Interview: Phil Marcade
..To start, can you tell us about your earliest musical memory? You mention in your book that ‘Aftermath’ - ROLLING STONES was a life changer - what about before that? Your dad was a drummer - did he inspire you musically, or your musical tastes?
..Phil) Yes, ROLLING STONES ‘Aftermath’ really shook my world when I was 11. Especially ‘I’m Going Home’. I was never the same again. I don’t really remember being exposed to much Rock & Roll before that. Indeed, my dad had been a jazz drummer in Paris in the 1940s and 50s.. But, to me, at that tender age, jazz was just "parents music", "old farts music" strictly for squares. I couldn’t possibly enjoy any kind of music my parents liked . As soon as I got into The STONES, they hated them, which , of course, made me love them all the more - The STONES, not my parents!!
..Why choose now to write your memoirs? Anything to do with 2017 being 40 years on from 1977?
..Phil) No, actually, I wrote Punk Avenue during the winter of 2006. I first wrote it in French and it was published there in 2007, then a second time in 2009. It was then published in Italy in 2011. I translated it into English around that time, but it was going to take a while before I’d find an American publisher.
When I wrote it, my initial motivation was the fact that I was missing three teeth right in front, on top - they had gone rotten and broke. I was waiting for a frontal bridge to be manufactured by the NYU Dental Clinic in New York. They had promised me that it would take two months but it took five! I looked pretty rough with no front teeth and was ashamed to be seen like that by my friends, so I just mostly stayed home, in Astoria, Queens. It was a very cold winter, so staying home wasn’t too bad. I had to find an occupation not to go insane, though, so I started writing.
At the time, I worked as an English/French translator for a French company and did my work from my home anyway, on my computer. So, whenever there’d be nothing to translate, I’d be working on my book. I spent endless nights typing away. My nephew Pierre, in Paris, who was in his twenties at the time, was very interested in the NY Punk Scene of the late 70s - and the story of his Dad’s brother who left for the States at age 17 and found himself incarcerated in a penitentiary in Arizona in no time - so I started sending him segments of what I was writing as I went along. He really loved it and told me that, if I completed a book, he’d look for a publisher in France. So that kept me going. I had an audience of one and it made a big difference.
This book is really an uncle telling his nephew his old Rock & Roll stories, I guess. Pierre would also encourage me to get deeper, to get down to the real nitty-gritty. Haha! I happily obliged!
..How did you hook up with publisher, Three Rooms Press?
..Phil) It was thru the recommendations of a mutual friend. I sent Three Rooms Press my manuscript, they loved it. We were on! I feel so lucky that the folks at Three Rooms Press believed in my book with so much passion because they’re such a great publishing house. They threw a FAB party for the book launch in New York at the club Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street - which used to be the Village Gate, where THE SENDERS had opened for THE HEARTBREAKERS on their legendary three nights stand there in 77. It was so cool being back in that room and so many old friends showed up. I was stunned. I got to share the stage with Steve Shevlin, Walter Lure, Lenny Kaye, Andy Shernorf, The Rousers, Danny Ray, Lynn Von, Brian Hurd from DADDY LONG LEGS and many others. What a fabulous night! Things have been great with Punk Avenue in America ever since. Much to my amazement, it was a #1 Best Seller on Amazon for two months, not just in the "Punk" category, but in the general "Rock Biography" category too. It was also selected as one of the 15 finalists for the 2017 Foreword Indies Book of the Year in autobiography & memoir. How cool is that?! An audio version also came out a couple of months ago.
..How long did the book take to write?
..Phil) It took me five months. I do type kind of slow, with two fingers.. When I finally got my new teeth, I had a book finished, though. Now I could go out again!!
..It’s compiled by what amounts to a lot of small stories - what was your writing process? Did you do it chronologically, or just as the memories flowed? Did you keep a diary? It’s quite conversational in its tone - there’s no over-sentimentalism, no eulogizing - was that the intention?
..Phil) Indeed, Punk Avenue is really just a collection of funny anecdotes. The idea of a book had been in my head for awhile. A few months before I started it, I began writing notes in a small note-book whenever a funny old story came to mind, so not to forget it again. I had that note-book in my back pocket everywhere I went. I wanted to see if I could gather enough funny stories to write a whole book. Very quickly, my note-book was filled with little titles like "Nancy Spungen’s junky cat", or "Setting some guy’s attaché-case on fire in the subway", "Smoking a joint with Bob Marley in Boston", "Throwing up in some girl’s mouth outside Max’s", "Opening up for THE CLASH at Bond’s Casino", etc.. I never kept a diary, back then, so I just depended on my memory.
