(JOHNNY THUNDERS, MAX’S, IGGY POP, ELDRIDGE STREET, AND OTHER GRITTY TALES OF THE EAST VILLAGE IN THE 1970s AND ’80s…)
©2022 By Legs McNeil
In honor of Howie Pyro’s new liver and Jesse Malin’s benefit show for Howie’s medical expenses on Saturday, March 5th at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, I present Howie Pyro, the East Village Zelig, founding member of both the Blessed and D Generation. Howie played bass with Joey Ramone, the Misfits, and Danzig, and for the first time speaks in his own words about what life was like in the bad old days…
Howie Pyro: I mean, most people’s musical tastes at 14 years old aren’t that well developed, but I saw the Dictators when I was 14 at my junior high school in Whitestone, Queens, where I grew up. It was sort of by chance that I saw the Dictators; ya know, it just came about. I had never really heard them before, nor had anyone. It was their third gig, and their first two gigs were, like, opening for like REO Speedwagon and someone else, and both gigs were really bad where they were booed off the stage.
And the Dictators gig at my junior high school—this was their first absolutely great experience—they brought a million bags of White Castle and they just pummeled the audience with White Castle hamburgers the entire show! It became like a giant food fight. It was all young kids my age and it was just the greatest thing ever! They were amazing! It was my first, like, extreme experience, you know what I mean?
My only other experience was my guitar teacher, and this is also really weird. I had a guitar teacher and his name was Mike Pardow, and he lived nearby and my dad would drop me off for my guitar lessons in Queens, and he had bands. He was around from before and he had hung out with the New York Dolls at the Mercer Art Center and all that stuff, and I was like, “Wow, wow, wow!” And he had old pictures of him and he used to look like David Bowie and he was, like, the freak of the neighborhood. So he was just the guitar teacher and he smoked Salems, which is how I started smoking Salems, which is what you smoke, Legs. (Legs note: Used to smoke!)
Mike Pardow was really cool, and he wasn’t going to make me play, ya know, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”; we went immediately to “Vicious,” by Lou Reed.
I was terrible in high school even though I was very smart; I couldn’t handle it. I just got into this program—this is another good story, actually. It all leads to—it’s really funny, I never even put these three stories together, actually. I was put in this program where you go to school a week and you work a week. It was like a program for bad kids kind of, ya know. I got a job on Wall Street, packing boxes or something. They get you a job. So I was going to the city, which is what Manhattan is called if you’re from Queens or Brooklyn or Long Island. I was going to the city for a whole week at a time to go to this job. It was really cool. I met my Black counterpart. And there was another kid who was my age who lived in the Bronx, and I was telling him about punk rock. This was really, really early in punk rock, like maybe Television’s single came out on Ork Records.
This was already late 1975, like maybe into 1976. And my Black counterpart was telling me about the hip-hop guys in the city, and we were both in the same stages, and we were telling each other about stuff we’d heard. It was really amazing, ya know, like we were telling each other the stuff that we had witnessed, because back then it was in a school yard, or in between the projects, kids were doing it and talking about it. So I heard about hip-hop and rap; like Afrika Bambaataa and whoever, you know what I mean? They were talking about these people, and this was really amazing!
Max’s Kansas City
I met a lot of people my age in the first two months when I left home, and then they all just made bands. We made a band. All those kids were not going out yet, we just met kids in the street. We were acting like we were home, we were just roaming the streets of the East Village all day and hanging out at Bleecker Bob’s and going from here to there.
I had that thing where I was reading Rock Scene and I wasn’t old enough to go into the clubs. I was peeking in the window at Max’s Kansas City, and when I’d go to the Palladium to see a concert and make friends. I’d walk a few blocks up the street to Max’s so I could look in the window of this place I’d been reading about it in Rock Scene. So I had this weird fantasy thing about it. When I finally decided I’m going in—which is also really weird because I decided I was going in—they let me in! It was the last thing I expected. It was just like, “Wow, this is weird!”
