Partying with John Waters in 1970s Provincetown
This is the story of the 1970s summer photographer Nan Goldin and writer/actress Cookie Mueller spent in P-Town in the Cape, partying non-stop with eccentrics like Philippe Marcade, John Waters, and other brilliant weirdos.
Bruce Balboni and Philippe Marcade on the beach, Truro, MA, 1975. Courtesy of Nan Goldin and Matthew Marks Gallery
America used to have sanctuaries across the country where fuck-ups, weirdos and other "marginalized" people could hide out and live without much contact with "straight" America. Places like downtown New York City in the East and West Village, Haight Ashbury in San Francisco, and, of course, Provincetown, that great artistic outpost at the very tip of Cape Cod. All these locations provided affordable living, while tolerating bizarre lifestyles. Hallelujah!
Now most of these sanctuaries have been wiped out by yuppies and gentrification, or in downtown NYC's case, fucking idiot students who've made the East Village their own private frat party. Gone are these special places to live out your life exactly as you wanted to, so we thought we'd provide a reminder to all those kids who have told us they were born too late and look fondly to the past—Quaaludes, 45 records, black beauties, 16 millimeter movies, and when "making art" was not just a hobby. You lived it.
Philippe Marcade is an old friend who lived a wild life as the lead singer of the Senders, and hung out with Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan, as well as Richard Hell, Dee Dee Ramone, Debbie Harry, and Chris Stein. Philippe was also a featured voice in our book, Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, which we recently celebrated with a 20th anniversary edition. Get it, it's good.
But he was more than just a French punk rocker who hung out a CBGB and Max's Kansas City. He was "in" with a bunch of malcontents who celebrated the idea of "inspired amateurism" from the lonely outpost of Provincetown, Massachusetts before commercialism ruined that town. The crew included Channing Wilroy, an actor who appeared in several of John Water's movies, the film critic Dennis Dermody, the late photographer David Armstrong, and other experimental artists.
Philippe was also good friends with both photographer Nan Goldin and writer/actress Cookie Mueller, two woman whose lives were the blueprints for today's punk girls. They were independent, intelligent, rebellious, bi-sexual, and hysterically funny. And they did it before there was this thing called punk. This is the story of the 1970s summer they spent partying in the Cape.
Philippe Marcade: I met Nan Goldin in Boston—both her and David Armstrong. Do you know who he is? He's a photographer who got pretty famous, and he was also from Boston. Nan and David were good friends, and they were my friend Bruce's best friends. Nan was really funny at the time, she used to crack me up a lot, but she would take pictures discreetly of people, you know, to catch intimate things.
Nan was like someone taking pictures while they were on vacation, you know? Like summer snap shots.
Nan Goldin: When I was 15, I went to a school at a place that was based on Summer Hill in England, which was a free school where there were no classes. Most of the students were thrown out of normal schools, so we ran around naked and we had sex, and I immediately became obsessed with taking pictures, so I became pretty much the school photographer.
Philippe Marcade: Man, we had no idea Nan's photos were going to be so famous! I mean, she basically just shot regular pictures, always in color, and she got them printed at the photo print shop. But it was not like she was just snapping pictures for fun, and thinking nothing of it. She was totally into it; she was hoping to make it, and she always had her camera with her. I guess that was her passion.
Nan Goldin: David Armstrong was the first person I photographed and that continued till his death. David looked like a woman and started to dress in semi-drag. Through him I met a whole community of drag queens. So about a year out of "hippie free school", I started living with these drag queens on Beacon Hill, and I thought they were the most beautiful people I'd ever met in my life.
This was the early 1970s in Boston, and at this time the queens couldn't work, they couldn't go out during the daytime, so we lived a nocturnal existence, and we went to the same bar every single night except Thursday when they had their bologna buffet.
I became the bar photographer, even though the bar was run by the mafia, but they liked me, so they let me photograph all the time. And I took the pictures to the drugstore—I didn't have a darkroom—so they came back as little snapshots, and then the queens would make piles, to see who had the most pictures, and they ripped up the ones they didn't like which I completely accepted.