Above all, since I am not famous or anything, I wanted this book to be funny, or the very idea of writing it would have been ridiculous and quite pretentious of me. Once my note-book was all filled up, I put the stories in chronological order and I was ready to go. I just didn’t know when.
Finally, being stuck at home with no front teeth seemed like the perfect time to do get started. I didn’t have a girlfriend, at the time, and THE SENDERS weren’t playing anymore, so I had no distraction at all and I completely got immersed in it. It was a great joy to write. I was cracking myself up, then my nephew.. Chapter after chapter, his reaction and enthusiasm kept me going. It was a lot fun.
..How much did you edit out? Could there be a second volume printed in the future? Any stories you wish you had included, and conversely, any you now wish you had left out?
..Phil) Also, I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Or get my ass sued!! Haha! But after the French version came out, I thought of some more funny stories or even just details I regretted not to have included, so I added these to the English version.
I may write a second volume in the same style about the 80s and 90s in New York. I’d have to loose a few teeth first, though!!
..As you were there at the dawn of NYC Punk, did you realize you were part of something that would be spoken of, written about and eulogized 40 years later?
..Phil) No, not at all! It was all so exiting to me, but I thought that was because I’d just arrive from France. I thought I had missed the great 60s and got to New York too late, though. All that was left was a few, new, unknown local bands who would probably never get anywhere. I believed this was only new and exiting to me. I didn’t realise at all this was the dawn of a legendary movement that was going to be eulogised 40 years later, but more like it was a tiny local scene that would be completely forgotten about within a couple of years.
But, in retrospect, I think everybody felt like that, and that’s precisely why it was so great. It wasn’t "Made for fame" or calculated in any way; it was genuine, from the streets, from urban decay, out of disgust for the fucking failed hippy dream and its selling-out for big bucks: the Rock Stars and their limos weren’t cool anymore; they had become lame. They had become part of.. the establishment. But here, there was no money, no record companies involved… yet. It was just a bunch of crazy outcasts having fun. Very passionate fun.
..It’s clear you had a very close friendship with the late, great JOHNNY THUNDERS. Your book certainly reflects the more social, amicable side of his personality. Were you ever witness to his infamous nasty side - the Thunders who lied, was snide, arrogant and disparaging - or is that side of his personality the one that the urban myth has propagated and amplified?
..Phil) Yes, of course. Johnny was an heroin addict, and that’s going to make you lie and rip people off and stuff like that. But, you know.. so what?! People who write about JOHNNY THUNDERS often seem to forget that he was also an incredibly talented guitar player and song writer. And what a great performer too. Amazing! You listen to his records and you can recognise his guitar style right away. His "signature" licks.. That’s the mark of a true innovator. He was copied by so many..
I don’t think Johnny was especially arrogant, or it was always with a great sense of humour, as an Italian from Queens would do. Johnny was actually a very "homey" sort of guy. He loved his Mom and all. He was a sweet kid.
What I did admire most about him, though, was that he was absolutely 100% Rock & Roll. He LIVED it! Every single day. Johnny was the real thing. He was much more interested in finding "that" new chord progression for a cool new tune than in fucking people up. But everybody loves to read the trash.. If you got ripped off by JOHNNY THUNDERS, you probably asked for it and it serves you right! Haha!
..Extending on the above, how different was the private Thunders to that of his public persona?
..Phil) No difference at all. Johnny was just Johnny, really. Always. What you saw was what you got. He was for real. At home, he played his guitar all the time, tried new songs… That’s all he really cared about. Private Johnny was just the same as the public one. He couldn’t bother putting on an act.
..Thunders also got you involved in GANG WAR, the short lived project with former MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer. That must have been quite a thrill! What differences did you notice between how the two worked as guitarists and song-writers? And what differences were there between how GANG WAR functioned and how your band, THE SENDERS operated?
..Phil) Playing drums with GANG WAR was just the best!. I only played on their first demos. That was three fantastic nights recording in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
This project was brand new for both Johnny and Wayne and sparks were flying. You could feel their excitement. They were on fire. Wayne Kramer is a fantastic guy. His true lust for life was very contagious. He made everything exiting! I couldn’t tell you their different songwriting technics, as the songs we recorded were already written when I got there. But, apart from a few covers - The STONES ‘I’d Much Rather Be With The Boys’, FATS DOMINO’s ‘I’m Gonna Be A Wheel’... - all the songs we recorded were Johnny’s, like ‘Who-Do-Voodoo’, ‘M.I.A.’ or ‘(Just Because I’m White) How Come You Treat Me Like A Nigger?’ with its "Sure to be a hit" title!!
