The Athens, GA / NYC Axis: This Is Where It All Began

In 1976, I lived in Atlanta, GA.  I was the legal guardian for my teenaged sister who was on the brink of mental and physical collapse, and my brother who was in prison.  I taught at an inner city high school in Atlanta, where I was becoming increasingly fearful for my safety.  About the only bright spot in my life was my boyfriend, Moe Slotin.  Moe was one of the kindest, most thoughtful and loving people I have ever known.  Anyone who worked with him thought of him as the consummate professional.  He had a kind word for everyone, and he worked in a business where kind words were few and far between.  

Moe left Atlanta to become a roadie and then soundman for The Blue Oyster Cult.  At the time, they had a big hit song called “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” and they toured steadily.  At some point in there - I think it must have been early 1976 - Moe left BOC and went to work for the Patti Smith Group.  He moved to New York City that summer and in the early fall, I went to visit him there for the first time.  

Moe told me that when I got to the LaGuardia airport, I should take a taxi to the Wartoke office.  Wartoke was the name of the management agency run by Jane Friedman, the Patti Smith Group’s manager.  The office was located in the heart of Times Square, which at that time was a pretty seedy place.  Ground floors of buildings were either electronics stores or arcades, or peep shows.  Upstairs there were mostly shabby offices that could be rented for a song, since utilities and elevators were usually in dubious condition.

After an uneventful plane ride from Atlanta, I reached LaGuardia.  I caught a taxi and told the driver my destination.  He started driving in the typical relaxed New York taxi fashion, like a bat out of hell.  All the time, the cabbie was talking as fast as he was driving and kept turning his head to make eye contact with me while the car wildly careened around corners, until BLAM!  He rear-ended another car.  Grinning, he turned around to me and said, “Welcome to New Yawk!”  I started laughing and crying at the same time.  He and the other driver exchanged insurance information, and we got out of there fast before the cops came.  The rest of the ride was only mildly terrifying, so I finally decanted from the taxi in front of Wartoke’s office building.

I took a rickety elevator up to the office.  When I walked in the door, there was a blonde boy sitting on the couch in the waiting room.  He smiled at me shyly.  I told the person at the window who I was, and Moe came out to get me.  He showed me into what looked like a conference area, where a woman was yelling into a phone.  She motioned for me to have a seat, so I did.  Just then she shouted into the receiver,  “I’m leaving you!  Get out of my apartment!”  (I still think that is one of the greatest break-up lines of all time.  The woman was Jane Friedman.  Her boyfriend was John Cale.)  Then she turned to me and said, “I have to get this mailing out.  Can you stuff these envelopes?”  “Sure,” I replied, thinking that this would give me a minute to collect myself.  When I finished stuffing the envelopes full of poetry and drawings for Rock and Rimbaud IV, Moe reappeared and said that he had some work to do.  He suggested that I walk over to MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art.

That sounded like a good idea to me so I went back out to the reception area, where the blonde boy held the door open for me.  “Thank you,” I said as I passed through, not thinking too much about it.  When I got to the museum, the blonde boy was there again, opening the door.  I never saw him follow me, but for the rest of the afternoon, wherever I went, he was there opening the door and never saying a word.  Later, I found out that his name was Tom Verlaine, and he was in a band called Television.

For the next couple of years, whenever the Patti Smith Group was getting ready to do something big, they would fly me to New York to help them get ready.  I did everything from moving furniture and being a roadie, to just being the band’s go-to girl and confidante.  Along the way, they blessed me with their camaraderie, introduced me to the nascent punk scene, and paved the way for a musical connection between Athens and New York that continues to thrive today.  

I was first introduced to Max’s Kansas City and C.B.G.B.’s  by Patti Lee and the boys.  It wasn’t long before I knew about as many people in Manhattan as I did in Atlanta.  Through it all, though, it was Moe Slotin, Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye, D.N.V. (Richard Sohl), Ivan Kral and Jay Dee Daugherty who were my mainstays.  They took me everywhere and made room for me, whether it was at a restaurant table or in a taxi.  One of their finest acts of generosity came the second time the B-52’s (as they were then styled) played at Max’s Kansas City.  