Philippe Marcade: We also met Cookie Mueller and her friends in Boston, too. She told us about Provincetown, and said she had a house there. Cookie invited us to come see her there; she invited us for a weekend, and that's the first time we went to Provincetown.
Channing Wilroy: The crazy people came to Provincetown, the people who didn't fit in Cleveland, or wherever else they were from. This was like a dumping ground for the ne'er-do-wells. And we all got along quite well there.
Philippe Marcade: Everybody was drunk all the time, so I think everyone got along real good.
Channing Wilroy: The town was very forgiving that way. Everybody's welcome here; you can be anything you want.
Nan Goldin: Cookie was one of my best friends, we were family, and there was no distinction between gay and straight. Cookie and myself were both bisexual, and really lived that. I mean not just in theory, but in actuality.
Philippe Marcade: Cookie had a son, Max, by then. He was already born.
Dennis Dermody: Cookie had just had Max, and I went over her house one day, and she was peeling potatoes, and Max was screaming, crying.
So I said, "What's going on?"
Cookie said, "Well, potatoes are his friends...."
And I thought, "Oh my god!"
Mink Stole: Cookie wanted to name Max, "Noodles," but the hospital refused to put it on the birth certificate. So she had to name him Max. And he actually is the "Baby Noodles" in [John Waters's film] Pink Flamingos.
Dennis Dermody: I'm glad Max was not named Noodles. Noodles Mueller?
Philippe Marcade: Cookie gave us the address, and we drove to P-Town, but we got there very late at night because we got kind of lost. We couldn't find her house at first, but when we did all the lights were off. It was maybe three or four in the morning, and the door was unlocked, so we just walked in.
We didn't want to wake Cookie up, so we didn't turn the light on. We just found a sofa that opened up, like a bed, and we went to sleep.
And I woke up the next morning expecting to see Cookie, but it wasn't Cookie—it was a rifle, two inches from my nose!
And this little guy holding it, who says to me, "Who the heck are you, and what the fuck are you doing here?"
The guy was in his pajamas, with the rifle pointed at me, and his son was there too, with a rifle pointed at Bruce.
So we had our arms up in the air, still in the bed, and we explained out mistake and that we were looking for Cookie Mueller's house. He knew her, and said she lived just down the road. So he understood the situation, and he calmed down.
He was in his pajamas first, then came back in the kitchen putting on his uniform, and that's when I realized, "Oh man, he's a cop!" It turned out we stumbled into the house of the Sheriff of Provincetown! We were in the house of a cop! But he was really nice, you know? So he made us breakfast, and he was just laughing his ass off, and he asked how I would like my eggs, and I said, "Sunny side up," ha, ha, ha!
Susan Lowe: Cookie and I were like bad girls together, you know, kinda like Eddie Haskell and Eddie Haskell. We wanted to see how rebellious we could be, and get away with it in whatever way was rebellious at that time. We were on [the pills] black beauties and Old Crow, or something—I don't know. We're hitchhiking in tiny miniskirts, and wearing black fingernail polish. We were a mess. It was great.
Philippe Marcade: We ended up staying at Cookie's house for a bit, and we loved P-Town so much, that we decided to rent a house for the summer, and we did. We rented a house on Commercial Street, with me, Bruce, Nan Goldin, and David Armstrong. It was a really fun summer. It was so great.
Nan Goldin: Cookie was the diva, the superstar around whom our whole family rotated, and it was at her house that we had Thanksgiving, where she would serve opium and turkey.
Susan Lowe: Once Cookie, Mink Stole, and I got kidnapped by these hillbillies in P-Town. We got in the car because they had booze.
Then we realized they were trying to get us lost, and that this was not the way we wanted to go. So we started writing notes to hand to the tollbooth attendants, "Help, please help us!"
We were trying to sneak them, but the hillbillies would catch us and rip the notes up. Also, we were coming down off of speed, right, and you know how that is. Maybe you don't, but it's horrible.