Nothing has ever come up to the feeling of walking into Max’s the very first time—it was insane. It was really science fiction-like. Really, it was the most unreal thing. I walked in and I felt like I found it! Nobody feels this. People go their whole life without ever feeling this feeling. I found it, I totally found it, and it was much more than I had expected. I was in ecstasy, real ecstasy! Like I was speechless. I don’t know if anyone else ever really felt what I’m saying, because what I’m trying to say is almost indescribable. I suddenly realized that everything that happened before didn’t matter, and all the horrible things that had happened in my life were over, which wasn’t true, but at that moment—I just felt perfect. This is exactly where I belong, what I’ve been looking for and dreaming of my whole life!
Blondie was playing with the Cramps and Suicide, and Blondie had this whole girl group thing, all that stuff. And Debbie Harry was always so—and still is—exactly the same: totally sweet, not affected, ya know? She always remembered my name and knew who I was, and was really fucking nice and just so beautiful and talented and perfect; it’s hard to believe someone like that existed. Blondie just had a weird magic about them.
The Cramps were the Cramps. Thy were fucking fantastic! Lux and Ivy! And not realizing it at the time, but in retrospect it’s kind of funny how not cutting edge they were in a weird way. I mean, they were, of course. But they played all these ’50s songs that I had collected as singles when I went to flea markets when I was a kid, and they became Cramps songs! And they started that whole rockabilly revival!
Suicide, as insane as that thing was, was hair-raising and the loudest thing ever, but it’s like rockabilly almost. Suicide was great and amazing and funny. They all had a lot in common. Everyone had a lot in common, ya know?
On one of the days that’d I’d come out of work on Wall Street, I was walking down St. Mark’s Place and Trash and Vaudeville was open, so of course I had to go in there, and in the early punk days there was only Trash and Vaudeville and the Late Show, which was just like old clothes, but they played cool music there and we had heard that the New York Dolls used to rehearse in the basement and blah, blah, blah. So it was cool, and Frenchy worked there and he was cool and he knew the Dolls and we liked him and he was, like, a weird guy. Then next door is Trash and Vaudeville, and in the early punk days, they had the whole store and the downstairs was a pinball arcade. So we’d go down there and hang out in there and then we’d go upstairs and the register back then was on the right side in the cubbyhole, so you have to leave your bags, but it’s not there anymore.
And one day I was walking down the street and there was this new store just opening, literally just opening. I looked, I wandered in there, and it was called Manic Panic and they were putting the sign up. They had all this weird stuff in there and I just wandered in there and I was just standing in there and I was like, this is so cool, you know what I mean. They were really nice, and still are. I wound up being their first employee and that was the divining moment. Tish and Snooky were great people—really nice, sweet, ya know? Besides everything else, once they gave me the job, I think I was paid six dollars a day, but they let me sleep in the back, which was horribly scary. There were just all kinds of giant water bugs and stuff. I’d try and make a line of chairs and sleep on the chairs. Just having a place to go and being paid six bucks a day, which absolutely took care of my life’s expenses, was great. And being in there…that’s where the Dead Boys connection really originally came because when they first moved to New York that’s where everyone went. Revenge wasn’t even open yet. There was nothing.
So I started the band the Blessed with Excessive and this guy Nick Berlin and Billy Stark, but we kicked Excessive out before we ever played and he wound up in Richard Hell and the Voidoids. I don’t know; we didn’t get along. Teenage stuff, I don’t remember what it was, we just didn’t get along. None of us knew how to play except for him, actually. We had tapes that don’t exist anymore, which I wish they did. Nick’s playing drums on a cardboard box and a hanger; it was like that. I was the oldest one, Nick was three years younger than me. Nick was 13.
This girl, Ellen, lived upstairs from Manic Panic, and we would stay up there too. I learned a lot up there, not about sex, but about music. She would leave us alone up there and let us stay there. So we would go through her records and she had the Thirteenth Floor Elevators and all this stuff. That’s where I first heard the Thirteenth Floor Elevators. And Nick knew about it because Nick grew up as a baby in Texas, Nick from the Blessed, and his mother—they lived with the Thirteenth Floor Elevators. Nick talked about them a lot and I always thought that was weird, and Janis Joplin was his babysitter. Ya know, all this kind of crazy, crazy Austin shit. His mother was in the Hog Farm and they moved to California and then to New York.
