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Author Richard Boch Breaks Down the Druggy History of NYC’s Legendary Mudd Club
culture  |  Sep 18, 2017

Author Richard Boch Breaks Down the Druggy History of NYC’s Legendary Mudd Club

Had there been no drugs, there’d have been no visionary New York vanguard of the 1970s and ’80s, and, therefore, no Mudd Club.

Had there been no drugs, there’d have been no visionary New York vanguard of the 1970s and ’80s, and, therefore, no Mudd Club.

All photos courtesy of Richard Boch, Feral House

New York City, 1978. What a scene. While the disco decadence of Studio 54 cascaded with cocaine-inflamed A-listers in midtown and CBGB belched forth punk rock among the drunks and junkies of the Bowery, the Mudd Club thrived as a sort of cultural coming together of all points along that arty-party nightlife spectrum.

Richard Boch was there. Boch started manning the door at the Mudd Club in March 1979, four months after it opened in the mostly vacant (at least back then) Tribeca district.

Over the next four years, Boch oversaw the Mudd Club's rise and reign as the premiere gathering place of cutting-edge musicians, filmmakers, performers and artists of every stripe; celebrities in search of underworld adventure, including revolutionary outlaw culture titans on the order of David Bowie, Grace Jones, Debbie Harry, the Ramones, John Waters, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and countless other pop-puncturing pioneers.

And, ah yes, the drugs. Had there been no drugs, there'd have been no visionary New York vanguard of the 1970s and '80s, and, therefore, no Mudd Club.

The Mudd Club (out now through Feral House) is Richard Boch's just-published memoir all about his time at the title locale, where he presided as ringmaster of the nightly rollercoaster ride. The book is a thing of wonder — funny, ferocious, masterfully written and assembled.

MERRY JANE asked Boch to elaborate a bit more specifically on the intoxicant element of the Mudd Club. We threw the name of various drugs at him and he came back with insights and anecdotes. Open your head now and dive in.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

Richard Boch photographed in the Mudd Basement by Lynette Bean (1980), photo courtesy of Richard Boch


Richard Boch: There's a fuzzy photo of a Rorer 714 in the book — fuzzy being wholly appropriate. The offer of a Quaalude in a Mudd Club bathroom or on the dance floor was the perfect pick-up line. If you could get away with offering half, you knew you had a cheap date on your hands. If you bought a three-dollar bootleg from the semi-notorious Linda "Ludes" and instantly passed out, you probably should have stuck to that cheap-date half-lude dose.

Vincent Gallo Polaroid by Rhonda Paster Corte, courtesy of Richard Boch


Richard Boch: I started smoking pot — grass, maryjane, reefer, weed — with my friends Diane and Pat when we were just kids. I stashed it in my sock and they thought that was hysterical. Today, no one really thinks of Mudd as a mecca for cannabis, though nearly everyone smoked pot. I'd stash joints in my Marlboro Box along with a Quaalude or two. The stash 'box' made more sense.

At the Mudd Club, Rastaman Dirty Harry and Manny L'Amour gave me monster spliffs in exchange for my kindness at the door. I'd head up to the second floor and fire one up with my friend Alice who liked to laugh a really big loud laugh (we'll get to more of Alice in the amyl nitrate section). My childhood friends Diane and Pat had never seen the likes of those monster spliffs during our early sock-stash years.

Teri Toye Ronnie Cutrone (1980), photo by Bobby Grossman, courtesy of Richard Boch


Richard Boch: It's got a mother-of-pearl shine: flaky, beautiful, and a little scary. We have beer and pot to take the edge off and I have a few crumbling Quaaludes in a pocket somewhere. Six bottles of Dos Equis and a couple of grams disappear fast. The conversation goes from dreamy babble to a near-silent drift. I take the blade, set up two more monster lines, and lean into the mirror. Hours pass without a word. Brian Eno's "Taking Tiger Mountain" spins by in the background.

A friend of mine recently commented about The Mudd Club, saying, "I did some back-of-the-napkin computations and found that if all the cocaine consumed in this book was cut into a single line, it would encircle the planet three and a half times."

I guess we did a lot of coke.

Basquiat on the Mudd Dance Floor (1980), photo by Nick Taylor, courtesy of Richard Boch 


Richard Boch: On the street it was [heroin with nicknames like] Dr. Nova, Red Star, Black Mark, and .357 Magnum. If not, there was always what high-end dealers Joey and Ligia, Patrick and Melanie or Linda were offering — usually a smaller dose for a steeper price.

