not stifled or oppressed here. But at the same time I can blend in and do my work and not be distracted by the festivities. In the lobby I feel like part of the furniture. I can go there when I’m stuck in my work and get unstuck. People here can have a relation that is a sort of non-relation that I find liberating.
What is Beckett’s connection to New York? New York is not directly connected to Beckett. I came here to learn about contemporary art. I’ve been going to museums and galleries and events for two months. I wanted to understand all aspects of the art world, especially the financial situation, the distribution networks, the hype, and the potential pratfalls.
Did Beckett ever stay at the Chelsea? I’m pretty sure he didn’t. He only came to New York one time, to make a movie about perception, Film, with Buster Keaton. He said of the United States: “This place is too weird. I’m going back to Europe.” [Editors Note: Ha!]
What is Beckett’s relation to abstract art? His biographical relation to the Abstract Expressionists is quite boring. He looked at them to learn production strategies that he could transfer to his own writing. Theoretically, they are important to his quest to abstract a language expressing levels of human organization that can’t be perceived directly.
What artists has Beckett influenced? Bruce Nauman, Damien Hirst, and especially Frank Stella. Among Chelsea Hotel residents, I know that Burroughs was very interested in Beckett, though Beckett did not think Burroughs’ work was important.
Could you describe your project?
I’m trying to expand the notion of health beyond that of physical and psychiatric illness. There is also pragmatic illness, which is a reaction to certain forces, and can be brought more to the forefront of the health discourse as a supplement to these other notions. I want to communicate to doctors and psychiatrists that their cure may not be the absolute cure. In some instances, the medical gaze can be replaced by the aesthetic gaze. In my study I employ all of Beckett’s major novels, from Murphy onwards, focusing on three important aspects of his fiction that can be brought to bear on this notion of changing paradigms of illness. These are: his non-progressive teleology, the shifting essence of his characters, and the fact that his characters have their own level of reality which doesn’t intersect with more common levels.
Has anything exciting or interesting happened to you here at the Chelsea? While working late one night in the lobby, I noticed the wide variety of people passing through the doors, and this transformed my way of looking at what is normal. Although I don’t have a very strict theoretical framework as to what constitutes normalcy, my practical view was previously somewhat constricted. It has now been broadened considerably.
Have you encountered any ghosts while you’ve been here?
No, those who encountered them must have been indulging in some illicit substance.
Diede In't Veld is the second student we've stumbled across in recent months who approached the Chelsea about shooting a project here, but couldn't afford the rates. Diede's film, "Sleeping in Chelsea" is about a businessman who discovers an ad in the paper that reads "Hotel Chelsea More than just a hotel, a place where you can live out your secret fantasies." Ok, we'll buy that. Then, imagine our shock when the businessman checks into the Chelsea Savoy down the block to experience his fantasies. People are always mistaking these other simarily named hotels--which seem to be so named deliberately in an attempt to create confusion -- for the Hotel Chelsea. This is surely a case of art imitating life. The film is NSFW.
Here's a short e-interview with the filmmaker.
How'd you get the idea for your film?
I got the idea from a short story in a magazine actually. It was a story about a guy mixing up two hotels. Because I wanted both hotels to be in the same street and have almost the same name we came to Chelsea.
Who are some of the filmmakers you admire and why? I admire David Lynch a lot. I love the mind-games he plays with the viewer an absurdistic way of telling a story. It always keeps me interested because in his stories litterly anything can happen. I love that.
Have you ever been to the famed Hotel Chelsea? Well the funny thing was that when we scouted the locations, I didn't know that the Chelsea hotel was so famous! Not until I went in and asked if we could shoot in a room for a night. It was a student film with a corresponding budget, so when he named the price I was kinda struck. I would have preferred to shoot the int. scenes there but that obviously was not an option for us. So we choose for the Chelsea Savoy to shoot which gave us more financial room.
First we didn't want to shoot with a permit for the External part, but I choose to get one because the street is a very much wanted location. That turned out to be a good decision because in that week there were 3 feature films shooting in that same street where we shot the next morning with a tiny crew and a small 16mm camera.
How would you describe the difference between the Savoy and the Hotel Chelsea? The hotels are incomparable. The Chelsea Savoy is a nice but simple hotel with really not anything special. The Chelsea is a whole different thing with the history and designs etc.
Do you think the Chelsea Savoy offers the services portrayed in your film?
Off course not... But I think it's a great fantasy for many men.
We've always wanted to learn German, but it just seemed like too much time and effort. Now we find that it wasn't that hard at all. Here we are, speaking fluent German on German Public Radio (download mp3), with nary a trace of an accent at all! Here's a picture of our instructor, Martina Buttler, who taught us all we know of the language in the course of a 25 minute interview. She's the best!
Australian writer Robert J. Shaw (aka Cherry Ramone) was taken to see Paul Morrissey’s Flesh at age 14, when even he knew he was too young. Corrupted so early in life, is it any wonder he’s spent a lifetime studying all things Warhol? “I spent six hours at MOMA today,” Robert says as soon as he steps into our room. Three in front of Warhol’s gold Marilyn. Until they chased me away!” Robert remembers where he was when he heard the news of Andy’s passing. Sadly, however, Robert will miss the 20th Anniversary of Andy’s death—today—as he will be on a plane back to Australia and will cross the international date line. But it’s no big deal in the grand scheme of things: there are many more anniversaries to come, as Andy will live forever.
What do you do back in Australia? I’m a writer/journalist in the fields of pop culture and Australian history. I specialize in the Australian Federation, the Constitutional Era, and in comparative constitutional studies. [Editor’s note: More importantly, Robert also specializes in Andy Warhol, and he’s contributed much on the subject to our blog. We will try to limit further discussion of the Australian constitution.]
What brought you to NY? The Hotel Chelsea, art, people, pizza. My favorite pizza place is 33 down the street by the movie theatre. What do you love about the Chelsea? It represents a cultural history that I love. And the people are fantastic. The hotel is relaxed and has lots of art. And I like to see good New York friends again. I’m addicted to the Hotel Chelsea.
Do you know of any of the Australian artists associated with the hotel? Yeah, one of my favorite Australian artists with a Chelsea connection is Brett Whiteley. His daughter Arkie grew up here. I met Arkie in a dark corner of a nightclub, and we had a relationship until she died. I still maintain contact with Brett’s widow. My favorite happy story about Arkie is sitting on the lawn and talking at the Lavender Bay House. Brett always painted that house and he loved to paint the view of the harbor. I suppose I should also mention Vali Myers. It’s nice to walk in her footsteps. I recently went to see Brett’s sculpture behind the gallery of New South Wales. It’s the matches: one ready to burn and one burned out. I tried to photograph them but one of the matches had been removed for repairs. The burned one. They had previously been ravaged by cockatoos. I know that sounds very Australian.
Has the Chelsea changed since the last time you were here a few years back? It’s quieter. And one elevator is closer to being renovated. It’s really more the neighborhood that’s changing around it. And I’ve changed a lot too.
Have any of your favorite places closed? HoJos on Times Square. I’m also sad that I have to miss the screening of Chelsea Girls on Wednesday.
How did you develop an interest in the Warhol crowd? I was taken to see Morrissey’s FLESH when I was way too young. Soon after that I saw an exhibition at New South Wales of “Orange Disaster” (which is a silkscreen of an electric chair) and it was a spiritual experience. It moved me like no other art work I’ve ever seen. After that I read From A to B and Back Again: The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. I also found a rare first edition of Jean Stein’s Edie book. This was when I was about 14 in the early 1980s. Too young to be seeing FLESH. The Morrissey movie was a very confronting experience at that age. It was very in your face and I wasn’t ready for it. I ended up growing up with Joe Dellasandro in Hustler as a sexual archetype.
Does Your mother read the blog? Yes, she follows the HC blog so she’ll know what I’m talking about all of the time.
