Phyllis simply says: “We were just going about our lives being young and making and listening to great music in the clubs every night. I left the scene for a couple of years around 1980 when I decided I wanted to live. Heroin was taking its toll on me and everyone else. A couple of years later, I returned to the scene and started to see Jerry Nolan again. I was with him until he died in 1992.
PHYLLIS: It was really great fun. My best memories are those from the early days when there was a real esprit de corps amongst all these very talented musicians. In those days, before many went onto tour and record, almost every night there was great music happening around town, usually either at Max's or CBGB's. There were some other venues like The Bottomline and The Village Gate and some others came and went but those two were the mainstays in NYC. You might start the night off at Max's to see Blondie and end up later on at CBGB's to see The Ramones. Other band members themselves were hanging out when they weren't playing to see their friends' gigs. Luckily, I still have my date books from that time. So looking at a week in August 1977, for instance, Blondie, Mink DeVille, The Talking Heads, The Patti Smith Group, Devo & Sylvain's band The Criminals all played that same week. It was an exciting time to be hanging out in NY.
Photo: Phyllis front row of The Ramones CBGB'S
PHYLLIS: No, I don't think any of us realized so early on that we were actually involved in a scene that would become a part of Rock 'N Roll history. We were just a bunch of young kids going out and having fun listening to or creating great music. Yes, indeed, I'm so glad I actually saved all these little date books as when I look them over it's even incredible to me how fantastic those times were. No, although I play piano and can read and write music, I never did anything professionally with it. I did attend the
PHYLLIS: I guess I would have to say that summer of 1977 was really happening here. Everyone was in town and gigging all the time. Summers were great because we'd all walk back and forth between the clubs and in the winters we'd freeze. So summer in the city with great music all around worked out well. The Heartbreakers had returned from
MEL: Punk in the
PHYLLIS: For me, the excitement went out of the scene when all my favorite bands started to make it. By then, they were always off touring around the world and weren't gigging at those great small intimate venues any longer. I was never disillusioned with the music and was very happy for all those who were achieving greater fame and recognition. It was the heavy drug use and addiction that was so sad and disillusioning. It was also the time AIDS, although not named that at the time, was just coming around the corner. So I consider myself very lucky to have pulled back from what was going on around that time.
PHYLLIS: OK, February 27th 1977 ~ While you were celebrating your 17th birthday, I was in
PHYLLIS: That's a very interesting question. No doubt about it, the scenes in
PHYLLIS: Ah, Sid and Nancy. I was probably the only person besides Jerry who was happy about that union! I had known
I met Sid when she returned to NY and called me up to ask if she could bring him over to meet me. So they came over and he certainly didn't seem so "vicious" to me. She was in charge of that show as he seemed very passive to me. She'd say jump, he'd ask how high! I was very shocked when her mother wrote that book about her. Especially when I found not only my name in it, but also Jerry's and Philippe and Babette's, other friends of ours at the time. Quite frankly, I felt it was disgusting of her to try and make a buck off of her daughter's short and sad life.
MEL: Do you think her Mothers book accurately reflects the
PHYLLIS: In many respects, I do think her mother did depict the troubled girl I knew in her book.
MEL: Talking of books, I believe you were interviewed by the lovely Nina Antonia for her Johnny Thunders book, 'In Cold Blood'. How was this experience? Can you tell us a little unknown story or fact about Johnny Thunders.
PHYLLIS: In the summer of 1991, Jerry and I came over to
MEL: Jerry Nolan drummer with The Heartbreakers was your partner in 1976, you split up but resumed your relationship with him in later years, until he passed away from a stroke brought on by pneumonia and meningitis. That must have been a really sad period of your life when he passed away in 1992. What are your most treasured memories of Jerry, do you have any keepsakes which mean a lot to you?
PHYLLIS: Yes, you're correct. Somehow Jerry contracted meningitis and pneumonia, and while they were treating him for that at
Photo: Phyllis & Jerry Nolan 1991
PHYLLIS: Sabel was always really upbeat and a very happy person to be around. She was hanging out in NY and needed a place to stay so she lived with me during the summer of 1977. We had a lot of fun and got into a lot of trouble that summer. You never knew what to expect with her as she was always up for anything! She was a great storyteller and I loved to hear her tell me about her "groupie" days when she was only a young teen in Los Angeles. She left New York and went back to live in California. There she got into more trouble and battled her drug addiction and eventually won with the help of a 12 step program. She learned how to deal cards to support herself and that's how she ended up in Vegas. For the last 15+ years of her life she had been living with her long term boyfriend Bill near Reno, Nevada working as a croupier in a large casino. We always kept in touch throughout the years and she would visit me in NY for a couple of weeks every June. As you probably know she passed away in April 2009. I miss her very much.
MEL: Another of your girlfriends was Debbie Harry. Do you have a favourite Debbie story to reminisce; did you guys hang out in those early days and beyond? She was so incredibly beautiful you could almost believe she was Marilyn Monroe's daughter (a rumour still circulating today).
