Getting To Know The Irresistible
By: Ginger Coyote
I recently had the chance to ask the wonderful Phyllis Stein about being in NYC during the Max' s Kansas City and CBGB'S era.. Her friendships with Jerry Nolan, Johnny Thunders, Sable Starr, Vera Ramone, Sid and Nancy, Debbie Harry, Jimmy Destri and so many other legends in her very interesting life... Phyllis was a delight to interview and I am sure you will all love this interview..
Punk Globe: Thanks so much for the Interview Phyllis! Can you tell us about yourself?
Phyllis Stein: Let's see where do I begin. . . I was adopted as a baby and grew up in a New York City borough called The Bronx. It was a little rough there but I survived and left at 17 for college, never to return. I was always fascinated by Pop Culture and Rock 'N Roll in particular. By 12, I was a big fan of "Girl Groups", such as The Shangri Las, The Shirelles & The Ronettes, and also The Stones & Dylan. Then, by 15 I got into the Blues through a boyfriend of mine and we'd go to places like the Fillmore East to see great bands whenever they came to town. Eventually, I found myself hanging out in places like Max's & Nobody's in the late 1960's. It was there I met many people I still know to this day.
Punk Globe: Were you born in NYC?
P.S.: Yes, I was born in NYC and I was adopted when I was 3 months old.
P.S.: The first show I ever went to must have been circa 1964 when I went to see The Ronettes at a place called Freedomland in the Bronx. I was about 12 years old. It was a life changing moment for me.
Punk Globe: How old were you when you first began writing in your journal or diary?
P.S.: I don't recall exactly when I began but I've saved all my date books/filofaxes since 1976 to this day. I would write in gigs I went to in NYC and other notes about my life. They also served as my telephone books and it's interesting, for me at least, to see who I was friends with then.
Punk Globe: How did you meet Jerry Nolan?
P.S.: I met Jerry at Max's. Jerry had already been in The New York Dolls and had just formed The Heartbreakers with Johnny. Although I would go see The Dolls at places like Max's and The Mercer Arts Center, we really didn't meet until after. I had already known the others in the band but ironically he was the last Doll I came to know.
Punk Globe: How long did you date?
P.S.: In the 1970's it was off and on, beginning in late 1976, due to his drug issues. By 1980, I left the NYC scene for a few years to get myself together and really stayed away from what was becoming a less exciting scene for me. Most of the top bands had actually gotten signed and were off always touring. And what was left of the scene, influenced by the drugs, was desperate and eventually boring to me. By 1982, I had married, and had my daughter Courtney. In the mid-later 1980's, Jerry & I had reconnected and remained together until he died in 1992.
Punk Globe: I understand that you went to London with Jerry. Did you live there?
P.S.: The Heartbreakers had gone to do the Anarchy Tour in December 1976. They came home that Christmas and Jerry asked me to go back with him to London. The band had a nice flat in Pimlico, so I went and that would have been February and March 1977. The band was busy recording L.A.M.F. and playing gigs around town. It was a great time to be in London once again.
Punk Globe: Tell us about some of your friends from London?
P.S.: My first trip to London was the summer of 1973. I lived there with NYC friends for a few months, including Sal Maida who was in Roxy Music at the time. That was great fun! Loved Biba's. My next trip was with The Heartbreakers in 1977. I've been there about a dozen times in all. Although I didn't make a lot of friends there, the ones I made became life long friends such as Patti Palladin whom I met through Jerry.
Punk Globe: Is it true you were close with Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen?
P.S.: I was friends with Nancy. Everyone hated her but nonetheless managed to use her for her money and her drugs. She was a smart girl but had many emotional issues. Low self esteem being a big one. So she took a lot of drugs, but she also gave a lot of drugs to guys in bands who would still dislike and bad mouth her. She was just a very young girl looking for love. I was glad when she returned home from London with Sid. She finally got what she wanted. . . she brought him over to visit very soon upon their return, to show off her "trophy". He always seemed very passive. She was definitely the boss and he listened to her intently. While he was on her turf, I guess he thought let her deal with everything. Quite frankly, I think she would be very happy with all the fame she garnered in her 20 short years. I feel she's looking down and smiling.
Punk Globe: Tell us about your friendship with them?
P.S.: My friendship with her went back to 1975. In the beginning, I tried to help her but after awhile I realized it was more than I could handle. Psych 101 in college didn't prepare me for her! However, I only met Sid through her. When they returned to NYC, I would see them every once in awhile. They had really become very toxic at that point. They seemed out of control with their drug issues and I had my own to deal with. However, I was shocked and saddened by her death. To this day, I will never be convinced that Sid killed her.
Punk Globe: Any thoughts on Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb's portrayals of them in Alex Cox's movie "Sid and Nancy"?
P.S.: My only thoughts about the movie, as I recall having only seen it once long ago, was that it was nonsense. I remember thinking "Who the hell was consulted on this film?" No one I knew, and I thought that was strange.
Punk Globe: Do you think Courtney Love could have played Nancy?
P.S.: YES! I don't even think she would have had to do much "acting".
