Whether it’s the Left Bank, or Bloomsbury, or Sun Records in Memphis, the Cavern Club in Liverpool, or London’s King’s Road, there is always one location that becomes the focus for a new generation of artists, writers and musicians. In New York during the 1970s, this creative hub could be found in a venue called CBGBs where different bands came to play every night spearheading the punk and new wave movement and bringing about a small revolution which changed everything in its wake.
Amongst the musicians, writers and artists who played and hung out at Hilly Kristal’s club at 315 Bowery were conceptual artists Bettie Ringma and Marc H. Miller. Bettie had come from from Holland to the US, where she met Miller—a writer and photographer whose passion was for telling “stories with pictures, with ephemera and with a few carefully chosen words.” Together they started collaborating on various multi-media and conceptual artworks.
In late 1976, Marc and Bettie were drawn to the irresistible pull of creative energy buzzing out of CBGB’s. Most nights they went down to the venue and started documenting the bands and artists who appeared there:
Our first photograph of Bettie with the movers and shakers at CBGB was taken during our very first visit to the club in late 1976. Standing alone by the bar was one of Bettie’s favorite performers, the poet-rocker Patti Smith. At home at CBGB and a wee bit tipsy, Patti was more than happy to oblige our request for a picture with Bettie. Soon we were CBGB regulars, checking out the different bands and slowly adding to our collection of pictures.
Marc and Bettie’s original idea of creating “Paparazzi Self-Portraits” at this Bowery bar developed into the portfolio Bettie Visits CBGB—a documentary record of all the bands, musicians, artists and writers who hung out at the venue, with photographs becoming:
...a reflection of the new aesthetic emerging at CBGB, a contradictory mix of high and low culture energized by fun and humor, the lure of fame and fortune, and a cynical appreciation of the power of a good hype.
More of Marc and Bettie’s work from this punk era can be seen here.
Patti Smith was hanging around at the bar, but no one was taking pictures of her because she was super-shy. She posed with me and then just went away: some musicians are like that, they’re not into socialising. They’re just artists.
Debbie Harry is a really great singer. She had a very different style from what was emerging there at that time. She was not shy, but she was very aloof: you can see that in the picture, hiding half her face behind her hair. It wasn’t something she needed, because she was very pretty, she was the frontwoman. But it gave her safety.
I just love the Ramones. When their music starts I can’t sit still, I just have to start hopping and dancing, and I’m 71 now. We saw them live about 10 times: we would go out of our way to see them perform.
Joey Ramone was really a sweetie pie. At one point we had an exhibit of our photographs, and we made a whole board of pictures of Joey Ramone and me, which we’d sell for $1. Joey came and signed a whole bunch of those photos.
[The Talking Heads] were a very different group of people: they came from a visual arts background, and I think they were also a little bit more intellectual compared to the others. I had a nice little chat with Tina Weymouth, the bassist. I thought it was pretty cool that a woman was the bass guitarist.
He was also a little shy, but it was fun.
[John Cale] was doing a totally different kind of music to the other bands: he was most similar to the Talking Heads, you could have a conversation with him. Some musicians just make music and that’s it, they’re not really much into conversation.
Richard Hell still lives in the neighbourhood here. He was the frontman and the singer, and the others were the musicians. This is often what you see with these groups: he was a very jovial guy, the other two were kind of going along with the photo, standing there sheepishly. Group dynamics are fascinating.
I saw these two girls and they looked totally out of place there. It was a totally funky place, with everything tattered and run-down. And here were these dressed-up, long-haired girls. I said to Marc, these are not musicians, but let’s just take a picture with them. And then later Nancy Spungen became Sid Vicious’s girlfriend, and you know what happened there. Sad story.
[The Dead Boys] were a lot of fun – they were totally un-dead. Many of the bands were from the suburbs, so organising the car and the instruments was a big thing. They were super-happy and excited to get it all together and then perform and get paid a few dollars.
[Captain Sensible of The Damned] was hilarious, very playful. Kind of the opposite of David Byrne, of Patti Smith. He was very physical and vivacious. We only saw them once, because they came from the UK so they were on a visit.
Frankly, when I look at the picture I can’t really remember that moment, some of them just went like that. Most of the time I didn’t really have a big exchange with the bands, it was just a picture and goodbye.
Previously on Dangerous Minds
Polaroids of Amsterdam’s Red Light District 1979-80 (NSFW)
Via Flashbak and 98 Bowery