The first time I went to Studio 54, I was not treated like a star. My music pumping on the dance floor, the supermodels on our album’s cover, DJ Tom Savarese (who had mix credit), and my then girlfriend Nefertiti were the stars. Nefi had graduated from the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology. Many FIT people partied at Studio, and I was Nefi’s guest. The club had only been open a few months, but it was already the hottest spot on earth.
It made sense that I wasn’t treated like a star that first night, because no one knew what Chic looked like, and Studio was all about who you were and how you looked. Nefi was really into how to achieve the look; she was a stylist who could design and make clothing. It was she who taught me about high fashion. Before I met Nefi, I’d never heard of Fendi, Fortuny, or Fiorucci. I learned about haute couture and met many top designers, like Calvin Klein and Roy Halston, at Studio.
I had many great nights in Studio, but none as important as the night I tried to get in without Nefertiti and failed: New Year’s Eve, 1977.
Bernard and I rounded the corner at Eighth Avenue onto Fifty-fourth Street. The first thing I saw was a massive mob, herded like cattle onto a sidewalk that couldn’t possibly contain them, and spilling onto the street. There was a good explanation for this mayhem: If those people could be anywhere in the world, this was the place. I can still picture the redecorated hallowed halls of what used to be CBS’s broadcast studios: coke-carpeted bathrooms, flat-blackpainted walls, elaborate neon disco lights that dropped from the ceiling, ear-assaulting speakers, and churning sex nooks. And over the next nine years, I became a part of the club’s inner circle.
By the end of ‘77, everyone in the club world was talking about our new breakdown sound, and we had become so popular that Grace Jones, who was a huge star at the time, had invited us to Studio for her show on a freezing New Year’s Eve. Grace told us to go to the stage door. But for some reason, we were turned away by the doorman, who promptly told us to “fuck off !” (Funnily enough, the guy contacted me about thirty years later on Facebook to apologize!) After he slammed the door in our faces, we decided, Oh, maybe Grace left our names at the front door. It took us forever to swim through the crowd and get the attention of the soon-to-be-famous front doorman Marc Benecke.
Bernard and I announced that we were personal guests of Grace. He told us, “Yeah right.” When we politely yet urgently asked him to please check the list, he actually stopped, looked it up and down, scanned all the pages (which seemed courteous and respectful), and then said, in a clear, precise, definitive voice, “I looked, and you aren’t on the list.” He returned to scanning the crowd for notables. We knew that was the end of the negotiation. We were dressed to the nines, but after contemplating our options, we just sloshed through the snowy streets, around the corner to the cozy apartment of our DJ friend Robert Drake. I was living there while he was gigging in Rome.
We downed a few bottles of vintage Dom Pérignon, and a little coke, which I’d started snorting while touring on the road. I picked up my guitar, started jamming on a guitar riff and singing the words that the stage doorman had said to us earlier, “Fuck off,” and Nard added, “Fuck Studio 54—aw, fuck off.” He grabbed his bass and we played this over and over, grooving and laughing. We developed the groove and even wrote a bridge, then came the chorus again: “Awww, fuck off—fuck Studio 54—fuck off.”
“You know, this shit is happening!” Bernard said, while pulling his sunglasses down his nose in order to achieve genuine eye contact with me. He did this whenever he was serious, because almost everything was a joke to us.
“We can’t get this song on the radio. ‘Fuck off ’ is pretty hard-core for Top Forty,” I said, laughing. But Bernard was serious. And I’d learned to listen to him when he was serious. He had a great ear for hooks, and realizing that this little riff and chant sounded good, we changed “fuck” to “freak.” “Awww, freak off,” we sang energetically. It was horrible, but we tried to make it work.
“Hey, man, this is not lifting my skirt,” I said to Bernard.
“Yeah, I know what you’re saying,” he responded.
Suddenly the proverbial lightbulb went off. “Hey, man, we should say, ‘Awww, freak out.’ “
” ‘Freak out’?”
“Yeah, like when you have a bad trip, you freak out.”