While most teenagers daydreamed of summer break while playing records in their bedrooms, fourteen-year-old Paul Zone spent his youth immersed in the New York underground, exploring the concrete playground with actors, drag queens, and drug addicts. The mid-1970s was a time when the death of Glam and the birth of Punk collided in a celebration of glitter and grime, and Zone had a front-row seat to it all.
Playground: Growing Up in New York Underground (Glitterati Incorporated), Zone’s first book, is an incredible photo memoir in which the author his reminiscences alongside never-before-seen photographs of a time and a place that have become synonymous with the history of music and culture in the late twentieth century.
As Hilton Als wrote in The New Yorker, “Zone’s black-and-white images are beautiful because they’re filled with attitude. His subjects are all so young and trying not to show it; the poses they strike speak of their relative innocence and glory, and their fearlessness, too. The photos document the importance of the glitter stuck on one’s heel in those long-ago days when not fitting in was more than a badge of honor: it was a commonplace, like courage.”
Playground features photographs of bands including Blondie, The Ramones, The New York Dolls, Iggy and the Stooges, the Dead Boys, Suicide, T. Rex, and KISS, as well as musicians, artists, and scensters such as Richard Hell, Johnny Thunders, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Wayne County, Alice Cooper, Lance Loud, Stephen Sprouse, Christopher Makos, Anya Phillips, Cherry Vanilla, Arturo Vega, Anna Sui, Sable Starr, James Chance, Lydia Lunch, and more.
As Legs McNeil, author of Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History Of Punk, recalls, “Besides being a rock star, Paul’s artistry with his camera captures all the glam, glitter and garishness of that sinfully decadent time—and reminds us again how much fun everyone was having! We want to be standing there—in every photo—just out of frame-- watching, listening and laughing as Debbie Harry and Joey Ramone trade one-liner—before deciding whether to go to Max’s or CBGB’s?”
McNeil continues, “The great feeling we get from his photos—is that Paul Zone was actually ‘In’ with the ‘In Crowd,’ one of those charmed people who was everywhere, every night with all the right people! And he got the goods to prove it! Of all the photos from this period, Paul Zone’s pictures breathes a refreshing new life into a time that is fast becoming a fading memory—and makes us see that wonderful scene for the truly vital moment it was! I love Paul Zone’s visions of the past, which became our future!”
Paul Zone observes, “I think pop stars were, and always are defiantly the most influential throughout eras. The early 1970s style was a bit influenced from the 1940s. Platform shoes, padded shoulders, and big red lips were used on all the girls back then.
“The guys picked up on that but took on what was being worn in the UK but the rock stars of the day. A lot of guys were buying girls clothes in thrift shops back then. Androgyny for guys was a must. The TV show ‘Soul Train’ was probably the most influential to the American audience in the early 1970s.
“With early 1970s you have the Glam music stars of the day. Not everyone could or would dress like Bowie but he did give everyone license to put flash and glitz into the wardrobe. By the mid-70s this style branched over into the disco explosion but by then the originators were rebelling with punk.
“A girl could go into the direction of Patti Smith’s stripped down 1960s Dylan, Keith Richards drag or vintage thrift 1960s mod/pop look of Debbie Harry. Guys in the early 70s were a bit more wild in the clubs but by the disco-inspired mid-70s they toned it down to three-piece suits with bright-colored or floral satin shirts. For guys, punk brought back mod British peg-legged suits with tab collar shirts and skinny ties or 1950s leather motorcycle rocker gear.
“When punk came along in mid-70s it was the thrift shops that were used again. This time black vintage suits from the1960s and leather jackets from the 1950s were mixed together and worn by most guys. Girls were interested in more of a 50s type feel with animal prints, pointy spiked stilettos, and like the early 70s androgyny was going on but this time for the girls.
“Self-invention is how one sees one self and in turn how others see you. I always said that every bit of clothing has always been there and it’s just the way one wears it or puts it together that creates a style. Silver space suits were the only new fashion statement, and they really never caught on.
“I think I come from a place that the word ‘chic’ could go hand in hand with ‘style.’ It has everything to do with personal taste and vision on how to present yourself. You know it when you see it but can’t explain it. One person can wear the same thing as another person but it can make a much different statement on each.
“Sharing with people what it was like at a different time in history is the most gratifying about publishing Playground. A lot of people don’t realize how music and fashion in the past dictate what their life is like now. Also movies, art, and politics should be included in the development of modern culture.”
For this reason, Playground is as much a work of art as it is a work of history. Zone was there from the beginning, and his work stands as a testament to its legacy. As John Holmstrom, the editor of PUNK Magazine observes, "Paul Zone was one of the first photographer to have their stuff published in PUNK Magazine, and it was such good stuff: The best and earliest stuff of Patti Smith and Debbie Harry! Back then (early 1976), whenever I asked anyone who had the best photos for PUNK (since I didn't know anyone), almost everyone said: ‘Paul Zone!.’ And so it was...”