I can’t even explain my reaction to Punk magazine; it didn’t make any sense because it was so childlike and aimed at kids and like a comic book, and we were all just like, “Ahhhh!” Everyone was like that—that was into it. It was just preposterous that it even existed, you know what I mean? It made no sense; it was just like, oh my God, this is insane! This is like a comic book with Lou Reed on the cover! What the fuck, this is so weird and great, you know what I mean? I still have all the actual ones that I bought then, ya know, just reading them over and over and over again. That was another thing, just like all those things; we were so starved for anything. Like if you would have put them out, like, twice a week, you would have sold them out, because people were just like, “More, more, more!” It was few and far between when they came out, which made it more, in retrospect, like a Holy Grail kind of thing. I remember when the new one came out— “Wow,” ya know, got the same kind of feeling even though it was 25 years later. But I mean, like, it was just, like, weird, weird, weird, weird. You could see it as it was happening, you know what I mean?
Even the shittiest—not that it was—but even if it was the shittiest, worst magazine, something that warrants a magazine even existing, ya know, but the fact that it was unbelievably great was, like, even weirder! And it was a comic book, and it was mean and funny, and it had all the in-jokes and stupid stuff and it was a small neighborhood with a local thing and it worked on both levels. Like the Little Rascals or certain cartoons that you could watch with your parents. Someone in England could read it and get it, but then, ya know, all the New Yorky little jokes might go over their head, and they wouldn’t know what it meant, but it didn’t matter, and it really was smart. There was a lot of really smart stuff about it and when people all over the world read it, it started its own cool world. That magazine was the first one, the first fanzine. Do you know how many fanzines there are? Hundreds of thousands—even within the first four years of Punk magazine coming out. Now there’s whole books of them—it’s crazy, and there’s websites! I’ll look on websites and there’s like a million of them that I’ve never seen or heard of!
What I liked about Punk magazine was it was very readable. Totally readable. And everybody read Punk cover to cover. Absolutely. It wasn’t too much money either. It was just enough and the letters were big and every single thing in it was funny and warranted being there. There was no filler and there was no—it was absolutely this perfect thing! But it was also printed—you didn’t feel like it was some cheapie thing like all those other fanzines. That was the one big different thing about it—that was completely different about it than all those fanzines.
I became very close with Johnny Ramone and that was kind of weird because no one was really friends with him except me and this guy Craig, who I knew was into movies. And Johnny had the first Beta video tape machine that I had ever seen, and all these videos started coming out. Me and Johnny, I don’t remember how we met really, but I know I went to get their autograph at Free Being Records. I still have the Leave Home album, and like 14 people were there at Free Being Records. It was no big deal to me. It’s in my diary. Joey Ramone said I was the first person to ask him for an autograph.
And at some point, Johnny Ramone and I became friends, probably just from the neighborhood, because he lived on 12th Street and we started talking about movies and we really became friends and we stayed friends up until his death. Ya know, really, really, really close friends.
I’d go to Johnny’s house every day when I wasn’t working and he would save up the movies and we’d watch them together. He had Blood Feast, and oh my God, none of us had ever seen these movies, because they never played in the Northeast, they were only played in drive-ins in the South. We had both been hearing about them and reading about them, all these crazy movies that I’d been just fantasizing about. They were the exact same; these movies were a total parallel line to the music and Max’s and Rock Scene, you know what I mean?
I was just an insatiable knowledge fiend, and I was really into seeing these movies. But that’s what we did, just watched movies all day.
Then Johnny would tell me weird stuff about Joey Ramone, and we would follow him. I couldn’t talk about this when Johnny and Joey Ramone were alive, I mean, people were writing books on the Ramones, so I had to skip this whole thing. But Johnny would tell me that Joey was a Siamese twin and we would have to follow him around so we could watch Joey, because I wasn’t really friends with Joey yet, but you have to picture this, it was like the Three Stooges or the Marx Brothers or something. Me and Johnny, we’d go out to the corner and wait for Joey to come out of his building on 11th Street. Johnny and I would act like we were just going to have pizza on St. Mark’s, but we’re just waiting for Joey to come out of his building. Just waiting like spies and Johnny’s like, “Here he comes! Here he comes!” I was like, “Okay,” and Johnny’s like, “Watch, watch, watch,” and Joey would do one of his OCD things on the curb. And Johnny would say, “See! See he’s a Siamese twin, I told you he’s a Siamese twin!” The Ramones were so crazy, it was hysterical.
