Brian Butterick, 62, a.k.a. Pyramid’s Hattie
The Villager, New York on February 13, 2019
Brian Butterick, who performed as Hattie Hathaway,
in his drag heyday at the Pyramaid Club.
Photos by Clayton Patterson
In looking back, I am amazed that my first conceptual contact with Brian Butterick was when I was a child. Whose family did not have one of the Butterick sewing-pattern envelopes for the homemaker dressmaker? It makes me wonder what influence those little pattern packages had on Brian, the drag impresario and drag player.
Brian a.k.a. Hattie Hathaway was many things. He was tall, between 6 foot 3 inches to 6 foot 5 inches, people guess. He was a driving force helping to build the incubator, the culturally influencing creative force that grew out of the Pyramid Club.
The Pyramid Club, at 101 Avenue A, opened in 1979. Brian helped keep alive the spirits from the building’s past. It was always a dive bar. It had been a Prohibition-era speakeasy, then a Polish immigrant comfort drinking hole. In the ’70s it housed the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe.
Brian managed the Pyramid from 1981 to ’86. He was a cultural warrior whose impact and influence has is still slightly understood. A warrior with the soft touch of a Zen master.
Brian Butterick at an event at the Howl! Happening gallery in the East Village.
He was one of the wizards who could develop a following as diverse as the Lower East Side itself. The Pyramid’s overall flavor back then was gay. In this case, gay also means it was a lesbian hangout. The club’s patrons were mostly made up of the misfits, the black sheep, the outsiders. They crossed all ethnic and sexual borders: black, Hispanic, Asian, Caucasian — from Hells Angels and skinheads to the delicate nerd, the crossdressers and transsexuals, the bisexuals, the straights. You fit or you didn’t. But with all of this diversity, I do not remember any aggressive moments, award-winning fights, maybe a few hissy fits, but no knockouts.
In part because of Brian’s vibe, with his hands on the directional compass, I knew many of us outsiders had a safe port, free of all the typical ugly art-world vibes, the elitism, the selective attitudes of likes and dislikes, the cold shoulders that most cultural establishments carry. (And thanks to Jane Friedman for putting Brian on the board of the HOWL! Happening gallery later on, where he continued that spirit of inclusivity.)
The Pyramid, with its creative cast of characters, definitely had the potential to break out into “I am the all-ranking Queen.” Nope. No such takeover happened. Brian embraced rather than rejected.
As the manager he was a “yes man” in the nonconformist creative world he managed, in terms of his accepting nature. Yes, there were insiders, and another circle not as in, and the general circle outside of that. But, for the most part, any performer or act who applied, or anyone who wanted to participate, would have to have been pretty mainstream and conventional for Brian to say no to.
The Pyramid crew, from left, Philly Abe, Edgar Oliver, Kembra Pfahler, Agosto Machado,
Hapi Phace and Brian Butterick a.k.a. Hattie Hathaway.
He did not rule by his taste. One of his magical touches was how he helped mentor acts trying to find their center or brought in other mentors. Like for drag act Ethyl Eichelberger, video artist Nelson Sullivan opened his world up to RuPaul, La Homa, Larry Tee and myself. There was Larry “Madame” Ray, the prima ballerina of the Trocadero Gloxinia Dance Company. Raybeez Barbieri (of Warzone) created hardcore events. Jimmy “Gestapo” Drescher (of Murphy’s Law) inspired many bands.
Look at a shortlist of performers who this magic helped nurture: John Kelly, Phoebe Legere, Steve Buscemi, Mark Boone, Jr., SUNPK (Peter Kwaloff), Stephe Tabboo Tashjian, Mark “Hapi Phace” Rizzo, Brian Belovitch, Perry “Peewee” Masco, Wendy Wild, John Sex, Susan Martin, Philly Abe, Kembra Pfahler, Samoa, Anne Magnuson, Mark Oates, Bill Rice, Dean Johnson, Kennon B Raines, Eddy “Red Ed” now Carol Ann Braddock, Cynthia Carr, Gerard “Mr. Fashion” Little, Michael London Berube, Kathleen “Beme Seed” Lynch, Dee Finley, David Wojnarowicz, Maze, Rosy, Apocolyn, Sister Ectoplasm. Then there were all the bands and DJs, which I do not have space to mention. The Tattoo Society of New York met there.