Who’s your Favorite superstar? Brigid Berlin, for her strength of personality and the loyalty she showed to Andy. I adore Jackie Curtis, Candy Darling and Holly Woodlawn as well. Read the Craig Highberger bio of Jackie Curtis. Craig is a really good guy. He set me up to meet Holly on Monday and said to give her a kiss from him. [Editor’s note: Holly was, unfortunately, a no-show. The event was in the Gershwin Hotel, however--that pale imitation of the Chelsea--so who can really blame her?]
What do you think of Nico? Never interested me. Second runner to Edie. Although I applaud the Velvet Underground.
What’s your favorite Chelsea Girls scene? Two of the most notable moments for me are Brigid Berlin shooting up and Nico crying. I saw Nico in Bryon Bay shortly before she died. She was a wasted remnant of herself.
What do you think about Sid and Nancy? I love sex pistols and what McLaren did, but I resent the fact that Sid & Nancy overshadow this Hotel so much. It gets under my skin. This is the first time I’ve had the guts to stop on their floor. Senseless nihilism is contrary to what punk is about.
What does punk mean to you? Willfully standing on the outside of the mainstream and throwing rocks at it. Being true to yourself. And wearing good Vivienne Westwood clothes. I consider my punk identify more central than my gay identity. This is a line that pisses people off. Both gay and punk people. Have you seen the new Vivienne Westwood store on 18th? No, but I’m off right now! Keep my credit card for me. Vivienne is very subversive. She’s one of the absolute heroes of the first wave of punk. Vivienne and Malcolm stayed here at the Chelsea on their first trip to New York and signed up The Dolls. This was well before the Sex Pistols.
Any recommendations for a good gay bar? Easy pickups at Rawhide on 8th. Try to catch Mimi Imfurst, a fabulous up and coming drag queen.
Have you encountered any ghosts during your stay here? The elevator made an unscheduled stop on the first floor for Nancy to hop on and scare this catholic boy. I don’t part with my rosary while I’m in this building. There were no creepy noises at night, but bloody noisy neighbors. And the electric sockets make a sizzling, crackling noise. I’ll probably be electrocuted. When we were in the basement looking for a chair I really felt there was a dark presence down there and I was keen to get out. None of the ghosts up here bother me. I’ve not sensed anything in the lobby at all. It’s too busy, too much of a public space. But I really don’t like the first floor at all.
What’s the best thing that’s happened to you here? I’ve gotten to know myself a lot better and met some wonderful people. I feel validated here. Whereas at home I feel like a real oddball, here I blend in. This is truly the only place in the world I’ve felt a real sense of belonging.
What do you feel about the people who check into the hotel to kill themselves? I can understand how they feel, since I often think I’d like to have my ashes scattered here. Still, I wish people wouldn’t do that.
What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you here? Having to pack up and leave. And chairs collapsing under me! Not getting my favorite room on this visit. Worst of all, I haven’t seen Stanley yet. I want a 10% discount on my bill because I haven’t been able to experience Stanley’s grumpiness. Jerry is much too cheerful.
How do you like the pink cupcake across the street? A disaster. Not even good kitsch. It should be pulled down and posted to Las Vegas. By the way, I’m intimidated by the size of American food. Do you think the Chelsea has a creative spirit? Absolutely, beyond doubt. It’s intangible, but it manifests itself in the way people interact. There’s always a feeling that something exciting is about to happen. All of the art about the place emboldens you to go ahead and do your thing as well.
How was your first experience with snow? I was praying, literally, to see snow in NY. On Tuesday night I saw my first flake on my glove in Times Square and looked at it in absolute wonderment. The next day there was an ice storm and I went out and walked around and got wet jeans and decided I’m glad to live in a Mediterranean climate. But Moma’s sculpture garden in the snow is absolutely beautiful. And to go out and be as miserable as everybody else made me feel like a real New Yorker. How will you celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Andy’s death? I won’t have it. I’ll be on a plane and I’ll cross the dateline and miss that day. It makes me a bit sad now that I think about it. I’ll drink a Coke and think about Andy’s famous quote about Coca Cola. I remember when I was in my shop cleaning up and I heard news of Andy’s death come over the radio. I screamed. I started crying and put a sign in the window saying closed out of respect for Andy Warhol. When my boss found out that I did this, I almost got sacked. I knew I would never meet Andy and because of that my life seemed just a little bit emptier.
When we were in Washington, D.C.recently, we had breakfast with José Padua, his wife Heather, and their lovely and intelligent 3-year-old daughter Maggie. José is a poet and former downtown fixture who got his start at the Nuyorican Poet’s Café back in the eighties. He mentioned that his brother Pat was going to be in town the next weekend, staying at the Chelsea of all places, so we arranged to meet up with him. Pat was eager to find out whether or not he had the Betty Boop room since he had read Tim Sullivan’s story and it freaked him out a little. We assured him that he was not in the Betty Boop room.
Is this the first time you’ve stayed at the Chelsea? Yes it is. It’s usually too expensive. This time I took advantage of the winter special, $165 for a single room. Usually rooms start at $200. I signed up for their e-mail list a long time ago and this is the first e-mail they ever sent out.
Tell us a little bit about yourself? I live in D.C. and work at the Library of Congress. I work on a web site for the Music Division. Before that I worked in their motion picture division for ten years. I’m still involved in programming for their little repertory theatre. That’s the part of the job that I find most rewarding.
How’d you get interested in photography? I’ve been doing it on and off since college. Because of the Flickr web site it’s been easier to see what other photographers are doing, and that’s renewed my interest. Digital photography has made me more interested in film again as well. I brought several different cameras with me to New York, including several toy cameras: I have a disposable camera that prints dog themed slogans on the photos -- here's an example. My favorite is "I love my master" but my legal team advised me not to put up that picture.
I have another that prints patriotic slogans. I whip one these out when I find an appropriate subject. I also have an old brownie camera with a really soft lens that creates photos with a fuzzy, dreamlike quality.
Who are some of the photographers who have influenced you? I really like William Eggleston.
Oh, did you know he used to live here at the Chelsea? He was Viva’s boyfriend back in the Warhol years of the sixties.
No, I didn’t know that. I always associate him with Memphis. Another big influence is Henry Miller—not photography, but I really like his writing. Did he ever stay here?
Not to my knowledge, although I wouldn’t be surprised if he had passed through here at some point. He seems like a Chelsea sort of character.
Has the Chelsea lived up to your expectations? I really didn’t know what to expect. I do really like my room, though. The carpet is old and worn and you can really sense the history of the place. I like the fact that I have a balcony that I can go out on, even though it’s really cold, and I’m right by the Chelsea sign. I was kind of hoping it would blink on and off while I was lying in bed, but you really hardly notice it. We’ll tell Stanley to work on that.
Were you expecting to see any ghosts here? I saw on you blog where the medium said it was the second most haunted place in New York after the Public Library, so I was kind of wondering. In some parts of the hotel I do get a funny feeling as if something is there. The hallway of Sid and Nancy’s room feels creepy, though maybe it’s just the power of suggestion. I’m feeling kind of
creepy now since we’re discussing it.
What’s the best or worst thing that’s happened to you during your stay at the Chelsea?
The old building makes really funny sounds at night and it took me awhile to get used to that. There’s one sound in particular that bothers me. I couldn’t figure out what it was, but I finally decided it was the refrigerator—even though it doesn’t look that old. Maybe it sounded like somebody popping a bottle of champagne and pouring out a glass. That's a typical refrigerator sound, right?
Like everything here, appliances get weird quickly. What other hotels have you stayed at in New York ? I always look for something affordable. I like the Pickwick Arms on 51st between 2nd and 3rd. It used to have an adjoining bathroom between two rooms, though I don’t think it’s like that anymore. I stayed at the Gramercy Park before and I really liked it. It was similar to the Chelsea. Now I hear they’ve renovated it and made it into a luxury hotel. I could never afford it now. I stayed there a couple of times before they gussied it up.