We would be on the corner and Joey was coming, and we would both be, like, peeking around the corner! Johnny’s head and my head peeking around the corner, keeping track of everywhere Joey went—it was nutso! Johnny was obsessed with Joey! They were still friends, but he was into the fact that Joey was such a freak. They were friends though; this was before any of that bad stuff. It was just funny.
I really didn’t know about it when Johnny started seeing Linda Ramone, when she was still with Joey. I don’t think I did, even though I was really good friends with Linda, separately even from all of them, actually. I’d go out to her house in Long Island and I’m still good friends with her. I don’t think I knew, probably because by that point we weren’t hanging out as often; me and Johnny.
Roxie Ramone. Johnny’s girlfriend—I’m not even going to start on her! She was crazy! She would sexually attack me when Johnny would go to the bathroom, and I was like, “He’s in the bathroom!”
I always loved Linda Ramone, who became Johnny’s wife. I will always defend her to the end. She is true to herself; she has never changed for anyone. Linda is true to her thing; she is exactly the same as she was in 1976, and she’s super cool and funny and she’s got a mean sense of humor.
My whole aesthetic, or anti-aesthetic, really came from Johnny Ramone. He told me that his guitar was under his bed and that is where it stayed. We looked under the bed, and he goes, “That’s where the guitar stays unless I’m working.” I was like, “Wow.” And I’m exactly the same way. I have never picked up my bass in the house, unless I had to learn something or write something. I have always been that way. That is totally my aesthetic musically. Retiring, or whatever you want to call it, from music was also very pleasurable for me, like it was for Johnny Ramone.
Johnny Thunders was my idol. The first time I met Johnny was upstairs at Max’s early on, and it’s a really weird story: I had found this watch, this really cool watch that was like a Mod red-and-white design, and I was upstairs at Max’s, and Johnny was up there and he was like, “Wow, that’s cool! Lemme see that watch…” He’s looking at it and then he’s saying, “Hey, you should gimme that watch…” I’m like, “No,” and I pulled away. He’s like, “Fuck you, man!”
Johnny played that night I guess, and there were a whole bunch of people in the dressing room, and it’s a very small dressing room—out by the ice machine cart. We were just outside the room, in a little hallway, and Johnny got kinda pushy with me, and I was like, “Fuck, this is not good, I dunno what I’m gonna do.” So I just pushed him back, ya know? And he was completely humiliated that this little kid just shoved him, so he shoved me, and all of a sudden we just started fighting. Like really fighting, and at one point I started winning, and everyone just started screaming, and I was like, in my head, “God, I’m fighting with my idol, all these people are up there in his dressing room screaming, and they hate me, and this is the end of my whole life and my world, and everything!”
But within 10 seconds, I realized they were cheering for me; and it became really funny. And then Thunders really respected me for doing that, because he had no choice, and he was like, “Yeah, you’re okay kid,” because everyone was like, “Kill ’em! Kill ’em!” And then we became good friends, ya know?
Then I went to someone’s house with Johnny, and I guess they were planning that I was gonna get high on heroin, and it was like a big deal, and I’d never done it before. I had been hanging out with High Sticks before this, and he was shooting me up with Tuinals; it was so disgusting.
So I had a little needle fixation already, but I had never done anything more than that, and I guess it was going to be this big moment, ya know? And, “You’re gonna be a man,” and this whole thing, and it was a real Goodfellas moment. So there were all these people there, and they were all getting high, and then it was my turn, and I forget who it was, some girl, and she tied me off, and they shot me up and I got really fucking high, but I didn’t throw up. And then people all started cheering like, “YEAH!” Ya know? I was really, like, a man, and I was really part of this secret underground society—a whole magic vampire world beyond just going out to the clubs and stuff, and that was a big part of my undoing, ya know?
But it was wonderful in that time period.
Iggy never liked me, even though he doesn’t know me, ha, ha! Or he thinks he doesn’t know me, but he’s always not liked me. I don’t know; he was always a real dick to me for some reason. I didn’t have many run-ins with him, and after you print this, I probably won’t either! Ya know, Iggy’s good friends with some friends of mine, but he always had a weird attitude with me. I think he thinks I’m somebody else. I could never figure it out.
