January 25, 1973: two big events happened a few days earlier on the 22nd of January, former President Lyndon Johnson died and Roe v. Wade was passed legalizing abortion.
The next day President Nixon announced that peace had been reached during the Paris peace talks and there would be “peace with honor,” a somewhat ambiguous sounding term. Four days later the Selective Service announced the termination of the draft!
On the 25th I went for pizza with Richard Amsel and met his friend John C. Attle who was an actor/performer. His real name was John Paul Welker and he was from the state of Washington. I asked if he was by chance from Seattle and he said no, but the name John T. Coma didn’t sound as good!
Richard had designed a mailer for John (who had been in the original cast of Fiddler on the Roof).
John’s musical director was Bob Esty who’d go on to work with Cher, Streisand, Sally Kellerman and notably Donna Summer (he co-wrote, co-produced and arranged Last Dance which won two Grammys for her).
The New York Times had written a very favorable critique of his performance at Upstairs at the Downstairs.
The next evening I was invited to dinner at Katia’s apartment with her sister Marie-Christine and husband Arnaud d’Ussault. There was certainly no end to conversation about politics with the Vietnam War, Watergate and the presidency and death of Lyndon Johnson. Arnaud, a screenwriter and playwright, had a lot of opinions as he’d been blacklisted during the McCarthy HUAC period and had moved to Paris where he met and married Marie-Christine. Among his many theatrical achievements he‘d written the play “Ladies of the Corridor,” with Dorothy Parker.
At the Port Authority Bus Terminal (I was going to the farm for the weekend), a person reminded me of Ravachol, who was a 19th century anarchist convicted of bombings and who was publicly guillotined at the age of only 32!
And my good Parisian friend Bernard Sabatier had come to Manhattan for a design project. I invited him to stay in my guest apartment, the presentable one across the hall from my chaotic studio apartment.
Michael Weil was a young man from Fresno whose parents were friends of my mother. He had come to town to work in the theater and was having some initial success appearing at the Bouwerie Lane Theater in a play called Huck Finn.
Michael and I went to dinner at Chez Netta.
I took Bernard to le Cocu, which was supposedly a discotheque. They served food.
I wondered if the term “discotheque” was a sales pitch because discotheques were so popular and this place seemed so different.
With a few exceptions, the crowd didn’t seem like a dance crazy group!
Paul Bartel had finally directed a feature, Private Parts, produced by Roger Corman’s brother, Gene Corman. A group of us went to a screening of it after which Margaret Whiting invited us to her apartment. Paul was excited that The New York Times had written about it in a positive way.
It was a creepy movie but Paul was hoping it was proof he could direct a film; and he hoped it might lead to more work!
Some Watergate defendants had been found guilty, but the story was hardly over. We couldn’t know that it was just getting to the important stuff! I continued on my rounds visiting ad agency and magazine art directors for meetings and an excuse for a break at Yellowfinger’s.
On February 5th, David Columbia came into town from Connecticut and we met for coffee and conversation. So much had happened in such a short time.
Mary Milton, Bernard, and his sister Bernadette Sabatier and I went to P. J. Clarke for lunch.
That evening, I got a phone call from Mara Lepmanis telling me that she was going to Kenny’s Castaways just a few blocks from my apartment. There was a new music group performing there and she thought it would be interesting.
Kenny’s Castaways was a supper club and featured a diverse collection of performers. Yorkville was still largely German and Hungarian and Kenny’s was a wild departure! The group we were going to see called themselves The New York Dolls.
They made quite a splash wearing dresses, makeup, high heels, spandex and satin! They weren’t quite complete transvestites nor were they like the Cockettes! They were undefinable and unlike anything we’d seen — and we’d seen a lot!
There was no way to know it at the time but they would have a tremendous influence on later rock groups the Sex Pistols, Guns N’ Roses, the Ramones, and even Kiss!
They predated grunge and glitter/glam rock and were described, along with The Velvet Underground, as being one of the first punk rock groups!
Having been a serious classical pianist I knew nothing of their music but it didn’t matter. They were pure brazen theatrical spectacle!
It would seem to be pointless to critique their music!
Following the Dolls was a young woman plus guitar giving additional impetus to the clichéd phrase, “a hard act to follow!”
Rather than leave, Mara and her friend Justine suggested we stay for the second show.
The second show was even more energized than the first one.
David Johansen was calling himself David Doll.
Later, Johansen performed using the name Buster Poindexter.
As a recognition of the end of the Vietnam War, they performed a “Song for the Vietnamese.”
We weren’t aware of it at the time but we were watching rock history.
The Dolls would continue and were voted both the best and the worst new band of 1973 while one critic compared their guitar playing to the sound of lawnmowers! They would play their last performance December 30, 1976 at Max’s Kansas City on the same bill as Blondie — Max’s Kansas City where Debbie Harry had worked as a waitress a few years earlier.
In 1976 Pat Kenny moved the Castaways downtown to Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. He died in 2002 and the club was run by his family until rising rents and changing times made it necessary to close in 2012.