Sunday, October 3, 2010

Michael Shenker, 1955-2010

Longtime East Village homesteader Michael Shenker has passed away..... Friends placed a tribute in front of the former squat at 209 Seventh St., which he helped restore starting in 1987.

Here's a passage on the former squats by Lincoln Anderson in The Villager from 2009...

Michael Shenker came to live in the East Village in 1970, a 15-year-old, half-Jewish kid from Long Island. His model mother had been the Ipana toothpaste lady in TV commercials, which sometimes featured cameos by him and his brother. But things at home weren’t going well, and Shenker decided he had to get out.

The bohemian East Village, with its rocking music scene at the Fillmore East, naturally drew Shenker, an aspiring musician. At first, he was homeless, hanging out and crashing at night with members of a tough Puerto Rican gang. Working odd jobs — one saw him cleaning McSorley’s urinals — he eventually managed to get his own place. But the storefront he was living in had a fire, and then his rent quadrupled in the early 1980s, and he found himself again facing homelessness.

One day, he recalled, as he was sitting in Life Café, “This weird girl Natasha I used to play chess with looked over at me and said, ‘Mike, have you ever heard of squatting?’”

[Top photo by Fly; bottom photo by Caroline Debevec — both via The Villager]

He was also featured in New York from 1996. You can read that piece here.

I asked a few of his friends for comments:

Eden Brower:
I've known Michael since I was around 19 years old ... One thing about Michael is that before Ray's was going to be visited by the Board of Health for a few violations...Michael was there and helped with tiling the floor and cleaning. He also helped many of the squats with getting their electricity done. I'm sad that he's gone.

Barbara Robin Lee:
I'm going to remember him joyfully playing the piano with gusto and lots of talent. I loved his love for music and art. He was an amazing electrician. He was a strident political activist. He was a lover, a saucy flirt in the first degree. He knew no fear. That's about all I can say right now. Above all else, he was a good sober FRIEND!


Anonymous said...

big loss for L.E.S.Always a comrade to Missing Foundation. RIP. Christopher Egan

Benjamin Shepard said...

See my 2005 interview with Shenker.

Scuba Diva said...

I'm really sorry he's gone; I only heard yesterday. I knew he had liver problems, but I wasn't aware it had progressed to cancer and that he had been admitted to a hospice. This really sucks.

The Biggest Pants said...

He helped C-Squat more than anyone will ever know and more than I will ever tell. He is and will always be an awesome man and I will miss him dearly.

chris flash said...

I've known Michael since 1989, shortly after I began publishing the SHADOW.

Mike was one of a handful of people in the LES activist scene that was 100% real. Anything he said he would do he did, with no pretensions, no bullshit. You could always count on him and he never let you down.

Without revealing too much here, I can say that he was a master strategist and tactician, responsible for helping to get new squats started and then "legalized" by the city so that the endless raids by HPD and the court battles would stop.

He was very intelligent, he had a great sense of humor and he was a man of integrity. A great combination in a great person....

teagan said...

To Michael -

i don't think i'm ready to believe you are gone Michael. You are supposed to just be here with us, in our building family, in the beautiful home you created out of your hard-fought for apt. - built out of your own sweat and elbow grease. Where is the cheerful sound of your honky tonk piano-playing floating in through my windows? Who’s going to meet me on the way home and keep me company with some easy-going conversation?

When you said your were really ill and going to die, why didn't i take you seriously? i felt like that just couldn't happen - you were going through a tough part and then you would beat it and get better. i hardly had a doubt. i thought we all had much more time together ahead of us.

You were always a let's-get-to-the-point, rabble-rouser - and you knew your shit. i could see you as an activist lawyer kicking some ass for the little guy - if you had to be. But i really like to see you as you were the last week of June - playing the art-piano in Tompkins Park with a whole appreciative crowd around you listening and singing along. You were so at home on the piano bench, shining and sharing your joy, your light.

Thank you Michael. For sharing your friendly smiles, your patient kind words, and your fascinating stories - stories that can only be told by someone that has lived a rich and interesting life surrounding himself with good friends and the Good Fight.

Our hearts and thoughts long so much to embrace you right now – to make you know in your bones how much you are appreciated. We love you Michael and you can never be forgotten. You have left your mark all over this town.
With Affection and Great Respect, teagan blackburn

Anonymous said...

I'm really going to miss everything Michael brought to the neighborhood. He was always a stalwart friend to my building, the Rainbow Coop. His knowledge and enthusiasm on housing issues was invaluable. You will be missed.