So Iggy doesn’t like me, he knows my face and he thinks I’m someone else, but we once got in a big fistfight in the VIP room at Danceteria. Iggy was just really obnoxious and drunk, and he was lying on this couch in the VIP thing, and he was yelling all this stuff and we were yelling back at him. We were at that, like, point of punk where we were like, “FUCK YOU, you’re old!” I did this whole funny thing, but when I called him old all hell broke loose—he just jumped on me and we were fighting but he was so, so wasted, and I was out of it.
Who knows if it was a joke? But Iggy’s very perplexing to me. I don’t know if he just turned into what he is one day after being a complete maniac freak for so long? Or why it seems like such a phony act, cause when you meet him—he’s like this normal guy, weird, ya know? I can’t figure it out. I just can’t figure it out.
Iggy doesn’t remember the fight in the VIP room, cause I know people who’ve asked him, but all through the years he just seems to hate me. Like, I went backstage in Japan, at one of his shows, and he wouldn’t even talk to me or even say hello to me.
The only other good Iggy story is when we did that secret show at the Continental and we played with Iggy. And just being alone with him in this small club, and the band was playing all these songs from the first two Stooges albums, and Iggy was standing next to me… He came out in the crowd to hear what the bass sounded like during a sound check, and a million people were looking in the window and I’m just me, and standing next to me is Iggy singing “Down on the Street,” ya know? And I’m just like, “This is so weird, wow,” cause those Stooges records were completely insane!
Like, in my mind, he was courageous for sure, but probably just crazy, because he is crazy. But absolutely—like, again, what we were saying about the Cramps, Iggy’s instrumental in everything that came after him. Probably more than anyone. I’m sure that you would agree that the whole time period in between the Idiot and Raw Power—that if he had just gone away—I don’t think the world would have been the same, honestly. I think the fact that Iggy was just around set up kind of a mark of musical insanity that people needed and that left people wanting to go out to meet that level.
The Stooges were undeniably extraordinary! I mean, the fact that they existed in the 1960s, doing what they were doing, is just so amazing!
The Blessed got really popular, within the first year of us all hanging out, and me, I’m working Manic Panic, but as every store opened in Saint Mark’s Place, Punk became a big deal. I worked at Trash and Vaudeville, and Defiant Pose, and this store and that store, and whenever a Punk store opened up, they hired me. I was Mr. Punk-Store-guy. So in 1978 we then got into a big—you know Nick Berlin, our guitar player, was a crazy kid, and we were all fighting a lot and he quit—and we didn’t know what to do. We were actually really popular at that moment; we were just like, “Fuck—we’re actually making money!”
And things were happening, and we didn’t know what to do. And as a joke, because Walter Lure was always around, and he was our friend, we asked Walter to be in the Blessed, and he said yes, which was like, “What? Are you fucking kidding me?”
So suddenly, everything really changed for us. We had the guy from the Heartbreakers in our band, and then Johnny Thunders—he was always jealous, so he’d have to come up and play with us. And then we became really, really popular after that, when Johnny Thunders would play with us.
In the 1980s, I was living with some people on 8th Street, and I was with Ellen Kennelly, different from the Ellen that lived upstairs from Manic Panic; do you know who that is? Ellen Kennelly was, like, an ’80s supermodel or whatever. She’s going to kill me for being so vague but…sorry.
Anyway, we had no money, it was 1978, or ’79, and Ellen had five dollars and I had, like, nothing. We walked to CBGB’s the same route we always walked, which was up Avenue A and across St. Mark’s to 1st Avenue then up to 5th Street where Kiev was, and down the Kiev block and then over to CB’s. So we get to CBGB’s and she’s like, “Oh my God! Where’s my money?! I can’t find my money!!!”— referring to her five dollars.
And we’re like, “FUCK!” because they were pretty cheap about giving me drinks at CBGB’s, so I only needed five dollars. And I was like, “We have to retrace our steps and find the five dollars, if you dropped it…” I figured it would be in the first half a block or something, cause she was fiddling with her stuff while we were walking.
