In August of 1975, the world’s first punk label was born. Ork Records’ debut on the market was an unassuming red-labeled 45, utterly free of the safety pins, leather, and spiked-hair imagery that would later signify the genre. ORK 81975 didn’t even have a picture sleeve—the label couldn’t afford one. That first austere single would prove itself a widely heard starter pistol for independent record labels, a $2 postage paid incitement mailed out to Greg Shaw and to Greg Ginn, founders of the Bomp and SST labels, respectively. It set off a throng of bedroom entrepreneurs who’d peddle punk to disenfranchised teens the world over. Ork Records founder Terry Ork had no background in business or the production of records. He didn’t play an instrument or work in a studio. He simply saw a scene developing on the lower east side of Manhattan and figured it was worth supporting.
During Ork Records’ five trips around the sun, the label eked out just thirteen releases. Its most successful record sold about 6000 copies, generating proceeds that were plowed into a handful of subsequent singles that wouldn’t do 1/3rd of that lofty figure. Ork scrapped half a dozen projects due to insufficient funds. When the label finally did ink a proper distribution deal, it went on an impressive five-single tear, burning bright for most of 1979, though never dazzlingly enough to blot out the hundred competing punk labels that cropped up to slake ravenous major label interest in acts like Blondie, the Ramones, and cheeky London fashion victims the Sex Pistols.
But before Ork Records in New York, before CBGB and Television, before Richard Hell, Alex Chilton, and Cheetah Chrome; before he made wild promises to the Feelies, the DBs, and Lester Bangs; before he told the world he’d sucked Lou Reed’s cock—before he’d even taken the name Terry Ork, William Terry Collins was a diminutive, roly-poly Jewish kid just feeling his way around greater San Diego’s El Cerrito neighborhood. The first 25 years of Collins’ life are not well documented. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on November 12, 1943, Collins would end his schooling some 1400 miles away at Will C. Crawford High School in San Diego, following a pair of thick-rimmed glasses and a head of close-cropped kinky hair to his 1961 graduation. “I went to school for awhile in San Francisco,” he told Parisian filmmaker Jacques Demy in 1969. “I’ve lived all over…[in] Carmel with television script writers and in solitude for six months in a small cabin near Redding.”
“I had a small press bookstore called The Tiny Ork,” Terry recalled in later interviews. “Ergo, I became Tiny Ork, aka Terry Ork. We had quite a theme there, the first San Diego Free Press, we had Black Panther campaign headquarters, we had our own theater. We were involved in quite a bit of revolutionary activity and the red squad was hot on our case. It was a real heavy time. The police knew us very, very well. They would stop by every day and harass me and they would try and plant drugs at the bookstore and arrest us, so we decided it was time to get out. I had about one day to leave San Diego.”
It’s not likely that Ork had emerged from the closet prior to leaving California in 1968, a move made necessary by pop provocateur Andy Warhol’s appearance in La Jolla in May of that year. Warhol and longtime collaborator Paul Morrissey had come to the coast with a pair of 16 millimeter cameras and a host of The Factory’s regulars, including Viva, Ingrid Superstar, Taylor Mead, and Joe Dallesandro. On their shooting schedule was a follow-up to an experimental Western called Lonesome Cowboys, filmed in Oracle, Arizona, in January of ’68. Captured on 25 reels of film, San Diego Surf would chronicle a married couple’s convoluted opening of their stately seaside mansion to a group of young surfers. In the film, dissatisfied housewife Susie, played by Viva, drops a baby and husband-shops for Ingrid, while Mead dallies with surf subculture and gets showered in gold before credits roll. Rife with Warholian homoerotic subtext, the film’s production was a magnet for lost souls like Terry Ork. He’d appear in not a single frame, despite ingratiating himself to Warhol at some point during the month-long shoot. “He was just a much more outgoing, animated, involved person when he was filming,” Ork said of Warhol as director. “Film was life for him and I think that life was death for him.” On June 3, just days after the Factory coterie’s return to New York, Factory associate Valerie Solanas fired three bullets into Warhol’s chest. Post-production work on San Diego Surf was halted, and the film wouldn’t be completed or shown for nearly 50 years.
