Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Mars & Micheline

With Mars Bar gone and vanished, replaced by the "Jupiter 21" luxury building and now a TD Bank, along with a new bar coming that will serve organic juices and quinoa, I've said what I had to say about its considerable significance in the neighborhood. On a more personal note, for me the place will also be indelibly linked to Beat poet Jack Micheline. He introduced me to it when I was young and still new to the East Village.

For what it's worth, I include here my journal entry about that night, my first time at Mars Bar--when I didn't even know the name of the place. It was exactly 20 years ago.

Jack at Mars, photo: Ellen Lynn

May 16, 1994

Last night I ran around the East Village with Jack Micheline. I met him up at Harris’ bookstore and we went out for coffee. We walked up and down the streets, stopping in bookshops and bars. He smoked Camels, unfiltered, one after the other, coughing and farting. We went into a bar somewhere around 1st Street.

We smoked and talked.
He told me about Franz Kline, “Larry” Ferlinghetti, Janis Joplin, Allen Ginsberg, and an ex-girlfriend of his who was cruel and mean. Later he found out she’d been college roommates with the woman who shot Andy Warhol.

A song came on the jukebox by a woman Jack knows. Her band is called Nice Undies. He said he gave them a song he had written for Janis Joplin, but “Janis was into this heavy lesbian relationship at the time and it’s a real hetero song.” So Nice Undies got it.

Jack told me about the time he was "shit-drunk" with Bukowski. Jack pulled out a toilet plunger and kissed it. He said it blew Buk’s mind. Jack told him,
“If you can’t kiss a toilet plunger, then you can’t be a great poet.”

Jack at Mars, photo: Ellen Lynn

Later, alone, I retraced our steps back to Mars Bar (which I now thought was spelled "Marz" because of the way the name was painted on the side at the time) and eventually took friends to the place. I also spent more time with Jack.

In my journal I wrote:

"Jack came in and sat on my couch and chain-smoked Navy Cuts. The cockroaches were crawling on the walls. He'd just been to his art show with Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg. He told me more about his days with Janis Joplin, getting drunk with her. 'She was just a person,' he said, 'a regular person. She was a good kid.' He explained how uncomfortable she was offstage, with her low self-esteem, and about all her lovers. One woman, he told me, wrote a book called Going Down on Janis, which was all about what it says it's about and, according to Jack, 'terrible.' I lent him my harmonica for his show. He played a few tunes, then we went to Kiev."

my last drink at Mars Bar

In these journal entries and others, I was so young and excited to be in the East Village, hanging out with poets. There are all these scenes--being kissed by Allen Ginsberg, drinking beer at the Cedar Tavern with Anne Waldman, Ed Sanders, and Joanne Kyger (who amazed me by eating sugar straight from the packet with her fingertip).

There are all these meals (at Kiev and the Jones Diner) and drinks (at the Telephone Bar and back at Mars Bar again) and trips to bookshops like Tompkins Square Books and Harris Books (does anyone remember Harris Books on the second floor?).

Twenty years later, all those places are gone. The East Village is no longer a bohemian space. Mars Bar just opened as a TD Bank. Jack's gone, too. He died in 1998, alone on the BART train out of San Francisco. I never did get my harmonica back, but it doesn't matter.

The Loss of Mars
Blue & Cream on Mars
Before Mars Bar
Remembering Kiev


Caleo said...

Nice post. 1994 was an utterly different city. All gone except the name.

Anonymous said...

Amazing memoir. What a difference 20 years makes. Thank you for sharing.

Unknown said...

You've captured the essence of a part of the street scene in those days that I remember well -- the 80s and 90s in E Village. I don't think I could take the sight of a bank (any bank, frankly) in the old Mars Bar space. My pot dealer lived a half a block east of there for decades. They're all gone now.

Pat said...

That was "Going Down With Janis" by Peggy Caserta with Dann Knapp.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

So good to read. 20 years doesn't seem that long ago, but how different. I remember walking home this way in the 80s, and how quiet it got along Second as you headed south. Nothing remotely upscale, and no chattering hordes. Ah, youth ...

Bobby G said...

I remember Harris' Bookstore. I got a first edition, red wine stained, hardcover copy of Herbert Huncke's Guilty of Everything there. I also remember Jack Micheline. Around that time I let him stay at my Norfolk St. storefront studio. He gave me an inscribed copy of his Outlaw of the Lowest Planet. A real tuneful, truth telling gentleman outlaw of the rarest kind.

Anonymous said...

This memoir is worth more than any commentary one could pen about the changing neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

Micheline was a true native son. From the Bronx.

Lisa said...

Great post, as usual. I remember that NYC quite fondly.

Anonymous said...

holy shit! harris books! I was just telling my son about that place, but couldn't recall the name!! sigh!

Jim Leff said...

Oh, I remember Harris Books. I once went into his store (above Kiev restaurant) looking for a book, but couldn't remember its title, author, or genre. I only remembered the color of the cover. And Harris found it.

The following week, I was looking for another book, but couldn't remember title, author, or color. And HE FOUND IT. I'm not kidding. No hints, no prompting. It was that kind of place. Magical.

Harris, it seems, is still book-selling (and, alas, living) on the streets. I would have preferred a happier ending, but it sounds like he's still him. http://www.brooklynrail.org/2008/07/local/almost-famous

Jeremiah Moss said...

Jim, thanks so much for that article on Harris