Kopczynski hatched an elaborate scheme that involved doling out disposable cameras to street dwellers and capturing his interaction with them on video. When the project was done, he planned to patch together what he'd culled into "a kind of guerrilla reality show."
The project did not turn out exactly as masterminded. Kopczynski and his partner, Gladys Palacios, gave the first camera in August to a scraggly, gray-haired man on the Upper Eastside who turned out to be hearing-impaired and speechless and possibly blind: All of his pictures came out blank. The next camera went to a wheelchair-bound fellow who snapped shots of street signs.
Not until round three did Kopczynski strike Bowery gold. He gave a camera to a man named Steve, who returned it full of shots of himself and his friend Jeff, a slender reed of tattoos and hypodermic scars. The photos showed the duo cooking up heroin, plunging needles into their flesh, and passing out under the 79th Street Causeway.
There also happened to be a few stray shots of Jeff's drawings, in which Kopczynski detected a whiff of talent begging for cultivation and/or exploitation. Jeff, it turns out, is a long-time fan of Robert Crumb and other dark-side denizens among them Charles "Barfly" Bukowski and William "The Junk Is a Sickness" Burroughs. In the sketches, Jeff conjured scenes from his own life: standing on the roadside clutching a "need beer" sign, retching over a toilet, scrounging for change. The final, cleverly jarring pencil-on-paper image showed him taking a camera from a well-groomed stranger, who was filming the entire encounter.
Kopczynski began meeting with Jeff and Steve every week and buying Jeff's drawings for ten dollars per page. Some were exquisitely bleak. One showed Jeff being mounted by a winged devil. By August, Kopczynski was determined to get the pair off the street. He and Palacios gave them $2000 for haircuts, a cell phone, a hotel room, and several weeks' worth of methadone. Maybe if they were cleaned up, Kopczynski thought, they could find a way to make a living from Jeff's art.
Then Kopczynski's perspective shifted. "When it started to be my money out of my pocket, I started to judge," Kopczynski says. "I began thinking, You guys have to start getting up in the morning and going to work."
Jeff and Steve vanished three weeks later, but Kopczynski' s disappointment was leavened with relief. He later learned they hocked the phone for $20, skipped out on their methadone treatment, and hit the streets again.
After a stint in jail for misdemeanor drug possession, the pair contacted Kopczynski and Palacios again, who agreed to meet with them Friday, December 16. "[We] wanted to see what happened, what went wrong," Kopczynski says. "What we're going to do from here I don't know. This might be the end of it. Then again, the crescendo of this experience might be what they're drawing now."
We're a Happy Family
David Bowie's androgynous look begot the New York Dolls, who unknowingly helped spawn legions of crappy metal bands who inspired hordes of hetero heshers to strut through the Eighties with Fawcettesque feathered hair. This motley crew never knew their stylistic godfather was exactly the kind of bi-curious boy they'd beat up for wearing a Depeche Mode T-shirt to homeroom.
The similarly hip-cred clueless now prowl South Beach in beat-up jeans, black Chucks, and Ramones T-shirts purchased at Target, without knowing the Ramones were a band. Yet the group continues to exist as an underground phenomenon. All the original members save one have expired. Drummer Marky Ramone makes a living touring Japan and DJing in clubs and on Sirius radio. The mop-topped New Yorker was booked for a December 10 gig at Revolver, the weekly party at Pawn Shop Lounge, and wound up at the center of a dispute between promoter Josh Menendez and a local Ramones cover band, Rockit to Russia.
Kendall-based rock band Radio came on as the opening act but stopped the show after 25 minutes to give the stage up to Rockit, which has gained a local following for earnest devotion to the Ramones' two-minute classics. Radio's manager, Chris Andrews, explains: "We just thought it would be cool to let these guys play on a night that Marky Ramone was there. Then, once they got there, they talked to Marky and supposedly he said he'd play with them, so we figured that would be, like, unprecedented. We had a 40-minute set, and we figured we'd give up 15 minutes. You can fit a lot of Ramones songs into 15 minutes."