I took the time this week to go to New York City and head on over to the amazing and illustrious Saint Mark’s Place where my all-time favorite store, Trash and Vaudeville is located. On top of browsing through the awesome rock n’ roll clothes and listening to AC/DC play over the store’s speakers, I interviewed the manager of the store, a true rocker, and one of my biggest inspirations, Jimmy Webb!
Alex Obert: Tell me how you discovered the area of Trash and Vaudeville and how you began working here.
Jimmy Webb: Oh, wow. It’s a two fold story. How I discovered the Lower East side is just by wandering in it. I’m the type of New Yorker who wants to experience all of New York. Now that I’m kind of settled in this area, I come here every day of the week, seven days a week. I still like going up to Park Avenue, Madison Avenue, Fifth Avenue, Wall Street. I love all of New York. It’s New York City, the best city in the world. But how I first discovered the Lower East Side was in that frame of mind back in 1975, walking around the streets of New York City, I wandered down here to the Lower East Side. That’s back when Third Avenue, the corner of Saint Mark’s and Third Avenue, that’s back when that was still called The Bowery, and as I was saying, I thought I found Heaven on Earth. This neighborhood was swingin’ and wild crazy cool back in 1975, so just wandering around New York, I found Lower East Side. And back then, when I wandered into Trash and Vaudeville, I remember when I see pictures of it now, the exact image of it, again, I thought I found Heaven on Earth. Within my heart, I walked into Trash and Vaudeville, and I finally knew I wasn’t crazy because it was a place where you could dress the soul.
The neighborhood back then was a completely different era. But everyone has their era. Everyone wants to talk about that era all the time. I totally remember that era. And I was the type of boy that went everywhere. That’s why I never wanted to be just Lower East Side. I’d go to Studio 54 and then come to Lower East Side. Gia, the supermodel, when I saw her life story, I was like “Oh my God!” I remember seeing Gia downtown. It was a great era of diversity and color. I think because there was less money, there was more creativity. I mean what do people do now? They sit and look at a computer, with no disrespect, they read other people’s blogs and want to live their lives. They’re in a world of Instagram where they dress like the picture that came out in two minutes, they never have the experience, and then they dress like the next picture. Back then, there was no stylist, everything was very real, and everyone really got off on a good way on each other. I’m gonna repeat something I said before in another interview once, people are very covetous now, and it wasn’t a very covetous world, so the neighborhood was more different. You run out and go and try to buy the bracelet and maybe it’s not even you, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But that was the seventies.
And you can’t take away from the eighties. The seventies was like CBGB and Studio 54, then comes the Mudd Club and the early Pyramid and the Danceteria and AM/PM, it was an eighties explosion which was amazing. And the early skinheads which weren’t racists, just a great workingman’s hero type. And the amazing punk rockers going out and dancing to Tainted Love. Fucking awesome. All the trannies dancing on the bar. Amazing! More diversity. And then I guess you kind of roll into the Club Kid era which I don’t get, I was a strung out junkie by then. So I was living in Tompkins Square Park three days before the riots, they had to drop a stinkbomb on us too. I mean what happened to the Polish lady? The junkie squeezed her off the bench. I’m not gonna lie, I was one of the junkies squeezin’ them off the bench. So you need a little gross defogger in there. So all of these great cultures, and then came the Club Kid era, which I wasn’t really around for. And Kurt Cobain and flannel, I don’t know what happened along there.
Alex Obert: What is it that you love about this specific area of New York City?
Jimmy Webb: Well, I love all of New York and I have memories all over New York, so I don’t think it is just about the Lower East Side or Saint Mark’s Place, but it’s just such a famous, big, block. Everybody’s wandered down this block, everybody. Years and years and years ago, I was buying a Jesus jacket down the street, back then, you could sell clothes on the ground, especially late at night. I would personally go out and lay a blanket on the ground and people would be up all night, it would be blanket after blanket after blanket, whether it was selling old kitchen utensils or a pair of leopard pants. And one day I found this jacket with a “Last Supper” on the back of it. The guy selling me it was this cool, little dude. I had taken it for granted, but you just become apart of it after a while. I mean, the guy selling me the jacket goes, “Hey, do you know how many people come from all over the world to wander down this block?” I hadn’t really thought of it that way and I thought of the Physical Graffiti building or the New York Dolls photograph on the end, the iconic Trash and Vaudeville that now I work at.