Do you think the Chelsea has a creative spirit? Sure, the Chelsea has the kind of history that is bound to draw creative people to this place, so it’s a kind of self-perpetuating myth.
Pat asked us to recommend a good Cuban restaurant, so we sent him to the one down 8th Ave. (we didn’t remember the name) with the Cuban sandwiches in the cooler sticking out of the front. Too bad Sam Chinita and La Chinita Linda are no longer around, we reflected. After that Pat was going to a Bollywood movie on 59th Street. And then, presumably, back to the Chelsea to lie in bed and look at the sign and listen to the haunted refrigerator.
We met the cameraman Robin Adams when he was filming us for an episode of the Japanese T.V. show "Streets of New York." It turns out he stayed here back in 1990. Too bad he didn't see any ghosts, because he would have been just the man to capture them on film. This time he got to know some of the people a little better, and he says we belong on the Bravo Channel. Since we don't have cable, we don't know if this is a compliment or not.
How did you get started in the production side of the business? When I was a 13 year-old kid growing up in Brooklyn, and playing in the family band called "Scorpio", we made our very first [8mm film] movie: "The Scorpion's Sting". From that point forward I knew what I would do for the rest of my life. My career would either be filmmaking or TV production - TV is where I ended up after studying broadcast engineering in High School. (http://rkveq.tripod.com/photopage/) You may also visit: (www.amagica.com) .....enjoy!
What are some of the other interesting projects you've filmed? In my 26.5 year career the most memorable project to date was an adventure documentary that I shot in Alaska and the Queen Charlotte Islands (British Columbia) for Japanese TV. (2001) http://rkveq.tripod.com
How was the Chelsea the first time you stayed here?
The first and only time I've ever stayed at The Chelsea Hotel was in 1990. I had to overnight in the city for a very early flight to the west coast with a Japanese tv production crew, and I must say I'd heard the stories about the hotel but never experienced its aura. The Chelsea was dark and gray and gloomy - dimly lit by fluorescent lighting that cast an eerie pale green throughout the halls; the old wooden floors creaked and my room was tiny and very seedy in appearance. I was extremely tired so I slept throughout the late night, however I saw no ghosts - which I thought I would see. Oh well...
How has the hotel changed in the last 17 years?
The hotel has brightened up tremendously; lots of color, vibrance, and weird energy emanating from the odd creative types who reside there; it was my first time meeting so many of the residents, and although many are "seemingly" odd and others are just plain strangely dispositioned, I enjoyed our shooting days at Chelsea. I tend to gravitate toward the crazier side of life anyway - it's much more of an interesting experience.
Did you learn anything new and/or interesting while filming? Yes. I was surprised how no one has made a true-to-form reality show about The Chelsea Hotel and its resident characters. It would be PERFECT for The Bravo Channel! (anybody know anyone at BRAVO?? LOL!!)
As a cameraman, which features were you most struck by?
I particularly was taken in by the light and color and detail in the amazing spiral staircase, as well as the lighting color transitions from the residents' hallways to the staircase area.
Were any of your shots edited out that you wish could have remained part of the show?
I wish the program had the opportunity to detail character and personality of the residents in their raw/uncut form - lotsa' drama and comedy happening simultaneously - often times within the same person! LOL!
Filmmaker Roberto Bentivegna recently stopped by the Chelsea to film a short murder mystery. Thanks for giving us another ghost to be on the look out for! We hope he's talking hypothetically when he says that he can't think of a better place to kill oneself than the Chelsea Hotel. Oh, and if anybody knows the story about Milos Forman and the dwarves we'd be interested in hearing it.
How'd you get interested in film?
It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, ever since I was 8 years old. I saw Terry Gilliam’s “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” and was totally overwhelmed by its energy and creativity. I know that the film didn’t do so well when it was released, and a lot of people hated it, but it really sparked something in my brain. Music is the other big thing in my life, so I had to pick between the two things. I don’t think either one is particularly safe, financially, but safety is boring and overrated. I don’t really want to give myself any back-up plans. I’m 24, doing an MFA at Columbia University in Directing, so I am in that stage of life where I’m starting to fear hunger and homelessness a little bit. But I could always play guitar in the subway or make wedding videos, I guess.
What's the most rewarding aspect of creating a film? In terms of the craft itself, I think that the planning is the most exciting and satisfying part. During that period, I am incredibly naïve and actually believe that my shotlists and rehearsals will magically engrain themselves into the finished film, and that nothing will affect that. Of course, this is almost never the case. As far as I know, animation is probably the only “genre” in which every single shot is designed and executed as conceived. Hitchcock storyboarded all of his films extensively but he worked in a very specific style that didn’t allow for much freedom. It’s important to be flexible and open up to the possibilities of the location, or the actors, or even the weather. Nothing should be locked.
Which filmmakers do you most admire? I adore Stanley Kubrick’s work for a variety of reasons. Firstly, he gained artistic independence very early on and never let go, which is rare for a director. Secondly, his framing and imagery is closer to painting and photography than it is to “cinema”, and yet he is probably the most cinematic of all filmmakers. Finally, I am a big fan of genre-blending, and don’t think I could only work in the confines of one genre. So it’s very refreshing to see Kubrick’s filmography and notice that virtually every film he made was different from the previous one. That, to me, is the sign of a true artist: constantly changing and re-inventing himself.
I also appreciate Luchino Visconti, Federico Fellini, Martin Scorsese, Terry Gilliam, Michael Powell, Werner Herzog, Steven Spielberg, David Cronenberg, Jean Renoir and Brian De Palma. That’s just a tiny list. I adore all filmmakers because I know how difficult it is to make a good film, and how underrated- ironically, considering how popular it is- it is as an art form.
Arthur Weinstein is a photographer and artist who has recently been producing some impressive large silk screens of cultural icons such as Roy Cohn and George Gershwin. If you ever visit the Chelsea, you simply must see his large scale mobile on the tenth floor. Night time is best when it’s lit up by spotlights. In the year or so it’s been up, the mobile has already become one of the major attractions of the hotel; it’s becoming hard to imagine the skylight without it. Arthur is an intense man with a full head of coal dark hair and a brilliant, deadpan sense of humor. We didn’t get to ask him too many questions before he just started talking, discoursing knowledgeably and at length on several subjects at once (art, movies, artists, silkscreening techniques, night clubs, and the art business), as I scribbled furiously to get it all down. (Photo: Arthur's mobile)
D: How long have you been married to Colleen? Thirty years. The love of my life. We got married at City Hall. My dad was the witness. I used to be a fashion photographer. Most fashion photographers either look like an orangutan, or they’re gay. I’m not gay.
D: How long have you lived at the Chelsea? I lived here twice. The first time I moved in here I was a kid. There was a constant stream of fashion models coming through here. Agencies like Ford and Wilhelmina sent girls. No matter how beautiful a girl is, they have to find out if she’s photogenic. When we moved in [famous fashion designer] Charles James had the apartment across from us and it stunk to high heaven, like you wouldn’t believe. He had a dog with a thing on it’s head. We were in 611 then. I used to blast music and Stanley Bard would come into my apartment and tell me to turn it down. He never said anything to James.
D: Tell us about your art. The most important thing for an artist is to have flair. [Arthur leads us into the next room to show us an impressive large abstract by a painter named Chris Davis.] This guy is a great artist and he couldn’t sell this painting for $1500. How do you make money in art? People will give me a deposit on a painting, say $2000, but then they never pick up the painting, and never pay the rest. If you’d pay $2000 you’d think you’d be serious, wouldn’t you? Would you pay all that money and then not buy the painting? Would you even pay $20?
E: No, I might give you $5 to get rid of you, but $20 is really pushing it. Exactly.
D: So did you give the guy his deposit back?
Come on! Look at me. What are the chances of getting any money back from me? The guy didn’t even bother to ask.
