Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Out and About in the East Village

In this weekly 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: Spike Polite
Occupation: Musician, Lead Singer for SEWAGE, Actor, Model
Date: Thursday, Jan. 7 at 7:30 p.m.
Location: The Edge, 3rd Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue

I was born on a military base. I think it was Buffalo. My father was in the Cold War and in the end of Vietnam. We lived on military bases and then upstate, but I was forced to come here as an early teenager. My mom had me institutionalized, like for suicidal tendencies. I never thought you could be forced to be stuck in New York City, but it happened to me. I was 14 going on 15. Then they put through me the person in need of supervision, even though I wasn’t in need of supervision and then they sent me to Lincoln Hall. I had to go through all these foster homes and they kept me down here. Then when I got out of that they wouldn’t have me back.

I just met other people and it was always my goal to do something with music. I went to CBs. This was in 1988. When I was a kid skateboard fashion was coming around and people were listening to a lot of punk rock. As a child, my mother always took away my guitars and took away all the stuff. I grew up loving the Ramones, Sex Pistols, the Exploited, GBH — I liked them from both sides of the pond. I used to literally play over and over all the Sex Pistol songs on the album through my guitar and amp as a kid, and of course AC/DC and Black Sabbath too.

I started living in the squats. I just knew that this was rough and tough but it was easier than being in all of those foster homes and detention centers. At least here I had a fighting chance that I could have allies. The thing was, I didn’t have any direction or anything like that. I didn’t have a family to say, here is a trust fund, now you should go to college and blah blah blah. I didn’t have anything like that. I had a survival-level type of thing ... so I banded together with these other people and we lived in this abandoned building.

We’d find things on the street because New York was a different place then. Everything was on the street. They’d throw it away and you could take it yourself and sell it, right from the garbage where you found it. So we would go and take that stuff and we’d put it up in the squat and we’d make these little kingdoms and comfy crashpads and flophouses and then we’d go out during the day. Everybody would go out to make some kind of money and figure out whether they wanted to delve deeper into having nothing and do drugs and raise money for drugs, or if you wanted to go out and try to elevate yourself or to get up out of that stuff.

The 8th Street squat came after 3BC. 3BC was the headquarters of punk rockers, with spiked-up jackets and spiked-up hair, and colored hair and tight jeans and all that good business, whereas the other squats were mainly for the crusties. They were like the downtrodden with the pieces of rope for hair, and they would wear the baggy clothes and they looked like the color of concrete. They thought they were peaceful, so we were the anarchy punks, the punk rockers with the spikey hair, so we were different than them. 3BC was a flophouse of just like 50 to a 100, 200 punks crashing up there. A lot of them were visiting from out of town and most of the people in the squats, even the crusties, were from out of town too. Very few of them were from here or even from the state.

Punk rock ... I would define it from my point of view, basically it was working class, up to middle-class people. It was a rowdy, rebellious culture who had a reason to be rebellious because their way of life and everything was messed up. We were independent rebellious. We’re more like cats. Skinheads act like dogs; they want to be in packs. Punk rockers are independent people and they could take it or leave it. A lot of those people were Oliver Twist-type people. They’re paupers; they’re poor, but they’ll give you anything, the shirt off their back. They have nothing but you have their loyalty, almost like William Wallace of "Braveheart." The heart matters good, but it matters if the order is with you, but then in runk rock if you get too close to the order, you’re a sellout.

James will have more from Spike Polite in the next Out and About in the East Village...

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


  1. I first met Spike when they knocked the Tompkins Square Park bandshell down and we were both arrested and spent 3 days in jail together. Spike is the real deal Old Skool LES.

  2. Spike was the first person who was just like me that I met in the city back in 1990,I lived in Jersey then Florida,so I started staying in the 8th st squat with him and a few other guys,Spike has came a long way since I first met him on St.Marks,& he's like the only true friend I have,not too many out there like Spike,he's good people..

  3. Spike is the best. I think I've known him since we were teenagers.

  4. I met Spike in the late 80's early 90's somewhere on the LES. He says he remembers seeing me on Ave. B nodding But I remember seeing him everywhere, especially in TSP. I had a huge crush on him. I would always get so nervous when he would talk to me, I didn't want to lose my cool. He was always super nice. Not just to me, but to everyone who was cool. I remember everyone loved him. Especially I had no idea the feeling was mutual. Now over 20 years later we're finally married. He was a great guy, but he was a rough, tough Punk Rocker when he had to be. I have a bunch of Spike stories. Bottom line, he's a Punk Rock Hero, a neighborhood icon and he still has his legendary band SEWAGE. Talk about staying power, ambition and motivation~He's got it all!

  5. Spike has been my bro for about 20 years. I never realized how similar our lives were as far as institutionalized and foster , all horrible . I am proud of the man he has became as well as myself . in a phrase "there is life after death !

  6. This is cool, these stories need to be told! Especially by those people who lived through it like this.

  7. Spike was one of the kids that we banded together with as a family to servive on the streets 25+ years ago . I was going through or went though a lot of the same struggles he went through a few years before .For along time spike tried distancing from the streets and to improve himself ,but its hard when you come from where people like us come from & the people he had to deal with to servive, the chaos we lived through . at that time there was only a handful of us spikey hair punks we all knew each other & hung out even the original guys from the casualties . I am glad to see he's still making music , acting and telling the story of our tribe .


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