The Dangerous Glamour of The Mudd Club
From Bowie to Zappa, Kinderhook resident Richard Boch recalls memories of the madcap downtown scene.
Richard Boch’s life was never the same after he began working the door at the Mudd Club in 1978. The Tribeca club — frequented by Mick Jagger, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Frank Zappa and Andy Warhol — introduced him to a world of seductive possibilities and the potential for self destruction. Decades later, vivid memories of that downtown scene inspired Boch to write his memoir, The Mudd Club.
“I was lucky,” said Boch, during an interview at his local hangout, Hudson’s Rivertown Lodge. “I walked into the job and made it mine. It changed my life and now almost 40 years later, here we are talking about a job I had for a little less than two years.”
Writing the book — and gathering dozens of photographs — took seven years, more than three times the amount of time Boch worked at the club. Little documentation existed, so Boch drew on his memories and conducted interviews to nail down the book’s minutiae.
“I kept journals, not extensive, but enough so that I knew my routines. I also interviewed nearly 200 people for the book, so it sort of became this collective memory.”
As the club’s “gatekeeper” Boch decided who got in the door and he often got to party with some of his personal idols.
“Andy Warhol was sort of ubiquitous at the time. He would always be out. He would come to the Mudd Club semi-regularly and it was always great to see him, a sweet, soft-spoken kind of guy. Funny in a very, very, very understated way. A cab would pull up and Mick Jagger and Iggy Pop would roll out on a bender. That was great fun. Or John Lydon — Johnny Rotten — would show up at 3:30 in the morning in a suit and tie. There was the wonderful and kind of scary Anita Pallenberg, who I absolutely loved. Getting to know her was really exciting.”
The Mudd Club was possible, said Boch, because it existed in another New York City, a city all the more attractive for its rough edges; a place where affordable real estate made it possible for young artists to live in and pursue their dreams.
“The city itself was still rough and tumble. The Lower East Side was a war zone, Hells Kitchen in midtown on the west side, was a war zone, but that gave New York City some a rough-edged beauty. Now all those edges are all polished.”
When Boch ruled the ropes at 77 White Street, there was no formula for getting in; just his gut feeling as to who would fit.
“Basically it was a vibe. It's a small space. Who do I want to be in there with the rest of us?”
To gain entry customers might slip Boch some cocaine inside a roll of cash and inside there were more drugs to sample.
“Someone said if all the coke snorted at the Mudd Club was laid end to end it would circle the globe three times. I think that’s true.”
When Boch wrote his tell-all he was careful only to tell on those whose exploits were already legendary.
“Some people are notorious for their drug use. It’s well documented, so I did go there with all those people. Iggy Pop’s known to be a wild man sexually, so you can say that’s what he engaged in while partying. It’s not going to surprise anyone. Members of the Jefferson Airplane came to the club. They were known for decades for their drug consumption, whether it be psychedelics, cocaine, or alcohol.”
Getting high became a dangerous habit for Boch and eventually prompted him to quit the scene.
“I thought the Mudd Club was actually going to kill me. The kind of misadventure one has with drugs or sex or alcohol and street life can get the better of you or do you in. By the end of my run, partying was beyond a party for me.’”
While working nights at the club, Boch continued to paint, inspired by abstract artists such as Robert Motherwell, graphic artists such as Warhol, and Ed Ruscha, who was putting words on paintings.
“I originally started painting in a very abstract, non-objective way. Then I started adding words and writing around the edges and across the middle of paintings.”
Boch, who now divides his time between city events, such as fashion shows and gallery openings, and a quiet life in Kinderhook, still creates what he calls “page paintings” and is currently discussing a 2019 show of his work in Hudson. Recent paintings include words from his book.
He also stages club nights once a month at the Soho Grand Hotel club room, featuring well known DJs such as former Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz. As well as archiving his Mudd Club book resources, Boch is also planning a new book about “sexual misadventures in clubland.” It will focus on the 60s and 70s.
“I want it to be a fun trashy read.”
He wraps up a year of promoting the Mudd Club book with a talk and slide show at 3 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Kingston Artist Collective and Cafe, at 63 Broadway.
“It's almost a year to the day since I did the first reading, which was upstate, and now I’m coming home and doing another reading upstate. I love doing it at the Kingston Artist Collective and Cafe. The door proceeds go to the collective with no fee coming my way. I’m doing it because I like these guys.”
Boch also hopes his Mudd Club book will become a TV series, documenting the time.
“It’s our history, it happened in our lifetime. Someday it will be ancient history.”