And I think I love it because of its history, and it’s so much of my history too. It’s so much of my history. It’s so colorful, it’s so very, very colorful. New York’s like one, big crayon box, so many colors in it. But the Lower East Side has the most colors of all, from when it had the old gay bathhouse next door to the tranny hookers on the block and the beat cops and the junkies. Squatters weren’t really squatters back then, they were more street people and they were very colorful, with all the mohawks and the leopard skirts, the mini skirts on the girls and the old, Polish ladies that would sit in the park. I think that’s why I loved it, the diversity. And the poor people, they used to live on the Fourth and D, there were these two hookers, the old Spanish people out in the neighborhood, the Christmas lights in the window all year long and cooking rice on the barbecue and the families, the guys playing dominoes in the street. The bombed out buildings covered with the razor wire, the empty back lots. It was so much diversity in the sense of also that it wasn’t a rich part of the city. The poor seemed to struggle more, in an artistic kind of way. So, it was really great.
Alex Obert: How do you feel the people in the area have changed since the 70’s when you arrived?
Jimmy Webb: Well, I think I kind of just said it before you asked the question without quite answering it. It grew into being so expensive to live in New York now. I was talking to Iggy about it, obviously meaning Iggy Pop. He ran away and came here too. He didn’t run away here, but it was like a different era where you could survive easily. There were no cell phones Mommy and Daddy paid for, there were no Mommy and Daddy’s credit card you had, rent was reasonable. Rent was under a hundred bucks back then and it was enormous. There’d be old, broken down hotels where six of us, people of your age or younger, sixteen, seventeen, would rent a hotel room and go crash out in it. I think money’s been a big change in the Lower East Side and it’s so expensive now. And the diversity, with no judgment, you look outside, it’s really overrun with Japanese. One thing I continually complain about with the change, the old neon signs, now all the signs are ugly, there’s no blankets on the ground with people selling clothes at night, there’s no hookers out front, there’s no really beat cop, it’s very generic. But I still believe in the Lower East Side. I don’t give up on anything, I’m not a give up person. Survivors always win, I’m a true survivor.
Alex Obert: With all the people you’ve met throughout the years, who inspires you the most?
Jimmy Webb: My boss, maybe. Iggy Pop, maybe. It could be you. Three times, the Make A Wish Foundation, I personally ended up being a wish that a terminally ill kid in another part of America would want to come here and meet me, one was through Slash, and one was through Sebastian Bach, and one was through a newspaper story. There’s something very inspirational about a kid looking at you that’s a teenager, and when you hear it’s the Make A Wish Foundation, it’s like, “Woah!”, you know there’s a deep, deep story behind here. You know he’s terminally ill or something deep’s going on. When they’re looking at you with the wildest, whitest, biggest eyes and finding you to be something special, you’re looking back at them knowing this story. In your mind, without saying anything, this unspoken story, and they’re just looking back at you, I talked to Alice Cooper about that. Within your spirit, you’re saying, “Oh my God, is there anything I can do?”, and they’re like, “No, just be you.”, that’s a pretty inspirational person in your life. And then of course, there’s always Iggy Pop. Iggy Pop’s probably one of my greatest inspirations in the world. Iggy Pop and my boss, the two biggest inspirations in the world.
Alex Obert: Describe how you developed and maintain a relationship with Slash.