So Mink Stole and I jumped out of the car, and these guys took off with Cookie, and we were left at this other hillbillies' house. I mean real Appalachia, so we called the police. And Mink and I stayed at the police station. They were giving us a hard time because I had a sketch book. I was an artist, and I had a sketchbook with nude sketches in it, and they were going to confiscate it. I thought, "What are you going to do with that?" Probably jerk off in the back room with it.
Cookie got away from [the hillbillies] somehow and hid in the woods, underneath her bag. But I don't know how she got her bag out of the car.
You could feel that something new was coming up. Like, enough of the fucking hippies, give us something else! So I guess that's the influence of John Waters, and his films, of course. — Philippe Marcade
Philippe Marcade: We had a lot of fun with Cookie in Provincetown that summer. There were a lot of parties, and my favorite memory from there, that completely changed my life, was that my friend Bruce brought an old suitcase full of 45 records that had belonged to his older brother. We had a little record player, and I would put it on the porch at night in front of the house, and play all these records. It was like all these rare rock and roll records, a lot of rhythm and blues, rock-a-billy, surf, and all the late 50s and early 60s stuff. That became my passion during that summer.
I was listening to those records and discovering all that old stuff for the first time. Stuff like, "Woman Love" by Gene Vincent, "The Swag" by Link Wray, and "I Put a Spell on You," by Screaming Jay Hawkins, and then classics like "Louie Louie" and "Wooly Bully," all that rhythm and blues, rock-a-billy, surf, as well as Dick Dale, the Ventures, the Trashmen—all that kind of stuff. At the time, I didn't know all these songs; it was a revelation!
It was so perfect in Provincetown, being outside in front of the house with the old car parked in front, and the little lights hanging from the porch. It was just perfect.
When I discovered those records, I couldn't stop listening to them. I spent all summer doing that—well, during the night when there wasn't some wild party going on, ha, ha, ha!
So that really got me into old rock and roll.
John Waters: Divine and I used to listen to Ike and Tina Turner when we were shoplifting, and we'd go see the Ike and Tina Turner Review in high school. I don't care what anyone says, Tina was better when she was with Ike. I mean, I don't blame her for leaving, but...
Philippe Marcade: The first time I saw a guy with blue hair was in Provincetown.
Earl Devreis: They were just an odd, odd bunch of people there with dyed hair, and their dress, and body makeup, and facial makeup were way ahead of their time.
Philippe Marcade: You could feel that something new was coming up. Like, enough of the fucking hippies, give us something else!
So I guess that's the influence of John Waters, and his films, of course. And John Waters still had really long hair then, but with a kind of punk attitude.
And anyone who got kind of serious, or snobbish, would be told to fuck off immediately. And I dug that.
Dennis Dermody: Cookie was a great character, and anytime she walked out the door, her life was a story. I mean, she would say, "I'm going to get the milk," and something lunatic would happen to her. Her life was like that all the time!
Sharon Niesp, Cookie's girlfriend, had some money she had to bring to the bank, and they dropped it in a puddle, and they brought it home, baked it in the oven to dry it off, and set it on fire! I mean, that kind of stuff that happened all the time. She would tell us what would happen in the course of her day, and I'd just think, "God, this is too good!"
Philippe Marcade: The entire group of people that we hung out with in P-Town was no more than 25, maybe 30 people, and every night we went to the same club called the A-House.
Mary Vivian Pearce: The A-House was the bar that we liked to hang out in the most.
Dennis Dermody: I met Cookie in Provincetown. I moved in the early 70s, and it was great then. There was a girl named Black Beverly who had taken too much acid and walked backwards for a whole year because she had headaches, and walking backwards alleviated it. And, typical of Provincetown, nobody thought that was an odd thing, you just saw her walking backwards. Cookie and I crept up and looked in her window, and she really walked backwards around the house, so it wasn't a gag. But that was the typical of the kind of people who lived there.