We wound up really retracing our steps and we get to the church on 5th Street between First and Second Avenues, or Second and Third Avenues; Kiev is on the other corner. And we’re just walking and looking and looking, and all of a sudden, I see paper—like there’s the church and there’s like a locked fence, where the cars are parked behind it, and behind there I just noticed out of the corner of my eye a whole bunch of paper in the wind spinning around in a circle, like a little tornado of paper.
I was like, “What is that?” And then I looked down, and on the left side of the steps of that church there was this pile of money, this giant pile of money, and it’s blowing into the parking lot—and it’s hundred-dollar bills!
And Ellen boosted me over the fence, which is, like, spiky and very high—what’s the TV show where they put you in a glass booth and you grab the money? It was like that. There’s hundred-dollar bills blowing around and I’m grabbing them and I’m shoving them down my pants and pulling them out of the air, and there’s money everywhere. We start laughing and it was just completely insane! And we’re just like, “What the fuck is going on?”
So we took all the money, stuffed it down my pants and we went directly to CBGB’s and we gave a few people a few hundred dollar bills—some of our friends—who were just mystified by the whole thing. Then we went home at the end of the night quite profitable—it was like $12,000!
An insane amount of money! We were totally flipping out, but the next day everyone was talking about, “Oh my God, did you see what happened, did you see what happened? Did you see Johnny Thunders running down 5th Street?”
Evidently, what happened was Johnny Thunders and Miss Connie Ramone—the girlfriend of Arthur “Killer” Kane and Dee Dee Ramone—were getting high and Johnny knew about Connie’s stash because she was a hooker and she had a lot of money and she stashed it in her apartment. She nodded out and he stole her life savings and she woke up and busted him—of course because he’s such a moron—and she flipped out and grabbed a giant butcher knife and was chasing him down the street! All these people were in Kiev eating because that’s where everyone ate since it was like a dollar to eat there, and everyone was like, “Oh my God!”
The next day everyone was talking about Connie chasing Johnny Thunders down the street with a butcher knife!
And me and Ellen are like, “Mmmmm”; we said nothing.
Johnny must have ditched the money because Connie caught him stealing it, and he must have ditched the money in the church—and it just started blowing out, it’s so stupid!
And we bizarrely came across this money while we were looking for our five dollars. It doesn’t make any sense; this whole thing is insane. But we never said anything. I wanted my whole life, while Johnny was alive, I wanted to ask him about it, but what the fuck. I never did find out from either one of them—and then they both died.
And this was when my heroin habit seriously went into complete overdrive, and I really had an endless supply of money for a really long time and I kept most of the money. I guess Ellen took some. I counted it… sorry Ellen, but I kept most of it. For months and months and months, maybe a year even. I mean, I don’t know how long it lasted.
For some reason, because of all the police sweeps when they raided all the dope houses, Eldridge Street became the only street where you could buy dope. And in every apartment in every building on this one block on Eldridge Street was a dope dealer. Like hundreds and hundreds of them, and everyone there was just junkies. It didn’t make any sense. You’d see Keith Richards pull up in a fucking limo—you’d see this crazy shit. I mean, like, really crazy, desperate junkies—they knew where to go, and that’s where they went.
Everyone was there all the time, all day and all night. It was just a totally bizarre thing.
We’d go there, we’d go in a storefront that was pitch black, and they’d shove as many people as could fit in at one time in the storefront, and then they’d shoo everyone else away. It would suck if you were the first person that didn’t get in on the line, but they’d be like, “Look down at the floor,” and there’d be guys with baseball bats, and if you looked up, you’d get your head beat in, because the guy that was gonna deliver the dope; they didn’t want you to see him. And they didn’t want you to rip ’em off, so it was intense.
Yeah, the Lower East Side burnt-out buildings that were dope houses—you had to be careful that you didn’t fall through a hole in the burnt-down building. You’d walk up a half a flight of stairs till there were no more stairs—the whole building broken in half—and then someone would lower a bucket from two flights up and you’d put your $10 in the bucket and they’d reel it up, and you’d just pray that they gave you something hard because they didn’t have to if they didn’t want to, ya know?
They did, usually, but if the cops came, you’d have to jump into a pit of rats at the bottom of where the steps ended and the building is broken in half.
