The yr was 1977, and the primary generation of Recent York City punk and alternative bands had moved on to larger venues and the international touring circuit. The thrash of hardcore was still a number of years down the pike. Yet the storied music venues of Manhattan were alive and aloud with excited, underage patrons.
They passed their days at Stuyvesant High School. They got here from the High School of Performing Arts and Murrow. They went to Friends Seminary, Walden and Dalton, and to Brooklyn Friends, too. Some were dropouts and runaways; some were even from the suburbs. Just about all of them were under 18.
Over the following 4 years, they spent their nights creating their very own rock scene, playing aggressive, witty, sophisticated and intense pop and punk for fellow teenagers in places like CBGB, Max’s Kansas City, Hurrah and TR3. These weren’t the all-ages shows that will grow to be commonplace in the town a number of years later. This was a singular moment in the town’s musical history that modified the lives of most of the artists and audience members who were there, though their stories have gone largely untold. Imagine an upbeat “Lord of the Flies,” styled by Manic Panic and Trash & Vaudeville.
Their ranks included Eric Hoffert, who did 4 hours of homework from Bronx Science each weekday, then practiced his guitar for 4 hours; weekends belonged to his band, the Speedies. Arthur Brennan, a 16-year-old from Groton, Conn., who frequently hitchhiked 20 miles to the one newsstand where he could buy magazines that covered latest music; he renamed himself Darvon Stagger and ran away to Recent York City to hitch a band. And Kate Schellenbach, a ninth grader at Stuyvesant who had heard a rumor that groups her age were playing essentially the most famous music clubs on this planet, just blocks from where she lived.
In September 1979, Schellenbach was 13 and starting highschool in an outfit assembled to precise her interest in latest wave music: overdyed painters’ pants from Unique Clothing Warehouse, white go-go boots from Reminiscence within the West Village, a bowling shirt and an Elvis Costello pin.
“I remember going into the ladies’ bathroom,” she said cheerfully, speaking via video chat, “and this girl, Nancy Hall, who was the good, was sitting on the sink.” Nancy suggested that Kate go see a band playing at CBGB later that week called the Student Teachers. The arty pop combo included a female rhythm section featuring some kids from Friends Seminary and, somewhat improbably, the relatively distant Mamaroneck High School.
“If I hadn’t seen the Student Teachers that fateful night, I would never have been a drummer,” said Schellenbach, who helped found the Beastie Boys in 1981 and went on to form Luscious Jackson. “Seeing Laura Davis play drums, seeing Lori Reese play bass and the way exciting the entire scene was, all the things about it made me think, ‘Oh, perhaps that is something I can do,’” she added. “These people were still in highschool — it seemed attainable.”
The timing was perfect: This was the primary generation to grow up with punk because the establishment, not the exceptional insurrection. “A part of the decision of history was that you just weren’t speculated to just listen and take it in, you were speculated to hearken to the conversation and form a band yourself,” the Student Teachers’ keyboardist, Bill Arning, now a distinguished gallery owner and curator, said via video chat. “In fact you were speculated to form a band; it didn’t even appear to be it was an ‘on the market’ idea.”
The important thing groups within the movement were the glam bubble gum Speedies, a high-concept bunch of overachieving teens (plus two very barely older members) who “desired to be the fusion of the Beatles, the Sex Pistols and the Bay City Rollers,” in line with the founding guitarist Gregory Crewdson; the Student Teachers, who played art pop with elegiac touches paying homage to Roxy Music and the Velvet Underground; the Blessed, who were the primary, sloppiest and most trendy group on the scene; and the mega poppy mod group the Colours, who just like the Speedies were enamored with bubble-gum music and were mentored by Blondie’s drummer, Clem Burke. (Other bands on the sides of the movement included the Stimulators and Miller Miller Miller & Sloan.)
If the core bands in the teenager punk scene had anything in common, it was an affection for large choruses, flashy, colourful clothes and a near-arrogant certainty that the empowerment promised by punk rock was now theirs to inherit.
“We didn’t know any higher,” said Nicholas Petti, who, in 1977 at age 13, began calling himself Nick Berlin and have become a co-founder of the Blessed. He spoke to The Times via video chat just before attending the funeral for an additional founding member of the band, Howie Pyro. Last month on the Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan, Pyro’s inheritors, including D Generation, Theo Kogan of the Lunachicks and Brian Fallon of the Gaslight Anthem, paid tribute to the Recent York mainstay with a memorial show.
“We thought this was the way you lived. We’d watch John Waters movies and, yes, after all we might understand they were actors, but we thought, that is what you’re speculated to do,” Petti said from his home in Fort Bragg, Calif., where he works as the top of the Culinary Arts Management program at Mendocino College. “That is your life, this isn’t the way you dress up, that is all of it,” he added. “We desired to be a three-ring circus. Once we played an early show and a late show at Max’s, we might bring two complete changes of garments for every set. This definitely isn’t how we might have expressed it on the time, however it was living life as a performance art piece.”
