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Murray the K's World

By Gerald Jonas and Renata Adler April 16, 1966

Our man Stanley walked into the office last week looking rather tired and dimmed. “Just got back from what's not happening, Baby," he said. "Just been where it's not at." And he deposited the following notes on our desk:

"April Fool's Day, went right out to Roosevelt Field, in Garden City, to a converted hangar, once a film studio, for opening of new night club, called Murray the K's World. Scene forced and jarring, like misplaced italics or frozen smile.  Outside walls of hangar were painted white, with black-and-red trim. Result resembled a combination roller-skating rink and adobe pizza parlor. Inside décor resembled a combination gym, art gallery, ocean-liner ballroom. Walls were thickly hung with black-and-white canvases—painted Op. Around walls, several feet above eye level, were little movie screens, round, square, diamond-shaped. Dance floor was glossy wood, surrounded by black-upholstered benches and black linoleum-tile standing room. Corners were filled with little round black tables. Against side walls were stands selling hot dogs, hamburgers, Cokes, tacos. Above stands were large free-form platforms, supported by white stilts. Left platform was loaded with sound and lighting equipment. Right platform was loaded with musical instruments for entertainers. Beside entrance, and at head of crescent staircase, was two-decker platform, also on stilts, with black tables for V.I.P.s.; that is, press and Murray the K's friends. Bar was across room from V.I.P.s. Suspended from ceiling in center of room was another platform, loaded with movie projectors and the like, and bristling with slim steel ladders, occasionally lowered to floor to let maintenance men, in red parkas and red sweat pants, climb up and deliver reels of film for projection on screens. Whole place had air of ship, plunging into space or to bottom of the sea.

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"7:55 P.M., first customers arrived. Admission, $2.50. Minimum age, eighteen. Groups of boys. Clusters of girls. Few couples. Showed I.D.s at door, as proof of age. Girls, drivers' licenses. Boys, draft cards. Many girls wore bell-bottom trousers, white plastic belts, yachting caps. One girl throwback wore plaid Bermuda shorts and monogrammed blouse. Arrived alone. Many boys wore several layers of shirts; for example, red turtleneck, covered by blue denim shirt, open at collar, covered by white-and-blue striped button-down shirt with flowered tab. Everyone very covered up.

 

"First music was taped rock 'n' roll. Bad rock 'n' roll (as distinguished from good rock 'n' roll). Fresh numbers put on before last ones ended. Constant interruptions created frenetic air. Volume way up. Nobody dancing. Everybody craned neck toward screens, where films by underground cinéastes—Stan VanDerBeek, Gerd Stern, et al.—were shown: films of gears, machines, riots, bare-breasted girls, lecherous medieval monks, Chamberlain Churchill, Roosevelt, Murray the K, medicines, battles, dissections of word 'NOW' into 'NO,' 'OW,' and 'O,' a beating painted heart. Closed-circuit TV screen showed room filling up. When customers became aware of TV screen, some began dancing—alone, girls with girls, girls with boys, even some pas de trois. Dancers gyrated toward screen, with arms raised, like worshippers at mirror alter.

 

"Press bus arrived after 9 P.M. Some comments from passengers: 'Are you as innately hostile to this as I am?' 'Frankly, I'm going to get stoned as quickly as I can.' Murray the K and five dancing girls appeared on platform. M the K shouted trademark, 'Harrah Bay!' Audience responded with traditional 'Ugh!' Group called Young Rascals appeared on platform—trousers rolled up, black knee socks, round collars, short times. Rascal with tambourines sprang about, slapping tambourines against himself. Drummer Rascal listlessly threw sticks in air. Rascal at electric guitar held still. Rascal at organ writhed, screamed, looked as though he were going to take microphone into his mouth. Girl sat on black bench, alone, trembling. Little enclaves of dancers were scattered among standees, now filling floor. One couple imitated boxing match. Another, with girl's dorsal surface against boy's ventral surface, swayed in place. Many boys shorter than dancing partners. One boy's head barely reached girl's neck, where he buried it. Standees began collaring members of press: 'Take my name down. I'm from C.W. Post College.' Or 'Adelphi University,' 'St. John's,' 'East Meadow,' 'Syosset High.' 'It's definitely out of sight!' Or 'Too much!' Or 'Whacked out!'

"Line forming outside building, four abreast, all around block. People in front end of line could look in through picture windows and glass doors. A few slipped through onto dance floor. Guards rough. Michael Myerberg, who backs the place—face lined, eyes remote, coat worn like cape—spoke to guard. Surging crowd expelled from lobby. One boy made scratches on lobby door in departing. 'My boy friend's out there,' girl said to waiter in black-and-white polka-dot tie. 'Can I go out and get him?' 'No,' said waiter. Boy friend slipped in anyway. Then couple left together.

 

"Dancers on floor completely oblivious of physical nearness of other bodies. Feet stepped on. Elbows in ribs. Dancers too busy watching TV screen to notice. Murray the K asked for more power on microphone. Noise deafening already. Woman and rhinestones pasted on cheek began frugging on V.I.P. deck. Group called Hollies appeared on platform. 'This is not real soul music,' said boy, and lunged forward to chin himself on platform edge. Succeeded. Applause. 'It's a place for hacking around,' said N.Y.U. boy, grabbing reporter. 'But I must say the feeling they did express in whatever sound they might have made was emotionally stiffing, right?'

"Left Murray the K's World around midnight, on press bus returning to Manhattan. Thought Op and false chic and press-consciousness and bad rock 'n' roll all drawing together might be a good sign. Like image on TV screen that draws together into single dot before fading out completely." ■

First published by The New Yorker, April 16, 1966.