..For those who are not familiar with your band, THE SENDERS, tell us a bit about them. The name is not one that is constantly mentioned among the bands of the late 70s era. Why do you think that is? The band’s sound was distinctly more 60s Rock ‘n’ Roll influenced than many of your NYC contemporaries - do you think that was a positive or negative when it comes to the band’s legacy?
..Phil) THE SENDERS started in New York in 1976. We loved old 50s Rhythm & Blues and yes, as you said, 60s Garage. We were also big fans of the British band DR. FEELGOOD. We first got noticed for being the only band on the scene to have greasy D.A. hairstyles and wear shark-skin suits and pointy boots. Kim Gordon, from SONIC YOUTH, mentions that in her book, Girl In A Band. THE SENDERS went on for 25 years, playing our last gig in 2001. In 2000, we had been elected "Best Bar Band in New York" in the New York Press yearly "Best Of New York" issue. We recorded five albums and are on several compilations - Norton Records, Midnight Records, Skydog Records, etc..
We were always delighted to find ourselves mentioned anywhere though, indeed, our popularity never really reached far outside of the Northern East Coast. It seems that while everybody else was going on world tours, we were on our never ending tour of the Lower East Side. But all the cool kids in New York loved us all up, and that was way more than we ever hoped for. Haha! We did eventually play in California and Europe.
In 1978, after our original guitar player quit and before replacing him with the Legendary Wild Bill Thompson, we did five gigs with Johnny Thunders as our "official" guitar player, which was a blast. By then, we had become such a fixture at Max’s Kansas City that a "Sender" became the name of a drink on Max’s drink menu! We did run into some bad luck, later..
In 1983, our bass player, and founder of the band, Steve Shevlin, became completely deaf. He was replaced by Richie Lure, little brother of Walter Lure from THE HEARTBREAKERS. In 1989, we launched the Continental Divide Bar on 3rd Avenue and did a very successful Monday nights residency there that lasted almost two years - The Sender Thing. Very sadly, our drummer, Marc Bousret, died of an heroin overdose in 1997. Richie died of a stroke a few months later. Wild Bill Thompson, our beloved guitar player, died of complications from congestive heart failure last December.
The chances of a reunion tour are very slim!!! But I’ll tell you one great thing: A few years ago, Steve Shevlin got some "state-of-the-art" electronic device implanted in one of his ears and, after 25 years of total deafness, he can hear again! We were on stage together in New York for the launching of my book.
..There is some fantastic footage of THE SENDERS on YouTube; you were a particularly visual front man it has to be said. Do you ever go back and revisit that stuff? What are your thoughts now when you view that footage and listen to THE SENDERS? It’s a band that has aged remarkably well in my eyes - something you should be proud of.
..Phil) Thanks a mill’. That’s a great compliment. I haven’t looked at these old SENDERS films on Youtube for quite a while, but I should again, now that you mention it.
It brings back great memories. I admit I would probably be a bit nostalgic. I miss those guys.. They were just the nicest and funniest bunch of nut-jobs you could ever meet. You can’t imagine.
..You mention a lot of the bands of the era - be it RAMONES, MINK DE VILLE or THE CRAMPS - but I note that New Jersey’s MISFITS are notable for just about zero reflections. Why was that?
..Phil) Well, I should have! THE MISFITS were great. But Punk Avenue wasn’t meant in any way as a "Punk History" book, but as a personal - and comical - view of it. I wrote only about a band if I had a good anecdote to report about them. I wish I had had a great story involving THE MISFITS, but I didn’t.
If anyone buys Punk Avenue thinking it’s an "Oral History of Punk" or anything like that, they’re bound to be disappointed. That said, I should have put THE MISFITS in there too, somehow. Haha! Good call, Steve!
..You mention a few times about the New York No-Wave scene of JAMES CHANCE, CONTORTIONS, SUICIDE etc and sharing a rehearsal building with SWANS. Was that a scene that appealed to you - or something that was just part of music happening in NYC at Max’s etc?
..Phil) I found some of the No-Wave bands a bit boring, a bit too artsy-fartsy and pretentious for me. But JAMES CHANCE was great, and a real nice guy. SWANS were amazing too. Yes, we rehearsed in the room next to theirs in the famous Music Building on 7th Avenue. You could hear them play thru the wall and we used to amuse ourselves by "jamming" with them. We’d then play a few of our songs and hear them "jam" with us from their room too! Haha! Michael Gira was such a cool guy. We liked him a lot.