PHYLLIS: The first time I ever saw Blondie was on a very rainy Tuesday night at Max's and there were hardly any people in the room. At the time, I remember telling my friend who was with me "Oh, this girl has IT!" The band at that point consisted of Debbie, Chris Stein, Clem Burke, Gary Valentine & Jimmy Destri. I started to date Jimmy and that's how I met the rest of the band. So I was hanging around with them and went into Plaza Sound Studios with them a couple of times when they were recording their first album. It was all very exciting at that point. Debbie is such a stunning girl and, to her credit, she never let it go to her head. I recall one of our earliest conversations was about being adopted as I was also adopted. I think all adopted kids feel a bond with the others. Most of us do wonder about our biological parents and in her case, the Marilyn Monroe "tale" emerged. Quite frankly, I always felt she was prettier!
Photo: Clem Burke (Blondie) & Phyllis 1977
MEL: Who are you in contact with today from the NYC days?
PHYLLIS: There were many people I never lost contact with like Sabel, Bob Gruen, Philippe, Lenny Kaye, his wife Stephanie and others. We'd all get together throughout the years for holidays like Thanksgiving, Passover and Bob's infamous birthday parties. I'd see others at less fortunate events like funerals, all too prevalent among our friends. But Facebook has put me back in touch with practically everyone who survived the times. As a matter of fact, just today I saw Walter Lure and Andy Shernoff to discuss an upcoming project. Walter's doing well, still working on Wall Street and playing with The Waldos often.
MEL: I had a question today from Den he asked - "Phyllis Stein" is a typical NY name - but it sounds the same as "philistine"?! Is it a punk-type name like "
PHYLLIS: Yes, that is really my name! I thought it was pretty funny when Glen Matlock named his band The Philistines! BTW, I always hated those stupid names people made up for themselves, especially Johnny Rotten, Rat Scabies & Sid Vicious. How ridiculous!
MEL: I wonder - did you ever encounter Andy Warhol or any of his Superstars in the 'backroom'?
PHYLLIS: The Factory's "new" digs downtown were very near to Max's. So they hung out there. But I was underage at the time I went to Max's probably starting in 1969 a few times. So I never hung out with Andy or his Superstars. I met Lee and other Mainman people but that was later on. As I also lived in the area, I'd see Warhol from time to time in the street.
PHYLLIS: I always find this kind of question the most difficult to answer. It's hard to narrow it down to my favourite five, so one is particularly hard. But that said, I guess my favourite image would have to be hanging out in the dressing rooms upstairs at Max's with friends on a really happening night when one or more of my favourite bands would be playing.
Favourite single . . .definitely "You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory" by The Heartbreakers.
And my favourite book would have to be Nina Antonia's "In Cold Blood" but "Please Kill Me" is a pretty close second. I really found it interesting to hear everyone else's take on what was happening at the time. Pretty funny stuff especially from some people who have or had a great sense of humour like Leee and Dee Dee.
MEL: What made you decide to start posting photos and diary notes on face book? And have you ever considered writing a book to share your memoirs?
PHYLLIS: When my good friend Abbijane passed on in March 2009, friends of ours had made a fan page for her on Facebook. I joined FB so I could view her fan page and add some photos I'd taken since 1976. Sabel had also told me she had an Official Sabel Starr fan page so I wanted to see Sabel's page too. Not long after, there was a Jerry Nolan group formed also on FB. Since I had photos I sent some on to the creator of the page who lives in
As I've yet to write word #1, there's not much to say about a possible future project. Some friends have already written their memoirs while others are doing so now. So who knows?
Photo: Patti Palladin, Abbijane & Phyllis 1996 NYC
MEL: Where are you at now in your life and how is your life in comparison, do you ever wish you’d done things any differently looking back?
PHYLLIS: To quote the fabulous Edith Piaf, I have no regrets. Life has been very fulfilling on many levels which also include being a parent. I've been lucky so far just to have survived those times when many of my other friends didn't. I really do miss them all, especially my girlfriends. I had many great times and many very difficult ones, as most people have had. But I'm in a good place these days with a few projects I'm currently working on. There's been some interest in a memoir which I have been giving a lot of thought to. Although I haven't yet written anything, I've been organizing my thoughts, date books and photos and making an outline with notes about interesting times I've had. Perhaps I'll do a photography book as well. Time will tell.
Photo: Phyllis & Sable Starr 2000 NYC
MEL: And finally in an imaginary world you have a huge dinner party, who would you chose as dinner party guests (dead or alive) - what music might you play?
PHYLLIS: Let's see. Well, those that have passed that I'd invite would include Jerry, Abbijane, Johnny, Sabel, Patti Giordano, Elliott Kidd, Willy DeVille, Dee Dee Ramone, and Arthur Kane. And depending on how large the party would be, I'd include many friends from the old days that I've stayed in touch with regularly. Many are on FB. They know who they are. The usual suspects. As for music I'd play a bit of my all old faves: The Heartbreakers, Mink DeVille, The Ramones, Blondie, The Senders, old The NY Dolls and Iggy mixed with some Stones and the Blues.
One last word from Phyllis: “Sometimes I look back and think I'm like Forrest Gump. Without planning it, my life just took me down a road where I've met so many interesting, talented and famous people.”- Phyllis Stein June 2010
Thanks Phyllis I’ve really enjoyed this trip through your memories, it’s been a privilege and we wish you every success with your book. I’ll be checking in with you on Facebook for further updates.Interview by Mel 26/06/10