Wednesday, October 26, 2016

"We didn't break up. We Were at The Pyramid."

In recognition of the Fleshtones' 40th anniversary in May of this year, I've been combing through the Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones, America's Garage Band and online archives for some little-seen nuggets. Digital artist, animator, and filmmaker Marjan Moghaddam recently uploaded her mini-documentary Drag Queens, Skinheads, Artists and Some Girls: the Pyramid Club of the 1980s. She notes:
Between 1983 and 1988, I shot bands, performance art, art, and other related events at the Pyramid club, in addition to showing my own early video art and computer animation there. I’ve held on to the original videos for decades now, and in 2011 I put together this short Video for a Pyramid event at Howl Festival, where it was originally screened. It was shown again at Howl gallery during the Pyramid show in 2015.
Readers of Sweat, and those friendly with the band in the mid-1980s, know how important The Pyramid was to the Fleshtones. In Sweat I wrote:
While Peter was decked out in shades, propped up in convertibles, and driven around sunny L.A., Keith and Marek were hanging out in the East Village at the Pyramid Club, a lively, memorable, and unique gay dive-bar on Avenue A that opened in 1981 and quickly became a second home to all of the band members, who found the eclectic, cross-dressing, pure-fun vibe of the joint intoxicating. Peter’s friend Gary Fakete had introduced them to the club, the happenings and clientele of which was in large part fueled by the same inspiration (and in some cases, by the same cast of characters) that drove the old Club 57. Ann Magnuson, Keith Haring, Wendy Wild, and others set the Pyramid’s nights alive with gallery openings, drag shows, and DJ-spun glimmer; at one point, Nico lived in a loft upstairs. As Time Out New York noted, “The supremely grimy hole-in-the-wall” was much more than “a trannie tavern—it was the creative heart of a then-thriving East Village scene.” The Fleshtones dug it, and were the first rock & roll band to play there. “We were basically the house band at The Pyramid,” says Peter.
. . .
The Pyramid Club did a good seven or eight years of being a unique club, “a mix of New York sensibility,” Keith remembers. “Artists, musicians, drag queens, bikers, the whole thing would just groove. It was exciting every night, and there was always something happening entertainment-wise, Lower East Side-entertainment, that made it just so much fun.” The narrow club had a small stage and sound system, and in the mid-80s Keith began booking shows on Thursday nights that he dubbed “Mod Teepee,” and many side-projects for the guys, Love Delegation, Wild Hyenas, Tall Lonesome Pines, and Mad Violets among them, would originate from the sleepless Pyramid scene.

At the end of one long evening in the spring of 1984, Keith, Marek, Butterick, and drinking buddies Michael “Kitty” Ullmann and local-legend drag queen Lady Bunny closed the bar and dragged a bag of six-packs over to the band shell at Tompkins Square. The drunken talk turned to the idleheaded idea of throwing a day-long drag festival in the shell, an open-air invite to all of the most fantastic queens, fags, and straight-cum-inner-freakflag-wavers in the neighborhood who wanted to groove to disco and sunshine. The friends laughed into early morning hours, and at some point Marek suggested that they call the event “Wigstock,” as a parody of Woodstock and as a sly insistence on a required fashion accessory.

Wigstock debuted on a crisp Labor Day in 1984. Lady Bunny kicked off the proceedings by belting “I Feel the Earth Move,” sashaying across the stage to the delight of the small but enthusiastic crowd; The Fleshtones played, and in subsequent Wigstock’s would team up with Wendy Wild as a waggish “Jefferson Hairplane.” A cast of regulars would catapult the event into a major local scene; both Ru Paul (“Supermodel: You Better Work”) and Dee-Lite (“Groove is in the Heart”) launched their careers from the amped frivolity of the Wigstock band shell. By 1990, the crowds were numbering in the tens of thousands. In 1991, the event was moved to Union Square, and ultimately to the West Side piers, where the crowds swelled to 50,000, before Lady Bunny finally put an end to the series that had grown beyond anyone’s wildest dreams on that beer-soaked, uranian night back in Tompkins Square.
By the time Nirvana played their first New York-area show at The Pyramid in the summer of 1989, The Fleshtones were dropping out of the scene. “The Pyramid became our home for much of the 80s,” Peter acknowledges. “A lot of people assume that the band broke up in the mid-80s. We didn’t break up. We were at The Pyramid.”
Gordon Spaeth speaks briefly in the first minute of the video, and Bill Milhizer, Keith Streng and Wild Wild appear, too. Drag Queens, Skinheads, Artists and Some Girls: the Pyramid Club of the 1980s is a time capsule of Reagan Era EV fun. Dig the scene, which Moghaddam and the boozy, happy-at-home regulars capture with aplomb:

More Super Rock 40th Anniversary posts here.

Screen grabs from Marjan Moghaddam's Drag Queens, Skinheads, Artists and Some Girls: the Pyramid Club of the 1980s.

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