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PUNK AVENUE: inside the new york city underground 1972 – 1982 by Phil Marcade

PUNK AVENUE is relatable for me in a way no other book about that era has been. Believe me, I have read my share of punk rock memoirs. I read PLEASE KILL ME and was left feeling cynical. I just finished Patti Smith’s M TRAIN and understood that I could never be artsy or cool enough. I’ve read these books as an outsider looking in. I’m was a West Coast girl looking over to the East. New York City kids were so scary but we wanted to be just like them. Their drugs were scary but we wanted to do them. PUNK AVENUE pulls aside that curtain and behind it there really is fun, and joy.

The book starts out with Philippe road-tripping across America, on his 18th birthday spending time in an Arizona jail, and moving to Boston. And as many a great punk rock life begins, in September of 1975, he moves into the Chelsea Hotel.

Philippe Marcade’s positive spirit shines throughout his story. I learned that amid the drugs and alcohol were kids, happy crazy, creative messes who stumbled upon creating the world they wanted to live in while accidentally changing music forever.

Phil compassionately writes about Nancy Spungen. “You need love, not heroin.” and when she takes off to England, he takes care of her junkie cat. “Nancy was a little like the punk Cinderella, the one who never got invited to the ball, but who ended up with the prince.”

This book shatters the myth of the jaded punk facade. Phil joins a friend visiting “Conny Old Man.”
Conny is a ninety-four year old man, born in 1879 with no family left. They listen to his stories while smoking pot with him. When Philippe relates the last time they see Connie, my heart broke a tiny bit. “Conny was afraid he was going to be taken into hospice soon, and he didn’t want to go. We lit up a joint to distract him and stayed a little later than usual that night. We laughed, we cried; we loved him so much. When we came back a few days later, he was gone.”

For those who were part of the scene and fans of The Senders, this book is a must. I was pulled into Phil’s world with funny stories of the Hell’s Angels at CBGB’s, famous punk couples (Sable and Thunders, Dee Dee and Connie), fights and near misses, run-ins with cops, and crazy girls. It’s all there.

Philippe Marchade seems to take nothing for granted in his life, and although he jumps at the chance to play with Johnny Thunders and Wayne Kramer in “Gang War,” Phil will not abandon The Senders. He is thrilled with the opportunity. “I was sitting there at the drums, banging away thinking, “Pinch me!”

The Senders eventually broke up. Bandmate Steve lost his hearing, and heroin was taking its toll. Phil’s marriage with Risé could no longer stay together. “Now there were only the stoned days and the days waiting to get stoned.” and at this point he gives the most accurate discription of heroin addiction I’ve ever read; “Heroin is a spider, and once it gets you in its web, it has all the time in the world. It can eat you right away or it can save you for later, but without exception and with no pity at all, it will eat you.”

It’s a beautiful and hopeful thing, Phil lived to tell this tale. He gave up heroin sooner rather than later, a survival instinct or maybe just his positive spirit lifted him up and out after a near O.D. After falling back one more time, at gunpoint the heroin is taken out of his hand and he is done.

I do not need to be part of the scene to feel a spirit of inclusion when I read PUNK AVENUE. That is what the best books are, the ones where we are welcome into the story.

1 Comment

  1. Kat Georges on May 25, 2017 at 5:53 pm

    Elle: What a beautifully written impression of PUNK AVENUE. Being originally from LA, I can totally relate to your feelings about the NYC scene. That is why I too love Phil’s book so much. His love of music shines through and this book has so much heart!

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