D: How'd you get into silk screening? My father finally said get out of my house so I got my first apartment. I got a job at Panographic and worked there while I was going through school. I did all the silk screening for Pace Gallery. [Arthur talks at length on his silk screening technique, showing us various examples of his work.]
D: Did you know Andy Warhol? Andy used to love my wife, Coleen. But he was a cheap bastard, and he never said two words to me. Have you seen the big Mao in the Warhol show at the Gagosian annex on 21st Street? I silk screened it. (Photo: Arthur's myspace page)
D: I used to be roommates with Victoria Ruskin, Micky Ruskin’s daughter. Did you know Micky? I didn’t care for Micky Ruskin. He was cantankerous, and he never would let me in his club.
D: Who are some of your influences? [Arthur shows us a large photograph of Gordon Parks, hanging in his studio workshop.] Morris Lane, the guy who took that photo, put me on the phone one time with Gordon Parks. Now Gordon Parks is one of my idols, so I was really nervous. He has a brilliant voice, but I could tell the only thing on his mind was, “Oh my God, what does this guy want?” So I said, “Mr. Parks, I’m a big fan. Could I take that picture and do a silk screen of it?” And I could tell he was so relieved that that was all it was. He said, “Oh, go ahead. Sure thing. No problem.”
Finally, Arthur got sick of talking to us, so he called his friend Artie (proprietor of the Organized Crime Museum), who lives across the hall, and took us over to Artie’s apartment and left us in his care. On the way across the hall Arthur explained that the reason he went into art was that: “There’s all these assholes out there trying to give you orders, and the only one I want to take orders from is me.”
The artist Arthur Weinstein in his studio discussing a Lucas Samaras silkscreen.
Musician Libby Johnson is small and pixyish, fair-skinned and red haired like an Irish girl, with a cute, youthful face. We interviewed her in her apartment at the Chelsea, as her husband Dan worked at his computer in the living room and her two kids romped about until Dan asked them go into the bedroom and read a book. At one point Libby interrupted the interview to check on some potatoes she had in the oven. (They smelled really delicious.) At the end of the interview she gave us a couple of CDs, so who says blogging doesn’t have its rewards? Libby’s voice is smooth and sexy, and her sound is eerie and nostalgic, evoking misty mornings on lonesome country roads long ago. In “Another Life” she sings: “Your face in the L train window finds you looking back to another night, to another life... And the way back, the way back is blind...”
Tell us a little about your music.
I’m a singer/songwriter. My songs are focused on the lyrics. So the writing side of the profession is of the greatest interest to me. I have a background in Folk music and the Blues. My mother was a folk singer and she taught me to play the guitar when I was about twelve. I also started writing songs at about that time. It never occurred to me to do anything else—though I have had a lot of really strange jobs.
What was your strangest job? When I first moved to New York I answered an ad for a singer in a Japanese piano bar. It was a bar for Japanese businessmen. I thought they would want me to play the piano and sing Jazz standards. Well, I did play the piano some, but a large part of my job turned out to be sitting at the businessmen’s tables, entertaining them. I was basically a Geisha girl—though it was all above board and nobody ever acted bad. In those days I made a living playing in piano bars. Also, at around that time I formed a band with my sister and we recorded an album in the Chelsea Hotel. We were called The Mood Elevators.
Where did you move to New York from? Boston. But I’ve lived all over. I was born in Germany. My dad was in the army. We lived in Connecticut and then we moved to Africa for six years.
Did living in Africa influence your musical development? Actually, I didn’t hear a lot of African music while I lived there, just British and American music on the radio. But living there was a unique cultural experience. It made me aware of the difference between here and there. I would say the influence was more personal than musical.
Has your songwriting been influenced by any Chelsea Hotel artists?
Patti Smith. I’ve read all her books, and I’ve also sought out the books of anyone she was interested in. So for instance I’ve read Rimbaud. I’ve always been a big fan of Bob Dylan and I’ve never wavered in my adoration of him. I’m also interested in Brendan Behan. I’ve been studying my family’s genealogy and reading Irish Literature and I know he was a big IRA supporter.
How did you end up at the Chelsea this time? It happened suddenly. We had a handshake deal for another place, but that fell through. So we put our stuff in storage and moved in here. My husband and I are both musicians and when I walked into the hotel I felt I was home. Nobody was looking at me funny. Most of our friends are musicians and there is something different about that. When we first came to look at a place the kids were throwing a hat around in the lobby and they hit a man sitting in a chair with it. He just laughed and threw it back. That doesn’t happen just anywhere.
People have ended up staying here forever when they thought they were just passing through. It’s been a cool place in many ways. Most of my places have been larger and this is totally livable—though the kids are bouncing off the walls. But I wouldn’t mind staying here at all. I wouldn’t miss my stuff.
Do you think the Chelsea has a creative spirit? On some metaphysical level objects absorb the energy of the people who use them. The Chelsea Hotel is sexy and creative, and there’s so much love for this place that that spirit has been preserved. But the thing that concerns us is whether it can remain accessible to artists. A young artist moving to New York today can’t really set up shop here. It’s a privilege to live here. This is a special place.
We feel like the Chelsea can’t just be an aging community.
Yeah, it would be good if there was some way to keep it affordable. When I moved to New York I lived in the East Village in basements with water on the floor and cockroaches. But that’s not the way New York is anymore. Certain things that happened here were just firsts. There can’t be another Janis Joplin or Patti Smith.
Have you written any songs here? I rehearsed with my band here last night. One of my band mates is a huge fan of Arthur C. Clarke. One time he wrote a song based on one of Clarke’s stories and he wanted Clarke to read it but he couldn’t get in touch with him. Nobody would give him Clarke’s number and he wanted to be sure the song got to him, so he bundled up a bunch of books that he thought Clark would like and hid the song in one of them and sent the package to the Chelsea Hotel. Clarke called him and said he liked the song. My band mate helped arrange for the plaque to be placed on the front of the hotel when Clarke moved to Sri Lanka. Everybody feels that the Chelsea is special.
Libby Johnson has two new CDs out: Annabella, and the soundtrack of Trust the Man (starring Julianne Moore and David Ducovny), both on Wrong Records. Annabella has been getting a lot of airplay on XM radio, and can be heard on a show called XM Café. Libby is on tour over the holiday season, check out her myspace page for a list of upcoming shows.]
Writer James Tata stayed at the Hotel Chelsea earlier this year. On his blog he wrote, "The Chelsea, you see, is a residence hotel, and such places have their share of interesting people. Like the guy down the hall from my room sitting in a folding directors' chair, wearing sunglasses...indoors. He gave off a vibe of never leaving the building. Or the woman who, one morning as I was going down the stairs, said, "You must not be from New York, because New Yorkers never take the stairs" in the dreamy, disconnected voice of the troubled. None of this bothered me too much..." Well, of course, a few boheminans wouldn't bother anybody, but those rats scratching in the wall, that's a whole other story. He ended his review by writing "between that faint but evocative scratching (of a rat) and the failed quasi-bohemians for whom the Chelsea is a permanent purgatory, my experience of the place didn't exactly make me feel like I was communing with Twain, Smith, Dylan, or Burroughs." Thanks for rubbing it in dude!
What do you do? I write technical manuals (for money) and fiction (for sanity).
What inspired you to stay at the Chelsea? In general, its legendary role as the place where so many works have been written, and, in particular, probably because of Bob Dylan's "Sara."
What’s your favorite Hotel Chelsea story? The one about Janis Joplin recounted in Leonard Cohen's "Chelsea Hotel No. 2," especially as sung by Rufus Wainwright.
Has your writing been influenced by any former or current residents?
Probably not. If only.
What was the best/worst thing that happened to you during your stay?
The best thing that happened was getting a room on one hour's notice. The worst was hearing a rat scratching inside the wall.
Would you stay here again?
