The Kids Of Bowery's Hardcore 'Matinee,' Then And Now
In his new book, Matinee: All Ages On The Bowery, Drew Carolan presents his portraits of the Bowery hardcore kids of the mid-'80s ... the boots, leather, patches, buzzed heads and middle fingers. Below, we learn what they've been up to since.
Turn any corner in New York City and you are bound to discover something you have never seen before. What started out as a curiosity one late night in 1981 in the East Village turned into an ongoing photographic exposé on a thriving subculture, 30-odd years later.
Utilizing what I learned from Richard Avedon while working on his seminal book, In The American West, for two years, I stood on the eastern end of Bleecker Street, where it empties into what was the most famous street for the downtrodden, disenfranchised and destitute — the Bowery. CBGB's was the perfect place for young outcasts, free thinkers and activists to gather under one roof — it was there that I intercepted patrons on their way to congregate and participate in a weekly ritual: the venue's all-ages, hardcore punk matinee. Dozens upon dozens of people, mostly teenagers, were photographed against a white piece of seamless paper.
As the project evolved, the setting remained the same. I would shoot for a couple of hours on the street and then pack up my stuff and head over to the club and witness a congregation of kids set free to express themselves however they decided. It was sheer joy, in the most juvenile way. Kids bouncing off each other like pinballs — moshing and skanking, working it all out. When the shows were over, they would grab pitchers of water off the bar to hydrate before hitting the street.
After processing and contacting the film, I would sit and look at the pictures and make choices of the ones that spoke to me. Those chosen were put up on the wall for further inspection. These two-dimensional photographs became little icons to me. They represented angst, freedom, sexuality and the coming of age, all wrapped into one. But who were these kids hanging on my wall? Where are they now? Who have they become?
With the advent of the Internet and search engines, reproducing these images and contacting people became simple. An email out of the blue, from Andy in 2006, reopened a dialogue. Suddenly the two-dimensional icons came to life. Beyond just knowing many of their names, stories of triumph and failure came. The third dimension presented itself — the history of these individuals and the true meaning of their existence, after all those years. — Drew Carolan
I can say this with the utmost certainty: Finding this music and these people completely saved my life. The majority of kids hanging out during this era, the still-burgeoning hardcore punk scene, came from poor or, if they were lucky, lower-middle-class backgrounds. Regardless of socioeconomic status, most of these kids came from broken homes — often the victims of physical abuse. Hardcore punk showed us a path to channel our anger, despair and depression into something raw and vital. We were able to express ourselves by creating lasting art and music and connecting with all kinds of people that shared similar experiences; all of the trauma and emotions that were trapped in our bodies and weighing us down, that no amount of talking or therapy could have helped us with, even if we had access to such things at the time. My life today consists of nonstop work at my restaurant. Because of location and time, I don't get to as many shows as I once did, but I will always be connected. I left downtown Manhattan in 2013 and headed north to Dover, in the Seacoast Region of New Hampshire, to open a restaurant and cocktail bar, Sonny's Tavern, with two of my close friends. Currently listening to: Courtney Barnett, Quicksand, Them Are Us Too, Burn, Oppenheimer Analysis
I followed Drew into the photo industry and now work as an editor. I was not taking pictures myself when this was shot — I did other kinds of art. I never became a full-fledged member of the hardcore scene, but eventually was going to shows at night at CBs and all over the city — punk, rock 'n' roll and soul were my life. I had so much fun — like I'll never have again. I dropped out of high school because I was going out so much. I'll never regret those times. Now I'm doing a lot of political volunteering; I've always been about politics. Was raised that way, and punk allowed me to express that lefty social justice aspect as well as just be irreverent. I'll never stop being a feminist, an agitator for justice for the oppressed, and I guess that means I'm still a punk. Currently listening to: The Carvels, King Khan and The BBQ Show, OFF!
In hindsight, I think that my early adolescent treks from Staten Island to the Bowery to catch the weekly matinee at CBGB's may have been training me to spend my life on the road. After getting out of university I started traveling more seriously, eventually expatriating when I was 24. Since then, I've probably spent half my life living overseas, working mostly as a journalist and travel writer in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. I have a new book coming out in 2018 — my 14th — titled Formosa Moon and have recently switched from original Star Trek "continuing journey" mode to a more Deep Space Nine mode by hooking up with a Taiwanese travel company that does custom tours around the country. It kind of fits, in a weird way. There's a decent punk scene here, and Beijing calls us a renegade province, so yeah, there's that. (I actually did an interview with NPR a couple of years back about the music scene here.) Currently listening to: Kou Chou Ching, The White Eyes, Frank Zappa, Gentle Giant, Yes, Bad Brains, The Germs, Black Flag, Minor Threat
We did a lot of crazy things when we were younger. I'm happy to report that, after many struggles — typical of life in general — I am in a pretty good place. It took grit and lots of PMA, but the hard work was worth it. I was able to buy a home and raise my son in a stable environment — and, of course, I still love to hang with my hardcore family at shows. Nothing beats the energy and fun of moshing it up. Currently listening to: M.O.D., Ice Cold Killers, the Just For Us Hardcore Kids compilation, Agnostic Front
Right now my time is mostly being taken up filming this doc about The Magical Childe bookstore and New York's occult scene in the '70s and '80s. Currently listening to: "lots of" Temptations, also The Beach Boys, Dennis Wilson, Nina Hagen, Tool, The Doors, The Shangri-Las
Jon ("The Wrecking Machine")
I've been a police officer since 1991. I've never used alcohol, tobacco, drugs or coffee — and never will! I mostly listen to a lot of the same hardcore music I did as a teenager. ... I haven't heard anything better to listen to yet. My favorite band is the Dickies, who have been around since the late '70s (but I didn't discover them until I was in the police academy). They were too "punk" for me in the '80s. ... I had to mature into them. Currently listening to: The radio in the car, but I'm not a fan of most of the music I hear on it. Occasionally I'll hear a catchy tune, but I don't like any current bands out there now.
