John Spaceley was a lost hero of punk. A friend sent a link to STORY OF A JUNKIE, in which John played Gringo, a desperately cool skateboarding junkie. John was more than that, then again maybe that was all he had to be, but I loved the onetime PUNK MAGAZINE publisher’s Jack o Lantern smile.
The other day I was standing on the corner of 3rd Avenue and St. Mark’s.
For almost two decades his portrait on the outer wall of 5 St. Mark’s Place welcomed visitors to the East Village. Lech Kowalski, the director of STORY OF A JUNKIE had paid $5000 in 1983 for the mural and John had been paid in pints of beer to pose for the painting. The owner of the building covered the image stating that the painting had commercial value. No one has yet to rent its space.
Spaceley was not always nice.
One night outside of Dave’s Luncheonette he insulted someone’s girlfriend. She might have been a TV. Spaceley pushed the boyfriend into the street. The cab knocked him out cold. His drag queen friend smacked Spaceley with a chain. He didn’t stop until John’s eye was gone. It’s a wonder more of us didn’t die back then.
John could have turned meaner, but a young girl wrote of meeting the coolest skank;”a gangly, tattooed junkie with platinum blonde hair and an eyepatch. Spaceley was fascinating to me because he was the former publisher of the notorious Punk magazine, plus he knew Sid Vicious personally.
I also liked his spark—a sense of honor among thieves. I remember one afternoon—I haven’t thought about this in 20 years—when he recognized me on St. Marks Place and immediately asked me if I could lend him whatever money I had so he could “pay his rent.” He promised that if I lent it to him, he would return and panhandle it back for me. In my naiveté (remember, I was only 15), I lent him whatever I had—probably around $10, which was a fortune to me—and waited for him.
The amazing thing to me even now is that he did come back. And he panhandled for a couple of hours, until he was able to get just over $5 for me. That was my “adventure” of the day—watching the legendary Spaceley panhandle on my behalf.
One sunny summer afternoon, Spaceley offered to tell me who really killed Sid Vicious’s girlfriend—if I’d give him $2 for a beer.
So the two of us went to a grimy tavern called the Holiday Cocktail Lounge, I gave him the $2, and he gave me the answer (available upon request—I like knowing who’s read this far). And he told me about his own addictions, which he then claimed to have under control.
“So you pulled yourself up,” I said, thinking of a line from some Talking Heads tune—my whole life was song lyrics back then.
“No,” he said emphatically, surprising me with his sudden seriousness. “You can’t pull yourself up. Someone has to pull you up.”
John Spaceley was special.
Everyone was in his eyes too.
To view John Spaceley in STORY OF A JUNKIE, please go to the following URL
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