In the early eighties, everyone did whatever they wanted to their apartments. My old drummer Billy just moved every time his place got too dirty. Another bandmate had a leak that no one would fix, so he made a fountain sconce of a pissing greek God that dribbled in the general direction of the sink. My own apartment had been plastered by someone who was obviously tripping; the walls looked like a lava field. But there was also a painting on one wall of a doorway opening into a garden. I left it there for years. We wrote poems in crayon on my neighbor’s kitchen walls, and I knew someone whose entire bathroom was wallpapered with Chinese newspapers. When it got messed up, she plastered on another layer.
The landlords never fixed anything up. When you moved in, half the time there was a bunch of furniture there, or a red chandelier, or a hole in the floor so you could watch your neighbor snore and stare at the TV. That was the fun of moving. You never knew what you might be getting into.
When I walked down First Avenue, I always heard music, coming out the cracked windows and up through the opened metal doors in the sidewalk. Bands rehearsing. That was a good way for landlords to get money, as they couldn’t count on tenants paying their rent. Since all the amps and drums were down there, they could get a new padlock and hold the equipment hostage if the rent was late.
My band rehearsed for a while in the basement of a club called Paddles. A sign on the door said, “The friendly S&M club.” The building was owned by Giorgio Gomelsky, who managed the Rolling Stones early on, and produced the Yardbirds. He had a rehearsal studio in the basement, Paddles on the first floor, and a recording studio on the top floor. Sadly for the bands, the bathroom was also on the top floor. We had to pass through Paddles to get there, then stand on line with a bunch of fat blondes with Nazi hats on. Once I saw my downstairs neighbor onstage wearing only a dog collar, getting whipped. It was an unpleasant surprise. He didn’t see me. It was kind of hard to pass him on the stairs of my building without that image popping into my head.
Everything was stacked on top of each other in those days. My landlord ran a dusty old store on the first floor of the building, selling appliances, color televisions, and various nails, screws, and light-bulbs. If my bulb blew, he would root around and find me another one. Next door was a tiny Puerto-Rican bodega that didn’t really sell food; all the cans had half an inch of dust on them. On every block were shops where the proprietor lived behind a curtain in the back. Shops selling only painted eggs, or old-man shoes, or books of poetry, or coffee and dolls, or glass eyes, New York was block after block of endless and endlessly odd manifested dreams.