Yes. Good rates, great location, and there's that Larry Rivers painting in the lobby. I feel very affectionate towards the strange stay I had there. (Photo: Elvert Barnes Hotel Chelsea Set)
Michael Armstrong and his friends are definitely our kind of tourists. They were looking for an "only in New York" kind of place and understood that "old and crappy" is good! Michael says his stay at the Chelsea was one of the greatest experiences of his life.
What brought you to the famed Chelsea Hotel?
i was planning my first trip to new york (along with 3 friends) and started to research hotels. to be honest, i wasn't even considering the chelsea. one of the friends i was going with suggested we stay there. of course i had heard of the chelsea, but for some reason i never considered it. as a side note, i went to some site that has hotel ratings by the people that've stayed there, and the chelsea was a mixed bag. most said they liked the atmosphere but that it was "old and crappy", as one of them put it. so reading those ratings is what made me want to try the chelsea. i thought "the only thing they're saying is bad about the chelsea is that it's old." well, the whole reason i love new york is that it retains it's history, doesn't tear it down and start new (for the most part). i wasn't looking for a holiday inn or the mariott. i wanted a real, only in new york, kind of a hotel.
Has your art been inspired by any former or current residents?
looking over some of the famous people that've stayed at the chelsea, there are some names that stand out. i wouldn't say these people influence my art, but definitely inspire. robert crumb: a great character. i love his outlook on life, his taste in music, and his art. william dekooning & jasper johns: i would say they inspire me because i hate their art so much that it really pushes me to create what i think is good art. diego rivera: this guy on the other hand was a great artist. he definitely has a small influence on my art. as does a lot of art and artists of the 30's. art deco is my pornography. it gets me more excited then almost anything. so to be able to walk down any given street and to see examples of art deco architecture is a major thrill for me, and just that vibe alone is what inspires my art.
Do you think the Chelsea has a creative spirit?
any place that is home to numerous artistic and creative people i would say has a creative spirit. that's the reason i love new york. the whole city has a creative spirit.
What was the best/worst thing that happened to you during your stay?
there was no key event that was either good or bad. but i can say that, as a whole, our stay in manhattan/at the chelsea was one of the greatest experiences of my life. just being in the city was an event in itself. being a lover of architecture, especially architecture from the 20's and 30's, to be in new york is like an orgasm for the senses. i wanted to get a lot of good shots of architecture and just the city in general. but in a place where every street is a photo op, it's a little hard to decide what to focus on. so i decided to limit my shots to things that were specific to our trip. and leave my more mass documenting of architecture and street life for when i move there next year.
thanks to the chelsea for a great stay. i'd recommend it to anyone.
michael james armstrong
san diego, ca (soon to be nyc!)
to see photos from my trip and examples of my art, go here:
Even if you get a tattoo of the Chelsea, you still won’t have Artie Nash beat. He has two! Be sure to read page two of Artie’s interview or you’ll miss some exciting stuff like his encounter with the Mafia at Mamma Mia!, how he and Arthur Weinstein witnessed a gang riot and his obsession with beat writer Herbert Huncke. After reading his interview, we’re thinking of changing our name from “Outlaw Chelsea Bloggers” to the “Purse-Snatching Chelsea Bloggers.”
What do you do?
Well I'm essentially an independent curator, which may only mean I'm a frequently unemployed, frustrated artist type; but what I do essentially is assemble social history exhibits on topics that I find intriguing for one reason or other, possibly subjects that I've have had some more intimate connection with over the years, or both. So while my background is in art and antiques, in the past I've messed around with everything from club promotion to investigative reporting to --this is my personal favorite-- I once ghost-wrote a NYC dining column for a critic who hadn't digested solids in about twenty years. But these days I tinker with the historical objects, creating what I hope are meaningful juxtapositions between them and then try to find an audience that does, as well.
Tell us about “Made in America”
"M.I.A." is the first (that I'm aware of) public exhibition strictly on the topic of the Mob, and its a three dimensional retrospective on the impact and significant influence that this breed of criminal has had on U.S. pop culture since they were 'reborn' in 1931 as a truly 'organized' outfit bent on subjugating the law, hand in hand, on a broad scale. And to illustrate this "M.I.A." showcases the genuine artifacts, documents, photographs and ephemera that help to retrace this rich tradition of corruption. We're a society whose rate of violent crime outstrips virtually every civilized nation on the globe, and we're a country that has as many different types of criminals as we have crimes. Yet from the ranks of robbers, murderers, rapists, arsonists, pedophiles, bunco artists and so forth, there's really only one variety of bad-guy that captivates us to no end, and thats the gangster class. None of those other guys, really. You're not very likely to spot a kid on the street sporting a t-shirt that reads 'Purse Snatcher'. Instead, its 'Wiseguy'. Its the outlaw who we find irresistible. I mean, you two aren't just run of the mill bloggers--you're 'Outlaw' bloggers, right? With one word, you've imbued this avocation with a promise of adventure. So the gangster folklore really saturates our everything -- our publishing, our films, our airwaves, our culture. For reasons not well understood, and I'm certainly not sitting on whole answer, there is something in the perceived makeup of a gangster that has huge appeal to the masses. We as Americans tend to yield to the type of personality who challenges real authority, who takes what he wants without apology. (Photo: Abel Ferrara at MIA)
How’d you score your apartment?
Stanley took pity on me, basically. Is there any other way? He'd just turned away a couple of pretty good names, so nothing was for certain. And I've blown through a couple of apartments since then; the first was on the second floor, two twenty six, then Stanley put me up on nine, a big corner room that I liked much more, real peaceful except for the occasional electric guitar jam in the hallway at 2 am, with fast creeping, very agressive ivy invading from every direction. And an upright piano, which was nice. I don't play but found it was a really good place to stash things and it kept the cats entertained, usually whenever I was trying to get a nap in. I shared a bath with Rene Ricard for awhile, that was interesting. At least. He loved my room, he said; the good light, the relative silence, then assured me that 'only the very best people' had committed suicide there. That part had me worried for awhile, a couple of weeks, but fortunately it was all bullshit. Its true the light was good. Anyhow, by August the ivy had become dessicated and Stanley decided to renovate my place, so thats how I scored the room I'm in now, in what--it's been written--was one of Bob Dylan's first. I think it used to be bigger. I don't get any of Bob's junk mail, but a writer from SNL had this apartment before me and a few weeks ago Colin Quinn called up drunk from the lobby. Which was no consolation.
Do you think the Chelsea has a creative spirit?
Without question. There is real magic in this place. I would say "ask anybody" but its hard to explain, you either get it or you don't. I've brought friends of mine here who couldn't wait to leave. This past week there was some creep in the lobby complaining to Stanley that the Chelsea wasn't what he 'expected' from a four star hotel, or whatever. Bard had the cops on the guy so I'm thinking to myself 'god only knows where he spent the night.' And then there are those for whom nothing needs be explained. If you're open to it, you can get caught up in a creative undertow here, that pulls you in directions that aren't familiar. Or not.
What’s your favorite Hotel Chelsea story?
Personally I never tire of the story about a certain popular actress with the initials AJ on the ninth floor all hours to catch the H train. But there's always a new favorite around the corner.
Can you tell us about your future projects?
Sure. Right now I'm developing two other social history exhibits, and one of them is on the topic of Capital Punishment from the turn of the century, essentially since executions were permanently removed from public view in the face of the abolitionist movement. It will include rare unpublished Photography, important documents tracing its evolution and then, of course, the actual implements of death--for instance the electrocution chair from Tennessee where Maurice Mays is said to have been wrongly executed in 1922, and a lethal injection machine that malfunctioned while in use here in the northeast. It only came to this collection after the State that owned it refused to pay the repair bill.
Tony Lioce is the arts and entertainment editor of the San Jose Mercury News. Before this he was an arts editor at the LA Times and a rock critic for the Providence (RI) Journal. In an exclusive interview, Tony reveals that the best thing to ever happen to him at the Chelsea was that his oldest daughter was conceived here. How 'bout that for taking the Chelsea's famed creative spirit to a whole 'nother level?
