©2022 By Legs McNeil

I first met Duncan Hannah at Victor Bockris’ apartment, the one he nabbed from Pat Loud; star of the hit Public Broadcasting series, “An American Family.” Victor was living there with another writer, the incomparable Jeff Goldberg, who was smarter and a better writer than we were. Jeff was also nicer than Victor– and had the most wonderful artwork above his desk– like this hand-drawn poster of an artist’s night of drunken debauchery.

The poster was broken into four panels like a comic book— there was the artist lying in the gutter as a taxi cab almost clipped him– there was him getting thrown out of a bar for vomiting on the floor– there was him stumbling out of abandoned tenement as the morning sun rose in the sky; all the great humiliations of amateur alcoholism in one picture.

But it wasn’t a cartoon, more like a hip graphic novel. Since we were all into the “graphically real” then, reading Last Exit to Brooklyn and Andy Warhol’s Popism, we were all searching for new ways to express what life was like for the new artist. And I knew this poster-artist, some guy named Duncan Hannah, had hit a nerve. He was telling the truth.

Though, I didn’t like him when I met him. A rich kid. And maybe too good looking.

It was at one of Victor Bockris’s horrifying dinner parties (I saw Victor dish out a canned ham that was more spam than ham, to Burroughs and Warhol) that I met Duncan Hannah and we immediately got into a fight about music.

Duncan was wearing an ascot when we met, at least that’s how I remember him, even if it’s not true; it probably is. He seemed that pretentious. We were exact opposites, as our argument about the Monkees proved. I was pro-Monkees, Duncan was anti-Monkees, which was a big deal, since music defined almost everything about a person in 1970’s New York City.

“They don’t even play their own instruments,” Duncan spat.

“No band in LA plays their own instruments, it’s always the Wrecking Crew!” I shot back, referring to the nickname of the best studio musicians in LA that played on virtually everyone’s record, from Frank Sinatra to the Byrds.

Duncan professed to love the Stooges, Bowie, Marc Bolan—and Roxy Music, perhaps the most pompous band on earth. Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music canceled out any of Duncan’s punk credibility in my book, and I quickly dismissed him as a conceited ass.

Still, all those long nights at CBGB’s, Max’s and the Mudd Club– and our shared love of great rock & roll, booze and women brought us together in an uneasy alliance. And our recognition that we were complete opposites proved more interesting to each other than not, and made us closer somehow. And as I got to know him better, Duncan also bared a hysterical sense of humor. Goofy funny, even.

I believe it was at drinks at Duncan’s girlfriend’s apartment, the noted dominatrix Terrence Sellers, author of The Correct Sadist, that I started calling him “Dunc.” He responded by calling me “Legsy,” and then it was time to go see whatever band, or party, or art opening we were attending. Terry Sellers said, “Wait a sec,” and walked over to a large armoire in the corner of the room, opened the closet door revealing a little old man tied, gagged and blindfolded inside, and casually said to him, “I’m going out, I’ll be back late….”

The guy didn’t dare reply. Or couldn’t.

Eventually I moved in with my girlfriend and resumed my childhood obsession of collecting snakes, pythons to be precise, and Duncan was fascinated with my menagerie. In the early 1980’s, Duncan quit drinking and joined the Sober Sailor’s Society and was even more charming to be around. He even gifted me a beautiful portrait of a kingsnake and his painting career really started to take off. I wished him well, but had no use for sobriety, and Duncan never mentioned it, much to his credit. As he told my girlfriend, “He’ll call me when he’s ready.”

When my girlfriend left me for a photo-realist painter from Arizona and threw me out, Duncan took me in. I went to meetings. I got my job back at Spin. And I kept asking my ex-girlfriend, “A photo-realist painter? But how can you fuck someone so mediocre?”

I guess, for her, it was more about looks than substance, and I took it as a personal insult that she was sleeping with such a lousy artist. While I was complaining to Duncan, he’d just say, “Legs you’ve been here for two weeks, can’t you even wash one dish?”

