A look back at #43 guest editor Mike D’s interview with the man who saw it all in NY.
Cheuse-atorium time: we (the Beastie Boys) had the good fortune of crossing paths with Josh Cheuse, and having him document a fair amount of our shows, good times, travels and goings-on during a bunch of our early years as a band. It was not only his great timing but also his ability to capture these moments that made his work so awesome and honestly timeless.
So, Josh, how did I first meet you? I know we were both going downtown to see bands and going to clubs all the time, and we both lived down the street from each other on the Upper West Side, but I don’t know how we actually met?
I hate to give Dante Ross the credit, but I think he introduced us, and then we realized we were living, like, two blocks from each other or something. [Ed: Yes, THE Dante Ross as mentioned by De La Soul, 3rd Bass and others.]
Right, and how did you meet Dante? In a club or something?
That I can’t remember. I mean, God, it’s all such a blur.
I know, this is what happens when you get old. Also, we had a lot of recreational time on our hands when we were in the club.
A lot of cheap beer, as I remember.
Yeah, and cheap weed.
Remember that place by the stables that you could score weed at?
Yeah that’s right. We would both buy weed at that place where you’d pass ten bucks through the keyhole.
Yeah, I remember going to the top of the stairs in that tenement and there was a door with a slot in it.
Yeah, exactly, and you’d go to the door and you wouldn’t knock or anything, you’d just put a ten dollar bill through the little hole where the cylinder for the lock would be, but there was no cylinder and you’d slip your ten bucks through there and a dime bag would come out.
Something like that. I thought it was more like five bucks but maybe, I don’t know.
I think we probably spent most of our time—and maybe there’s a couple photos in your portfolio from this—at Danceteria and other downtown NYC clubs.
I mean, as far as I remember, we’d go to your place and you would somehow get your mom’s car, and we would go riding around. I think we put it in a ditch once. Just general hell-raising, but it was such a different time because it wasn’t like New York bottle-service kind of nightclubs, it was everyone who’s semi-cool or creative gets in to the nightclub and everyone else had to wait in line or whatever.
Yeah, I look at it as kind of crazy: just this pack of kids that wanted to go out and dance and listen to music and they would just kind of let us in and then that lead to drink tickets and, you know, before we knew it, instead of just being kids that were going to the clubs, we were kind of like making stuff, we were all getting involved in making stuff that was somehow part of what that culture was and would become.
I think hats off to some people like Howie Montaug—God rest his soul—who was kind of like the den mother of club culture in the sense that, I mean literally, when he was the doorman at Hurrah, he said to me, ‘If your mom brings you to the club, (even though I was underage) if your mom drops you off, I’ll let you in.’
I remember something similar. I went to see a show at Hurrah, and he looked at me, and he was like, ‘All right, you’re with your older brother, so I guess it’s a family thing, so it’s fine.’
It’s a family thing. I think I was a kid, but I mean, now, it’s funny.
And back then you were shooting photos already. I feel like when I first met you at the Cabaret at Danceteria—Adam and I were talking about this the other week—the clubs were a home for all this different creative, crazy shit; whether it was us doing Three Bad Jewish Brothers, or Madonna doing her thing, or Karen Finley or the guys that did Joey Chill Out It’s a Dangerous Road, you had all these different people doing their thing. But I remember, you were already totally shooting photographs.
Yeah, I was—whether they would come out or not was dubious. I was developing them in my mom’s bathtub then. There were a lot of mistakes. I was definitely trying, and some of it came out. When you were living on Hudson Street and your bathroom kind of became the Cheuse-atorium, remember? And my photos would go up on the wall, collaged on the wall; I wish I had a picture of that wall.
Yeah, me too. Would have been great for this piece.
I mean, God, I wish I could go back now for all the nights that I was stoned and drunk and I didn’t take pictures, but maybe that’s good. New York is such a different place now than when there was that hot bed of creativity, culture, etc., at Howie’s Cabaret. Again, for the readers, Howie was the doorman at the Mudd Club at Hurrah, and then at Danceteria, and he had this monthly Cabaret and somewhere—you know, Mike—all that footage exists.
Really, so there’s video?
There’s video of like almost all the Cabaret stuff. It might probably be just like one shot locked off, but it definitely exists.
Right, well, I guess I feel good that it exists, although as long as I never have to see it.
Hah! Me neither. I seem to remember, when we did Three Bad Jewish Brothers, having a meeting with Bernard at Celluloid who wanted to give us a record deal as the Three Bad Jewish Brothers and we just thought it was, like, the biggest joke of all time. Like, little did we know that years later, people would, you know, become Jewish rap groups.
We thought that was the funniest thing ever.
It was like a joke. Are you kidding me? And he’s like, ‘Oh no, it would be super.’ (Ed: In French accent—Bernard was French.)
That sounds right.
What did we rap about?
We kept it very kosher.
It was all very kosher. Something about ‘I do it every night through a hole in a sheet’, or something like that.
