Manic Panic started as a boutique in the East Village in 1977. What did you sell?
Snooky: We had a bunch of stuff we had collected. We had bedrooms in the Bronx that were just full of stuff from thrift shops and junk stores. We used to go down to stores on Chambers St. that were full of new vintage, stuff that had never been worn.
Tish: We specialized in unused vintage. We had sharkskin suits for men, like a blazer and pants, and I think they were $12. Unused vintage, and Elvis Costello bought one. He bought the suit, and we gave him the tie for free.
Snooky: I have a copy of our daily ledger. I think I wrote the cost, and how much it sold for. $134 was a BIG DAY. Sometimes we would make $.50 a day, sometimes nothing. Not one person would come in the store all day.
Tish: It was 33 St. Mark's Place, near Second Ave., and now they have made it into some awful hamburger place.
Snooky: It was $62.50 each for rent. I was trying to be very organized, I was the only one of us who had any business experience, because I had worked in a department store, so I knew how to count out the money at the beginning and end of the day. We would start with $20 in the box, and whatever was over $20 at the end of the day was what we made.
Tish: It was a Louis Sherry box, a candy box, and we used it for at least eight or 10 years until we got a cash register.
Snooky: But then we got another box. So we had two Louis Sherry boxes, and we thought 'We're really successful!'
Tish: We finally got a cash register from a thrift store, but it didn't really work right. All it did was separate the money, and if you pressed any button, it would open. We had a few employees, a lot of them went on to be successful. One of our first employees was Howie Pyro, who went on to be in Danzig and D Generation. We paid him $6 a day, but he was only 14 or something.
Snooky: He was doing it so he didn't have to go to school, and sometimes $6 was more than we made in a day, so we'd each put in $2 to pay him.
What were your customers like?
Tish: Everybody and anybody who was in a band would shop in our store, or just come to hang out. The Dictators, the Dolls, Dead Boys, the Cramps, B-52s, the Ramones...
Snooky: The Romantics, The Stranglers, Sid and Nancy would shop in our store...
How did you start playing with your band, the Sic F*cks?
Snooky: We invited ourselves to be in the band. It was founded by Russell Wolinsky. We formed in 1977, and in general, the three of us are the founders.
Tish: Russell came and told us "I'm starting this band," and we were like, 'Ok, well, we're in it too."
Snooky: I remember Russell said "I'm forming this band called the Sic F*cks, and we're playing at CBGB on audition night," and you said, "When do we rehearse?" And we were in the band!
Tish: We did the first show.
Tish and Snooky: And the place was PACKED!
Tish: Because everyone came to see a band called the Sic F*cks. And of course, we told all our friends, and all of the other bands came, and everybody got wasted. They were all drinking so much that we were immediately one of the club's favorite bands because we attracted such a drinking crowd. We got a rave review in the New Musical Express and it was two-pages or something, with tons of pictures and Lester Bangs wrote it. He used to have a crush on me, but I wouldn't go out with him. But he liked us anyway.
What would you wear for the shows?
Tish: The first outfits we wore—Snooky was in a Girl Scout outfit, chopped off really short with stockings and garter belts and spiked heeled shoes, and I was in nurse's drag, but chopped off with blood all over it and with a little nurse hat.
Snooky: We decided we'd wear something different for every gig, we were trying to figure out what to wear, we were trying to decide what to wear for the second gig, and our mother said, "Oh, why don't you dress up as nuns!" So we did the nuns' drag, and then we wore plastic garbage bags.
Tish: Then somebody stole that idea and used it for a movie. Then we were battered housewives, and we came out with everything all ripped up and bruises all over us.
Snooky: We did the raped prom queens. We had these great prom dresses that we shredded, and of course we did the stockings and garters, and our hair all rat's-nest looking.
Tish: One time we did kimonos and geisha girls.
Snooky: And one time we did the Supremes.
So your mom was supportive of all your pursuits?
Snooky: She was the best mother in the world. She named Manic Panic. It's a psychiatric term for manic depressives, and she worked in a mental hospital.
How did Manic Panic become known for cosmetics and hair-dye?
Tish: When we had the shop, we were importing hair dye because they didn't really carry anything like that here in the U.S. And we had the only theatrical makeup store in the downtown area. We carried everything, all different lines, everything anyone in the performing field could ever need.
Snooky: We just carried stuff that we liked, and we were the only women business owners on the block, so we knew about makeup and hair stuff and the guys didn't. So we started specializing in it, and that became our little niche.
Why did you close the shop?
Tish: Our landlord forced us out. We didn't even choose, we had no choice. We had the shop for 12 years, and then our landlord told us he wasn't renewing our lease and we had to get out.
Snooky: We started wholesaling out of my then-boyfriend's, now-husband's studio apartment that was a three-flight walk-up. We'd get the delivery and then have to roll these giant boxes of hair-dye up the stairs...
Tish: Just the two of us.
Snooky: Then pack up all the orders and roll them back down, put them in the car, then drive them to UPS before it closed. And sometimes, we didn't have boxes, so along the way, we'd see a garbage pile with boxes and pull over and grab them.
Tish: Snooky would be driving, and I'd be in the back of the car packing up boxes. We sacrificed our musical career for this. It's really true, I'm sure if we'd put as much into our music as we put into this, we'd be Madonna.
But you're Tish and Snooky! When was the first time you realized how big Manic Panic had gotten?
Tish: When we were in the comics! It was a comic called Mutts in the Daily News. There were little animals that were talking about "Tish and Snooky! Snooky and Tish!" Everyday there was an episode, with Tish and Snooky as little cats. It was so exciting!
Snooky: We finally tracked down the artist, and it turns out that he had been in this band called Steel Tips, and we used to play on the same bill at CBGB. He said, "I hope you didn't mind that I used your names." And we said "Mind!?! It's the highest honor we've ever been paid!"
But before that, on St. Mark's Place, when there was a line to get into the store before Halloween because we were the only store that sold this kind of stuff. We had to have a doorman who would only let 10 people in at a time.
Do you still dye your own hair?
Tish: Most of the time, but every couple of months, I let someone else do it because I miss all these spots. I couldn't live without my hair dye. I've been every color but yellow. I don't like yellow.
Lady Gaga's been yellow recently.
Snooky: Her hairdresser called us and asked for haircolor...
Tish: So we supply everybody, right down to Gaga...
Photos by Mike Vorrasi
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