Before telling about that, let me give you a little background.  While I was working as a jury consultant for Howard Hughes’ family on the Mormon Will Trial cases in Houston and Las Vegas, the B-52s started sending me postcards, asking if I would get them a gig in New York City.  An Atlanta band, the Fans, had earlier asked my to use my contacts on their behalf, and once I got them an initial booking at Max’s Kansas City, they had gone on to gain a respectable following among New York audiences and music critics.  

The B’s wanted me to book them as well, even though I told them that they needed to have more than six songs before they went to New York.  They insisted, so after I finished assisting the attorneys in Las Vegas, I flew to New York before coming off my own six-month road tour.  Either the Thanksgiving weekend of 1977 or very soon after, I contacted Deer France, and booked the B’s at Max’s.

Their first foray into the New York music scene was dismal.  ”They get a Monday night,” Deer France said.  ”Everybody starts on Monday night.”  The B’s were the opening act for Teenage Jesus and the Jerks.  I missed the sound check, because I was on a plane from Raleigh, North Carolina where I had been helping to select a jury for some close friends who had been caught smuggling a ton or so of marijuana.  After the defense team finished picking the jury, I ran to the airport and caught a plane, and by six p.m. I was lugging my suitcase and a briefcase packed with files up two flights of extremely steep and narrow steps to he B’s dressing room.  In court clothes.  And high heels.

I quickly changed into a yellow silk kimono, hot pink tights and Chinese slippers while the band went into hysterics about Lydia Lunch and crew next door.  Teenage Jesus and the Jerks were not very friendly, to be sure, but I am certain that to the Jerks we looked like we had just pulled into town from Hickville, U.S.A.  No black, no leather, and no safety pins to be seen anywhere in sight, just bright colors, big hair, and a lot of hairspray.  What must they have thought? 

The time came for the B’s to go on, and I ushered them downstairs.  They put on a pretty rocking show for the eight or ten people in the audience.  The B’s played their six songs so fast, they had to play most  (if not all) of them twice.  Also, that night the Bs asked me to be their manager.  Fred said, “Somebody asked who our manager was, and we told them to talk to you.”  I could not resist his sweet, shy invitation.

We went back to Athens and they wrote a few more songs, and practiced really hard in the stone walled former embalming chamber that they rented as practice space.  A couple of months later, I called Deer again, and this time the band got a Tuesday night.  Based on the first performance, I was not expecting much of anything to happen.  That night, though, the joint was jumping!  

I was so stunned, I can only remember two things.  One was that Lou Reed was sitting in the back of the room in a raised area with tables, eating a steak.  Downstairs, Max’s was a steakhouse.  Judging from the looks of the huge chunk of meat his plate and the look on Lou’s face, it must have been delicious.  My only other memory from that night was that Judy Wilmot’s boyfriend came up and told me that Ivan Kral from Patti’s band had personally called every music critic, rock star, novel writer, journalist, and photographer in the place.  Later on, I realized that Judy’s boyfriend was Lester Bangs: the same writer whose articles I had been clipping from Tiger Beat, Creem Magazine and  Rolling Stone).

I was not the first Athenian from what went on to become the Athens music scene who went to Manhattan.  Jeremy Ayers preceded all of us.  He was the Andy Warhol film star, Silva Thin.  Jeremy made entrance into the NYC art world very smooth and easy.  Up North, art and music overlapped and coincided in many of the same ways that they later did in Athens.  Keith Strickland and Ricky Wilson went and took demo tapes to some places in New York, but I have never known where they went.  For such an insulated and isolated collection of outsiders, Athenians ventured fearlessly into new territory.  I think it is safe to say that we didn’t know enough to be scared, except of Lydia Lunch.

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