Rare Photos of NYC Punk Legends Before They Were Famous

Debbie Harry, 1975. Courtesy artist Paul Zone.

In the early 70s, before Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, The Ramones, Lou Reed and the like were New York rock legends posing for Rolling Stone, they were photographed by a 14-year-old boy named Paul Zone, who’d get chased around his Brooklyn neighborhood for being the only kid in school wearing sequins and glitter. The drinking age was 18—not that bartenders checked IDs—so Zone would follow his two older brothers to shows at East Village venues like Filmore and CBGB’s, and then to clubs like Max’s Kansas City and Mercer Arts Center. Growing Up in the New York Underground: From Glam to Punk, a new pop-up exhibit at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, features more than 70 of the rare images Zone took as the unofficial documentarian of this music underground.

Paul Zone, Dee Dee Ramone & Connie Gripp 1975. Courtesy the artist.

“We’d just gotten out of that whole Woodstock hippie generation and wanted to be involved with music that was more fun and flamboyant,” Zone says in a phone interview. “Glam rock, with David Bowie, Alice Cooper, T. Rex and all the rest, was a lot more exciting.”

David Johansen

His candid photos humanize performers who used glitter to seem larger than life.  “All these pictures were taken before any of these musicians had made their first records,” Zone says. “It wasn’t like I was taking pictures of rock stars. These were just friends, they weren’t famous yet.” At most CBGB shows Zone went to, there would only be 40 or 50 people in the audience, and “90% of them were band members or friends of bands.” It wasn’t until 1975 that magazines like the Village Voice started paying attention to any of these bands, so Zone was among their first documentarians.

Divine, 1982

It’s a rare look at the birth of a music movement that might seem extinct while walking around today’s East Village (CBGB is now a John Varvatos boutique), but with a legacy that extends way beyond New York. It also chronicles a watershed time when gender-bending, androgyny, and cross-dressing were just beginning to find accepting outlets in American pop culture: highlights include a shot of Baltimore drag legend Divine in a red pleather mini-dress, shaking maracas; and shots of Paul Zone’s own band, The Fast, with his two brothers, with KISS-like face paint, sequin capes, and teased hair.


More of Zone’s images are compiled in his photo memoir, which he called Playground, because that’s what the East Village felt like to him as a teenager. “It really was like being young in a playground with all your friends. No one knew what the future held–no one knew if there was big fame and fortune or even if they’d get a chance to make a record.”

Anna Sui 1978

Growing Up in the New York Underground: From Glam to Punk  features images of Blondie, The Ramones, The New York Dolls, Iggy and the Stooges, Richard Hell, Johnny Thunders, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Wayne County, Alice Cooper, Lance Loud, Stephen Sprouse, Christopher Makos, Anya Phillips, Cherry Vanilla, Arturo Vega, Anna Sui, Sable Starr, James Chance, Lydia Lunch, and many more.

Lou Reed Tish & Snooky

The exhibition will be held at Museum’s Prince St. Project Space, 127-B Prince St., New York, from May 29-31, 2015. The opening celebration and book launch will be held on Friday, May 29, from 6-9 pm, featuring Superstar DJ Miss. Guy and host Howie Pyro. Exhibition hours are Saturday, May 30 and Sunday, May 31, from 12-6 pm.

Follow Carey Dunne on Twitter @CareyDunne

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  1. “In the early 70s, before Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, The Ramones, Lou Reed and the like were New York rock legends posing for Rolling Stone…”
    Lou Reed was famous in the 1960s. The Velvet Underground formed in 1964.