Undeterred, Ork elected to ride the pop art barrel back east a few weeks after the shooting, arriving in New York with a quarter century’s worth of enthusiasm and the naiveté that accompanied it. Having no real plan, he began hanging around the fashionable Max’s Kansas City nightclub, angling to get into the back room, where Warhol’s crew held court nightly. For Ork, Max’s was an “enormous magnet amidst the currents of those days, which now glow like a string of endless lights, a reversal of Cinderella-ish, always beginning, as they did, at midnight.” Of Max’s inner circle, Ork wrote, “Beauty or money would get you into the back room. But in order to stay you needed one other essential ingredient: wit, whether it be savage or brilliant!”
At Max’s, Ork struck up his own apprenticeship with Gerard Malanga, a right-hand man to Warhol himself. “After a few visits to the Factory and hanging out every night at Max’s, Gerard got to know me,” Ork wrote. “He asked if I would like to be his assistant at the Factory, a coveted position on the scene which would have been unthinkable to refuse. The Factory was run much like a court with its system of privileged access or varying degrees of exile, so suddenly everyone wanted to know me and I got invited to every party. In fact, part of my duty was to find out where THE party was for that day and/or night and confer with Gerard as to which we would attend. There was various cliques, some mutually exclusive, others overlapping, all reporting in some form or other, back to the throne room. I would go to all the film events, join Gerard in literary salons, like Sunday tea at Charles Henri Ford’s at the Dakota or the book parties at Gotham Book Mart and the poetry readings at St. Mark’s.”
Embedded in East Coast counterculture during the last twelve months of the 1960s, Terry Ork triumphantly imploded the remains of his quickly crumbling societal normality. “I think Jim Carroll was the first one to shoot me up with heroin,” he recalled. “Gerard Malanga and I were living on 53rd Street and 3rd Avenue—which was the place where male prostitution thrived in New York City—and we had a great apartment there. So we were giving a party that night, and we went back to Jim’s house to get some heroin or some shit. I think it was his parents’ house, above the Catholic school, where Jim injected me for the first time.” While Ork orbited several sorts of Manhattan drains, the raft he clung to was his own attachment to film culture.
When Inter/View Magazine—“A Monthly Film Journal,” then “Andy Warhol’s Film Magazine,” and later “The Crystal Ball of Pop Culture”—launched that November, 1969, in glorious black and white newsprint, the name Terry Ork appeared in its masthead. For Inter/View, Ork split time between tape transcription, interviews, layout, and gathering stills, while holding down a part-time gig at Cinemabilia, Ernest Burns’ Greenwich Village cinephile storefront. A prime destination for film buffs and collectors alike, Cinemabilia was crammed with out-of-print movie tomes, posters, magazines, and lobby cards. And its 10 West 13th Street digs were a perfect proving ground for a young celluloid enthusiast. According to New York Magazine, “One of the first things to greet you in this high-ceilinged, barnlike room is a giant poster of Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight looming twenty feet above you off the ground. Despite the off-hand, sometimes rude manner of the people who work here, this store is valuable for anyone interested in film.”
Soon enough, allegations of Warholian screenprint fraud led to Malanga’s unceremonious dismissal from The Factory and Inter/View. Terry Ork was escorted out of the Decker Building right behind him. Malanga left for Europe shortly after, and Ork took up residence in a coldwater loft in Chinatown, meanwhile assuming Cinemabilia’s managerial post. His hiring of a spiky-haired high school dropout to run the mail order department would prove to be a turning point for the coming New York punk movement. Richard Hell, poster boy for the Blank Generation, and Terry Ork, a crucial connector for Manhattan’s vanguard, were about to cast pivotal roles in the city’s next great scene.
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