Jimmy Webb: Oh my God, I love Slash. It’s so funny, we were just talking the other day. Because he’s my buddy, it’s like how do you maintain something with anyone in a truthful, honest, caring, interested in each other relationship? Slash and I hardly ever sit down and talk about the next album or guitar strings or 1982 or 88 or 87, that would be so boring, and that’s what people ask him all the fucking time. How do you maintain a relationship? “How’s your wife and kids? Did you have a good day? What’d you have for breakfast?” How do you maintain any relationship? Through the sincerity, “What’s your favorite color?”, those are the things Iggy and I talk about. He calls me while I’m cleaning the bathroom, now he knows me so well, he dials the phone early in the morning, he says, “Hey, watcha doin? Cleaning the bathroom?” And I say, “How’d you know that?” “Because you’re always cleaning the bathroom at eight o’clock in the morning.” Relationships are maintained through the sincerity, the honesty, the truth, and the interest in each other. Plus, it’s totally based on rock n’ roll. (laughs)
You know, the other day, I was having a moment, as they say, all human beings have moments, you know. And I was like, “But I’m never gonna give up! We are rock n’ roll! We are survivors!” And I got the sweetest text back, “You got that right! Life keeps throwing curveballs, but we keep beating ’em.” And that’s life, so it’s the truth. Or when Slash goes out there, whether he’s doing The Godfather theme, which puts tears in my eyes, he’s just an amazing, incredible guitar genius. He’s my buddy who’s affected the world. That’s awesome.
Alex Obert: Through music, fashion, and spirit, what does rock n’ roll mean to you?
Jimmy Webb: The pants you have on, the way you bounced in here and look the way you look. Sky over there looking the way he does, not just looking, because he looks his spirit. I have a couple of favorite people that work here. There’s one inspirational kid downstairs who is just the future of punk rock, he is punk rock. And I’ll watch him grow, maybe he’ll be the next Slash in whatever he does. He comes in and sells shoes, he’s a nice guy everyday, yet he goes out and does a killer show every night, and he has the most kickass fuckin’ t-shirts. He wears the t-shirts that I would have worn back then. He’s got the punk rock stench in him everyday, the old ladies like him, that’s fuckin’ inspirational. The smell of rock n’ roll.
Alex Obert: About you, what does it mean to you to be considered an icon?
Jimmy Webb: I don’t even know, so is Eve, who you just saw here, she’s been my customer forever. But Eve is this person and you didn’t even know it was Eve, right? And she’s from Philly and it’s like, “Wow, how did you become Eve?” I just asked Debbie Harry the same story the other day, I was like, “What’s it like being Debbie Harry?” None of the people that you think are iconic, Slash doesn’t look at himself as iconic, Iggy Pop does not look at himself as iconic, I do not look at myself as iconic. Putting myself in that category, it’s very flattering when your mere existence affects someone or touches someone in a special way. That’s fuckin’ awesome, so I guess I’m thankful to God for it. If you have an issue, God will call up the universe. (laughs) I just try to say thank you. But sometimes I think with all the people that come here, so many people come and want a picture with me and that’s so flattering and sweet, but inside I’m like, “Don’t you wanna go stand near the Statue of Liberty or something?” (laughs) But it’s very flattering, very, very sweet and flattering, but I never want to look at myself as iconic, unless it’s because I’ve lived this long, I can still make a sentence and I want to be a good guy.
Alex Obert: How do you want people to walk out of Trash and Vaudeville feeling?
Jimmy Webb: Wow, that was fuckin’ awesome. That’s how I felt the first time I walked in and walked out. That was fuckin’ awesome, you know what I mean? And underneath that, the people were nice, it was great. I want people to find a little bit of themselves that they’re not afraid to face and for it to be so pleasurable. Like when you taste a new ice cream, it’s fuckin’ awesome and you had the balls to taste the weirdest flavor in the place.
Alex Obert: Describe a typical day here as an employee, in your eyes.