I moved to Berlin in '91, have one daughter, Kaya, who is 24, and a son, Dexter, who is 11. I moved to Munich from Berlin in 2000, and play in a primitive s***-rock garage-punk duo called LOOSE with my boyfriend, Lex. For money, I work as a visual merchandiser. I live clean and eat clean, I still question authority and I always strive to seek what's authentic and deeper than what we are taught to believe is of worth in this material world. I believe it is my duty to pass these ways down to my children. My musical tastes have changed very little since I have been listening to music as a kid. Currently listening to: The Black Jaspers, Queens Of The Stone Age, OFF!.
I've got a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering; I've worked for the U.S. Navy for almost 23 years, with 15 of those spent "keeping the water out of the people tank" on submarines, and working on launch systems. I reconcile working for the war machine with my lefty peacenik values as — at least, until this last election — we were the good guys, and we need a Navy. I'll happily be the first on the unemployment line when we don't need a Navy, but for now I work to keep our sailors and Marines safe. These days, I run internships for high school and college kids at Navy labs as well as independent research programs at the warfare centers. I've also started a rogue mentoring program to help Navy engineers and scientists, mostly women, achieve their career goals. I suppose that's my passion. That and my dogs. Currently listening to: I listen more to Howard Stern than music, but when I do, I do it obsessively. The Rezillos, The Clash, The Psychedelic Furs, Death By Unga Bunga
It must have been 1979 when I first heard The Ramones, at my girlfriend's house in Port Washington, Long Island. It was amateurish, poorly produced and poorly performed — and I played it all night. Somehow, this music spoke to me in a life-changing way. ... It showed me that things didn't need to be perfect. I had been looking at music the wrong way. It's not about attaining perfection, but rather attaining a feeling. In 1981, I found the New York hardcore scene through a friend of a friend. (It was very hard to find; you had to want it. The scene was very insular and protective of its own.) Back than, you could buy a demo tape or a sticker or maybe a compilation album, but that was it. We found or made our own clothes, painted our jackets or magic-markered our band shirts. I found drugs and alcohol, and left the drugs. By 1985, I just couldn't get a life started in New York, while the scene was becoming a little frat-boyish and cliquey, so I packed up my motorcycle and left New York for an adventure. I first stopped in West Philadelphia and worked security for punk shows at The Crypt, Club Pizzazz and The Trocadero. The transformation from punk to biker was easy and natural; I managed to open a motorcycle shop in San Francisco. Currently listening to: The Kominas
Punk and hardcore helped shaped my thinking when I was young — I continued playing music on and off throughout my life. I think most of what the bands sang about back then has either come true or remains relevant. Through punk and hardcore, New York was a vibrant and exciting place to be back then. ... I don't like what the city has become now. I worked in the entertainment industry for over 25 years, mostly in television and video production, and left New York after living on St. Marks for years, moving to the mountains and serenity of New England. I've been doing mostly carpentry and renovation these days. Currently listening to: A lot of Afro-Cuban jazz, late-'60s skinhead reggae, ska and mod music, '80s post-punk and The Clash
Life has been good for this survivor — I'm still here! I own a small cosmetics company and sing with my Dio cover band, Sheo, for s***s and giggles. Cosmetics guru, animal lover, and still rocking. Currently listening to: Battle Beast
It feels like a lifetime ago. ... That was the first time that I truly felt free to be myself without criticism, judgment or drama. Such an exciting and creative space, music and crowd. I'm now a single mother of two, working as a legal tech support analyst. Currently listening to: The Beastie Boys, Amy Winehouse, Fishbone, Billie Ellish, Bishop Briggs, Blondie, AcDc erasure, Squeeze, Sam Cooke
I would go to the matinees every weekend, [traveling] from Montville, N.J. I did this from age 14 until 18, when I moved to downtown New York. I was the bassist from the original Death Before Dishonor and Judge. I left Judge because I wanted to focus on my artwork; I went to The School of Visual Arts in New York City. My art was focused on Chan (Zen). After my punk days, I became a Zen Buddhist monk — when I left monasticism, hoping to help more people, I very naturally went into Buddhist studies and social work. Now I'm a professor of Buddhist studies. I don't see myself pursuing [education] beyond a Ph.D — education in general, however, is a lifetime process, and I'm continuing to learn to help myself, others, the world, in my own way. My life now is focused on helping people through the practice of Chan, or Zen [Buddhism]. I learned meditation when I was very young as a boy, so it was very natural for me to go back to my roots. Currently listening to: Animals As Leaders, Andres Segovia
Drew Carolan's new book, Matinee: All Ages On The Bowery, is out now via Radio Raheem Records. Its release is being feted on Nov. 18 at Generation Records, Dec. 8 at Rough Trade and Dec. 9 at the Colloquium for Unpopular Culture at New York University.
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