I eventually married my ex-girlfriend, got divorced, left Spin and started working on a book that became Please Kill Me; The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, and I knew Duncan was one of the guys I had to interview for it. There were all these people in the punk scene that were stars already, people like Duncan Hannah, Cyrinda Foxe, Phillippe Marcade, Anya Phillips that no one really knew much about, but needed to be put into a context. I was determined through Please Kill Me to put them on the map. They deserved to be on the map. All I had to do was edit it in a way that was cohesive, chronological, and funny, when it wasn’t being horrifying, like life is.

So I brought my tape bag up to Duncan’s pad on West 71st Street, and pushed play on the record button and Duncan did the rest. It was a delightful afternoon with us both in hysterics as we skipped back to the 70’s, and not only did Dunc have an amazing memory, he also possessed the ability to recall the events in the same mind-frame as when they were happening. He had no filters during our interview.

DUNCAN HANNAH: I was hanging out at Max’s with Danny Fields at his usual booth. We were having a couple of brandies and in walks Lou Reed with the Maltese crosses sculpted into his head. It was 1973, and Lou comes over and says, “Hey, Danny!” Danny says, “Oh, Lou, sit down, sit down.” So it’s the three of us. And I’m introduced and Lou goes, “Hey, he looks like David Cassidy, you know that?”

And I said, “Oh, I don’t really like David Cassidy.” And he goes, “Yeah, you look just… doesn’t he, Danny? Doesn’t he look just like David Cassidy?” And then they started talking about me in the third person, “Doesn’t she look like David Cassidy?”

That goes on for a while and then they started talking about Raymond Chandler. And I’d just read all of Raymond Chandler. So I’m thinking, Hey, I know about this, and I’m sitting with my hero, Lou Reed, and we’re going to have an intellectual conversation about Raymond Chandler. All right!

So Lou is making some point, talking about a scene that was in The High Window. And I said, “Oh no, that’s in The Little Sister.” He goes, “Wha?” I said, “That’s in The Little Sister. I just read that, too, it’s great, I know that piece…”

So Lou turns to Danny and says, “Hey, Danny. She speaks. Does she think? I guess she reads, huh?”

I thought, I get it. I’m just a dumb blonde.

So Lou says, “Hey, Danny, what does she do anyhow?” And Danny says, “Oh, she’s an art student.” So Lou goes, “Oh, an art student.” And it was horrible. It’s horrible being with your heroes when you’re an art student. It sounds like nothing. So I got the message: Be seen and not heard. I’m a bauble. I’m an accessory. Oh, great. Here’s my hero, I finally meet my hero! And I can’t talk.

So then Danny goes to the bathroom and Lou turns to me and says, “Say, are you Danny’s?” And I said, “No, no, Danny’s my friend.” He said, “So you don’t belong to Danny?” And I said, “No, you know, he’s my friend.” Lou goes, “Well, will you be my David Cassidy then?” I said, “Uh, no, I don’t think so.” And he said, “Well, look, why don’t you come back to my hotel with me?” I said, “And?” He said, “And you can shit in my mouth. How’d you like that?” I said, “I don’t think I would like that.”

I was really ashen. And Lou started whispering, like it was supposed to make me hot, and said, “Does that, does that repulse you?” I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “Well, I’ll put a– I’ll put a plate over my face, then you can shit on the plate. How’d you like that?”

I said, “No, I don’t think I’d like that either.”

He said, “Well, you’re really missing out. Come on and we’ll just go have fun.”

I said, “Ah, no, I don’t think so. I think I’ll just stay here.” So he said, “Okay. And nuts to you,” or something like that. So then Danny came back and Lou says, “Gotta split, Danny!” And he left, and I was really depressed because I’d imagined something really different. It wasn’t like it was in the books: “God, I met my hero and we were talking about Raymond Chandler!”

Instead it was, “Can I shit in your mouth?”

After Lou splits, Danny says, “Hey, I think Lou liked you.” I said, “I don’t think so.” I
think I told him, “Lou asked if I belong to you,” and Danny liked it because he was with something that his friend wanted. Danny said, “Well, if you wanna go with him, go if you like.”

And I said, “No, I don’t think so.”

From Please Kill Me; The Uncensored Oral History of Punk. Copyright 1996 by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain.