Jimmy Webb: Work. First of all, it’s a job. It’s just a great job. I mean you come here and make dreams come true, but it’s work. Because some people come in here and are like, “I have tattoos. Can I work here?” “I’m in a band. Can I work here?” “I don’t wanna change. I wanna work where I can have a tattoo and I can have this color hair.” That’s great, but can you sweep a floor? Can you add to the world? Because the person that sweeps the floor is just as important as someone like me. I have a guy, John, who’s traveled, never had experience in clothing at all, and he’s a great employee. I just mentioned Sky. Work’s work, we all come together. You know what it’s like? It’s like going out, like I do it, I have a lot of fucking rockstar friends, I have a billion fucking rockstar friends, I get to see it all. I get to see them almost every minute except I notice everyone wants a few minutes alone before they walk on stage. I don’t know what they do in that few minutes, but I do kind of know. And a few minutes when they come off. And what it’s like coming to work here everyday. It’s like everyone comes in and they’re this little piece of this great, big thing. When you’re watching Slash’s band hit the stage or Joan Jett hit the stage or Iggy hit the fuckin’ stage. Every time your foot hits that top step everyday or that bottom step to go downstairs, you better be ready to give the world the fuckin’ best and go out and give em’ all and please everybody that comes in everyday. That’s what coming to work here is like.
Alex Obert: You want people to give their best, but what was some of the best advice you ever received?
Jimmy Webb: Woah. I received so much good advice. Always be a gentleman, which came from a very good friend and my answer was, “But I am a gentleman.” and I was at that point in my life. Another thing I once remembered an old boss saying, “It’s not the big things that piss us off in life, it’s the little things that are annoying and you remember.” That is a good piece of advice. But I believe in manners, integrity, humility, doing the right thing for the right reason, doing the right thing when nobody’s looking. Integrity’s so important. Accepting people as they are rather than angry and pissed off all the time. Not being bewildered so much. If you sit there bewildered too long, you’re gonna start drooling on yourself and you’re never gonna get anything done. But life can be bewildering, just don’t live in it too long.
Alex Obert: St. Mark’s Place is known for being dominant in the seventies and eighties, but what was it like around here in the nineties, early 2000’s?
Jimmy Webb: That’s when I got my ass hauled out of New York. I will never be dishonest, I couldn’t even live here anymore. Going off the last drug program, I wasn’t really successful back then. And I realized, “Clean your shit up and be like Iggy and go kill the world! Jimmy, knock it dead! Don’t be a pussy to anything.” Being a junkie means you’re dependent. Independence is the most beautiful thing in the world because then you’re free to be you, right? So I don’t really remember that era like that well, but I was watching that movie Party Monster a few years ago, like the real one, in the beginning, I think it’s Michael Musto from the Village Voice. And that was an era where a lot wasn’t really added to the world, you know what I mean? I was just out of town with Slash for a while. I was listening to the guy that signed Guns n’ Roses and even music, no one was talking shit about it, but he was like back when vinyl was vinyl and people were in record stores and then came their little cassettes and those 8 track things in there somewhere and then came the CD and out came the MP3. If you listen to the music, it’s changed and it’s not even good and he proved the point literally. So how it’s changed again and it’s like what I said before, everything is going so fast and it’s so instant. I mean if you were sitting and handwriting this or had an old camera, it’d be way fuckin’ cooler. I have this tape of Iggy at the Cooper Square Diner across the street, just on an old, handheld camera and it’s so amazing because it’s not so fast. So I think a lot isn’t added so much anymore because everything is so fast. Very, very fast.
Alex Obert: With all the concerts that you’ve seen, what does a concert mean to you in its purest form?
Jimmy Webb: Well, I’m not like a shit talker, so I don’t want to live in the seventies either. When I go see Iggy, I don’t expect to see Iggy 1969, 1971. I have a great art collection of real moments in history. I go see him now and he’s amazing. I went to see Lady Gaga, they hooked me up with tickets. She was like going to the circus, she was great at what she did. Is she one of my favorites? No. I’m not gonna lie. I like Madonna a lot better. She can control the stadium with her vagina. Gay, straight, male, female. Amazing power. Or you look at Lil Wayne and he’s fucking amazing. Motorhead, standing under fucking Lemmy. Everytime I see Lemmy, I get right up front, my body’s so sore from the rock n’ roll pain of being shoved and surviving when you’re standing under Lemmy from fucking Motorhead just killing it and you’re so deaf. Again, that pain and deafness becomes pleasure, like you’re just in a fight to fuckin’ survive, it’s you and Lemmy and everyone else. It’s fucking awesome! I went to an Iggy Pop show where my body hurt so fucking bad, it’s like Jesus is coming in the crush of the crowds. It’s fucking amazing! It’s fucking awesome! Or just seeing Slash in an outdoor stadium on a lake and just watching him fucking sweat and giving it his fucking all, his leather pants in ninety seven degree fucking heat and just not getting up. That’s a great fucking moment.