So I met Cookie, and we started becoming friends, started hanging out, and we went to movies together.
Philippe Marcade: There was a little movie theater that John Waters kind of took over, and he did a screening of Pink Flamingos, and it was wild because I was watching the movie with every actor in it! Everybody screamed their head off when the dancing assholes appeared on the screen!
John Waters: Originally, the P-Town premieres were at the art cinema, but I rented the movie theater, and I would have to pay the percentage that I owed for each seat [that wasn't filled]. We would go out on the street and hand out fliers. They weren't big events, they were local premieres, but they sold out.
Philippe Marcade: It was great watching Pink Flamingos in a cloud of marijuana smoke in that little theater, ha, ha, ha! The crowd was funnier than the movie; they were screaming and shit. And I remember also coming out of the movie theater and everybody in the movie was right there. It was kinda cool.
I had lived 15 years in utter darkness. I had never gone out during the day, so all of a sudden I was living in this light. — Nan Goldin
Dennis Dermody: Cookie would say, "I'm going to dress down and go to Hyannis to pick up my welfare checks..."
And I would see her hitchhiking on the highway in a monkey fur coat, looking like "Cookie Mueller!" I mean she looked amazing, and I thought, "She thinks that's normal? She has no clue what normal is!"
She was really pretty unique. She was great.
Nan Goldin: I really admire people who recreate themselves, and who manifest their fantasies publicly. I think it's really brave.
Philippe Marcade: You know, it's funny because Nan never shot while looking through the viewfinder of the camera. That's why she got those great shots with some kind of strange framing. People were not aware of the camera; they're not posing, because you didn't know she was taking the picture. The camera would be hanging around her neck, and then suddenly you hear "click, click," but she wasn't looking through it. So Nan took pictures of me naked when I didn't know. Nan just took pictures of people when they didn't know it—that's all she did.
Nan Goldin: I knew from a very early age that what I saw in popular culture had nothing to do with real life, so I wanted to make a record of real life. That psychological need included having my camera with me at all times and recording every aspect of my life and the lives of my friends, so the camera functioned partially as my memory. And when I started to drink and do drugs I wanted to remember everything from the night before. My camera allowed me to be out of control and in control at the same time.
Philippe Marcade: Our last summer in Provincetown was crazy because the little room we rented was above the A-House was dirt cheap, since the music was incredibly loud until four in the morning. Every night!
And we were right above [the bar], and there was no way to stay in that room till four in the morning, so we were forced to go out! But by 1976, the P-Town scene was starting to get more and more gay, and although I'm completely fine with that, it was getting a bit boring for me.
So I kind of lost interest—too gay, too expensive—and for me, too much junkie business. And when I moved to New York, I started to see Nan less and less, because I was totally in the punk scene, and she was not. She started to be more into the art scene, so I kind of lost touch with her during that time. I would see her occasionally, but not that much.
Nan Goldin: When Cookie started sleeping with men, her girlfriend, Sharon, went through a crisis, and I was the confidant of both of them. But, by the mid 1980s, many of us became addicted to drugs, mostly to heroin and cocaine, and so the line between use and abuse was crossed. I got to the point in my addiction where I didn't go out of the house for six months or so. I was doing an enormous amount of cocaine and about five to ten bags of dope a day.
Philippe Marcade: I was a junkie for about a year, but I flirted with heroin for years before that. First, it was maybe once a month, then for a year it was once a week, and then for the last year it was every fucking day, ha, ha, ha!
For a long time, I was saying to myself, "Me, I'm smarter than the others, I can enjoy myself, I can do it once in a while. I won't get hooked. Never!"
Yeah, right! Ha, ha, ha!
So finally I went cold turkey, and I called a friend to chaperone me, to be with me, to stop me if I tried to get past the door. I knew that's what I needed, somebody to keep an eye on me, cause I couldn't trust myself anymore, you know?
What got me to do that is I OD'ed alone at home and I woke up with a needle in my arm 12 hours later. It scared the shit out of me, so I thought I better stop because something's wrong here.
