Penthouse Retrospective

by Kathy Lowry Originally Published: July, 1981

Culture Fringe | 40 Years Ago This Month

Perhaps the sickest and most morbid much-ado-about-very-little was an elaborate funeral party for dead rock stars, commemorating the OD’d likes of Elvis, Sid Vicious, Mama Cass, and Jim Morrison. Mourners came obediently dressed in basic black or as their favorite departed musician. Open caskets held likenesses of the Loved Ones. There were funeral wreaths saying it with flowers and elaborate conceptual-art shrines upstairs, solemnly visited by bereaved fans. One grief-stricken girl broke down while kneeling worshipfully before an Elvis Presley mannequin, oblivious of the fact that the dummy’s face looked more like the alive-and-kicking Mick Jagger.

Some of the funeral-goers found the scene less than the giggle it was intended to be. “Even a make-believe funeral is a downer,” groaned one man, though most mourners perked up when the floor show started. Marilyn, a punk singer dressed as the Angel of Death and clutching a huge hourglass, belted out a song called “Sex Means Nothing When You’re Dead.” (“It means nothing when you’re alive,” groused the lady reporter, still mourning a different loss.) One wag in the packed crowd of onlookers pulled out his reasonably stiff male member, tied with a reverent slim, black ribbon, hoping to impress his date. “This,” he said, smiling, “is still alive and well.” She doused it with her beer, sending it to a petite mort.

As the mourners filed slowly in behind a coffin carried by waxy-faced, greasy-haired pallbearers, one flagrantly handsome writer groaned, “God! Talk about gene pools! These people must come from a gene swamp! They all look dead already!” Most Mudd Clubbers would consider that a compliment, since punk culture is obsessed with the big “D.” If Fran Lebowitz sees sleep as “death without the responsibility,” punks seem to view death as life without the responsibility. Bored with sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, and potty-trained on assassinations, they seem to realize that even though nothing is sacred anymore, maybe death, at least, can be a religious experience.

Lately, such celebrations have been replaced by regular exhibits at the club’s new fourth-floor art gallery, which showcases artists who are, as one wag put it, “either way ahead of their time or else totally out of their mind.” Experimental video performances have also become commonplace, and on salon nights (open only to members) there are special video showings and live performances. A recent smash hit was singer Carol London’s send-up of the Vegas piano cocktail lounge culture. During her breaks the Mudd Club’s DJ played recorded sound tracks from hit television shows.


Like most controversial hot spots, the Mudd Club has been visited at least once by nearly every celebrity hipper than Pat Boone. Maria Schneider, drunk and disorderly, disappeared into the legendary bathroom with some friends and staged a rendition of “kiss the girls and make them cry.” Anita Pallenberg, the once peerlessly beautiful Rolling Stone moll, staggered in falling-down drunk and weighing 200 pounds. The handsome young man she was with turned out to be the 17-year-old found shot in her bed a few weeks later: for once, a Mudd Clubber got his morbid wish.

Most celebrities, though, don’t stay long enough to form any real judgment. Diana Ross breezed in early one morning, furred and sequined, and was so repulsed that she left, as one witness tells it, “without even taking a Wiz.” Sylvester Stallone bumbled by to check the place out. pronounced it a dive (he should know), and took off. Halston and his band of merry men strode imperiously upstairs and unwittingly dispossessed some regulars of their favorite rickety booth. “We got rid of them, though,” reported one of them gleefully. “We shook their seats and hooted at ‘em and threw gum at ‘em until they finally split.” A fairly ineffectual form of social protest compared with Kent State, albeit stickier. If you’re looking to start a revolution, maybe the Mudd Club lesson is, Don’t trust anyone under 30.

Should the Mudd Club have truly grabbed your culture fancy, you can find many, many insights across the Internet. Still, we can give you a head start. We do try to be helpful with culture of any kind.