When you were taking pictures and documenting the stuff you did, it was a different time in New York. Everyone you met was doing something creative. That was basically the reason to be in New York. I’m sure some people were there to make money, but it seemed like in our world, anyway, everybody was hustling, it was hustling in the name of furthering whatever it was you did creatively.
Yeah, I have no musical talent, so I was just trying to figure out how to kind of find my niche in this and only insofar as to join the circus and make stuff and not like, Oh, twenty years from now all of this will be interesting or worth money, or I’ll get famous; it was more like, How can I contribute to the scene. It was such a scene, and I think our little scene was definitely worth documenting.
You have to have a certain ability to see the world around you as it’s unfolding to take the pictures that you did. It’s the stuff that’s happening really fast around you and you have to have the ability to see it a certain way and capture it—that’s totally what you did, being around a lot of amazing times, musicians, music, etc.
Why thank you, Mike. I guess you learn as you go, but you do have to kind of know when to take the photograph, and also have a nose for things that are potentially interesting or exciting or whatever. And Lord knows there was so much of it at the time.
Looking at the photo portfolio we’re running here, I just want to point out the first picture, in terms of subtitles or whatever: we have Adam Horovitz aka Ad-Rock pictured in front of a Beastie Boys piece that was on the wall in the parking lot across the street from Danceteria, right?
And the piece, to give credit where credit is due, was done by Cey Adams.
And did (David) Skilken help?
I think Skilken was involved too, but I guess I was looking at it and I see Cey’s tag by the period. I think Cey was the author, but Skillken was the sous-chef.
Yeah, there you go. I mean, I don’t know if this is the order that they’re gonna be in in the thing or whatever, but.
To be clear, that was the parking lot, the Ad-Rock picture. Then the picture of Joe in front of that car, is that Notting Hill?
Yeah, the good anecdote with that is that I was working with Mick Jones on Big Audio Dynamite at the time, and we were about to go on tour in England and Joe showed up to get Mick to record some songs for the Love Kills soundtrack for Alex Cox, and it was kind of secret because they had split up, if they were kind of working together again it would create some kind of hysteria or whatever, or disinterest, so it was all very secretive. And Joe would show up and then they would kind of sneak to the studio. And right before we were going to go on tour with BAD in the UK, Joe showed up; I was staying at Mick’s house, and Mick was asleep as usual, and I said, ‘I bet we can do a whole photo session before he wakes up.’ And Joe said, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’ And actually, at the time, I had this Polaroid film, which was like Polaroid slide film that you could develop with a little crank machine, so basically I shot those pictures and then developed them on the street and we pulled them out and looked at them, and it all happened before Mick woke up. Then they kind of snuck off to the studio to record. So it was just funny, like, ‘I bet we can do a whole photo session.’ It was kind of a sucker bet because Lord knows, you know, it took a lot to wake Mick up—which I would do later, professionally, for a few years.
I’m gonna jump down to the Run-DMC pictures. I remember when we met Russell Simmons, we got to go to Green Street and just kinda sat there while Run-DMC recorded, and we couldn’t have been more giddy because we idolized Run-DMC as much as we idolized the Clash earlier in our lives, right? And we just—we were literally looking at each other, like here we are at Green Street in a room with Run-DMC and they’re making ‘Rock Box’ or whatever, and we’re like, ‘Holy shit, we’re here, Run-DMC are right there, and they’re making our favorite music in the world.’
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you guys kind of organically became, you know? We have those pictures of you guys making beats with them, but as I remember, you were invited in and then it was a test of ‘okay, so what do you got, what have you got to bring to the party?’.
Yeah you’re right, it’s totally analogous, like you were invited in but then you had to work, and then once they saw what you were capable of, you became part of it.
Can you imagine that happening now? I can’t see that happening these days.
No, I can’t. I think the world’s different now. Because it definitely went from that ‘oh my God, I can’t believe it’ moment to then kind of having to prove ourselves, and do the work; and then they were like, ‘We’d love to do a record with you guys,’ and it all happened so fast, you know?
Then you’re kind of on the spot, like, Fuck, I’ve gotta actually create something. Those two pictures, the Run and D pictures by themselves—wasn’t that at Charles Koppelman’s kid’s bar mitzvah or something?
Oh was it? No, wait, hold on. No, it wasn’t a bar mitzvah—it was a sweet sixteen party.
That, unto itself, is one of the best stories ever. I’ll try to tell it quickly. This guy who was a huge music mogul, Charles Koppelman, was having a sweet sixteen party for his daughter. At the time we were with Rush Artist Management, so he calls up Rush Artist Management, and at the time there was a precursor to MTV in New York called U68. It was a UHF channel that 300,000 people watched maybe, at most. [Ed: This is pure conjecture by the rapper Mike D.] But it happened that they had distribution in Long Island, so this 16-year-old girl would watch this music channel U68 and we made a music video called ‘She’s On It’, and it would actually get played all the time on U68 and they would play Run-DMC all the time. So Charles Koppelman—who had this huge music publishing company and has looked after people like Barbra Streisand; like, you couldn’t be bigger from a business perspective in the music business than Charles Koppelman—so he goes to his daughter, ‘Honey, who do you want me to get for your sweet sixteen party?’ and she says Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys. So he’s probably like, ‘Oh fuck, I gotta get these hoodlums out to my mansion in Long Island.’
