Ork Records captured a moment in time when rock and roll tossed off its restraints and went impossibly mad. A gloriously weird era when a generation of fearless young fuckers wandered into New York City, trading suburban Formica and the “hissing of the summer lawns” for rat-infested drywall, clanging water pipes and the low-pitched drone of junkies muttering dead prayers in dark alleys . Walking south of 14th Street toward the Bowery instantaneously transformed the sunniest complexion into a mugshot pallor followed by a sudden explosion of electroshocked hair twitching on your scalp like an epileptic porcupine. Time lapsed as your body grew a pair of black jeans with 13-inch pegs and dirty Converse sneakers erupted on your feet like canvas blisters.
Boys from Baltimore took on French names and smoked like Belmondo. Girls from Pittsburgh wore black and white striped t-shirts and were Sebergian in their breathlessness. We started bands and slouched around in our own imaginary Godard films. The rest of the world may have been in color but for us everything was grainy black and white. We were role players. And we had the names for it: Richard Hell, Tom Verlaine, Jane Fire, Link Cromwell. “The Blank Generation” wasn’t just a song, it was a pose, an attitude. It was 1975 and the lofts of downtown Manhattan contained the syllabic languor that echoed scenes from Jean Eustache’s The Mother And The Whore. The talk was angst-ridden. Bodies slumped against decrepit refrigerators while the perpetually nervous vomited in sinks stained with cockroach shit and Listerine.The sun outside wasn’t yellow. It was jaundiced and it came in listless spurts julienned by sagging venetian blinds.
“Something’s not in orbit in the capital of this Galaxy.”—Lemmy Caution in Godard’s Alphaville.
Paris had the Left Bank, New York had the leftovers. The French had the Eiffel Tower, New Yorkers had something stuck on the bottom of their shoes. Same thing. It was all romantic. Even a knife wound looked vaginal in the shadows of the night. In July of 1977 the entire city blacked out, something many of us had been doing since coming to New York. Waking up in strange beds with people whose names you didn’t know and writing songs about it.
The Bowery and Lower East Side were movie sets, perfect for stories about rebellion, crime, sex, drugs and rock and roll’s dark night of the soul. So it was fitting that a guy who worked in a store that was a mecca for film fanatics, Cinemabilia, should start a record company. Terry Ork’s label was the soundtrack to the movie that Ork had playing in his head. I remember the day he handed me his label’s first release, “Little Johnny Jewel” by Television. I took it home and listened to it several times that night and I could imagine Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd’s guitars playing under scenes from Jean Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï. Notes spiraled in glassy fugues as precise and cold as Alain Delon’s eyes.
Terry Ork was the Phil Spector of spectres. A lot of the tunes on Ork’s label seemed haunted by the edgy paranoid vibe of a city on the verge of “who knows what?” Even the poppiest Ork releases were spastic and twitchy—the musical equivalent of restless leg syndrome. Bands like The Marbles had clearly lost theirs. The Erasers were designed to disappear. Teenage band The Student Teachers had their innocence murdered in the bathroom of CBGB. The Feelies played with the nervous energy of altar boys in a rectory. The older dudes, like Mick Farren and Lester Bangs, the ones who had been ridden hard and put up wet, found humor in the Manhattan mess. Farren brought some whiskey drenched pub rock irreverence to the mix and Bangs filled in for the absent Iggy Pop by blurting offensively hilarious shit to anyone who’d listen.
Terry tapped into the poetry of what Tom Verlaine called “life in the hive,” put it on vinyl and sent it out to an unsuspecting world. Most rock fans reacted like a nun seeing an erect penis for the first time. The number one bestselling song of 1975 was Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together.” It would be another four years before Joy Division tore love apart. Ork was rock and roll’s turd in the punch bowl and he loved it. Punk was being born, rock and roll had lost its mind and music would never be the same again.
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