Reposting something from 2009 due to a new video being posted online of Robert Frank’s seldom-seen documentary about the Rolling Stones decadent 1972 US tour. Usually the minute this video gets posted, it gets shut down so enjoy it quick while you still can…
Hard to remember it now, but it was well into the 1980s before VCRs were commonplace in America life. I lived in lower Manhattan at the time and there were very few video rental stores there. The only ones I can recall are Kim’s Video (originally sharing space with a dry cleaner, then several locations, now down to one again) and the New Video mini-chain, now a DVD distributor. By mid-decade the “tape trading underground” was starting to organize itself (aided by the then burgeoning zine scene) and an unlikely character named “Dan the Record Man” became a key node in that machinery.
“Dan the Record Man” was probably in his mid 50s when I met him, but he was in such terrible shape that he looked far older. He was a classic example of what eating SHITTY FOOD 24/7—in his case dirty water sauerkraut and mustard slathered hot dogs sold by street vendors outside of the Canal Street flea market where his stall was located—could do to a human body. My god did he just reek of poor health and future strokes and heart attacks, but he was a super cool old guy who had been a dancer on Hullabaloo and knew everything about music and had records so rare it made my head spin. Case in point he had copies of The Great Lost Kinks Album as well as the live Yardbirds LP and the novelty record “Stairway to Gilligan” both which Led Zeppelin’s lawyers had yanked off the market. Once he knew you were “cool”—he was really paranoid—he’d pull back the black curtains covering the top shelves in his overstuffed corner booth and show you the bootlegs (there were thousands) and the real treasure he had, the bootleg videos.
Dan had EVERYTHING you ever wanted or could ever want. And if he didn’t have it, he could get it for you (he scored Nancy Sinatra’s TV special for me as I recall). Tapes were $20 and he’d do trade if you had something really good, but in keeping with his Gollum-esque character, you had to have two really good things in order to get one of his really good things for free. Those were his rules and you could fuck the fuck off if you weren’t prepared to play by them. Old school record collectors out there will feel me when I say: you did play by his rules. Otherwise you were cut off from so much illicit bootleg goodness.
Every once in a while you could surprise Dan with something incredibly rare. At the time I knew Dan, I was working in a digital video studio that did Super-8, 16mm and 35mm film transfers. On one occasion, photographer Robert Frank booked time to make a film transfer from his little seen documentary of the Rolling Stones’ 1972 American Tour with the title Cocksucker Blues. The Stones had an injunction against Cocksucker Blues being screened (unless for charity) because, well, it was a fairly decadent and at times quite unflattering portrait of them, let’s just say. The staff were told that under no circumstances could we make our own copies of what Frank was coming in to transfer. Yeah right! So, uh, this friend of mine, yeah this friend of mine, made copy, a copy of which I then traded to Dan, for, as I recall, a live video of David Bowie’s “Heroes” tour from 1978 and Bowie’s “1980 Floor Show” performance from The Midnight Special. Whenever I saw a bootleg of Cocksucker Blues, I would always look to see if it was a generation or two (or ten) away from the one I traded to Dan. Over the decades, most of them were my copy’s progeny (I can tell by a warble in the opening credits) although this has changed in recent years as a far better version has surfaced on DVD and torrent sites.
In any case, my rambling anecdote about the VHS tape trading underground of the late 1980s is because I wanted you to know that the legendary Cocksucker Blues documentary has been posted once again by some kind soul for viewing on the Internet. My 25-year-old copy is NOT the parent of this version, which looks pretty good (Note: The film was shot on Super-8 film to begin with, so it’s never going to look much better than this. You can find torrents for a great looking DVD version all over the place).