During those Mudd Club days, I liked to drink and I liked fooling around with a line or two of heroin. I thought that was pretty normal, and for the many of us hanging out or staying out till 6 AM, it was. The sun was coming up, it was breakfast time; we added a dash of cocaine and made speedballs with the leftovers.

By the time New York Magazine mentioned a "heroin craze" at the Mudd Club, they were late to the party. No regrets — but I was there on time.

Nico photographed in 1979 by Ebet Roberts, photo courtesy of Richard Boch


Richard Boch: Barrels and blotters, tabs, tiny dots and windowpanes — LSD was one of my first true loves.

My first acid trip was a Purple Haze microdot handed to me by my friend Steve in the locker room at the Flushing Y. I took it the next morning before school and laughed my way through homeroom and the next six periods. My last acid trip was a '79 vintage Orange Barrel remake. I split two tabs three ways at the Mudd Club. In between, I did a lot of traveling.

John Lurie photographed at the Mudd Club by Lisa Genet in 1980, courtesy of Richard Boch


Richard Boch: I played around with the dust of an angel and felt like I wanted to die — or maybe I just wanted to float away.

The Mudd Club second floor was quiet, with hardly anyone around. Once, the bartender was missing, so I fished a tepid beer from the watery tub and looked around. James was in a booth with Adele, DJ Johnny, and Ross' boyfriend, Ron. When Ron got up, he looked in the mirror on the wall behind the bar; James offered, "If you like it, we'll get it for you."

Minutes later, with one smooth move, the mirror was gone. The gang disappeared in a flash of penny-ante criminal mischief and made a run for Ross and Ron's place on the sixth floor [of the Mudd Club building]. Ten minutes pass, and the only thing James remembers before "floating down the river on a raft like Huckleberry Finn" was passing around a suspicious joint. High on crime, angel-dusted, and nowhere else to go, they were Trouble looking for Fun on a cold winter night.

I saw nothing, heard nothing and said nothing about the mirror. I pulled another beer from the tub and went downstairs. I stepped outside and took a slow walk home.

Judy Nylon photographed by Lisa Genet in 1979, courtesy of Richard Boch


Richard Boch: White crosses and beer; the crash and burn and the Wild Horses. We're up front at Patti Smith 1975 somewhere on Long Island. Not sure what's spinning faster — the room, the band, or me. Four years later, someone offers a handful of those little white pills in the Mudd Club bathroom; I chomp on a few and wash them down with a beer — a Budweiser from the beer bottle bathtub cooler behind the Mudd's second floor bar. A Quaalude puts the nighttime morning back in shape.

No more speed.

Richard Boch and Pete Farndon photographed by Lynette Bean in 1980, courtesy of Richard Boch


Richard Boch: Sex — lost in the moment — dance floor delirium and a heart ready to jump out of your chest; I've been there for all three. I've also been there for Amyl at 4AM on the Mudd Club's second floor.

We just finished a spliff when my friend Alice stops laughing and opens her big black bag. She reaches inside, digs around and introduces the second floor to the world of pharmaceutical amyl nitrate. Not your standard disco/sex club variety, these poppers snap with a heart-pounding, room-spinning burst of high school acid-trip laughter. It's a de-evolutionary moment, and it's difficult to say if we've reached a new high or low. I walk over guest to DJ Richard "Ricky" Sohl and ask him to play "Baby Don't Go." He tells me to calm down.

Ten minutes later, Alice is in a corner trying to focus and breathe. Everyone else is sitting down, trying to stand or heading for the door. I grab one of the yellow boxes of amyl and split.

Klaus Nomi and others outside the Mudd Club in 1979, photographed by Alan Kelinberg, courtesy of Richard Boch


Richard Boch: Smoking a bowl of opiated hash, I was lost in the club basement with a couple of stoned out kids from New Jersey. Fifteen minutes later I'm drifting around the second floor. The night had turned morning but the Mudd Club was still busy offering up everything from close encounters to close calls — sex and drugs being part of both.

Artists and writers, musicians and dope dealers had their own kind of appeal — often related to bad reputation as much as good personality. Young, attractive, and fuckable was an obvious plus — stoned and kinky was even better.

I was always attracted to badasses and trouble-makers, thinking they'd give me an identity or at least a bit of cred. When I sold some blond hash in high school, I thought that would do the same. Instead, people only cared about the hash and wondered if I could get more. Now when anyone wonders who's the badass, they usually mean the person next to me.

"The Mudd Club" by Richard Boch is out now on Feral House Publishing — order your copy here

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Mike McPadden is the author of "Heavy Metal Movies" and the upcoming "Last American Virgins." He writes about movies, music, and crime in Chicago. Twitter @mcbeardo