For a while, there were these two guys who were robbing everybody—these giant prison muscle dudes: a Black guy and a white guy—and they dragged me into an abandoned building and almost cut my throat with a giant knife and said, “Where’s the dope, where’s the dope?”
I pointed to my pocket and they took it, and thankfully they did not kill me, ya know what I mean? Really scary people.
Going to Cop with Dad
I was living with this girl, Marleen, who was a big junkie and a hooker, and she had all these scams that got her a lot of money, and she would buy us dope. We had a studio apartment on Saint Mark’s Place, like eight people living in it; just hookers and junkies, you know? And we’d all run upstairs when someone was coming to fuck somebody, you know?
Then she’d have to do her thing, she was a hooker on Third Avenue, and I was the lookout guy. Marleen would leave me these great love letters with dope taped on them, and I just found them all and I saved these things, cause they are really sick. It just got so crazy, and one day she never came home, and I was so reliant on her for dope that I just waited.
But Marleen never came back.
I was so lame, I wound up—and people saw this, I know people now that actually saw this—I crawled up Saint Mark’s Place on my hands and knees after half a day of waiting for dope. I was so sick, so fucking sick and so desperate, and then I ran into that guy—the seven-foot gray-monster-man—and I begged $10 off him, and that guy took me to come cop somewhere and gave me some dope and told me that he’d see me later. And I crawled to Natasha’s, I’ll never forget this; I went in the bathroom at Natasha’s and I put it in the cooker, and he beat me! He took my dope and gave me, like, a beat bag, and I just sat there and cried and cried and cried.
It was really horrible, and I went to Eileen Polk’s house, and she was so disgusted with me she called my parents.
Eileen didn’t know what to do. And uh, I mean, after she copped dope from me, which sucked– she just called my parents and she’s just like, “Tell them.” And it was so horrible, one of the worst thing that happened to them—and I’ll remember that until the day I die, you know? My dad just said, “I’d have rather found out I had cancer.” That’s all he said.
They came and got me, and took me to my first detox—methadone detox that was completely weird, and didn’t really work, it was really intense, ya know? Like, the detox was closed—they weren’t like now, there were very few. It was Thanksgiving, or some holiday—they were all closed and my mom and dad were terrified to let me out of their sight.
They came to Eileen Polk’s house in the city, not where they wanted to go, and they fucking sat down and I sat down and I had to tell them, “I’m a heroin addict,” and it was terrible, ya know? Eileen made me tell them. I told my dad that I had to get high, and until the rehab thing, I mean, there was nothing else I could do. So he gave me some money, and he said, “How much do you need, how much is enough?”
I went downtown, and I copped 10 bags of dope, and, of course, I did it in two days, and my dad was angry, he’s a tough guy from the Bronx, and he already knew what was going on, and I was shooting up in their house, and they knew I was shooting up in their house.
It was unfathomable—insanity.
And when I told them I had to go back, my dad was an inch away from having a stroke and a total freak-out. And this time my Uncle Chubby, my dad’s brother, who was my favorite relative ever-ever-ever of all time, he passed away like 10 years ago—he was a jazz musician and I always loved him and he played with Benny Goodman and all these people—Uncle Chubby was like, “I’ve had experiences,” and I was like, “Bullshit, what do you know?”
He said, “I know about drugs…”
So, me and my dad and my uncle went to go cop dope.
This is the most insane story; this should be in a movie, and this is so crazy: We went to cop dope on a day where someone was having an election and there were, like, these giant dope sweeps and dope busts everywhere! Everyone in the entire city was like zombies, because no one knew where the dope was, and everyone was sick, and everyone was going crazy, and it was like Night of the Living Dead everywhere downtown.
We drove around and we stopped and we were picking up junkies—just driving around with these sick people. Then I see that guy Mike, the giant six-foot-five guy who beat me for dope the week before, and he looked like Frankenstein, this guy was so scary looking. He got in the car with me, my dad, and my uncle—this giant freak with gray skin, and we’re all driving around, and, I mean, I had to get dope.
I have hurt my parents so much, ya know? I’ve broken their hearts. And this time my dad wouldn’t give me the dope, and whenever I started getting really sick, my mother would dole me out one bag, which is so heartbreaking for them, they have to touch it, ya know what I mean? And, me, scurrying to the bathroom with a syringe… I mean, it was really just awful!
