There are three fundamental clubs for the alternative culture of the New York of the seventies. Max’s Kansas City, opened in 1965 and night base of Warhol and its surroundings, It gave visibility to emerging groups in the city and ended up being one of the cradles of local punk. The CBGB opened its doors in 1973 and is famous for being the room where Patti Smith, Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie and many other key pieces of the underground New Yorker.
And on October 31, 1978, made his official presentation, with a concert by B-52’s, the Mudd Club, perhaps the least popular of the three venues, although just as important as these. “What made it unique is that it was a blank canvas, once it was filled, the assistants shaped what happened “says artist Richard Boch in his book, ‘The Mudd Club’, where he collects memories of his time as a goalkeeper there.
The difference between the Mudd Club and the clubs that preceded it is that it was not exclusively a concert hall and not a mere disco. The desire of Steve Mass, an entrepreneur imbued by situationist theories, interested in experimental cinema, was to create a multidisciplinary space where music, art coexisted, performance, cinema and any manifestation sufficiently striking to be included in its programming.
They had the idea of opening such a site in their heads the artist and curator Diego Cortez and the dominatrix, stripper and designer Anya Phillips. They both explained it to Mass during a trip to Memphis, when they were going to shoot ‘Grutzi Elvis’, film in which the lives of Elvis Presley and the leaders of the terrorist group Baader Meinhoff were juxtaposed, and in which Mass had a role. The tape was never released, but Mass decided to finance the project. “He was the only one of us who had an American Express,” says Legs McNeil, co-founder of Punk magazine. publication that gave its annual awards to the club weeks before it officially opened.
Everything was made special at the Mudd Club, even the way we drank.
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Mass chose a former textile warehouse at 77 White Street, a perfect enclave since it was among the artistic community of SoHo, the Bowery where the CBGB and Tribeca were located. Phillips suggested the name Molotov Cocktail Club, that coincided with the initials engraved on the facade. Mass imposed the name of Mudd Club Lounge, in honor of Dr. Samuel Mudd, a slave trader who treated the murderer of Abraham Lincoln.
Phillips assumed that Mass was going to impose the decisions and he left his partners after a notorious row. Its explosive character is illustrated with a single anecdote. One night he walked up to a woman dancing on the club floor and slapped her. When she asked him what he had done, the answer was: “Dancing so bad.”
It is ironic that it was his partner, saxophonist James Chance, frontman of the Contortions, who praised the Mudd Club because, unlike the CBGB, had a space to dance. At the door of the Mudd Club There was no sign or marquee with a logo announcing the place. But there was a doorman and a chain instead of a velvet rope. It was Mass’s response to the elite politics of Studio 54. The performer trans Joey Arias was one of the first in charge of managing the entrance. Raising or lowering the thumb made it clear who was entering and who was not. A teenage punk always had a preference over those who arrived by limousine. The tourists, the stoned and “those who looked like cocoons”, never entered, as Boch recalls in his book.
In this place, the tango was danced by three.
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The Mudd Club costume parties were instantly popular. The “mother’s day a la Joan Crawford” (where people had to dress up as the characters in ‘What Happened to Baby Jane?’) or the funeral of the rock & roll (with replicas of dead rock stars in coffins), they were some of the most popular.
There was in which emerging designers from SoHo –Stephen Sprouse, Betsey Johnson, Maripol, Anna Sui– they showed their creations. Keith Haring organized a graffiti exhibition when this was still a little known form of expression AND the journalist Glenn O’Brien there he filmed three programs of the talk show TV Party. In one of them, Debbie Harry sang for the first time what would later become a famous rendition of “The Tide Is High” recorded with Blondie. Harry, who at the time announced a line of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, chose the location for the filming of the television commercial. Downtown artists appear as extras. John Lurie plays the sax and Phillips and Chance dance.
The concert schedule included from punk to minimalism. The Cramps, Harold Budd, Fleshtones, Judas Priest, Madness, Joe Jackson, Tuxedomoon. Born in the southern United States, cradle of rock & roll and soul, Mass wanted modernity to see pioneers like Joe Tex or Professor Longhair up close.
The djs –the late Anita Sarko was the most emblematic of all those who passed through her booth– had eclectic tastes, but if the case came, Mass approached the booth to impose his criteria. On one occasion forced the dj to put a single from the 1950s four times in a row.
The place had coined a new concept of fun and this concept was the faithful reflection of the artistic personality of its creator. Something that was evident in the membership cards, where, next to the photo and the name of the winner, it was read: Mudd College of Deviant Behavior.
Of course, celebrities were soon flocking there, especially after Studio 54 got in trouble with the law. Warhol, who moved just as well in slums as in palaces, led his people. Allen Ginsberg, Jackie Curtis, Patti Astor, John Belushi, Basquiat, Kalus Nomi or Vincent Gallo they were just some of his regular assistants. Bowie showed up one night unaccompanied or security and according to Boch, he left his cocaine reserves to the limit protected in the discretion of the basement.
Carolina de Monaco preferred to let off steam on the track. She arrived accompanied by her own dancer and Philippe Junot. Mass learned of his presence while trying to fix a toilet -The services of the premises were unisex– and his words were: “Maybe you can come and give us a hand.”
Andy Warhol didn’t miss one.
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As a consequence of the club’s popularity, a second floor was opened, which was enabled as a VIP area. There Marianne Faithfull and Anita Pallenberg stopped by after the disastrous performance of the first on the ground floor stage. That night, by order of the owner, everyone, famous or not, had to pay his entrance.
People magazine dedicated an article to him where the club was compared to the Berlin cabarets of the twenties. Others equated it with historic venues such as the Swiss Cabaret Voltaire or the Parisian Le Chat Noir. Frank Zappa, always ready for sarcasm, recorded the song “Mudd Club” in 1981, singing the local excellence. But the first to mention the place were Talking Heads, in “Life During Wartime”, whose chorus – “this ain’t no Mudd Club or CBGB’s” – He immortalized the establishment in near real time.
The effervescence, originality and debauchery fulfilled their role. The Mudd Club had a short but intense life. The initiative that Mass had patented created a school through other venues such as Club 57, run by actress Ann Magnuson.
Club members in the VIP booth on the second floor.
© Getty Images.
Heroin, the favorite drug of some of his regulars, had a lot to do with the decline of the club, which closed its doors in 1983. Its closure coincides with the end of an era in New York. The final goodbye to an art scene that germinated in very specific social and political circumstances. It wasn’t a dream, it was crazy. An unrepeatable madness.
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