Then there was the opportunity Brian gave to John “Lypsinka” Epperson, a regular drag performer, to direct his “Tweed Production Ballet of the Dolls” in 1985 and “Dial M for Model” in 1986. Lesbian radical WOW performer Holly Hughes did her play “The Well of Horniness” there
The drag was not your traditional “famous woman” impersonator. Often the characters were completely invented. And there were drag kings. Much of the drag was based on the term Kembra Pfahler invented, “Avalabism,” using whatever was available, even if it was from garbage picking (a tradition on the LES).
It was in the bowels of the Pyramid that a small group of players, including Brian, Tabboo and Lady Bunny, came up with the concept of Wigstock, a show that gave Lady Bunny a career.
This is just a brief look at Brian’s influence in one club. It is time that this history started to be saved. If the building was built in 1876, and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and others got the building landmark status in 2012, then shouldn’t people like Brian Butterick’s history be saved, too?
Iris Rose, has a solid historical essay on the Pyramid that includes Brian. The Pyramid has several film references in “Captured, a Lower East Side Film Video History” (Seven Stories Press). MoMA’s collection of my videos includes the Pyramid. The Nelson Sullivan archive at the N.Y.U. Fales Library has rare Pyramid videos.
My archive, which I am organizing for public viewing, has photos, videos and ephemera from this period. Brian is also a New York ACKER Award recipient.
If we do not save our own history, then who will? In memory of Brian Butterick, a.k.a. Hattie Hathaway, 1956 – 2019, R.I.P. I remember and thank you for all that you contributed to my life’s journey.
Cary: Vivid remembrance of a rapidly disappearing LES world and era.
George: Without heels, Brian stood an imposing 6'6" tall. As romantic as it seems, there was no relation between his family and the Butterick Pattern Company nor with John Buttrick who, at the onset of the American Revolution, fired the "shot heard round the world" .Brian had an almost arcane knowledge of history and lore, but in the end, he wrote his own. His archives will eventually be digitized and made available online by his family.
Clayton Patterson: I hope his archive is digitized. Mentioning the connection to the pattern company, was not my romantic notion of his history, I was told by a friend of his this is fact. Who am I to argue? I was told he never had any monetary connection, but family. Unusual name. But there is so little information I could find. Even the Butterick pattern history, is more aobut expansion than family.
What was difficult was collecting his history. If he was really famous everyone would want to talk aobut him, but since he was more underground people were somewhat afraid, or whatever, very few would comment. A favorite response was there is a facebook page.
I have documented many people and this is a typical response. It becomes like private knowledge. Like this is my secret and my connection.
One of my hopes with this is, one of the reasons for all the content, so it will become a springboard for others to jump off of.
There are many names mentioned. This leads to places to go to get the information. Iris Rose has the most comprehensive article I was able to find. His history needs to be saved. Another detail, I could not remember the name, but he was involved in a bookstore performance space on 12th and A... or around 12th. Was an attempt at reigniting the old vibe. So much is missing... not much real content of FB.
Thanks for your comments.
Lincoln Anderson: He lived on Spring St., at Renwick St., I believe. I bumped into him on the street over there and he told me that's where he lived. Bookstore on Ave. A was called Rapture Cafe.
Mike: Thank you for writing this, Clayton, and thank you for always being kind to a young neighborhood kid. (Me) You are the best.
Clayton Patterson: thank you... Mike - you must have been a front door photo? Be sure to know to take all those front door photos, was one of the greatest blessings of my life. For an inner-city set of street photos... the rue LES ... typical neighborhood kids and adults, street crews, possies, gangsters, drug dealers, graffiti cliques, skaters, good guys, bad guys, and all the between guys, I captured so much of this reality. Had from 14 street to the Brooklyn Bridge, East River to Bowery.. in front of my door. The LES we all love.. and is a big part of all our souls. The LES is us and we are it. We represent... the new jacks may not understand it.. but we do Mike. Front door photo is how I met SUNPK (aka Peter Kwaloff) , who introduced me to the Pyramid. The front door to this article. Send me an email and come by and we will take another front door photo.. from then until now.. hard to believe.. but I have some photos from when the people were kids to now they have grandkids. I never cared much for taking famous peoples photos.. there must be a million photos of Keith Richards.. I have a few photos that nobody else has... maybe lost all from fire, moves, going to jail whatever. Those photos are gifts. Long story.. is sad about Brian on multiple of levels.. .. I fear, now filling the space he occupied, there is another cold wind of gentrification, another kind of gentrification, blowing against the outsiders.. my world is getting smaller. Mike - Keep The Faith The Struggle Never Ends.. LES now and forever. We carry that spirit wherever we go where ever we are. Peace be with you Mike.. again thanks for writing.. made my day. FTW
Jeffrey Cyphers Wright: What an informative and entertaining (I love the part about the in crowd, the medium crowd and the third tier crowd) piece on a pioneer in the underground. The Pyramid Club was important to many in the arts community. I read there with Spalding Gray in a series run by Stephen Paul Miller. Later, downtown stalwart and Kathy Acker Award recipient Bruce Weber of ABC No Rio fame, staged the legendary Alternative New Year’s Day reading marathon at the pyramid.