So, I did that. But two months after I stopped, I fucked up, I went to cop some dope, and I got mugged at gunpoint. The guy who mugged me saved my life because he not only mugged me, but when he took the dope, he looked at me and said, "Faggot!"
Not only did he mug me, he was insulting me too, ha, ha, ha!
I was so disgusted with myself, I went back home and fucking threw a fit. I smashed up everything in my apartment, I was so mad at myself!
And that was the very last time I tried to get dope. I think if I had copped that day, I would have went back to it. But that mugging finally did it for me, cause a thousand people called me faggot before that, and I couldn't care less, but that guy, that day, it really did something. I was like, "I'm sick of this." And I never went back to it.
Nan Goldin: I was in a drug rehab clinic for two months in 1988, and then for three months I was in a halfway house. And I stated to photograph myself and my own face, in order to find out what I looked like without drugs, and to fit back into my own skin. It was a period of a lot of fear, and sort of crisis of identity.
Nothing was familiar; I had lived 15 years in utter darkness. I had never gone out during the day, so all of a sudden I was living in this light.
And, a year and a half later, I was strong enough to move back to New York.
I used to think I couldn't lose anyone if I photographed them enough. With the death of Cookie I realized it didn't work. — Nan Goldin
Philippe Marcade: I only stayed with Cookie once in New York, when I broke up with my wife. She put me up because I didn't know where to stay, and, as a matter of fact, it was a time when I was very sad, and Cookie was essential to put me back on the right track.
You know, of all the girls I met in New York, I would say Cookie was the most fantastic one by far. I never went out with her or anything, but I thought she was such a cool girl. I really dug her. And she was a great writer, too.
Nan Goldin: Cookie went to Italy and met an Italian artist, Vittorio Scarpati. A few years later he came to New York, and they got married, and they were both HIV positive. When Vittorio died in September of 1989, Cookie had lost her voice and could no longer speak, and she couldn't walk without a cane... she kind of gave up.
Philippe Marcade: You know what really shocked me? I don't want to put down Nan Goldin, but I went to see her show at the Guggenheim because there was a picture of me, and I wanted to see it. But there was a huge blow-up photo of Cookie dead in her coffin, and that shook me so bad. I could not hold my tears. I couldn't, it just shocked me. So I left the museum, and I was a bit mad at Nan for showing a picture like that. I thought, "Well, if I was dead, I wouldn't want people to see me like that!"
Nan Goldin: I used to think I couldn't lose anyone if I photographed them enough. With the death of Cookie I realized it didn't work.
Philippe Marcade: It's so sad, all these people who died of AIDS, her husband had it, and they died one after the other, Cookie and him, you know?
Cookie Mueller: Fortunately, I am not the first person to tell you that you will never die. You simply lose your body. You will be the same, except you won't have to worry about rent or mortgages or fashionable clothes. You will be released from sexual obsessions. You will not have drug addictions. You will not need alcohol. You will not have to worry about cellulite or cigarettes or cancer or AIDS or venereal disease.
For more on culture, watch our doc 'Was Punk Rock Born in Peru?':
Philippe Marcade has a book coming out in April from Three Rooms Press called 'Punk Avenue.'Get it! It's great! (I even did the introduction!) And if you haven't read Cookie Mueller's 'Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black,' from Semiotext(e), stop what you're doing and order it right now. I promise you, you won't be sorry!
And, of course, if you don't own 'The Ballad of Sexual Dependency' by Nan Goldin, you're an asshole. But also check out Nan's current exhibition at Matthew Marks Gallery in New York, open through December 23.
For more reading about Cookie Mueller, there's a great new oral history of her life, "Edgewise: A Picture of Cookie Mueller," by Chloe Griffin, published in 2014 by Bbooks Verlag. A few of the quotes we used in "Bourbon & Black Beauties" are from "Edgewise," so if you liked this, you'll love the book!
And for more stories about the glorious days of punk, check out the 20th Anniversary Edition of 'Please Kill Me' by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain.