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“Somewhere Below 14th & East” – an interview on rare photo book documenting NYC scene in the 80s

Last year we dropped a quick word about “Somewhere Below 14th & East”, a new unique collection of Karen O’Sullivan’s photos, compiling over 150 images of artists active in New York in the 80s. The photography book about the early NYHC and downtown scene of the 1980s is finally available from Radio Raheem Records, and distributed by Deathwish, and to celebrate, we have teamed up with author Ray Parada to give you an insightful batch of details through his interview conducted with Jon Roa of End to End, Justice League, and EYELID!

In the early 1980s, Karen O’Sullivan made her way from where she grew up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side to the then-desolate Lower East Side to photograph the burgeoning scenes of Hardcore Punk and Hip Hop. Barring some of her images appearing in fanzines at the time, and in Steven Blush’s American Hardcore book published in the early 2000s, her matchless take on the grit and energy of this era have remained virtually an unsung documentation.

Somewhere-Below photobook - NYHC collage

Somewhere Below 14th & East is the first collection of Karen’s photos, compiling over 150 images of artists as diverse as The Clash, Run DMC, Iggy Pop, Beastie Boys, Minor Threat, UTFO, The Misfits and Whodini as well as the various characters and ne’er-do-wells brave enough to witness history in the making. With its combination of O’Sullivan’s striking imagery and first-hand accounts by those who were there, Somewhere Below 14th & East chronicles an extraordinary time where boundless possibility and stifling desperation intersected to create one of the most vital and creative times in New York’s history.

An interview with Ray Parada by Jon Roa (Justice Leavue, Eyelid).

I first met Ray Parada when we were working at the same advertising agency in Los Angeles. I was listening to Johnny Thunders and he struck up a conversation about old punk. I mentioned that I had been listening to punk rock since March of 1978. I could tell that he wasn’t impressed and would guess that he didn’t believe me. When I mentioned that I met and casually knew some people back in New York City, Ray called me out, checked my references and…he found out I was NOT lying.

I checked him on the two times he saw Minor Threat (shows, dates, support bands) and that checked out! He was not lying so he won that fact war. We then realized I saw Ray sing in his band, AbombAnation, when I was a roadie on a Chain of Strength tour.

Well, the subject of NYHC photos came up and I remarked the Karen O’Sullivan’s “dream like” developing process was one of my favorites. He said he knew her. Years later, when visiting Ray, I got to meet her! This wonderful photographer was so pleasant, so nice, I was even more grateful for her existence. Her tenacity made her privy to many private moments of New York art, music and personalities.Understand what you have in front of you – These are pictures, some about 30 years old, of classic bands like Misfits, MDC, The Clash, Minor Threat, Black Flag, Reagan Youth, Beastie Boys and others, when they were in their true prime, and as far as I’m concerned, when NYHC and New York City itself was in its true prime. These pictures have never been seen by anyone, including in some cases, the photographer herself. If you are a fan of early hardcore, or are interested in its history or New York City’s downtown scene in the 1980’s get this rare book. There are only 1000 in print. Get it soon.

Below are a few brief questions I put to Ray, and some of the pictures that are in the book. Ray has worked hard and has put together a book of her photography so we can celebrate the art of Karen O’Sullivan. Cheers to both of these people. With her art and his heart, the world is a better place. Purchase the book through this link.

Who are you?

I’m just a 50 something year old guy who was lucky enough to live in the golden age of hardcore, when it was vital, when it was urgent. When it was a movement. When it was a “Scene”. When people wore bumflaps to express their rage. That’s who I am.

How’d you get involved with Karen O’Sullivan:

Well back in like ’82 I was hanging out with Johnny and Dave from Kraut. (We lived near each other in Astoria, NY) One day they were rehearsing, and there were these two girls there taking photos, one was Karen and the other was her friend Suzanne, and they used to have this local fanzine called Coast to Coast. Then I would notice Karen at all the shows and she’d always have a camera around her neck, so we became friends. This was the mid to late 80’s. Before that, Karen was a into sports photography, and then she got into shooting hip hop. She used to go to all these underground hip hop shows in her wheelchair and take photos. She had pictures in Vibe, and Vice when it was a magazine, Spin…

Cover-of-Coast-to-Coast

I heard the book is for her medical condition

Karen has MS, and she has a lot of medical bills. So yes, ALL of the money from this book goes to Karen. The publisher, Radio Raheem Records, who put out Drew Carolan’s Matinee book last year, was nice enough to give ALL of the money to Karen, after their costs were met. There are only 1000 books printed, so it’s not as much as you’re probably thinking, but definitely better than nothing!

