Interview by John Wisniewski
The Mudd Club was a nightclub in the TriBeCa area of New York City, USA, that operated from 1978 to 1983 as a venue for underground music and counterculture events. It was located at 77 White Street in downtown Manhattan and was opened by Steve Mass, art curator Diego Cortez and downtown punk scene figure Anya Phillips.
John Wisniewski: Richard, how did the writing of the memoir, “The Mudd Club begin?” Please tell us the story.
Richard Boch: I never thought I’d write this story, always believing that a Mudd Club history would’ve been nearly impossible. There were so many twists and turns and the back-story was pretty long and drawn. I didn’t want to tell on anyone even though there was a lot to tell. Then in 2009 there was a gathering of about 100 or so Mudd denizens at a dive on East 14th Street. That night made me realize I really did have a story and it had been sitting on my shoulders for nearly 30 years. I realized too it had to be personal—both memoir and history—and specific to my two years working the Mudd Club door. The story was complicated and I was going to have to expose a lot of detail about myself. I decided ‘why not?’ It also helped that I had a friend, who lovingly got in my face, told me this was my story to tell and to start writing. That was March 2010. I was consumed by the project for the next seven years. Those Mudd Club years, late 1978 thru early 1983, still stick with me today. It was a golden time.
John Wisniewski: What famous faces could be seen at The Mudd club on any night?
Richard Boch: Well that depends on one’s idea of famous. I liked to think that anyone who made it past the door was inside for a reason. Everyone, no matter who you were, was famous at least for that night. In my mind it felt real—something way beyond Warhol’s “fifteen minutes famous” kind of fame. The great irony was that the bold face names who wanted to be part of what was going on at Mudd; famous faces who fit into nearly every category—art, music, film, fashion, photography, politics, money. The entire makeup of the crowd was very Noah’s Ark-ish. Bowie, Jagger, Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry and Fab 5 Freddy. Warhol, Rauschenberg and Serra. Mapplethorpe, Kate Simon, Steven Meisel and Nan Goldin. Jim Jarmusch and Kathy Bigelow. Burroughs and Ginsberg. Betsy Johnson and Stephen Sprouse. There were teenagers like the soon to be famous Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, the filmmaker Vincent Gallo and actress Debi Mazar. Caroline Kennedy and her cousins loved dancing at Mudd. Even the royals from Monaco and Congresswoman Bella Abzug took a spin on the Mudd Club dance floor. I could go on and I will if you ask me.
John Wisniewski: Celebrated artists and musicians often connected at the Mudd club where projects and ideas were certainly discussed. This created a special atmosphere. What was it like to be in midst of all this?
Richard Boch: I’m still amazed that I wound up in the middle of what we’ve come to see as an incredible period of creativity. I was in the right place at the right time but I will say looking back that I was also the right person for the job. I loved the social whirlwind aspect of working the Mudd Club door. Early mornings on the notorious second floor of the club, after an untold number of drinks and drugs, the energy was palpable, along with a sense of camaraderie, community and most importantly freedom. I chatted with Bryan Ferry and sat in a booth with Brian Eno. I watched as Klaus Nomi and performance artist Joey Arias were introduced to David Bowie resulting in their legendary participation in Bowie’s 1979 Saturday Night Live performance. Nan Goldin was taking pictures of people in the Mudd Club bathrooms. Anita Pallenberg and Marianne Faithfull were once again conspiring and commiserating a decade removed from their swinging London heyday. The film Downtown’81, written by Glenn O’Brien and produced by the stylist and photographer Maripol along with Michael Zilkha of ZE Records, was largely filmed at Mudd and cast from a deep pool of Mudd Club regulars. New York City was still very much a wild time experience and people were going out every night. Everyone was young or at least young at heart. The world as a whole was still essentially pre-AIDS, sex was careless and carefree, the drinking age was eighteen and the city was still a safe harbor for musicians and artists of all persuasions. The Mudd Club felt like home where anything and everything seemed possible.
John Wisniewski: Why and when did the Mudd Club close?
Richard Boch: Like every good thing it had to come to an end. The Mudd Club burned so bright and so hot it was a miracle that it sustained itself for nearly four and a half years. Located at 77 White Street, two blocks below Canal Street in a neighborhood that was officially becoming Tribeca, the club opened its doors on Halloween 1978 with a new band called the B-52’s headlining. The place didn’t let up. Never really a rock venue and staying true to the nature of a club, people who hung out there on a regular basis considered themselves a part of and 40 years later many of them still do. Sometimes it feels a bit like I’m a Mudd Club survivor who’s lived to tell and talk about that wild time when New York City was a different place. I mean it sounds crazy but I wrote a book about the place that runs four hundred-fifty plus pages—that’s a lot of history and a whole lot of story! The club continues to pop up in articles and interviews all the time and people even seem to drop the club’s name as if to establish some sort of cred if only by an awareness of something incredible that happened a long time ago. When you think about it, sometimes it feels like the Mudd Club never closed because here we are still talking about it today. I can smile thinking of all the incredible people I met on White Street, many of whom are my closest friends today. The place will always be part of me.