“I’m more comfortable here than anywhere else in the world”

An Interview with Trash and Vaudeville’s Jimmy Webb

By: Sarah L. Myers
All video and photographs by Dan Gendelman

Jimmy Webb is rock n’ roll. He’s everything rock n’ roll is supposed to be. Jimmy is its living soul and beating heart. He’s a true fan in the purest sense because he’s the best example of what rock n’ roll does - transforms you, changes you, lifts you out of your body and takes you somewhere else.

For Jimmy, that somewhere else is a brownstone on 4 St. Mark’s Place - two levels connected by an iron staircase, holding inside a “rock n’ roll heaven” where he works seven days a week as a buyer and head salesperson. Trash and Vaudeville has occupied this spot in the East Village since 1975, and is considered the ultimate stop for rock n’ roll and punk rock clothing. It’s a haven for anyone obsessed with rock n’ roll - like walking into a museum or a hall of fame - a reminder of a time and a neighborhood that is slowly being pushed out by corporate influence.

"It's been here 33 years. I don't know anything that's had the longevity Trash and Vaudeville has had in New York."

Jimmy leans against the brick on the landing of the staircase, smoking a cigarette and saying goodbye to his two employees leaving for the night. To his immediate left is the St. Marks Hotel, in front of which are a few people passing by on their way to Ray’s Pizza. To the right is a jumble of shops that make up this stretch of road between 3rd and Avenue A. There are record and vintage clothing stores, tattoo parlors, souvenir stands, Japanese restaurants and cafes. CBGB’s lies vacant a few blocks away, covered in scribbles and eclipsed by retail stores.

“A lot of runaways come here,” he tells me after we go back inside, the heavy glass door catching a bit behind us. When I ask him if they remind him of himself, he gets a bit quiet. “Some totally do.”

I’d first met Jimmy a few months ago, when I was walking down St. Marks Place with Legs McNeil. It was early fall - still warm enough for Jimmy’s sleeveless Trash shirt, which displayed the tattoos that cover him up to his neck. This time he had his jacket with him - a custom leather patchwork mess, complete with skunk trim around the collar. Jimmy’s jacket, pants, and bag are all made for him by Agatha Blois, whose name I’d recognized as the woman who also makes pants for Slash.

“It’s great being the same size as Iggy Pop!” He exclaims with a raspy, gritty laugh that overtakes everything he says. The day we interview Jimmy he’s dressed in custom green leather pants, “Iguana pants,” his leather spider-web vest, and an ever-present Trash and Vaudeville shirt. He’s still so lithe that his legs don’t come anywhere close to touching as he walks us through the store. Most of his jewelry is also custom, and is inscribed with some of his favorite words and phrases: “Trust me,” and “heart full of napalm.” The words “more” and “enough” fill two large rings on each hand - “two of the most rock n’ roll words ever,” he tells me.

He loves spider webs and points out the correlation with his last name. He finds symbolism in everything, a trait that gives him that “dream maker” quality. It’s something I’ve always done as well, and I couldn’t let it go unnoticed that one of Jimmy’s heavy-plated silver rings displayed three ‘x’s.

“My friend Ryan used to draw three ‘x’s in his artwork,” I tell him. He looks at me and understands what I’m talking about.

The Passenger

"I want my ashes spread everywhere I've danced and spread love,” Jimmy says, waving his hands in the air. “At an Iggy show, in the gutters in New York, in front of the old Studio 54.” He mentions several times that he plans to remain at Trash and Vaudeville forever.

“I don’t want to be a flash in the pan. I want to be where the truth is, where longevity is.”

Jimmy came to New York City when he was 16. His childhood was spent in a “tiny little town upstate” called Wynantskill. His dad owned a two-pump gas station and he attended a one room schoolhouse. Asking how he found rock n’ roll is like asking how he found Iggy Pop - he says he’s known both “forever.”

“My playground was the junkyard,” he says, pointing out the relationship with Iggy’s “Cold Metal,” now coming over Trash and Vaudeville’s speakers. “I played tag in the auto graveyard.”

"When I was 16, I was a little runaway with my clothes in a pillowcase," he says. For years he bounced around from night club to night club, from Studio 54 to CBGB.

He shot dope with Johnny Thunders in the basement of the Mudd Club. He has been homeless, and has tried to help the kids in similar situations that come by the store. It’s one thing that noticed right away - how much Jimmy is loved by his customers. Most seem to have some kind of relationship with him, and nearly everyone who comes in greets him warmly. He’s very affectionate, says what he means, and makes everyone feel special. It’s the center of who he is - a quality that only comes with an old soul, someone who’s endured.

He used to walk by Trash and Vaudeville during those years, hoping one day to be able to afford the clothes inside. Jimmy was hired by owner Ray Goodman in 1999 after writing him a letter asking for a job. That it’s only been seven years comes as a shock - it seems like he’s always been here. It’s a fit more perfect than the leather pants riding his hips. Now Jimmy even helps Goodman in choosing what is sold at the store - twice a year they head to Las Vegas to pick out new merchandise.

Jimmy doesn’t answer his cell phone during dinner. He doesn’t use a computer and handwrites every letter he sends to friends and fans. “Email is disgusting,” he says. Though it “serves its purpose,” he says email is one more thing that strips the personal, human connection from the new generation.

“Iggy taught me to always be a gentleman,” he says. “He pointed at me and said, ‘Jim, always be a gentleman.’”

A couple of weeks after I visit him, I get a letter in the mail. It’s a hot pink envelope with stars and glittery tape holding it together. Inside is a letter (signed “lots of Iggy love!”) and a copy of the article that ran in New York magazine. In it, Jimmy sits on his bed, covered by a zebra print spread and set against hot pink walls. A couple of disco balls lie on the floor. His bedroom looks like a smaller, darker version of Trash and Vaudeville. Original photographs fill every inch of wall space, most of them of Iggy Pop. A rosary, once belonging to Johnny Thunders, hangs off the corner of a huge Iggy picture.

He’d shown me the article at the store, making sure to point out, “this is at 8:00 in the morning. There’s my coffee.” Like he is at Trash and Vaudeville, Jimmy is surrounded by rock n’ roll, even first thing in the morning.

It’s an understatement to say he loves his job. His enthusiasm is contagious and spreads like punk rock hemlock. He’s joyful, never stops smiling, and only stops exclaiming when he’s too overcome with emotion to go on. His personality is infectious. After awhile I’m bouncing around and giggling right along with him, totally catching whatever it is he’s got. As I browse the racks I see Jimmy helping half a dozen customers. He helps them find the perfect pair of jeans - each one tighter than the last - bending down to tuck them in at the ankles. I take note of the Trash and Vaudeville customer. It’s everyone - young kids with their parents, teenagers with spiked hair, people like Jimmy, people like myself. Whether they all know the history of Trash and Vaudeville is irrelevant. They leave having experienced something special.









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