Has your writing been influenced by any current or former hotel Chelsea residents? Oh yeah! I stand in front of the place and read those names of the people who lived there and it's like scanning my bookcase at home.
Which former or current Chelsea resident have you written about? I actually have written about Dylan quite a bit. And the Warhol people and the Jefferson Airplane (one member of which, Paul Kantner, I still see from time to time in San Francisco. He and I drink in the same bar).
When did you stay at the Chelsea? Pretty much whenever I was in New York from the mid '70s till the mid '90s.
What inspired you to get a room at the Chelsea? The legends surrounding the place. I remember when I realized you could actually STAY there, it almost surprised me. I knew, of course, that it was a hotel, but in my mind it was always more like a shrine or something. Then one day I realized, Hey! I could actually stay there! And I did.
Did you spot any celebrities during your stay at the Chelsea? Viva, Sinead O'Connor. DeeDee Ramone at the guitar store outside.
Has the Chelsea vibe changed over the years? Yeah. It's way more expensive now. When I stayed there it was like sixty bucks a night, which was cheap at the time.
What's your favorite Hotel Chelsea story? One night I checked in and they gave me a room on the top floor, and I was having trouble finding it until I spotted a sign indicating that it actually was up on yet another floor, up a narrow flight of stairs to a floor I didn't even know was there - almost like something out of "Being John Malkovich." When I saw the room itself I was stunned. It was huge, with windows on both sides, views both north and south. It was more like a loft than any hotel room I'd ever seen before - and certainly nothing even remotely like anything I'd seen at the Chelsea. A few hours later I was sitting at that bar next door, El Quixote, and I was mentioning this weird room, and the guy next to me overheard and told me it was Julian Schnabel's room and that (at the time anyway) Schnabel was letting the hotel rent it out whenever he was out of town. I wound up getting it for the same (then cheap) price I woulda paid to stay in one of the regular(charmingly) dumpy rooms! Pretty trippy.
Do you think the Chelsea has a creative spirit? The best thing is, our oldest daughter was conceived there. And she lives in New York now. The spirit of the city musta taken hold!
Jen is Famous, in wonderbra and matching wonderunderpants, honeymoons at the famous Chelsea Hotel, known worldwide for its goats-and-yogurt honeymoon special.
How'd you get to be so famous?
Well, I don't want to give too much away to the competition, but it involves a blog, a pair of Wonder Woman underpants, and a bite from a radioactive toddler.
Art photographer Linda Troeller has lived at the Chelsea Hotel for 12 years. The Chelsea and its quirky, creative residents have provided excellent subjects for Linda's Hotel Chelsea: Inside Out project, which is garnering attention across the country and in Europe. A film about Linda's career as a photographer, much of it shot here at the Chelsea, is scheduled for release in 2007.
Why did you decide to move into the Chelsea?
I have a collector, Marion Schneider, who always stayed at the Chelsea Hotel when she visited my loft on 18th Street, so I thought the Hotel might be a good place to consider for a change since I was traveling so often for my photography assignments. I liked the idea to have my things protected and my mail kept for me.
How did you score your apartment?
Stanley showed me a ‘writer’s room on the 8th floor, 832, with a huge closet and to both our surprise there was a caged snake inside! He blushed and said he didn’t know it was there...”But don’t worry.” he said, “our staff will have the room perfectly clean for you.”
I‘ve lived in two other rooms – 319, and presently on the 9th floor. From 832 I moved down to a balcony room, 319, where I enjoyed an art studio space. When the nightclub below, Serena’s got popular and noisy I wanted to move into the back of the hotel and just about that time a man who had occupied my room passed on after living there almost his whole life. I have a wide and expansive panorama window view of the Hudson and it was where I saw one of one of the Twin Towers collapse.
Do you think there is a creative energy in the Chelsea?
Yes. Perhaps seasons actually. Brooding, isolation and introspection in winter and in spring when the light flows more strongly down from the skylight, it adds radiance to our halls and drifts in the rooms. The attitude and ether is more buoyant, upbeat.
How has living in the Chelsea affected your creative development?
The hotel provides a safe haven and artistic acceptance that allows me to work as though I might be attending an art colony. Living here is convenient for editors to stop by and has led to publication
My book Healing Waters, on spas and hot springs around the world, Aperture, and exhibition was edited in Room 832; and, Erotic Lives of Women with the Swiss publisher, Walter Keller, was planned in 319. Marion Schneider, the writer/interviewer on that book and I created four shoots with women at the hotel. I also evolved my fashion portfolio here with C4, a photo and model agency, active in the late 90's in the hotel. A regular guest, Klaus Boehm, my collector from Germany, dreams up his creative
projects , such as suggesting me to photograph the design Apolda Award catalogues and his own spa, Toskana Therme. recently praised in the NYT Travel section.
What other creative people at the Chelsea or elsewhere have influenced your development?
I was an assistant for the photographer, Ralph Gibson, who lived at the Chelsea in the 60's and was a photography teacher of “Bookmaking” at the Ansel Adams Workshops in Yosemite. While working with him he radically shortened my Leica camera strap, that I had dangling long at my side.
With the redesign I could quickly pull it out to my eye and it had proved useful for shooting my whole career.
Who is the most famous person you've ever ridden with in the Chelsea elevator?
What's the worst/best thing that has ever happened to you at the Chelsea?
The worst experience was when they were renovating the hotel’s façade. I had been away for a few weeks and returned after dark. I didn't know why there was tape on the windows of my room so I opened the window for air in the middle of the night. I awoke with rusty dust on my face about 1/4 inch
thick. It took some hours to hear back from the EPA whether I was exposed to too much dust. I learned that there was nothing I could do to help my lungs, except breathe fresh air. So, I went to the East River and rode my bike and haven't had a problem.
The best thing was the visit of my now husband, Lothar, who I met as my student in my photography class at the Salzburg Art Academy in Austria, 2000. I always told students if you ever come to NYC, look me up. He did. We went to photo openings and he offered to assist me when I was in Europe. Eventually it led to our engagement party at the Chelsea Hotel.
How did you get interested in photography?
My parents gave me the gift of a bus tour to the art museums of Europe when I graduated from high school. It was also my birthday season so they gave me a Minolta SLR with lenses. I took b/w photographs on my trip which started my interest. During college I was a student actress at Ghost Ranch Conference Center in New Mexico where Georgia O’Keeffe had a home. Every year she invited the students for a luncheon and on the wall I saw the Steigliz’s photographs and was enthralled. Later that summer the director of the play gave me his Rollei 2 1/4 camera to take photographs of the
plays and I fell in love with the drama in the viewfinder. I went back to college and changed my major to the School of Journalism so I could take photography courses and got my MFA in Photography from Syracuse University.
Tell us about your Chelsea Hotel book and other projects that you are currently working on?
I was introduced by the bellhop, Timur to Alexander McQueen, the fashion designer from London. He came to my room and saw my Healing Waters prints and immediately invited me to be among press to shoot his fashion show that night. I returned to the hotel with my camera on my shoulder and a couple in the lobby started up a conversation discussing if I would photograph them. From then on it seemed natural to photograph my life in the hotel. I made portraits of guests and residents in my studio and in their apartments.
In 2000 Stanley Bard had seen my photo books and approached me to take interiors of some of the apartments toward a book that would feature my art photographs and his memoir. We created a proposal and approached publishers with an agent but that book idea didn’t connect with the
I have been evolving my hotel images since 1994 and have two upcoming presentations this fall on the project: Hotel Chelsea:InsideOut. They are for the Society for Education Conference, Oct 29, at Metropolitan College, Omaha, Nebraska, "Scanning the Horizon: social, natural, and political landscapes”, and on Nov 11, at Orange County College, Ca. in "Conflict (cultural, interpersonal, political, psychological, spiritual), http://www.spewest.org. Three of these Hotel Chelsea photographs are on view in Arles, France and for which I won the juror's prize selection.