That’s the thing about Punk Rock in New York in 75,76, 77; it was such a mixture of styles. MINK DEVILLE were nothing like THE DEAD BOYS. TALKING HEADS were nothing like THE RAMONES. THE FLESHTONES were nothing like TELEVISION and BLONDIE were nothing like SUICIDE. Mostly, the only points in common between these bands were the shorter hair, the lack of "professionalism" or proper equipment, and the fact that they all played the same three clubs: Mother’s, Max’s and CBGB.
The Punk style got more defined when it reached England, with the SEX PISTOLS and all the media coverage they got, but in New York, before that, though the name already existed because of Legs McNeil’s fanzine, the music style was anything from VELVET UNDERGROUND to LINK WRAY via THE SONICS and THE STOOGERS. The original idea was to rebel against all that Corporate Rock, especially bands like Yes or Emerson Lake & Palmer, with their "Rock Operas" and their fucking 20 minute drums solos and all that "virtuoso" crap. This was a return to the way Rock & roll had been in the 50s and early 60s: Fun, fast, short, sexy, loud and… dangerous.
..Drugs played a rather massive part of the book. Did you notice yourself spiraling down toward drug-dependency? If I recall, it was THUNDERS who gave you the first hit of Heroin and by 1981 you realized you were totally drug-dependent. You saw a lot of people die due to Heroin too; given you did OD - and according to your account in the book it was a harrowing experience - do you have a theory as to why the drug didn’t take you also?
..Phil) Yes, I was just lucky. That’s my theory. It’s a lottery, isn’t it? To quote my book: "Heroin is a spider, and once it gets you in its web, it has all the time in the world. It can eat you right away or it can save you for later, but, without exception and with no pity at all, it will eat you".
..The 1981 chapter in particular is grim reading with squalid drug use, the arrival of AIDS, your divorce, the Rebop shop closing and the SENDERS splitting with one member being institutionalized. Did you see all of that conspiring together at this early stage of the 80s, or was it a symptom of life in NYC at the time?
..Phil) Punk Rock had been commercialised by then, anyway. It wasn’t as fun or as underground anymore. It was becoming a cliché. Now, every moron in town was Punk Rock. They sold zipper-clad spandex "punk" outfits at Macy’s .. Hardcore was becoming big, but it wasn’t the same vibe. Too much muscles, testerone and macho attitudes for me. I really liked THE BAD BRAINS, from Washington, but most of the Hardcore scene wasn’t my cup of blood, really.
..Throughout the book it appears you had run-ins with the likes of Puerto Ricans, Hell’s Angels, Disco guys and African-Americans, but there were very few incidents mentioned with the New York Police Department. Why do you think that was? Was crime so rife then that they had bigger concerns that the burgeoning Punk scene? NYC was a very different place then compared with now.
..Phil) Haha! I did have a little run-in with the NYPD when I punched some guy in the face with brass knuckles outside Max’s, one night. But, yes, in general, you’re right, the police had much bigger concerns than the nice, polite Punk Rockers of New York.
The city was crime-ridden, there was a massive heroin epidemic going on, entire neighbourhoods were in ruins. The Bronx , Harlem and the Lower East Side were extremely dangerous. Cops were getting shot there every night. Next to everything else that was happening in New York at the time, Punk Rock wasn’t much of a threat at all, and the police seemed more bemused by this bunch of odd-balls than seriously concerned. Indeed, New York was a VERY different place then than it is now.
If you took the subway after midnight, you had a 50% chance of getting mugged. Man, you’d be GLAD to see a cop, back then! Now, Alphabet City is all sushi restaurants, trendy boutiques and Art galleries, but back in 76, venturing there was total suicide. There used to be this little poem New Yorkers used to say in the 70s:
Avenue A: you’re Alright,
Avenue B: you’re Brave,
Avenue C: you’re Crazy,
Avenue D: you’re Dead!"
..The contrast of that appeared early on, as there appeared to be an affinity with the Hippies. Would you say that’s correct?
..Phil) Although Punk Rock rebelled against the hippies, most Punk Rockers had been hippies or freaks themselves - me included! - then they had been into Glam. We’ve all seen the photos of LUX INTERIOR in the early 70s with very long hair and a beard. Same for RICHARD HELL, JOHNNY THUNDERS, STIV BATORS and all the others. The New York cops weren’t concerned with the hippies and, later, the New York cops weren’t concerned with THE NEW YORK DOLLS either!!
..What would the Phil Marcade of 1977 make of the Phil Marcade of today?