And Mike, correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t we booted from the party for jumping in the pool?
No, not exactly, we weren’t even booted out, we were never really allowed in. That was the whole thing. So, he sends a limo to pick us up, and we were super excited. I think it may have even been our first time ever, professionally, that someone had sent a limousine to drive us anywhere. So we were super excited, but mostly we’re super excited because it’s us and Josh going out there, and Dave Skilken and Ricky Powell I remember, the Captain, and we’re thinking, ‘Okay, this is going to be the best gig of our entire lives.’ We were probably, like, what, 18 at this point?
Yeah, if that.
So we’re 17, 18, and we’re thinking we’re gonna go play at this sweet sixteen party, like this is guaranteed. We’re gonna hook up with every one of these JAPs from Roslyn, Long Island, and this is gonna be incredible.
And Run-DMC’s playing.
Yeah, and we’re with Run-DMC, so we’re thinking, basically, this is going to be one of the best nights of our lives. Unfortunately, Charles Koppelman was one step ahead of us in this whole thing, and, literally, the second we step out of the limo there’s this huge security guy to escort us right in to this guest house. And then Charles Koppelman meets us and greets us warmly and is like, ‘Okay great, thanks so much guys for doing this.’ I remember, he gives the Captain a little stack of cash to pay us, and we had never actually been paid cash money to play a show, and we were like, ‘Oh, yeah, this is the best ever,’ but then we realized that we were literally locked in to this guest house until it was time for us to perform. And then they let us out, we played like a song, or a song and a half, and again this huge guy comes over and is like, ‘Okay boys, thank you very much,’ and grabs the mics away from us and then they boot us out. They immediately send us packing in to the limo before we had any chance to talk to a 16-year-old girl.
I seem to remember being in the swimming pool in our underpants.
Listen, maybe while we were performing you guys were able to work that out, but the paid performers never made it that far.
I thought that’s why we got thrown out?
Well, maybe it was, you guys fucked it up for all of us.
Well, it was a swimming pool; I don’t think I’d ever seen a swimming pool.
It was a mansion with a swimming pool; it’s true.
Okay, so what else.
The Soulsonic Force shot, where was that from? I’m just curious.
I think that was the Ritz?
Ah, the Ritz. Could be. I know it’s not the Roxy, not Roseland.
No, I think it’s the Ritz. I don’t remember, maybe they had kind of graduated from the Roxy, but I mean, you know, Bambaataa dressed like, kind of a… I don’t know what he’s dressed like.
I don’t know what he is either; I don’t know what any of them dressed as, but it’s awesome, because no one puts on a whole performance any more. Soulsonic Force really went for it. They did this whole crazy performance.
Yeah, I mean, he’s wearing curtains, sunglasses and some kind of strange headgear. And Mr Biggs is dressed as a Roman, and Pow Wow of course.
Pow Wow dressed like a Native American.
They were just so amazing.
Yeah. Then we got a couple of the breakdancing shots. It’s funny, I feel like breakdancing can kind of be a caricature of that culture, but I feel there’s something with your photos where it’s a ‘moment in time’ kind of thing. It was so real and prevalent in New York at that period.
The one-legged breakdancer photo?
Yeah, which, you know, is one of my favorite photos.
Yeah, it’s definitely one of my favorite photos. And that’s outside what’s now the MTV office or something.
Yeah, it’s in Times Square, right?
Yeah, I think that’s the door to 1515 or something.
Right by MTV, Viacom, whatever it is.
I was just looking at the picture of the guy at the Fresh Fest—I think that was me and Fab Five Freddy at the Fresh Fest, like, whoever had given us the tickets, the seats were awful. They were in the top of the Nassau Coliseum and there was so much angel-dust smoke that we were literally nauseous; and this guy was definitely smoking dust in front of us. I think the Fat Boys or something were on stage, but the crowd used to just heave and move around like this weird mess, and then someone would be stabbed, and then the crowd would kind of jump back, and then there would be a body and then the crowd would kind of cover it up again. It was like slam dancing but it was almost like the Roman Colosseum as I remember it; just completely insane, because this was all obviously pre–the terror, pre-, you know, everything. There was no weapon check.
Yeah I know—that was way before metal detectors.
If there was a fight in the nightclub we’d be like, ‘Where’s Dante?’
Dante. I was just talking to someone about that last night. I was recalling how many clubs I would ultimately have to leave because I was there with Dante and the night would always end with a fight.
Yeah, you could usually find him as soon as the brawl broke out. God love him. Okay Mike, so good talking to you.
Great talking to you too.