Bill Heine

A card showed up in the mail a couple of days ago from the Main Street Studio in Cherry Valley, NY. An announcement for a group show of paintings, sculpture, photography, and ceramics, it said. The opening party was on the 8th – the card arrived about the 10th. Too bad. I’d have gone (yeah, right!) if only to schmooze with the gorgeous and beautiful and lovely Parker Posey. Bill Heine’s name was also on the card. I guess he put my name on the list but the odd thing was that the address included the original obscure spelling of my name which I didn’t think Heine even knew. A mystery. So I called Bill’s Wappingers Falls NY phone number. The phone company butted in to say the number wasn’t working. Hmmm . . . the plot thickens.

I met him in 1968. I should have met him in New York but I met him and his then wife or partner on a communal farm on the British Columbia coast about 150 miles north of Vancouver. When I heard him play the guitar I became his friend for life although he never played it in my presence again and wouldn’t talk about it. There was a lot he would talk about and in the month or two that we hung out we must have engaged in the equivalent of about a dozen holy bible’s worth of conversation. Bill seemed to know everyone and everything. I just had to mention a name and stories ensued. He clued me in to all the behind-the-scenes knowledge and secrets of the world I thought I belonged to.

he told me that Lester Young got him high first time but it was some years later that I learned he hung around the Open Door on 52nd Street and played drums there with Charlie Parker. I discovered that piece of occult information in 1972 while nursing a cold at Chuck and Lila’s place in Seattle where, too sick to go out, I read Chuck’s copy of Robert Reisner’s “Bird, The Legend of Charlie Parker”.

“The club was empty, except for the help, myself, and the four musicians playing with Bird – Ted Wald, bass; Bill Heine, drums; Warrick Brown, piano; and a trumpet player, a sweet little cat who is always present on every jazz scene and whom everybody calls ‘Face’.”

It was me and Bill that got in the skiff with the little Seagull engine one day and puttered down the Malaspina Inlet. I had seen a small island, more like a big rock, covered with rosebushes and I had read that rosehips were full of vitamin C and I thought I’d fill a bucket with them and make some of my own elixirs. Bill wanted to do a bit of fishing. He dropped me off on Rosehip island, picking me up again when we were both done. When it started raining we decided to go by Nancy’s to wait out the rain. She fed us tea and strawberry cookies and as the rain wasn’t letting up we decided we’d better head back anyway. Halfway home it quickly became pitch dark and the storm got serious, throwing us around in that little skiff, we could just barely make out the coastline we were following home. Bill and I are are facing each other and suddenly his face turns to fear, his eyes bug out and the next instant I’m in midair and come crashing down hard on my poor ass. I knew that face of Bill’s was the last thing I’d see in this too short life of mine, I was gonna die! Anyway, I didn’t die apparently and that was a moment of life-death neither of us ever forgot. A few weeks later he was back in New York via California and I was back in Vancouver. Bill crossed my mind many times over the years. Around ’74 I wrote Ginsberg but he didn’t know anything about Bill’s whereabouts. In ’85 Ginsberg was in town and told me he’d seen Bill around Times Square but otherwise had no information.

Herbert Huncke was a legendary character, the original beat, Times Square hustler, petty thief, junkie, associate of Burroughs and later Ginsberg, who saw in him the archetypal outsider hipster hero angel. I never met him. Around ’96 or 7 I found his book, Guilty of Everything, in which he writes at length about his association with Heine, “the magician”. Somehow I tracked down an address for Huncke – through Raymond Foye, I think – he was at the Chelsea Hotel. I wrote asking if he knew the whereabouts of Heine. I knew Huncke was sick and within weeks after sending my letter he was dead. I tried Ginsberg again and this time got an address and phone number.

1947 – my high school art class chartered a bus for a N.Y. trip to visit the art museums followed by a stage show (The Rockettes) at Radio City Music hall. I was tight with the teacher and asked her for a detour to 52nd Street for me alone. She gave the o.k. and off I went – 52nd Street and 7th Ave. – one of the big turning points of this life. I went to the 3 Deuces, Bird wasn’t there, later I learned he was in Europe. Sir Charles Thompson was there – a good band – Don Byas, Shadow Wilson, Benny Harris. Sir Charles was one of the first Be-bop piano players – it was in the air. The door wouldn’t open till 11 o’clock so I hung out at the bar on the corner – two guys walked in – I was 17, they looked to be in their late 20’s early 30’s – at the time I never thought about it. We met, I told them my story, they bought me beers, they were familiar with the 52nd Street scene, they wanted to take me to a jam session after hours. As we sat at the bar people would walk by the window and raise their arm. One of them would go out and follow the person down the street and make an exchange. later I found out it was morphine pills for money and later I found out one of the two was Huncke who I met again 14 years later at Ginsberg’s. His appearance had hardly changed. I had to leave before the Deuces opened to make my ride back to Pa. (Lancaster)

My first Bird hearing was in 1946 in my last year at Western Military Academy in Alton, Illinois. A kid, son of a Chicago Irish gangster, had some early Bird records including a JATP record featuring Bird, Diz, Pres, etc. It was like magic, more than magic, my life completely turned around. I left that crazy school and came back east to live with my crazy family with a step-father former army intelligence officer – U.S. Army.

I’m still “Chasin’ the Bird”. It’s been a great adventure with many chapters. I’m trying to learn the piano – which is an impossible quest, there’s no goal, the path and the goal are the same. I’ll be a perpetual beginner. There’s no other way for me.

I re-read your web site story. In many ways it’s like Huncke – straight out ‘tell it like it is’. It’s a school of writing to give a new freedom. I love what you’ve done. I’m sure you’ll do more.

I’m sending you another tape – a collection of ‘essences’ from the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s – some later.

your pal Bill

His phone has been disconnected. Now what? I’ll call the Main Street Studio tomorrow. Maybe I’ll call Parker Posey.

[Wrote this late last night, no revision or re-read. Check back for updates.]

Bill Heine, Parker Posey (Heine photo by Renee Samuels)


marcia, from durham nc, wrote on June 1, 2008:

I’ve just seen on the web that my friend dorothy podber died in February, and now I’ve found the posting about Bill on the web. Is there a way to get in touch with him? I don’t have a bell, but at one time had a mirror with something written on the other side.


5 Responses to “Bill Heine”

  1. jb

    i work for him currently…i very brilliant man

  2. tracy stephens

    I first met Bill in 1962 on the lower east side and in 1964 hung out with him getting high and making art together. Two years later I was in San Francisco with a small group of people who wanted to go to Canada and start a commune. One of the guys had a lot of money and I got him to send Bill and girlfriend Ellen tickets to join us in our quest. They did, and then it all fell apart and he ended up on a dairy farm for several months milking cows. Then in 67 he and I were both back in NY and I ran into him on 5th avenue. We hung some more and then I left NY for good and never saw him again.

  3. Jerome Poynton

    Bill Hiene obit:

    Did you know if Ellen and Bill had any children at the time you knew them?

    Jerome Poynton
    Athens, Greece

  4. tracy mccallum

    I’m the one who wrote, as Tracy Stephens (above) about Bill. I know Ellen was pregnant in 1967 but she gave up the baby for adoption. No knowledge if Bill was father or not. She had several pregnancies but did not keep any of the children. She had a tragic life and died falling down a flight of stairs. She was beautiful and reminded me of Angelina Jolie.

  5. tracy mccallum

    Left comment earlier about Ellen – ?Bill Heine’s erstwhile partner. I said she looked like Angelina Jolie but who I really meant was Isabella Rosselini. I was totally captivated by her. She worshiped Bill but I can’t say that he took care of her.

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