As I said, hysterically funny. Please Kill Me came out and was a hit because of Duncan Hannah’s voice and all the amazing others, and “Dunc” became the famous artist he will always be remembered as, and for being the accomplished author of 20th Century Boy, his diaries from the 1970’s that are a must read. Don’t even think about it, just pick up the book and dive in.

We’d get together for dinners every year or so, and they were always a gas. One of the last ones was after a Tosh Berman reading in Brooklyn when he read from his book, Tosh: Growing Up in Wallace Berman’s World.

When my new girlfriend walked into the reading late, wearing a black velvet Betsey Johnson off-the-shoulder, slinky dress; Dunc slid up to me and whispered, “Who’s Vampira?” Referring to the cult film actress Maila Nurmi who starred in the Ed Wood classic, “Plan Nine from Outer Space.” Dunc always had an eye for unique and obscure beauty as his Instagram account and his portraits proved.

The dinner was at the Wyeth Hotel and the long table was filled with old friends and new ones. The star of the evening was Tosh Berman who told profound tales of his influential artist father, and at one point, Duncan, who was sitting across from Tosh, held the plate of butter in his hand, too engrossed in his conversation with Tosh to realize where he was passing it. The plate of butter was orbiting Duncan, back and forth, and back and forth, making me dizzy, like some Marx Brother’s bit, until I shouted, “Duncan! Pass the fucking butter!”

Dunc exploded in laughter, as did most of the table.

The last time we had dinner, me, Dunc, his wife Meagan, my future wife Alexis (Vampira), and Dunc’s friend, Bingham, met outside Cornwall, Connecticut at the White Hart Inn. It was as festive as all the other dinners and, as usual, Dunc and I got into an argument. This was one was over whether Holden Caufield would’ve had sex with the prostitute in that famous scene in Catcher In The Rye. I said he definitely would’ve made her. Duncan said Holden should’ve stuck to his principals, as he did. I said, “Bullshit, what horny 15-year-old wouldn’t go for it– if a hooker was offering to liberate his cherry?”

At this point, a tipsy Alexis shot, “Oh Legsy, leave him alone! Duncan has great hair!”

Even Duncan had to laugh, as he blushed profusely.

The coolest man in the room, Danny Fields, once gave me a photograph of Duncan taken in the early 1970’s, when Dunc first got to New York, before I knew him– when he was so gorgeous– that I was embarrassed to accept it as a gift.

I mean, in the photo Duncan was stunning. I mean head-turning stunning. He looked like a girl, so feminine, yet with a weirdly masculine vibe. And I didn’t want to hang it in my apartment and have every girl that spent the night say, “Who’s that?”

Yeah, thanks Danny Fields, you could’ve ruined my sex life with that one photo!

Instead, I gave it to Duncan, he had to have it, it was the best photo– out of the millions of movie-star photos of him– I’d ever seen. He seriously looked like a god in the photo– and it was too hallowed for me to possess.

Dunc had it all; the charm, the clothes, the looks, the brains, the talent, and more importantly, he was not an asshole. He didn’t need an entourage, he enjoyed going to see his friend’s work, and he enjoyed explaining why he liked something or did not like it. He was extremely accessible and his take on “the work” was inspiring. And his manner was classy, in an unpretentious way; more Mid-West down home. And his smile was infectious.

Dunc died of a heart attack on Saturday June 11th, 2022, while watching a pretentious French film, just to remind us all that we’d never be as classy as him– and we won’t.

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INTRODUCTION TO MY COURSE:
ZEN AND THE ART OF THE NARRATIVE ORAL HISTORY

©2021-2022 by Legs McNeil (Based on the techniques developed by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain)

Too long has the Oral History format been thought of as the bastard child of literature; assumed to be a “cut and paste” job for hack writers looking to make an easy buck. In other words, the bottom of the prose barrel. But when the art of the narrative oral history is mastered, it can transform the written spoken word by primary subjects—people who were in the room when the event occurred—into actually experiencing the event being described, with all the human emotion, even more so than the traditional omnipotent narrator.

Master Class zoom course Coming Soon: “Zen and the Art of the Narrative Oral History”. Email info@legsmcneil.com to sign up.