Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

In this ongoing feature, East Village-based photographer James Maher provides us with a quick snapshot of someone who lives and/or works in the East Village.

By James Maher
Name: Delphine Blue
Occupation: Radio Host, DJ, Pilates Instructor
Location: St. Mark's Place between 1st Avenue and 2nd Avenue
Date: Thursday, Feb. 2 at 1:45 pm

I’m from Queens — Fresh Meadows. My dad had a store on Avenue C and 5th Street in the 1960s called Sol’s Hardware. I would go there sometimes when I was very young. I remember we walked out of the store one day and there was a guy wearing a fez and I was like, ‘Dad, what’s that,’ and he was like, ‘That’s a beatnik.’

He had that store for awhile but that was when the Lower East Side was dangerous. People were getting shot and killed and my mom told him, ‘You have to sell that store or I’m going to be a widow.’ Around that time there were some homeless guys who were going into various hardware stores on the Lower East Side and buying wood alcohol. It was cheaper than going to a liquor store and some of them died. They were alcoholics and drinking this stuff and dying in the street.

So the FBI started to investigate it and they asked one of the homeless people where they bought it and they pointed to my father’s store. At the time my grandfather was minding the store and they arrested him on the spot and charged him with murder and he was on the 6 o'clock news. He wasn’t charged with murder ultimately, but they kept this investigation on for years and years. When I was a little kid they used to come to my house, handcuff my father, and take him away to question him.

They left my father’s business unattended on the Lower East Side when they arrested my grandfather and we had the lawsuit against the city that they kept pushing back to try to get us to drop it, and we didn’t. And then we finally won and we had a huge award — and then the city reduced it to like $900.

I started coming to the East Village around the late 1970s. My best friend and I moved into a studio apartment at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. It was tiny and it was totally fine — we were as happy as could be. We started going to all the clubs then, down to the Mudd Club, Club 57, Max’s Kansas City to see Blondie and CBGBs to see Patti Smith.

The club scene was so creative and a melding of all these different things and all these different kinds of music. It was everything together. It seemed like everybody was doing something related to the arts or fashion or being in a band. You could get by and you could live. You could live creatively and everybody you knew was doing that.

The best thing about the East Village then was that there were gazillions of shops down here. There were loads of vintage stores where you could get great clothes. Many of the shops didn’t open till 5 or 6 in the afternoon and stayed open till midnight. Nighttime was when all the cool shops would open, so you would go hang out in the shops and record stores and then go to a club. I would describe it like a festival. That’s what it felt like. Didn’t get going till noon. The streets were deserted till noon. You could eat any kind of food, really good food for really cheap and buy anything you wanted anytime of the day or night, and be surrounded by creative people.

I was aspiring to be a ballet dancer. That was my dream. I went to ballet classes every day. Then a little bit of rock n’ roll life collided with that. They didn’t mix very well and rock n’ roll won. And you kind of have to be touched by the gods to be a ballet dancer, and I wasn’t going to get where I wanted to go, but I could have still had a dance career.

I started DJing at the Sheraton Hotel on 53rd Street and 7th Avenue. They had a dinner club and they only hired girls. We were supposed to be playing disco music and they were teaching me how to mix. It’s not that I had a prejudice toward the music, I liked it, I liked to go out dancing, but I tried to play some rock songs and I got fired.

Next week Delphine talks about her DJ career that took her from WLIR to WBAI to Little Water Radio.

James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.


Anonymous said...

It must be impossible for people that did not live here during those days to imagine how much the EV was a haven for artists of all kinds, immigrants, small business owners and anyone else with a dream. Of course it was not all unicorns and rainbows but there was still no place like it.

Anonymous said...

Yes the Good old days when Junkies were dying on the streets and the gangs with colors roamed the streets. Bring them back!!!

Gojira said...

Anon. 8:44, I'm with you; it was indeed one-of-a-kind, and I would not trade having lived in it for anything, just wish it/I had had more time in that ratty, decrepit, magical nabe. The fact that Anon. 8:58 can't - or refuses to - see that the EV, like all of NYC in those days, was a mix of both the bad and the good, with a hefty dose of interesting and unique thrown in, bespeaks a paucity of imagination and an unwillingness to acknowledge that there was anything even remotely positive about it - his/her loss.

Thanks, Delphine, you are a great interview.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the haters: do I want it allllll the way back? Nope. If Guiliani had stopped midway, the city would be as clean and safe as needed without ruining the character. He just kept going: closing bars; shutting down clubs. Bloomberg passed laws that favored the rich and huge multinational corps over small businesses and over people. Anyone who loves that really should have moved to Boston or Chicago.

Anonymous said...

I moved to NYC in 1989 and was many times afraid to walk through the neighborhood I have lived in for the past 15 years. Millenials take pictures of the graffiti on the side of my building as if they are in a East Village Museum. Let's face it, besides the countless tourists; the people moving to NY have changed. Their community is Facebook and if they have a selfie it means they have... lived it.

The creatives left along time ago and now all that is left are entitled kids charging through the streets on phones. The only thing cool about the East Village is it's history which justifies paying ridiculous rent because that will make you Kool!

Anonymous said...

Cool stories!

Anonymous said...

Del is a Goddess and one hell of a great DJ plus totally sweet take no shit babe Rock On Ms. Blue

Luis Lopez said...

I've had the pleasure of meeting Dalphine and she is awesome!

Pinch said...

Another good interview. If I could make a suggestion to Mr. Maher...unless I missed it, an interview with the guy who sells flowers from his refrigerated stand in the Brooklyn bound 1st Ave. L station might be an interesting get.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps if you lived in NYCHA back then you wouldn't feel the same. Talk to many of the folks who were raised here and still live here (many in NYCHA)and they don't look back on those times fondly and many resent the folks who moved here and made it cool with the galleries and shops that catered to them, not folks who lived here at the time. If you want the EV to regain it's soul then do something about it now, not just romanticize a bygone era on the blogs. There is plenty to save if people get off their butts and attend CB Meetings and other forums for input.

Anonymous said...

I Fu*king love her.

Anonymous said...

Delphine Blue introduced me to Gang of Four, and lots of the most important music in my life. Thanks, Delphine.

Anonymous said...

an interview with the guy who sells flowers from his refrigerated stand in the Brooklyn bound 1st Ave. L station might be an interesting get.

Cosign. I never see him doing any business. He always looks sort of sad.