Tell us about the film to come out in 2007?
Winnipeg Genie nominated filmmaker, Jeff McKay, received a Manitoba Arts Council grant to make, Linda Troeller, A Photographer¹s Portrait. The documentary is a one-hour profile on my photo career. Jeff and his wife, Ruthie, came and stayed in the hotel last summer in the room next to mine
and filmed me creating shoots and portraits with residents Victor Borckis, a writer; Joseph O;Neill, writer and Sally Singer, Fashion Director at Vogue; David Linter, screenwriter; and Robert Lambert, painter, among others.
What other photo projects do you have?
I will have a revival exhibition and lecture at Ryerson University, Toronto of my TB-AIDS DIARY photo collages, which were first shown in early the 1990's in New York, Havana, Helsinki, Paris among other
locations. This show was created in 1987 to address issues of stigma by comparing the response to TB patients in the 1930’s to AIDS sufferer’s today. I was using TB as a metaphor for the stigma surrounding contagious disease and treating it primarily as a historical artifact. Over the last
few years we have witnessed not only the rapid increase of AIDS worldwide, but also the activation of TB in the homeless, drug users, and now the vast increase in AIDS patients. The project has been shown around the world, translated into fourteen languages and I won Women of Acheivement, Douglass College/NJSFWC.
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.)
Renaissance man D-Xristo! stopped by the Chelsea to visit his friend, and fortunately for posterity his friend had a video camera. He is French, goddammit!
What do you do?
I am an art model, pet sitter, actor and singer songwriter under the name of D-XRISTO!
What brought you to the Chelsea?
My best friend and talented photographer Michael Huhn who moved to Los Angeles came to New York on a business trip and stayed briefly at the hotel!
Had you heard of the Chelsea prior to your visit?
Absolutely!!! Sid Vicious from the Sex pistols stabbed his girlfriend to death there!
Did the Chelsea live up to its reputation?
Absolutely! It is such a mysterious place!
What inspired you to shoot your video in the Chelsea?
My friend decided to do it and I jumped immediately! It was a fantastic idea!
Do you think the Chelsea has a creative spirit?
The artist Mary Anne Rose views the Chelsea as a Living Museum. Now there's a suggestion: Stanley could establish a recommended donation for viewing the paintings in the lobby and make some extra cash. Mary Anne and her husband, the late painter Herbert Gentry, embody the timeless bohemian spirit of Chelsea.
What do you do?
I am an artist and art educator.
When did you move into the Chelsea?
My late husband Herb Gentry first invited me to join him in New York at the Chelsea (I was living in Paris at the time, where I had met him) . That “introduction” in November 1978 would become permanent. Gentry had come to the Chelsea many years earlier. (Photo: Mary Ann Rose and Herbert Gentry in front of the Chelsea from the archives of Mary Ann Rose.)
What would you say are the main differences between how the Chelsea was when you first moved in and how it is now?
We are talking about 1978 through 2006. Well, of course, I’ve changed. I was so wide-eyed and excited and fascinated by the Chelsea the minute I walked in. It was another world. There was an older generation or two of folks alive at the time so it carried a palpable connection to living history for me. It was also a very friendly place. A different crowd of folks sat in the lobby in 1978. There were real characters passing through the lobby late evenings that might keep a voyeur surprised and amused.
American culture and New York was a different experience in 1978. I remember the French advertised New York as “le metropole moins cher du monde” which meant dollars were cheap. Those were transitional times, a very lively social period. You still felt how the Chelsea had been home to American bohemia, and a lot of the residents, memories and attitudes of earlier years lived on at the Chelsea . The French have a saying for this, the more things change, the more things remain the same.
The lobby was really pretty funky in 1978, the front desk area was sort of white painted plywood, forget the elegant dark wood look of today! The original Chelsea antique sideboards and benches in the lobby had different upholstery, but there were no flowers. Much of the same art was hanging in the lobby when I first came, some newer pieces have been added, but many are the same. That’s what really defined the place for me – a living museum!
How would you describe your art?
I have spent a lot of time writing during the time Gentry was ill, and after he passed away. A little tight for physical work space, I’ve been forced to make a lot of creative adjustments. My art? I think of it as the roll it up and take it with you kind – originally, to facilitate painting and exhibiting on two continents. Visually-based, abstract and geometric modalities, Paintings on unprimed, unstretched linen, works on paper, drawings, prints.
Who has influenced your art?
Clearly, living with another artist influenced me. But I was an artist before I met Gentry, and remain an independent artist today. The artistic discourse is important and continual.
Has your work been influenced by any residents here at the Chelsea?
I believe one’s life is influenced by interactions with people and places, and this shapes who you are in entering the studio. My residence at the Chelsea extends over 28 years. At the Chelsea, one passes art on the walls, people in the elevators, and there is the city itself. My artist friends here? Doris Chase, long term resident and video artist, in particular shared a lot of her experience with me before she left.
Identify some other artists who he admired and why.
Gentry went back to Paris in 1946 after serving in WWII, and lived many years in Paris, and then Sweden. Gentry came to the Chelsea thanks to the recommendation of the international museum director Pontus Hulten, who was a Swede and Herb knew him in Paris and Stockholm. Herb thought of it first as the place that European artists stayed. Gentry had grown up in New York city in the 1920s and 1930s, the Chelsea was perfect. Gentry admired many here at the Chelsea, of course those with French connections, Bernard Childs, Shirley Clarke, Virgil Thomson, Martine Barratt, many others. But Gentry was a personality, made many connections and impressions here that I still learn about! At the Chelsea, he congregated with writer Chester Himes, artists Romare Bearden. Bill Hutson. Bob Blackburn resided here in the final years. The Printmaking workhop was nearby. I worked there, too. Artists from Scandinavia and Paris stayed here, painters, musicians, short term and long. Writer Piri Thomas. Bernard Childs, Martine Barratt, and others. Ed Clark in the neighborhood. Theater, actor Kevin O’Connor was our next-door neighbor, then actress Cyndi Coyne and Theo. Gentry would meet for breakfast at Wellington Restaurant on Seventh Ave. -- now Eros Cafe -- and Chelsea Square at 23rd and Ninth Ave. He loved the funky donut shop and egg sandwiches at Eighth and 23rd. He had a café spirit and the neighborhood offered that to him.
Describe Mr. Gentry’s art?
Was Mr. Gentry’s work influenced by anyone he met or knew here at the Chelsea? Gentry the artist was already formed when he first arrived at the Chelsea. Most importantly, he felt very good here, and free in his lifestyle, and able to paint. The many people he met here all contributed to his art, because he was inspired by the human spirit.
Do you think the Chelsea has a creative spirit? I think creative individuals bring their creative spirit with them, and arrive at the Chelsea with this spirit as part of their baggage, so to speak. Because many such folks are gathered at the Chelsea, it becomes a safe and even, stimulating environment to work, share and acknowledge that creative impulse. It is a norm, rather than an exception.
Scott Smith takes us back to the early 1980s, a time when fabulous tranny hookers, crack dealers, and punk-wannabes ruled the Chelsea Hotel. According to Scott, it was also a time of extreme sadness at the Chelsea, as many of the residents began to succumb to AIDS.
What do you do?
I'm a writer presently completing a novel. Portions of my blog Bill in Exile will be excerpted this fall in a collection being published by Kleiss Press. Bill is actually my blogging partner and oldest friend in New York. We've known each other for more than 23 years now. We ran Bill in Exile for just over a year and shut it down a couple months ago. It was very popular. Bill is in prison for 7 and a quarter years for selling meth and our blog was simply the letters that we exchanged with each other every day and that I put up on the internet.
What inspired you to move into the Hotel Chelsea?