..Phil) "WOW! You’re still alive?!!"
..Looking back, if you could change just the one thing about your past, what would it be?
..Phil) Maybe I’d skip the heroin part. I’m not even sure.. I guess I wouldn’t want to change ANYTHING, really.
..How did you end up in Italy? Have you been back to the US since you have been in Italy?
..Phil) When my book came out in Italy in 2011, I came here to do a promotional tour. That’s when I met Eva, the girl who had translated my book into Italian and who is now my girlfriend. Eva is from Bologna. She came to visit me in New York and I went to visit here in Bologna. In 2012, after a year of going back and forth between New York and Bologna, I decided to accept her loving invitation to move in with her and I left my apartment in Queens and moved to Italy.
There’s a great Underground scene in Bologna. I did some DJ gigs, spinning my old Rhythm & Blues and Rockabilly 45s for the Italian rockers. It was fantastic! Bologna is a university town and there are a lot of cool kids here. Lots of interesting Artists. New York was getting incredibly expensive anyway. I was sick of it. But it’s strange being here after 40 years in The Big Apple. Talk of a culture-shock!
I did go back to the States for the book release last year. Manhattan had changed so much in just a few years. It’s a play-ground for rich yuppies, now. It’s safe, it’s clean.. That’s real nice but, man, did it lose its edge.. Brooklyn is cool now, though, but it’s getting expensive there too.
Nowadays, Eva and I have a little house way up in the mountains in Tuscany, about an hour from Bologna by car. We’re in the total wilderness! You see deer and boars, here! The other day, there was a viper in the house!! Haha!
..Views on America today? Having lived there during Reagan and Bush, how do you think Trump compares?
..Phil) You see? I leave America for 5 minutes and look what happens!!
..Haha - I was thinking the same!!
..Phil) It’s worse than ever, isn’t it? Fucking hell!! Trump is certainly the worst thing that ever happened to the United States. .Hopefully, this will trigger a strong "wind change" and bring back a big wave of liberalism and moral values. I hope so. I hope all the "sleeping" decent folks in the US will finally wake up and reclaim their country. Then, I hope they will ban the sales of automatic weapons, and be much kinder to their Mexican neighbours too, while they’re at it.
..No argument there, Phil. What about music today? Do you follow any current bands or genres? Any thoughts on today’s Punk scene
..Phil) I really love DADDY LONG LEGS, the New York Punk Blues band. They’re fantastic. I mean, they REALLY got it. I suppose I’m not that well informed on all the new, underground bands of today, but that’s a good thing. Rock & Roll is a youth movement. If some 63 year old guy like me knows about it, then it ain’t so cool anymore!! Haha! We didn’t want any old farts in our Punk Rock back then, boring us with their "That’s not music anymore" rants.
But, regardless, I do get thrilled when some new, cool band reaches my knowledge. A few years ago, I loved seeing very young kids like THE STRIPES playing Rock & Roll with such good taste. I heard ARCHIE AND THE BUNKERS on Howie Pyro’s Intoxica radio show the other day. They’re on Norton Records. They’re also very young and they’re great. Who knows, maybe the best Rock & Roll is yet to come. That would be nice..!
..What’s next on your horizon? Any plans to do another book? I believe you do graphic art too - what projects are you working on there? Any hope that THE SENDERS might get back together in some form?
..Phil) Well, as I pointed out before, the chances of a SENDERS reunion is quite slim since three of them are dead and Steve and I are the only remaining original members. I love to draw and paint and I’ve been doing a lot of that. Right now, I mostly paint pictures of girls with bee-hives. Don’t ask me why! I have no idea what tomorrow will bring, though.
Maybe Punk Avenue, the movie!! Haha!
..I like that idea!! Let me know if you need any extras!! Haha!! Anything you want to add?
..Phil) Mmmmm…no. Just:: Thanks so much for you interest in my book, and.. GABBA-GABBA-HEY!
Photos (top to bottom)
1. Phil, 1978. (Pic by Sharri Saffiotii)
2. Book launch. With Brian Hurd & Bill Dickson (Pic by Johan Vipper)
3. Phil M and Johnny T
4. Phil, NYC 1978 (Pic by Robert Mapplethorpe)
5. The Senders 1979. (Pic by Alan Jay)
6. With Andy Shernoff, Lenny Kaye & Brett Wilder. Book launch. (Pic by Laura Fitzgerald Genzale)
7. Phil M and Johnny T 1978
8. Phil at Max's 1976. (Pic by P. Berthelot)
9. Phil, today, in Italy (Pic by Eva Zavini)