For two years, Richard Boch manned the legendary New York club’s door – here he looks back on an era where Downtown reigned supreme
“Everything stops when David Bowie gets out of a cab. No bodyguard, no entourage; he’s alone and we head inside. I have a little coke but feel a bit awkward offering just a few lines. I find Hal Ludacer for a dose of moral support, grab Bowie and we escape to the basement. The cocaine disappears quickly.
Back upstairs an old reel-to-reel projector perched on a shelf flickers out-of-sync images of Motown. Jean-Michel Basquiat stands under the projector, his back to the wall, looking out at the dance floor grinning. Choppy waves of light fly around the room and DJ David has the crowd going Supremes crazy. It’s a trip – a throwback thrown forward. It’s getting late and the place is packed.
Bowie leaves around 4am. He isn’t alone. Hal’s hanging out on the second floor and I’m sitting on the downstairs bar drinking a beer when the lights come on.
New York was always a small town: anywhere south of Fourteenth Street, familiar territory. You never knew who you might run into, through working the Mudd Club door surely changed the odds” – Richard Boch
The Mudd Club: the name alone embodies the mystical, mythical essence of Old York – a city where you could reinvent yourself from the ground up. All it took was ingenuity, desire, and nerve to do-it-yourself, take it to the streets and show out on the world stage.
In the fall of 1978, the Mudd Club opened its doors at 77 White Street, long before anyone referred to the triangle below Canal as “Tribeca.” Back then it was an outpost on the frontier of downtown. As manufacturing shops packed up and left town, huge industrial buildings stood bare, attracting artists who transformed these commercial spaces into studios and homes. When they needed a break, they hit the Mudd, a tiny spot that became the ultimate nightclub, bringing together people from all walks of life.
Here the No Wave rubbed shoulders with Hip Hop, while graffiti writers and post punk musicians filled the joint. Everyone from Halston, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and David Bowie to Nan Goldin, Lydia Lunch, and Dee Dee Ramone could be found in the mix. This is the place where Fab 5 Freddy taught Debbie Harry to rap and no one thought twice about a white woman dropping rhymes on the mic.
From 1979 to 1983, the Mudd Club was the place to be, the ultimate scene for insiders and outsiders alike, a place where art, music, fashion, and culture completely reinvented itself with luminaries like trans model Teri Toye, drag legend Joey Arias, and performance artist Klaus Nomi sharpening the cutting edge. On any given night, something wild and wonderful was going down, whether it was a theme party like “Rock ‘n’ Roll Funeral Ball,” a reading by William S. Burroughs, or a live performance by Nico.
For two years, at the Mudd Club’s height, Richard Boch manned the door, deciding who would make it past the legendary ropes and enter the delirious den of iniquity that embodied the downtown scene at its height. As a doorman, Boch played a critical role in casting the characters you would see inside, a glorious mélange of celebrities, local legends, and underground superstars. He has just released his memoir The Mudd Club (Feral House) and speaks with us about how to throw the hottest party in New York.
“There was a fearlessness that everybody presented when they were running around at night. It was easy to make friends. It was a pre-Aids era. Everyone was very uninhibited. Sex was pretty much anything goes” – Richard Boch
EMBODY THE ERA
“When I got my first apartment on Bleecker Street, I was 22-years-old. New York City was a gift. The city was empty. You could walk in the middle of the streets at night. You could do whatever you wanted to do. There was a fearlessness that everybody presented when they were running around at night. It was easy to make friends. It was a pre-Aids era. Everyone was very uninhibited. Sex was pretty much anything goes.
The Mudd Club picked up on that. It was a bare bone, do-it-yourself operation. That’s how a lot of people downtown lived. We put our own lofts together. We fixed up little apartments and shared them with people. If you weren’t jumping the turnstiles, you were paying maybe 30, 25 cents for the subway. Five or six people could jump into a checkered cab and not everyone would have to chip in a dollar to go from the Lower East Side to the Lower West Side to go out.
You could become a character, and then you could disappear and become a different character. That’s how so many of these bands and performances artists and filmmakers all did their work. People were dreaming but they actually did the work. You’d be at the Mudd Club until four in the morning, and then go back to your loft at five in the morning and start taking photographs, painting, or making films. There were no rules and no boundaries.
