Penthouse Retrospective

by Kathy Lowry Originally Published: July, 1981

Culture Fringe | 40 Years Ago This Month

These photo-journalistic essays will report on a wide range of facets of contemporary society and will preview tomorrow’s trends as they develop today.

Penthouse Magazine - July, 1981The Mudd Club

This represents the first in a new series of Penthouse reports that will take an inside look at various aspects and experiences of life in America that are not generally known to the public at large but nevertheless comprise an important and newsworthy part of our culture.

A muscular young Jamaican coke dealer lies shirtless, spread-eagled on the urinal floor. his grin as white as his merchandise. Thin strips of cocaine war-paint his chest. In the bluish fluorescent light, the graffiti on the bathroom wall just above him read “Better dead on reds. — JFK.” “A punk without rock is like a day without sunshine.” “Why not pussy biscuits? — Colette.”

Seconds later his smirking pal ushers in several uptight slumming businessmen, the kind who knot their ties at the neck instead of above the vein in their arm. Giggling nervously, they kneel and rut around on his sweaty torso. snorting coke off his armpits, navel, Adam’s apple, and nipples. “Token denigration,” grins the black man.

Despite the Mudd Club’s strident counterculture iconoclasm, this avantgarde disco/cabaret/punk palace shares one thing in common with mainstream New York night spots: its popularity with the hip set waxes and wanes, fluctuating as wildly as presidential polls. Currently, it is enjoying a major comeback, according to the faithful regulars. “Originally,” claims a pretty girl wearing every conceivable shade of purple, “the place was a filthy, cavernous warehouse, a Lysol country nightmare whose only decor was the rampant graffiti scribbled on the walls by patrons. Now,” she says, “they’ve exposed the brick walls so that the place looks more like an Aspen ski lodge — except that no one there would ever do anything as disgustingly wholesome as skiing!” A pioneer in the age of shrinking expectations, the Mudd Club still doesn’t advertise: people learn by word of mouth what nights live punk bands like the Psychedelic Furs, U-2, and Adam and the Ants will appear. A current favorite is a band called Shoxlumania, whose members dress up like Ukrainian folk dancers.

The Mudd Club’s primary clientele — a varied assortment of punks, conceptual artists, nihilists, New Wavers, and serious misfits — enjoy playing sicko at the club the way they once played doctor under the stoop. Andy Warhol, an early frequenter no longer frequently seen there, put it best: “In the sixties we all had plenty to get pissed off about; now we’re too tired and jaded for that; so we come here to get pissed on.” The bands, which usually play for little more than free drinks, happily contribute toward that goal, indulging in such crowd-pleasing gambits as cursing the audience and screaming out lyrics punctuated by shrieks that could shatter a mason jar.

If all this weren’t humbling enough, masochistic would-be revelers can’t just sashay in on a smile and a cover charge. Not unless they’ve got recognizable faces or possess the laminated cards recently issued to regulars. making them members in good standing of the Mudd College of Deviant Behavior. Otherwise, claims Mudd Club proprietor Steve Maas, the only sure way to get into this perversely elitist hangout is to dress with punk-chic imagination: safety pins in the ear. leopard-skin loincloth tastefully teamed with short white Peck & Peck gloves. Cuisinart haircut, jeans tight enough to separate the labia minora from the majora. Here is a good rule of thumb: if your mom would let you out her front door in your getup, you probably won’t get in. One nice-looking ad man in a neat camel blazer and pleated trousers stormed off after two hours of standing outside in the cluster of well-to-dos waiting to get inside the tenement. “Jesus!” he said. “I didn’t wait this long to get in to see Raging Bull!”