A Place for Us

Twenty years later, punks, drunks, and wayward youth still call St. Marks home

After the show, I went to Coney with Brendan, a 29-year-old English bloke with Billy Idol spiky hair. Brendan's a bricklayer who moved here from England. He is always at Coney either buying people beers or asking them to buy him one. He wears this olive-colored blazer he designed himself--it has buckles on each arm, and bunches up in a buckle at the waist.

We slump over the bar with a couple of brews. "It's a little community down here, and it's fuckin' great," he says, swilling his beer. "When I came here and started hanging out on St. Marks Place, the people were so inviting. It really reminded me of the way things were back home in England. I saw the Damned on October 27, 1979. And this is exactly the way things were."

This guy is real punk rock in that don't-wanna-grow-up kind of way. He says he's been married three times with five kids, but can't give up the rock 'n' roll life.

"The first marriage failed because we were too young. I was 20. It was a lot of pressure for me. I had two children, bought a house, and about six months later England went into a bad recession," he says, dragging on a smoke. "The second marriage failed because of America. She hated New York. Our daughter was due to start school, and when my wife saw the schools had security guards and bars on the windows, she freaked. So she went back to England, and I decided to stay here.

"And the third one," he laughs, "the third one didn't like me rocking out. She couldn't accept me playing in bands."

It was 4 a.m. by the time we left. Brendan teased me because I was going to bed while he had to get ready for work.

Two weeks later, I went back to Coney. The girl I'd had the vibrator encounter with was sitting to my left. Some guy was giving her oral sex. After a while I felt guilty about watching, so I left the bar to give them privacy. Down the corner I saw the guys from L.E.S. Stitches, and we all went back to their bass player Damien's house.

Damien shares a one-bedroom across the street from Coney with another kid named Damien. L.E.S. Stitches's Damien occupies the living room/kitchen area, and the other Damien has the bedroom. When you walk in and turn right, you're facing Damien's bed. Over the bed is a Sid Vicious "Drugs Kill" poster. To the left are three shelves with a couple of pairs of creepers, a leather jacket, and a pair of combat boots. The walls are decorated with L.E.S. Stitches flyers, punk rock posters, and photos of the band.

"My whole life is on this block--my band, my job, and my apartment. It's a way of life on this fuckin' street, man. If I go to the next street it's a different world," Damien says.

James, the drummer/bartender, nods in agreement. Still, he says, sometimes things get to be too much. "It's been hard; I haven't had a place to live for six months."

One of the guitar players, Todd, is sitting on a chair next to the bed strumming an accoustic. "I moved down here with my band from New Hampshire, and for a while we were doing really good," he says. "But the same thing that happens to other bands happened to us...Somebody gets fucked up on drugs and alcohol. Which was me. And it pretty much destroyed the band. I'd drink like six nights a week, take Sundays off, and start it all over again. It goes in circles--you start a band, break up a band and get sober, start up another band, and you get fucked up again."

"A lot of this struggle is self-inflicted," says James. "Things get hard, and you start looking to alcohol and drugs. You blow all your cash, and then you're screwed."

Only one of these guys says he has his shit together. Mick, the singer. What he means is that on St Marks he's tapped into the punk rock fountain of youth. Sitting on the edge of Damien's bed, wearing a wife-beater, tight, faded jeans, and two-tone creepers he says, "I work three days a week. I have a beautiful girlfriend, who I would not have had if I stayed in a small town. I have enough money to pay my rent, and enough to go out whenever I want. I'm still living the life of a teenager, and I'm 27 years old."

What a downer. I had expected booze, broads, and raunchy sex. Instead I got introspection. I didn't need this shit--what I needed was a drink. So I left.

Back at Coney's I notice this woman with short and choppy Betty Page bangs drinking a beer. Her name is Sage. I tell her about the L.E.S. Stitches soul-searching I had just experienced.

"I don't think it's the scene that makes people destructive or nihilistic," she says, thoughtfully. "I think it's the people who make the scene. To be cool here I think you have to be tragic. It's like self-mutilation and self-abuse have become the main forms of expression." Sage is from California. She's a writer who was drawn to St. Marks for inspiration. She says this here is "the real deal." Besides, Sage didn't fit in anywhere else. "We didn't come here because we're punks, we came here because we're fucked up and want to find a place where we belong. I'm a queer, fag punk, and I'm a girl. And it's okay. I can fuck. I can get drunk. I can sing onstage. I can blow some girl in the bathroom, and it's all good. Nobody bats an eyelash.

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