Ed Sanders advocated that the news be written by poets. It’s up to those of us in the LES to attend to our history. Message taken, Clayton. Thanks for your focus and dedication to the Underground.
David Sorcher: Thanks for this article Clayton. Pyramid Club was an important part of my growth as both an artist and a person and Brian was undoubtably partly responsible for that as well.
Karen: The site of the Pyramid Club did not house the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in the 1970s, that was Eastern Bloc on East 6th Street.
S. Black: ..was one of his roommates, briefly, on the Bowery. 3TK4 w/ Cramps at the Peppermint lounge. Tanya Ransom. Ira. grey snow and Brian at the door of the Pyramid. Sigh...
Brian Remembering . . .
Statement by Clayton Patterson
I want to first thank Lincoln Anderson to give me the right to do the Brian obit… It was important to me to do this. My primary reasons is to never forget his name and memory and to help give Brian a place in history.
Doing the obit, if Brian was famous many would want to be quoted. But in the case of someone who is off the radar, different attitudes come up and you get responses like this is secret info, it is mine. I do not share. In Brian’s case, I was able to get two responses – 1 person told me to go to Facebook (not much help)– the other I was at a party, told Brian name is connected to the Butterick pattern company, and the Ave A bookstore/performance space was called Rapture. I forgot the name Rapture. Then I was not able to get an email response. Thankfully Lincoln put it in the comment section of the Villager. Very important… the Villager has a solid archive. It can be researched. So these comments a researcher will have a trail.
Next. Brian was an ACKER recipient so a piece of his information can be found on the NO!art site…
The ACKER recipient award comes in 3 parts.. A booklet.. bios and a photo. A poster. And the Box. The box is like a time capsule filled with mementos that will give the future person an impression of the recipient in the box. The boxes are seeds and have been ending up in places like special collections, for example, Harvard, Yale, Fales, Buffalo University and wherever others put them. So again the seed is planted deep in the soil which should turn up in the future.
Another, for example, cross-reference in the NO!art site and the ACKERs are the books.
Look up names..,
then do a name search in the book info on the site..
The Captured Movie includes the Pyramid.. ►captured movie
Some ACKER recipients have been on my 8 Ball radio show..
Claytonpattersonshow. This can be found on iTunes and Soundcloud.
Then there is the clayton archive which is filled with related ephemera, photos/videos and so on. This archive I have people, like museum expert, Ellin Burke working on the more than 200,000 digital files which started after 2001.
One of the greatest blessings is Dietmar Kirves, also an ACKER, recipient, and this NO!art website he has built. This website serves so many different communities. It starts to build a history, of so many who have a little history.
This record… is one of the larger art concepts I am creating. If I am the only person who understands this concept is fine with me… I am an outsider anyway… it all exists in my mind… this artwork has different parts which embrace other parts – which I want to make pamphlets - like the ART of War… serious battles connected to activism. The different universes created… the connection between life and art.. and so on..
This represents a portion of the places the name and the connections can be found. I have other outlets, like the numerous activist court cases, hundreds of articles, thousands of long tortuous to read, especially on handheld devices, emails I have audiotapes and so on. Hundreds of different press I have written, like the obit, or others have written.
A record is being made. All with no support and often resistance and difficulties, because of the subject matter I spent my time dealing with. And I am a FTW kind of person.. but the march up the hill continues and will till I die.. and FTW, I give much more than I take.. and so it goes…
I loved Brian for all he did for me and so he did for many others like me… Brian, you will be remembered and you were loved…