New York hadn’t become a commodity. It was still open. It was anything goes, and within that, there was a lot of respect. No one got in your face if you walked down your street being ridiculous. You could misbehave and as long as you didn’t hurt anybody or hurt yourself, the misbehaviour was totally acceptable. It was almost expected because of that sense of freedom that dominated the whole city.”
FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION
“People ask, ‘What did the Mudd Club look like?’ It was like a void, a big empty box. The walls were painted grey. The ceiling was painted black. The bar was rather nondescript. There were photos on the wall but not a lot. There wasn’t much more to it than that.
But the minute the night started, people started to gather around the bar. There might be six or eight people on the dancefloor in the beginning – and then two hours later it was packed. That’s really what made it the Mudd Club: the people who we put inside to pack the dancefloor, to hang out at the bar. Being at the door was really an honour for me. In a way, I was helping to paint that picture inside.”
CURATE, CURATE, CURATE
“Being at the door was the ultimate vantage point. You got to see everyone coming and going. There were so many different little factions that all made up the Mudd Club as a whole. That was part of the mix. The crowd was very mixed, from teens to people in their 50s. We took care of the neighbourhood.
The Mudd Club was a small space and you couldn’t put everyone inside, even if they arrived early. There was no guarantee that 200 regulars weren’t going to be coming down the street 20 minutes later.
Celebrities? Well, that depends on what you call a celebrity. David Bowie: Is the crowd going to part like the Red Sea? Yes. Iggy Pop? Yes. Is a celebrity I don’t know going to come to the door and cop an attitude with me? Well, then they’re going to have a problem. We don’t want to bring that vibe inside regardless of who they are.
Mick Jagger was a total gentleman. Keith Richards was a sweetheart. Andy Warhol was great, whether he came with one person or four other people. Or neighbourhood kids, maybe they were two teenagers who were underage and all they wanted to do is dance. You’d say, ‘Give me two minutes,’ and then you’d send them in. That’s what made up the mix. The celebrities wanted to be part of that mix, that’s why they were coming here as opposed to going to Studio 54 on any given night.”
BECOME THE HUB
“I saw the Mudd Club as the heart of the (Downtown) scene and community. Everything revolved around it and spread out from it. It was a pre-tech age. There was no instant communication. You had to go to a place like the Mudd Club to find out what was going on. That was your information center – besides being the local bar, local pick up joint, local dance hall.”
INTIMACY SPARKS CREATIVITY
“Everyone was up to something creative. That creativity was contagious, and it was inspirational. If you saw someone and you loved the way they looked, you would be inspired by that – not to wear the same thing but to take that risk the next time you went back.
If you talked to someone about the film they were working on and they said, ‘Let’s go back to my place for a half hour. I’m only a few blocks away and then we can come back here,’ you could do that. You could see what people were working on and be like, ‘Wow.’ The act of doing something was contagious.”
“You’d be at the Mudd Club until four in the morning, and then go back to your loft at five in the morning and start taking photographs, painting, or making films. There were no rules and no boundaries” – Richard Boch
LEAVE WHEN THE PARTY’S STILL GOOD
“I was hired four months after the club was opened, so the party was going near-throttle at that point. I was there from the late winter of 1979 through the fall of 1980. Those 21 months, it was the cusp of two decades. We were closing down the 70s and we were saying, ‘Hey, this is the 80s.’
What made it really interesting was the drinking age was 18. There was no ID or wristbands. It was pre-Aids. The sexuality and gender thing didn’t even come into play. At four in the morning, when someone is lonesome or had a few drinks or whatever, everybody kind of looks like they could be fun.
The Mudd Club was not branded. It was not a corporate entity. As Chris Stein says in the book, there was no Mudd Club t-shirt. There were no cocktail napkins that said Mudd Club. There were no buttons. All of those things factored in and made it a really important moment. The Mudd Club burned so hot for the first three years it was open, that to sustain that heat would be near impossible.
Could I have stayed a little longer? Possibly. But I came on when the Mudd Club was this amazing place, and I left when it was still an amazing place. It was my neighbourhood bar. I could show up at three or four in the morning when I would finish working elsewhere.
What really resonates is that we see it for what it was: a jumping off point for so many brilliant people like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, Jeff Koons; for Marianne Faithfull’s comeback; for Robert Rauschenberg and Philip Glass to come there and see what the kids were up to.
But eventually, it’s time to move on. Four and a half years is a long time, especially when you’re in your 20s. No one ever wants to be something that gets referred to as ‘tired’ and played out. The Mudd Club avoided that, and that’s a great thing.”