What inspired us to move into the Chelsea was that my boyfriend at the time and I were both in our early twenties, I had just gotten out of the Marine Corps and we were dead broke and living in a shooting gallery on 10th and Avenue C in the east village when that part of town was scary beyond belief and we thought the time was right for a move uptown to a "de-luxe apartment in the sky". We had heard that the Chelsea might have vacancies and that they liked artists which my boyfriend was. Plus I loved the design of the building.
How'd you score your apartment?
Our interview with Stanley Bard the longtime manager of the Chelsea was, I thought at the time, pretty straight forward. Realize that I had just gotten out of the Marine Corps and hailed from Kentucky so I didn't know a damn thing about much of anything, least of all New York real estate. Mike (the bf) and I walked into Stanley's office with a couple of Mike's paintings and started talking to him about renting an apartment. Stanley wanted to see the paintings we brought and we were only too happy to show them since we intended to try to use them in lieu of a security deposit. Stanley looked at them, snorted a couple of times and handed us a set of keys to an apartment on what I recall was the 4th floor. It was basically a large hotel room with a kitchen but it had a cute little wrought iron balcony outside right next to the Hotel Chelsea sign. After we saw the apartment we told Stanley we loved it and he said "you can move in tomorrow" and that was that. No security deposit no rent in advance. I later learned that Stanley's way of doing business was not in the least the norm for New York landlords.
Were the punks still around lighting candles to Sid?
The early 80's had pretty much seen the demise of punk at the Chelsea by then especially after the Sid Vicious Nancy Spungeon killing. Mostly you saw a lot of punk-wannabees and those who came around hoping to discover some truth about Sid Vicious, but mainly there were really cool tranny hookers in the hotel at the time. They all had lived in the building for ages and remembered Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungeon and her killing in '78. They all had great stories.
How would you describe the Chelsea vibe in the early 1980s?
The vibe at the Chelsea for me has always been really interesting. When I lived there it was right before crack hit New York really hard but there were definite hints of things to come within the crew that made up the residents of the hotel. You saw people starting to succumb to the drug and slowly, or not so slowly, and disappearing from it. Actually, my drug dealer lived a floor above us while we were there and he continued to live in the same apartment for over ten years until he died of AIDS. That was the big impact on the hotel and the city at that point. AIDS. AIDS and Crack. Chelsea as a neighborhood had a quickly growing gay population since everyone in the village to the south was dying like flies and gays that were still alive wanted to flee the hot zone. During the early 80's the hotel had a kind of sadness hanging over it since so many residents and friends of residents were dying and the gay boys who lived there, like me and my boyfriend, all were pretty much figuring that we'd be dead in a matter of months too. So when we lived there I'd say that AIDS hung over everything. AIDS and drugs.
Were celebrities dropping by in the 80s?
Lets see, I walked up the stairs with a very young, very cute Mathew Modine once. I think the elevator was out and we started chatting and I didn't realize who he was until later which is typical of me since I'm completely hopeless when it comes to spotting celebs. He's very tall. I rode the elevator with Ed Koch once. I think he was heading to one of the big penthouse apartments to visit someone. He's really tall too! I used to see Andy Warhol in the lobby all the time with various members of his Factory entourage and his last protégé, Christopher Makos the photographer. Chris and I became friends and lived near each other in the village for almost 20 years from the late 80's on. (Photo: Christopher Makos and Andy Warhol, c. 1981) A later celebrity connection that I had to the Chelsea was that of Ethan Hawke. Although I had long since moved out of the hotel when Ethan lived there he and my brother Kenneth were friends and went to prep school in New Jersey together and even performed together in school plays. I saw Ethan perform in The Glass Menagerie when he was 16 years old.
What was the best/worst thing that ever happened to you at the Chelsea?
The best and worst thing about living at the hotel was that this pre-op tranny hooker named Simonette used to live in our apartment before we moved in. She had a boyfriend named Tyler who was this incredibly beautiful 20 year old cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. (Don't ask me how he got away with it but suffice to say that Simonette could pass for a girl under all but the most extreme scrutiny). Anyway, Tyler had gotten dumped by Simonette before we moved in and apparently she moved without forwarding information and Tyler being smitten and deeply in love was basically stalking her, or at least trying to stalk her but without too much success. He would show up at our apartment door at all hours crying for her and begging to be let in. My boyfriend and I ran him off repeatedly at first and he was really making us nuts but then one night we let him in and after sitting around talking to him for hours we basically became best friends. We ended up helping him get over Simonette and I remain friends with him to this day.
Do you think the Chelsea has a creative spirit?
Oh, yes. Without a doubt the Chelsea has a creative spirit. All one needs to do to confirm that is to walk the halls and you'll feel it. Or you can step out of the lobby onto 23rd street and look at the various plaques commemorating who lived there if you're less spiritually inclined. The list of Chelsea residents is long and storied and includes Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin, Bill Burroughs, Gore Vidal, Allan Ginsberg and Tennessee Williams (tons of homos!) and I think the hotel attracts people who are creative as well as a bit nuts in part because of its history and in part because Stanley used to make it really easy for artistically talented individuals to find a home there. I also think that the people who live there, once ensconced in residency, feel that artistic spirit within the buildings walls and develop a sense that they need to live up to it and try hard to do so.
Against his better judgment, Australian novelist Bruce Russell signed up for a sublet at the Chelsea Hotel. His interview gives us some insight into why Stanley Bard dislikes sublets. We had better luck with ours, thank heavens. We were also interested to learn that the Chelsea is not a family friendly place.
What do you do? I'm a novelist and university teacher.
When did you stay at the Chelsea? 1999 - 2000
What inspired you to move into the Hotel Chelsea?
I already knew about it from a previous stay so when my family moved to NYC and were looking for suitable accommodation in Manhattan, that was one place to rule out! Naturally, after finding a sublet advertisement in the Village Voice, the temptation was irresistible, although you'd have to say it's not exactly family friendly. We sublet from a guy called Joe Blow, paid him a lot of money and then found out he was behind in his rent.
Do you think the Chelsea has a creative spirit?
Absolutely. Apart from all the usual stories (Syd and Nancy, Brendan Behan, Arthur Miller et al) we discovered that an eccentric Australian woman had once lived in our apartment with her fox. Ethan Hawke was making a film in the corridor outside our room for God's sake. The place reeks of creativity.
Has Your Writing Been Influenced by Any Former or Current Residents?
The lady with the fox, Tony, the concierge, the owners, Patty Hearst, Nick Cave are all in my 3rd novel, 'Channelling Henry'. So is the room, which turns out to be a central setting in the story. My character Jeremy Moon, a young writer, stays at the Chelsea and meets a street vendor around the corner who gives him a manuscript to read. The vendor's story is set in the same room Jeremy is renting. My previous novel, "Chelsea Manifesto," also has a number of chapters set in the Chelsea and was named for it.
Who are the contemporary authors that you most admire?
Philip Roth for sheer intellectual power, Anne Tyler for dazzling realism, and Saul Bellow for unforgettable portraits of men struggling with family life. Henry Miller, spurned and spat upon by the establishment, was my hero and central inspiration for my last book. He should have lived at the Chelsea. Then perhaps he would have felt better about New York. Miller writes about desperation, love, struggle and life in a language all his own. Don't get me started.
What is the best/worst thing that happened to you while staying at the Chelsea?
Worst: when we discovered that the cool photographer we had sublet the place from hadn't paid his rent, although he did collect a large amount of money from us in advance. We thought we'd be on the street, but the owner's son was gracious and understanding.
Best: my wife rushed in and said 'I just came up in the lift with Kris Kristofferson!' 'What did you say to him?' I asked. 'O nothing, I didn't want to act like a groupie'.
Did you meet any other famoust people while staying at the Chelsea?
Ethan Hawke allowed us to watch a scene from his movie in the making, right outside our door. He apologized to my then five-year-old because the actor/policeman had to swear and curse.