Photographer David Godlis Takes us Back to the 1970s Bowery

Posted on: June 22nd, 2016 at 5:15 am by
Bowery, 1977

Bowery, 1977

It’s mid 1970s gritty New York City and you’re perusing through the Village Voice when a large ad for a bar you’ve never heard of catches your eye. Night after night you find yourself heading down to this seedy part of town which has drawn you in with its sweaty air, loud punk music, and self-destructive shady characters. Having become a regular, you’re having another one of your many rounds that evening, when your mind clears for a brief moment long enough to realize the need to document this soon-to-be-famed bar when all the lights have dimmed and the freaks come out. Nights turn into mornings and you gather photos of what you see as just your evening routine, your 20-something wild days of partying and listening to people scream on stage while regulars lean up against the bar smoking cigarettes. Chaos-filled nights go by, but the story certainly doesn’t end here. It is the beginning of a fascinating one that involves the Lower East Side’s well-loved CBGB and iconic photographer David Godlis.

No Wave Punks, Bowery 1978. l. to r.: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradly Field, and Liz Seidman

No Wave Punks, Bowery 1978. l. to r.: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradly Field, and Liz Seidman

Last week, I met up with Godlis at a coffee shop on Sixth Avenue, and we spent hours talking about his days (and most importantly, nights) at CBGB. Documented in his soon to be released photography book entitled History is Made at Night (it sure is), we are able to get a glimpse into what the real, dirty, sweaty, nightlife was like at CBGB from 1976-1979. Although Godlis admits that it was just his routine, that he was just living his life the way we live ours, he does admit that himself (and others) realized that something special was happening around them. Having previous experience as a street photographer, he was in the perfect position to take it upon himself to start documenting the scene. Although CBGB was filled with now extremely well known and famous bands such as The Ramones, Television, Blondie, The Dead Boys, Patti Smith (I could go on.. and on…and on…) Godlis understood the importance of photographing the locals as well. It is because of this that many moments, which could easily have been forgotten, are preserved. After all, it’s not just the big names, but the CBGB regulars that made the scene what it was.

Television, CBGB, 1977

Television, CBGB, 1977

Merv Ferguson, CBGB bouncer, Bowery, 1977

Merv Ferguson, CBGB bouncer, Bowery, 1977

Richard Hell, Bowery rainstorm, 1977

Richard Hell, Bowery rainstorm, 1977

Godlis’ pictures capture CBGB’s truest form using light that was provided from the street. Taken only at night using his hand held Leica and TRI-X film, they give an accurate picture of what was really happening in the dimly lit surroundings. Taking a closer look at each image, it is impossible to turn the page without wondering what circumstances surrounded them. Who was Richard Hell waving to? What was Handsome Dick Manitoba doing standing outside groping his girlfriend? Why was Merv Ferguson on the street randomly holding two beers? The fascinating part of his pictures is that each tells a unique story. And if you’re anything like me, you want to know more.

Handsome Dick Manitoba and Jody, Bowery 1976

Handsome Dick Manitoba and Jody, Bowery 1976

One of the great things about Godlis is that he is more than willing to share those details. Remember how I mentioned Merv Ferguson holding the random beers? As it turns out, he used to run down the street and grab them for Roberta Bayley (who worked at CBGB) because she didn’t like the beer that they had at the bar. Richard Hell was hailing a cab on a rainy night, and Godlis took the picture of Dick Manitoba outside of CBGB after Dick called him to let him know that he had his wallet (at the time had no idea he had even lost it). Godlis has some of his own unique memories as well. Like the fact that he was at CBGB so often that his then girlfriend/future wife had to call him on their pay phone just to reach him. These pictures are filled with endless stories like these, and flipping through the pages looking at them you are either reminiscing about your wild days on the Bowery, or wishing you were there to experience it all. It’s a real treasure that Godlis has provided us with – a beautiful compilation of historic memories that has encompassed an era that even those of us who didn’t experience, cherish.

Roberta Bayley, front desk CBGB, 1977

Roberta Bayley, front desk CBGB, 1977

Godlis is still out on the streets taking pictures, and he reminds me that although the Bowery is dramatically altered and CBGB is no more, the sidewalks and streetlights are still there. It is a good reminder not to take for granted the metropolis that we live in, and to make sure we document our experiences to hopefully perserve the memory of the our city that is constantly changing.

Bowery view, summer, 1977

Bowery view, summer, 1977

The History is Made at Night book launch and signing is at Howl Happening Gallery (6 East 1st Street) tomorrow night, June 23 at 7pm – 9pm. Live slide show to follow a week later, on Thursday, June 30.

All images used courtesy of David Godlis.

Recent Stories

Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington Gets a Tribute on Ludlow Street

Late Linkin Park leadman is now memorialized on the Lower East Side. Barely one month after Chester Bennington committed suicide at 41, an unknown fan stuck his image onto the facade of 159 Ludlow Street (aka 101 Stanton). The distinctive photo is itself framed by a television set and stands apart from the collage of […]

’80s Concept Bar ‘GB85’ on Rivington Street is for Sale

The 1980s-themed bar GB85 on Rivington Street is not long for the neighborhood. As next of kin for Stay Classy New York, the small concept spot is now listed for sale. Tower Brokerage was retained to represent the seller. According to the real estate listing making the rounds, the 1,300 square-foot (plus basement) space is […]

‘Factory Tamal’ Reopens in New Ludlow Street Location

Factory Tamal is now up and running in its new Lower East Side location. The tiny dispensary relocated yesterday around the corner to 34 Ludlow Street. The move comes at an unusual time, as the business just debuted five months ago. We were told by ownership that the change in scenery is due to a […]

Inside Schiller’s Liquor Bar While it’s Emptied Out [PHOTOS]

The bright yellow neons of 131 Rivington Street are now indellibly dark. Schiller’s Liquor Bar, which ended service Sunday night after fourteen years on the block, has turned out the lights. So, for the foreseeable future, load-out is in full effect. Contractors are currently dismantling and removing the remaining booze, furnishings, and kitchen equipment from […]

Uneven Ground: Is there a CB3 Double Standard Regarding Chinatown Restaurants? [OP-ED]

The following opinion piece was written by Chinatown activist, and Community Board 3 member Karlin Chan. As a member of Community Board 3, but primarily as a Chinatown resident, activist, and advocate, I cannot keep silent any further. It is disturbing to see CB3 apply different sets of rules when it comes to the SLA subcommittee’s […]