In 1977, the guitarist of the seminal proto-punk band went to hospital to purify his blood from heavy drug use, and photographer Godlis captured the scenes
Back in 1973, when New York City’s the Bowery was a more grim and foreboding place than it is today, Hilly Kristal set up the CBGB club on the site of a former biker bar and remade it into the birthplace of punk rock. As fate would have it, members of the proto-punk band Television spotted Kristal as he was hanging the white awning outside the club and let him know that yes, they played Country, Bluegrass, and Blues (CBGB).
The band sent their manager Terry Ork to negotiate a booking, which involved convincing Kristal that they could bring enough friends to support the bar while the band would make money from the door. Kristal had plans to put the stage near the front door but Television guitarist Richard Lloyd told him it was a terrible idea. Word has it that the band helped build the stage so that they could begin performing at the club in 1974.
Hell left the band in 1975, and Television went onto success without him. Their first album Marquee Moon was critically acclaimed and they quickly built a cult following. In 1976, a young photographer known only as Godlis stepped inside CBGB for the first time, saw Television performing live, and was hooked. For the next three years, Godlis documented the emerging punk scene in a series of moody black and white photos of Patti Smith, Richard Hell, the Ramones, the Talking Heads, and Blondie, among many others, published last year in History is Made at Night.
At the same time, Godlis was photographing the bands by day, collaborating with them on photos they could use to promote their music. In the fall of 1977, he was asked to create a photo essay documenting Richard Lloyd’s trip to the hospital for a procedure that would purify his blood after heavy drug use, just as Keith Richards had done. The story was to be then published in Rock Scene magazine, to provide an explanation as to why Television’s highly anticipated second album Adventure was being delayed.
Lloyd was staying at Beth Israel Hospital, just a few blocks north of the East Village, where he had the run of the place. Imagine a hospital with rules so lax you could sell marijuana out of your bed – that was par for the course in New York City back in the days. Naturally a photo shoot was easy to set up. Godlis spoke to Dazed about creating music and art in Old New York.
How did you first connect with Television?
Godlis: In the summer of 1977, I received a mysterious phone call from a friend named Deerfrance. She said, ‘There’s a band that wants you to photograph them, but I can’t tell you who. You’ll need to call this phone number, on this day, at this time…’
Which I did, and basically I was calling Deerfrance’s apartment down the block from me on St. Marks Place! Her boyfriend Fred Smith was Television’s bass player. He got on the phone to set up the photo session. I should have put two and two together and figured out it was Television, but I think I preferred it as a mystery.
I had a whole plan about how I wanted to shoot them. I wanted to do a street photography meets rock photography thing. Shoot them by natural light in black and white and color on the streets of the East Village, which was where most of us from CBGB’s lived. I started by having them walking from Fred and Deerfrance’s apartment on St. Marks past the Holiday Cocktail Lounge while I walked backwards shooting towards them.
“It’s my experience that the best rock photography sessions are done within a block or two from home. Look at Bob Dylan’s Freewheelin’ LP cover or the Ramones first LP cover” – Godlis
I think (guitarist) Tom Verlaine was thinking, ‘This guy’s a little off.’ But not Richard Lloyd. We already knew each other and he could see what I was up to. We turned the corner at St. Marks and First Avenue by Stromboli Pizza and continued up First. One of my favorite shots that day is on the corner of Ninth Street by a gigantic puddle. I told them to wait on the corner while I worked my way into the street, watching for turning cars, and shot back over the puddle from there.
It’s my experience that the best rock photography sessions are done within a block or two from home. Look at Bob Dylan’s Freewheelin’ LP cover or the Ramones first LP cover. A block from home. Musicians don’t like to go too far.
How did you get the assignment to photograph Richard Lloyd for Rock Scene?
Godlis: My memory is that Terry Ork contacted me with the idea in late fall 1977. We would go over to Beth Israel Hospital on First Ave. and do some photos to explain why the LP got delayed. They would then be ‘supplied’ to Rock Scene magazine, who like to do theme photo sessions with funny captions (written I believe by Lenny Kaye and Richard Robinson).
It wasn’t exactly an assignment, but Rock Scene usually went with anything good you sent them. They were newsprint magazine with a glossy cover run by Richard and Lisa Robinson. The photos were also sent ‘all over’ – to NME in the UK and Creem in the U.S. – that was about as far as ‘all over’ went in those days.
Can you talk about the laissez-faire attitude at Beth Israel Hospital. What kind of shenanigans went on?
Godlis: It’s amazing to me today that we were able to photograph so freely in the hospital that day. There was a gang of us up there. No one seemed to care. I went with Terry Ork, Charles Ball, Brooke Delarco, Judy Lapaolosa (Richard’s girlfriend), and my girlfriend (now my wife) Eileen. No one tried to stop us.
I took Richard and his IV cart on a walk around the floor to look for good places to shoot. Now, Richard’s memory is that he took me around and I was hesitant to shoot but my memory is that I took him around and we both picked out good places.
Richard pretended to light a cigarette under a ‘No Smoking – Oxygen’ sign. Richard insists to this day that I was nervous about shooting it. I don’t remember it that way at all. It was certainly my kind of photo. I was always up for a challenge, so maybe that’s what he did. Challenged me to keep shooting and not worry about getting into trouble with the hospital. I think it was a combination of both of us. But Richard will probably tell a different story in his book, God bless him.
“DIY was the way we did things at the time: your own records, your own flyers, your own photo shoot. It was all very New York, like selling watches on the street corner” – Godlis
The shot in the hospital bed with the Billboard magazine was a very Keith Richards drugged out kind of shot. It wasn’t planned – someone probably had a copy of Billboard and we improvised. Richard stood on his bed, sat on the floor, and pretended to look exasperated in front of the nurses’ station – that was definitely his idea. I love the shot with Richard and all the older guys in the lounge. Richard was really having fun in that one. That was such a mischievous session.
Afterwards, we went back to Richard’s hospital bed and he closed the curtain around us for some privacy. Then he began weighing out pot on a small scale behind the curtain, which I think he was selling to someone. An old guy at the next bed started asking him, ‘What’s going on in there?’ Richard just told him, ‘Shut up. Mind your own business.’
How did the photo shoot embody the ethos of punk?
Godlis: DIY was the way we did things at the time: your own records, your own flyers, your own photo shoot. It was all very New York, like selling watches on the street corner. If you had someone corporate do it, they didn’t understand what to do anyway. A rag like Rock Scene was very open to that type of thing. Rolling Stone was not – at all. So there you go.
There’s a joie de vivre that embodies the anything goes spirit of the times that punk fully embraced. What do you see as its biggest contribution to music and cultural history?
Godlis: It was a good time to be alive. New York City was a mess and as the Ramones said, ‘We Don’t Care.’ New York has grown up a lot since then. There’s a lot more rules to be obeyed and things cost a whole lot more but back then we had it all to ourselves. Anyone who didn’t like New York City – I mean the Taxi Driver New York City – was gone. New York was too dirty for them. We had the run of Times Square, the Bowery, and Coney Island. Our contribution stems from expressing that joie de vivre in the works we were creating. Listen to the music. Look at the pictures. It’s not gonna happen again. So it’s a good thing we have the work to look back at.