Punk Globe: I know that you are close with Vera Ramone . Tell us about your friendship?
P.S.: Vera and I haven't really known each other for a long time but we both feel very close to each other. Although I live in NYC, I also live in Florida in the winters not far from Vera which is very nice. We got together this last weekend. She's a doll and I think we really relate to each other, having gone through so many similar things in our lives.
Punk Globe: You were also very good pals with Debbie Harry. How did that friendship begin?
P.S.: I first met Debbie when I was dating Jimmy Destri, who I met through his sister Donna, at the beginning of Blondie. We were casual acquaintances from the scene, having many good friends in common. Seeing Blondie again just last summer, when they played The Nokia in NYC, was really great. Fun to see the band again after so many years. Many old friends were there too.
Punk Globe: Have you ever been in a band yourself?
P.S.: No, thank goodness! Although I am musical in terms of reading, writing music and playing piano for years, I never wanted to be in a band. Seeing other bands close up and personal gave me insight into the goings on involved. To me, it was like being married to 3 or 4 other people. I guess I've seen too much band in-fighting on many occassions, to say nothing about the competition between bands.
Punk Globe: Did you go to Max's Kansas City alot?
P.S.: Yes! I started going to Max's when I was underage in the late 1960's. Then, starting 1975 I was always there as I lived close by and I thought it was the best club in town for seeing friends and great music, thanks to Peter Crowley. There was a short time when I even worked there. It was like home to me for many years.
Punk Globe: Did you ever meet Andy Warhol and the Factory people?
P.S.: No, but I'd always see Andy in the neighborhood walking around because I lived nearby and at Max's.
Punk Globe: Tell us about some of your favorite bands of that era?
P.S.: My favorite NYC bands from that time were The Heartbreakers, Blondie, Mink Deville, The Senders, The Ramones and The Patti Smith Group.
Punk Globe: On Facebook you post all these wonderful photo's from the early New York punk scene. Tell us did you know exactly what was going on behind the photo with most all the photo's?
P.S.: With many photos yes, some not at all. My photos on FB are ones where either I know the person/band in the photo or know the photographer. I have quite a few photos I also took from back in the day which I've posted.
Punk Globe: So you also do photography?
P.S.: I took photos of my friends and their bands. At the time, shooting film and processing it was very expensive. Especially shooting live music, where you had to take a lot of shots to get some really good ones. I was taking photography courses at the School of Visual Arts so I was able to print my own black and white photos but it was always just a hobby for me.
Punk Globe: Another close pal was the late Sable Starr. Tell us about your friendship with Sable?
P.S.: I first met Sabel early on in 1977, when I returned from London. By that time, she was older and over her groupie trip. She moved into my place and we had a really great summer. We became close friends fast. She was always so upbeat and funny. You never knew what would happen next with her. She was quite a trip. We remained friends through the years, seeing each other often, until she died in April 2009.
Punk Globe: Were you close with Johnny Thunders as well?
P.S.: Yes, mostly because of his relationship with Jerry and my bestfriend Abbijane. I first remember seeing Johnny when I used to go to the Fillmore East in the late 1960's. He always stood out in a crowd. A few years later, I met him at Max's or Nobody's, can't recall which. He was a very special person, shy and sensitive and smart as hell. As a musician, he was a very prolific song writer. He always carried around this marble composition school notebook and would constantly be writing new tunes down. He had his own sense of style and although some may think he copied Keith Richards, I would say, of course, as many musicians he was influenced to some degree by Keith. But Johnny had his own look down pat and was into his pirate thing decades before Keith. Johnny was often imitated, never equaled.
Punk Globe: Were you involved with other prominent musicians?
P.S.: No, after Jerry died it took me a long time to come to myself. Eventually, I had another relationship with Philippe Marcade of The Senders which lasted years.
Punk Globe: Have you thought about releasing a book yourself?
P.S.: As I was being told I should write a book, I gave this idea quite a lot of thought. I spoke with many friends who did write and have their books published. My conclusion is I'm not interested in writing a book. Many have had bad experiences with lawsuits and unscrupulous publishers going bankrupt. Who needs it? I would consider perhaps doing a photography book at some point.
Punk Globe: I know that you enjoyed Vera's Book. Are there any others that you liked?
P.S.: I really think Nina Antonia did a good job on her book about Johnny "In Cold Blood" and her book on "The New York Dolls". Also enjoyed reading Gary Lachman's book "New York Rocker" and the "Blondie" book by Lester Bangs. Of course, "Please Kill Me" was interesting for me to read everyone's stories about the New York scene by those who were in it. I love photo books like Bob Gruen's "Dolls" book and his "Rockers" book. Also Stephanie Chernikowski's book "Dream Baby Dream" and "Bande A Part" which has photos by all the greats: Bobby Grossman, Roberta Bayley, Marcia Resnick, Leee Black Childers and David Godlis, amongst others.
Punk Globe: Do you have any web addresses you would like to give readers?
P.S.: No, I don't have a website.
Punk Globe: Thanks so much for the interview Phyllis any last sage words for Punk Globe readers?
P.S.: Live it up . . . life is not a dress rehearsal!!