Author of Punk Avenue: Inside the New York City Underground, 1972-1982
By Lynx O'Leary on April 22nd, 2017 at New York City
There’s a chance you may have never heard of Philippe Marcade but he was present for and an active participant in the stuff of legend. The Ramones played their first ever gig at a “Welcome to NYC” party for him and a friend. He helped Debbie Harry translate Blondie lyrics into French (his native tongue), witnessed Johnny Thunders and Richard Hell’s band breaking showdown and convinced Nancy Spungen that she’d have a better shot at finding a boyfriend in England (he was right, she met a fellow named Sid Vicious…).
Phil also had musical success of his own with The Senders. Putting out 5 records and performing over 2000 gigs, the band would ultimately be named “Best Bar Band” in 2001 by the New York Press. Philippe’s uncanny ability of being in the right place at the right time makes him the perfect source for a killer memoir. Punk Avenue: Inside the New York City Underground, 1972-1982 is now available and a must-read for all Punk Rock fans and those looking to be entertained while getting a personal look at the birth of the NYC punk movement.
We caught up with Philippe who is in New York City to promote (and celebrate!) the books release.
Photo by Kat Georges.
For living in an era where most people memories can be somewhat foggy yours is quite sharp. When did you decide to put it all down on paper and what was your writing process like?
I’d been thinking about writing a book for awhile but I didn’t know if I’d have enough funny stories to fill a whole book. The first thing I did was to take a little notebook with me everywhere I went. Whenever a funny old anecdote would come to mind, I’d take down a few notes, not to forget it again. Pretty soon, my note-book was full of little titles like “Nancy’s junky cat”, “I thew up in some girl’s mouth” or “I set some guy’s attache case on fire” etc.. Now all I had to do was to sit down and write it all. I just didn’t know when.. That time came in the winter of 2006 when I broke my front tooth! Two teeth that were also goners had to be removed around the broken one, so I was now missing three teeth right in front. I went to the NYU Dental Clinic where they manufactured a “frontal-bridge” for me. That was suppose to take two months but it took five. I didn’t want to see anyone because I was just too embarrassed to be seen like that, so I stayed home. I had to do “something” not to go insane, though, so I started writing. I had no girlfriend, not even a cat or a gold fish, so I had no distraction at all. I could really concentrate on what I was doing. Five months later, when I finally got my teeth, I had a book finished.
The book ends in 1982 but you continued to rock on, playing in The Backbones and reforming The Senders in ’89. Why did you choose to end the memoir where you did?
Where it began and where it ended was very important to me, and really made sense. After laughter comes tears. The “social change” was done by ’82, the original Punk revolution was over, and my own story took a turn then too: I quit heroin. I arrived in The States in ’72, so 1972-1982 was the decade I wanted to talk about.
You really did a fantastic job of capturing Manhattan and the Lower East Side’s atmosphere which is quite different from what it’s like today. What do you miss most (other then the music scene) about New York in those days?
The freedom. Also, the way that “blooming” scene was very, very small. We’re talking about 200 people at the most, maybe. Everybody knew each other. It was intimate and it was fresh and spontaneous. After that, they called it Punk Rock.. but, apart from the music scene, I guess I mostly miss the rent prices, and non-pretentious attitude.
One thing that really stood out to me while reading Punk Avenue is your love and respect for women. While many other rockers feel the need to relive their sexual escapades, or make detailed comments on the physical attributes of the females around them you leave that out, focusing instead on the type of women they were, and what their friendship meant to you. Was that a conscious decision?
No. But I’m real glad you’re saying that. I hate misogynist assholes and all that macho-rock crap. That’s just not me at all.
Are you surprised that the New York CBGB/Max’s Kansas City scene has had such an enduring legacy? When did you realize you were living in a crucial part of Rock n Roll History?
I didn’t! I thought it only seemed fantastic because I had just arrived from France. I thought it was only new to me. It was only after it was all over that I realised I had landed in New York at such a crucial time. It was more like the other way around, actually: I thought I had missed the great sixties and all that was left was a few little local bands and a couple of little clubs no-one would ever care about, including one (Max’s) that had been Andy Warhol’s scene before but was now completely “passé”. Boy, was I wrong!! But, in retrospect, that’s what made it so great. No one thought that anything important was happening, which made it all the more original and spontaneous. And real. It was just a bunch of cool kids being themselves, nothing was “calculated” for success, or historical longevity. Then the record companies saw dollar signs and they came in the picture and fucked everything up.
Everyone has that fork in the road, where their life could have gone one way or the other. If you hadn’t decided to move to NYC what path do you think your life would have taken?
Who knows.. If I hadn’t met Bruce that night in Amsterdam in ’72, I probably would have never come to the States. I would probably have become a graphic artist in Paris and lived a comfortable, quiet life. It’s all his fault!! haha!!
You now live in Italy. What made you decide to relocate there? Do you still play?
My book came out in Italy in 2011. I went there to do a promo tour. I met Eva, who is from Bologna and who had translated my book in Italian, and I fell in love with her. She came to see me in NYC, and when she asked me if I would like to come live with her in Bologna, I didn’t hesitate for a second. I packed my bags and gave my keys back to my landlord in Astoria, Queens, where I had been living for many years. I always liked round numbers anyway.. and arriving in the States in 1972 then leaving in 2012 made it an even 40 years! It sounds better than to say “I lived in the US for forty-one years, or forty-two..
I still play Rock & Roll all the time, almost daily, but in my kitchen, with an acoustic guitar. I can’t help it. I can’t stop. It’s an addiction. But, you know, I’ve had worse ones..!
If you were given the opportunity to travel back in time and for one last show at Max’s, what would your dream line up be?
The Cramps, with Brian Gregory, and The Senders, opening up for The Heartbreakers, with Richard Hell.
Punk Avenue came out May 2nd and you’re in NYC to celebrate. For those in or near the city who want to join the fun where can they find you?
Well, there was a real great book launch party at Le Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street. But that was a few days ago, so they missed that one. The fantastic Daddy Long Legs played, as well as The Waldos, The Rousers, Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith group), Andy Shernoff (Dictators), Barry Ryan (Rockats, Robert Gordon..) Lynne Von (Carvels, Trick Babys, Da Wiilys,..) and many others. it was a total blast! Legs McNeil (Please Kill Me) introduced my book. I was on cloud nine! I’ll be singing at the Joey Ramone Birthday bash on the 19th and there is going to be another book signing event at Quimby’s Bookstore on Metropolitan Avenue in Brooklyn the 25th. Last but not least, I’ll sing at the Max’s Kansas City record release celebration at the Bowery Electric on May 27. That’s where you’ll find me.