The Blessed (pronounced as two syllables) were the band that Arthur Brennan ran away from Groton to hitch; after two weeks the cash he had saved from his paper route ran out, and when private detectives got here to retrieve him, he was blissful to go away his latest identity as Darvon Stagger behind. “After the primary night, it’s really not that much fun sleeping on the all-night Blimpies on sixth Avenue,” Brennan, now a public-school teacher in Los Angeles, said via video chat. “However it was such a way of relief to fulfill individuals who were such as you. In your personal hometown, you’d be considered a loser-slash-weirdo. We were kids learning easy methods to act in a crazy, artsy adult world.”
The creator Jonathan Lethem, who wrote about his affection for the Speedies and Miller Miller Miller & Sloan in “The Fortress of Solitude,” noted that childhood was different in Recent York at the moment. “Town was chaotic, in a way, however it was very easy for us to operate,” he said in a video chat. “You couldn’t persuade a taxi driver to return to Brooklyn in case your life trusted it, but you might at all times walk over the bridge! I do feel that we essentially owned the town, that we were the actual ones it belonged to on the time.”
Jill Cunniff, a scene patron who later founded Luscious Jackson with Schellenbach and Gabby Glaser, said the town gave the look of a nonstop event. “Night was freedom,” she said, “and it felt like we were really secure. For those who were a parent, you may think the alternative — those kids are going out to nightclubs, they’re only 13, that’s so dangerous. No. My daytime at I.S. 70 was really dangerous,” she added, referring to her public middle school. “My nighttime was secure.”
How did the scene keep going? Not one of the well-traveled downtown venues — CBGB, Max’s Kansas City, TR3 or Studio 10 — frequently checked IDs, the musicians recalled, they usually said those uptown, like Hurrah and Trax, only loosely enforced age-based alcohol restrictions. (The legal drinking age in the town was 18 until late 1982.) In actual fact, the CBGB owner Hilly Kristal and Peter Crowley, who managed and booked Max’s, appeared to welcome the wave of underage Recent Yorkers wanting to discover music.
“Kids, generally, wish to drink,” said Crowley, laughing via phone. “But we tried our greatest to be sure that people were secure — though I did wear a badge that said, ‘I’m not your mother.’”
But was the protection an illusion? “For a very long time, I checked out this era of my life nostalgically and sentimentally,” the creator Christopher Sorrentino said in an email. “Only recently have I begun to acknowledge how vulnerable all of us were, what number of risks we were exposed to with absolutely nobody to use the brakes. This goes double for the ladies, who at 15 or 16 often had ‘relationships’ with men of their late 20s and early 30s.”
Laura Albert, who was within the scene from age 13 and later achieved fame (and notoriety) writing under the nom de plume JT LeRoy, agreed. “Access still got here with a price, especially for ladies and queer boys,” she wrote in an as-yet-unpublished memoir. “That said, there was a way of possibility, age was not a barrier, I used to be a teen in foster care but I still had access to the musicians I admired, calling them on pay phones and interviewing them for fanzines.”
By 1980, the teenager punk scene was concurrently evolving and dissolving as its members grew up and moved on. A few of its participants went on to play distinguished roles within the local hardcore punk movement: Hoffert and Crewdson of the Speedies produced the primary Beastie Boys demo, and the Stimulators became a foundational band of the local hardcore punk scene. Others went to school or took jobs that required leaving their dalliance with late nights at Max’s Kansas City and searching for brothel creepers on St. Marks Place within the rearview mirror.
“As cool as I assumed the scene was, I spotted I just didn’t wish to be here. I desired to be in college,” Laura Davis-Chanin, the Student Teachers’ drummer, said via video chat. “That was a giant thing for me, given the incredible, shocking, thrilling world of rock ’n’ roll that I used to be an element of.”
While the punk scene that preceded this moment has been exceptionally well documented, far less has been written concerning the teens who ran the night because the ’70s gave method to the ’80s. Not one of the groups were signed by major record labels and only one among the bands, the Colours, released an LP inside the initial span of its profession. (The Speedies put out an archival collection in 2007, largely to make the most of using one among their songs, “Let Me Take Your Foto,” in a Hewlett-Packard ad campaign).
With only spottily distributed independent 45s to spread the word outside the five boroughs, what was a potent local scene never gained a national or international profile. But several of its members have had notable careers in and out of the humanities world. Crewdson, the Speedies’ guitarist, is an acclaimed tableau photographer; Hoffert, his bandmate, became a knowledge technology pioneer who helped develop the QuickTime media player and is now the senior vice chairman of Xandr; Allen Hurkin-Torres played within the Speedies, too, and is a former Recent York State Supreme Court justice.
“There was a magical empowerment from what we did that has carried us through life,” Hoffert said via video chat. “The photography Gregory has done, my work in digital media, is directly related to that.”
Schellenbach had the same outlook: “It spawned so many cool things — art, authors, hip-hop. A magical time in Recent York City!”
Eli Attie, who began going to Max’s before he had even hit puberty, became a speechwriter for Al Gore, then a author and producer on “The West Wing” and “Billions.” “It made me unafraid,” he said of the scene. “It made me realize your life will be anything you wish. If you would like to know these people, if you would like to experience this music, even when it seems out of reach or not allowed, you possibly can just do it. You may write your personal story.”