I was recently on a 10 hour stay in New York for business and, while I didn’t have time for sightseeing, I was still able to tick off one item from my “must see list” of rock landmarks (and it shows how much of a music nerd I am).
Now the corner of W 23rd street and 8th avenue looks like any other street corner in New York. But on October 26th 1974, a little known local band called KISS shot a series of photos with Creem Magazine photographer Bob Gruen. Intending to show the band’s transformation from “regular” people to the superhero personas they used on stage, the pictures show the band wearing suits with their stage makeup. Some pictures were also taken in the subway station, which probably explains why this corner was chosen: to the left side, right out of frame, there is a subway exit, making a convenient spot to go in an out.
Apparently, jaded New Yorkers barely batted an eye at the sight of four clowns in suits on a street corner. One particular shot would be used for the cover of their next album Dressed to Kill which was released on March 19th 1975. The album contained their future anthem, Rock N Roll All Nite, and while it didn’t bring them the fame they sought (the following album Alive! would do that), it stands to this day as one of their most solid albums. One funny tidbit about this photo shoot is that drummer Peter Criss was the only one who owned a suit, the other 3 had to borrow one from manager Bill Aucoin. If you look closely, you’ll see the suits don’t fit very well! (Take a look at Gene Simmons’s pant legs that clearly meant for someone much shorter).
On my way in and out of there, I almost missed another landmark building 500 feet from this street corner at 222 West 23rd Street. The famous Hotel Chelsea is undergoing extensive renovations, and isn’t the icon it used to be, but it still holds much history. The Hotel has hosted many long term tenants over the years, many of them among the rich and famous: Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams, Stanley Kubrick, Jimi Hendrix and so many more. (For a more exhaustive list, check out the Hotel’s Wikipedia page. This hotel is where Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road, where Sid Vicious’s girlfriend Nancy Spungen was found stabbed to death, where Dylan Thomas died of pneumonia. Madonna lived there in the early 80’s and returned to shoot photographs for her book Sex in room 822 (The Pretty Reckless also did a photo/video shoot in that room for their song Make Me Wanna Die). Arthur C. Clarke wrote the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey while staying there.
With all that history, I’ll have to keep it on the list and come back once it reopens.