So we drive to Brooklyn, and Mike, this really scary motherfucker, pointed at me and my dad, and says, “Is this going on?” So finally, we all get dope in some burned-out building in Brooklyn, and people are coming up to my dad’s car, fucked-up crazy people…
But to see how much they loved me, ya know what I mean?
Well, I made it to the detox, and I detoxed, and stayed clean for about two months. And then one day, a lot of time had passed, I got a call six or seven months later, and it was Marlene, ya know, my junkie girlfriend? She had fallen asleep, she lived in Larchmont with her parents, who had money, so Marlene fell asleep at the wheel of her car driving to Larchmont and was in a massive car wreck, and broke every bone in her face, ya know? She, like, went to the hospital, and was in the hospital for almost a year. So she called me, and just hearing her voice, it made me sick. Marlene was like, “I just got out of the hospital,” and she told me the whole thing. At the time I was still living with my parents, I was still trying to get my shit together, I had gotten a job, but we went out and got high.
So I started using again.
Marlene’s the one who brought me to Cleveland. She got a job in Cleveland as a DJ at this big rock station, I dunno how she pulled this thing off; she was sending me money and I’d just buy all this dope and take a train and go to Cleveland, skimming all the bags all the way.
It was so retarded; like, I would like be running drugs to Cleveland, I would come AND buy all these drugs and on the way there they’d be half done, ya know? So I would stay with Marlene for a while in Cleveland, and then the Dead Boys would come into town and I was just there. We were hanging out and no one knew who I was, I had never been there before, hanging out or anything, I knew a few people, but usually there was nothing happening, I mean, I’d just hang at the Hotel Swingo and do drugs.
I didn’t pretend to be Johnny Thunders in Cleveland—those fucking assholes the Dead Boys—so what happened: I was wearing the red jacket. The red jacket that he’s wearing on the back of the first Dolls album cover in front of Gem Spa. Walter Lure gave it to me for my 18th birthday. That was a good birthday. So I had just gotten it and I looked exactly like Johnny Thunders, and I went to see the Dead Boys play at some massive show. I was wearing that famous red jacket, and the Dead Boys came out for an encore, and they were like, “Oh, everybody! There’s a special guest in the audience!”
And we’re all lookin’ around like, “Cool!”
And Stiv is snickering away, and he’s like, “Johnny Thunders!”
Everyone was like, “Whaaa!” and I’m like, “Wow, where?”
Stiv makes a face, and points at me, and I’m like, “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you!”
And these girls were just like totally, “Oh my God, you’re Johnny Thunders!!!”
I had nothing to do with the whole thing.
And it’s a loud, big show, and everyone’s thinking I’m Johnny Thunders being modest, ya know? Stiv grabs my arm and pulls me on stage and he goes, “Don’t plug in, just pretend to play.” So we played a couple of Dolls and Heartbreaker songs, and after the show, these girls had an ounce of coke, and they’re, like, giving it to us, and everything was amazing, and I was like, “Fuck it, I’m gonna go with it!”
We were scamming a lot of coke, and the whole week I was really getting into shooting coke, which was one of the most horrible, insane things that you could ever do. There’s never enough coke when you’re shooting coke.
So we’re at this girl’s house and she’s about to hand over this huge amount of coke, and we’re just out of our minds—all of us—and then the phone rings, and it’s Chrissy Hynde calling from New York, and they’re all excited, they’re like, “Oh yeah, we’re with Johnny Thunders, he’s been here all week,” and Chrissy Hynde goes, “I was just with Johnny, just like an hour ago, in New York.”
And all of a sudden, the room turns dead—and I’m in big, big trouble, real big trouble, ya know what I mean? I mean, we’d been taking a lot of stuff from a lot of people and it fucked up our whole reality. It got real ugly real fast, and I literally was run out of town, ha, ha!
It was bad, so we ran away!
(Legs note: Eventually Howie got clean from drugs and alcohol in the early 1990s)
END OF PART ONE
Legs McNeil is the guy who named a movement, and then told the true story of how that movement came to be in PLEASE KILL ME; THE UNCENSORED ORAL HISTORY OF PUNK, among several other books.
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.