Alex Obert: Related to the musicians, which deceased musicians do you wish could have gotten the chance to visit Trash and Vaudeville?
Jimmy Webb: I’ve met everyone I could want to meet. I just like meeting Eve, I’m glad she’s fucking alive. I miss Lux from The Cramps, but I did get to meet him. These are people I want to meet. I mean I got kissed on the lips two years ago by Marianne Faithfull. Oh my God, one of the biggest fucking highlights of my life. I mean I’ve been kissed by the best. I’ve been kissed by Liv Tyler, Debbie Harry, and Marianne Faithfull. That’s pretty fucking great! (laughs) I would like to meet Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I would like him to come in, they tell me he used to come in. But I never know if people are people, unless you’ve got a distinguished face. Like when I first met Duff McKagan, “Hey, I’m Duff!”, and I was like, “I know.” A lot of people, I don’t know who they are, I just like them as people. If you come here, you’re not treated any better than anybody else. I’m not gonna treat anybody better, and that’s the kind of staff we keep here. People talk shit about Taylor Momsen all the time and think we give her free clothes. I’ve read it on her Facebook. It’s like, “Are you an idiot? She comes in and supports us, and what are you critiquing her hips and her ankles for? She’s a fucking amazing sweetheart.” It’s funny to watch how other people react to people. I took Sky, he’s a great employee, to meet Debbie Harry at a party recently, because Debbie comes in a lot and to watch who makes other people’s hearts skip a beat. Or my shoe boys, they’re not impressed by anything, they’re so fucking cool, they’re just not impressed by anything at all, which is what I like about them because then they treat everybody equal. But the day fucking Alice Cooper came in because he comes a lot when he’s in town, to watch the shoe boys go, “That’s Alice Cooper!” They were trying to get their manhood up and were like, “Oh shit!” And the day Billy Gibbons came in, I felt like they were seeing Santa Claus. I had to take their picture with him and it’s like, “Oh my God!” They were so freaked out by seeing Billy Gibbons. So watching someone’s reaction to someone else.
I had a kid working and Dave Navarro comes in. Dave Navarro’s great and he’s just like such a handful of fun. And it was funny because that’s Dave Navarro from Jane’s Addiction, alright? It’s fucking Dave Navarro! Musician Dave Navarro. But this kid only knew him as Dave Navarro from Ink Master. How could you not know it’s fucking Dave Navarro? His reaction was even funnier. Meeting you is a pleasure. I just like meeting people. I’d like to meet Joseph Gordon-Levitt, I’ll say it twice. I don’t know why, but he looks like a very interesting person and a character that walks to the beat of his own drummer. He’s got a little Iggy Pop in him. I never know who I want to meet until I meet them. I met Shaun White. I was like, “Oh my fucking God, you’re Shaun White!” Liv Tyler, I get a little smitten with. But I never know until I meet them. I don’t really want to meet anybody. It seems like too much work to want to meet somebody. I’ve got so much shit to do rather than think about who I want to meet. (laughs)
Alex Obert: So in closing, I’d like to thank you for your time for this great interview.
Jimmy Webb: Thank you.
Alex Obert: What do you have to say to those who want to go after their dreams and be who they truly are?
Jimmy Webb: You really want me to cry from the heart and the soul, right? Go for ’em. Never give up on your dream, ever, ever, ever, ever because dreams do come true. Sometimes, you don’t even know what your dream is, life gets so big and gives you so many amazing things, just never give up on your dreams. And don’t be afraid to get in the boat. When life sends a boat, get it. Go with it. But don’t give up on your dreams. Don’t let fear take it away or lack of faith or whatever. Believe in your dreams, dreams do come true. I have the best life ever. I piss, I moan, I grumble, I complain, I laugh, I cry, but you know what? I have the best life ever and I know it.