What did you find the most fascinating aspect of the book?

Two things: First, how much the hardcore scene has changed. I don’t want to get into the “back in the good ol’ days” lecture that nobody wants to hear, but, man have things changed. Not one cellphone in the whole book. As you once told me “Back then we were too busy experiencing it to document it. Now everyone is too busy documenting it to experience it”. Look through the book, and you’ll see a time when DIY was really the law. Imagine strolling into a gig nowadays with the band’s names and logos hand written on your dad’s old shirt? Very few examples of corporate merch. The closest thing we had was Tony T-Shirt, who would hand screen the shirts for you, and if you needed a logo, he’d do that for you too. But this was in the olden days, when Doc Martins were still made out of wood.

The second thing is how some people just ARE photogenic, and others aren’t. It doesn’t even matter if you’re good looking or not. Karen must have really loved Reagan Youth, because she took hundreds of shots of them. It was so difficult to choose the best ones, because Dave looks great in all of them. Same with John Watson, and a few others.

The third thing is that after about 40 years of age, expect your memory and especially eyesight to go. When I went around interviewing people to give me their words about pictures, or just to help me identify faces, I had to bring a huge Sherlock Holmes magnifying glass with me because everyone has bad eyesight.

What were your favorite three pictures in the book and why?

Well the first one would be the picture of Iggy Pop and Cheetah Chrome playing together at A7. Just a great example of being at the right place at the right time. People go nuts when they see this picture. Chuck Talbot, (right side of picture, playing bass) tells the story about the picture in the book. I don’t even think Karen ever saw it until I showed her. When I first saw it I felt like I just found King Tut’s tomb. I felt that way a lot of times working with these photos, to be honest. But every time I see the picture I just wish that she could have captured Earl (Bad Brains) in the picture, who was behind the drums. Imagine that super group?

IGGY-and-Cheetah-at-A7

Another great picture I like is the picture of Bobby Brats and Cindy. Junkie Love. These were two punks who bridged the gap between the ’77 punk days and the emerging hardcore scene. The stories out there about Bobby are amazing. This picture reminds Karen of the famous Michelangelo statue of Mary holding Jesus. The power of product placement is undeniable. Fun Punk Fact: If you notice on Cindy’s shirt, she’s wearing the U.S pin that the you’ve seen the Ramones wearing on their leather jackets. She’s wearing it upside down. I thought this was some kind of a Anti-USA statement, but actually upside down it looks like S.N… meaning Sid and Nancy. Howie Pyro, who helped a lot with research in this book made fun of me for not knowing that. And now I can make fun of anyone reading this who didn’t know that.

Bobby-and-Cindy

The third picture I really like is the picture of Harley huffing a bag of glue. A very rare picture of him NOT holding up his middle finger, but in fact putting up his hand as if to say “For Christ’s sake Karen NOT NOW.” Jimmy G’s expression to me says “Karen, you are playing with your life!”. The third guy is just waiting to see how it turns out for Karen. By the way, yes I got Harley’s permission to include the picture. He is a friend and supporter of Karen’s since his days in the Stimulators.

Harley-and-Jimmy

Explain what are the three book bundles that you can purchase.

So there are three options you can make when you go to the link and pre-order the book through Deathwish. Bundle 1 is $44.99. For this you just get the book and the free poster of Frenchie, an infamous NY Skin, showing off his tattoo and disdain for authority, and the NYPD specifically.

Then there is Bundle 2, the $59 option, in which you get the book, the poster and a “zine”, which is a bad way of describing it. It’s actually a supplemental book that is 60 pages long. Karen has been living in the Lower East Side for almost 30 years, but all of her negatives were in her dads home in the Upper West Side. Unfortunately he just died in August at 93 years of age. Where Karen had her stuff hadn’t been touched in decades. So while I was making the book, i was also going to her fathers place, and finding more negatives, prints, and even cans of undeveloped film. So these pictures would have been in the book, but just didn’t make it on time. I really recommend getting this version. You get so much more for just $10. There aren’t many of these being printed, so you can always put it on Ebay and at least double your investment.

Then there is Bundle 3, which is the book, poster, “zine” and an old-school Viewmaster with about 14 pictures that are in neither the book or the zine. (An example of the pictures you get with the Viewmaster is the Minor Threat picture below.) it all comes in a nylon cinch bag, festooned with the image of the Mysterious Smoker, who nobody knows the identity of.

Minor-Threat

“Somewhere Below 14th & East” – an interview on rare photo book documenting NYC scene in the 80s
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