Actor revisits community that shaped his character

[media-credit name="Photos by Bob Krasner " align="aligncenter" width="600"][/media-credit]
Richard Edson, on a recent visit back to the East Village, outside one of its longtime local landmarks, now closed, Life Cafe.

BY BOB KRASNER  |  What do Sonic Youth, Spike Lee and Charlie Sheen have in common? If you answered “Richard Edson,” you’ve been paying attention to the career of a classic character actor who spent his formative years in the East Village, thinking that his career was going to be in music.

He lives in L.A. now, because that’s where the work is, but the seeds of that career were sown in a neighborhood that was quite a bit different than it is now. In the days when you didn’t venture past Avenue B unless you were looking for trouble — or drugs, or both — Edson was the original drummer for Sonic Youth (he’s on the first album), before switching gears to play trumpet and percussion in the groove-oriented Konk.

He grew up in New Rochelle. But as a teenager he frequented the Fillmore East on Second Ave., seeing the likes of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, B.B. King and Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Edson moved into the city in 1980, to a loft at Grand St. and Bowery, then to Fourth St. between Avenues A and B, and then another apartment on 12th St. and Avenue A. His friends still live in that last one, a memorable abode where he was ripped off on his first night in residence.

“I moved in, went out for dinner and when I came back all my stuff was gone,” he recalled. “Not that I had that much stuff! We got hit three times. Each time we got more gates.”

The idea then “was to be a musician,” and in the process of becoming one, he supported himself with a series of jobs. One was painting the interiors of parking garages. For nine months, he had “a great job” as the darkroom technician at The Soho News, another establishment lost to history.

Edson by the former Tompkins Square Park band shell in 1986, right before a performance by his band, Konk.

On a walk through the East Village recently while back for a visit, he noted all the other places that are also gone: Life Cafe (closed since this past summer), the memorabilia shop Love Saves The Day (where his girlfriend worked), the 24-hour hangout Kiev and, of course, The Fillmore, which is now a bank.

He found the entrance to the basement on Second Ave. where Konk used to rehearse, and, while walking past the site of the former Tompkins Square Park band shell, he fondly remembered their free shows there.

Also gone is the coffee shop where he met film director Jim Jarmusch, who cast him as a lead in “Stranger Than Paradise” alongside fellow Downtown musician John Lurie, despite Edson’s lack of acting experience. Since then, Edson figures, he’s been in “60 or 70” movies, including Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” and Oliver Stone’s “Platoon,” in addition to “lots of TV.”

But don’t mistake his attachment to his old neighborhood for any kind of yearning for the good old days. Sitting in front of his one-time apartment on E. 12th St. he said, “I try to be nostalgic, but I’m really not. It’s another time now, and things are different. I like a lot of things about that time — it was an important time and place, more than just personally. The cultural things that happened here still have repercussions today.”

He was talking about the clothes that “have become standard urban wear,” as he put it, and the music, of course, among other things. And, he noted, “One of the great things about the East Village is that it’s always in flux.”

In 1991 he moved to Los Angeles and hasn’t really looked back. He’s still playing music — Afro-Cuban is what he’s into now — and he’s pretty serious about his photography, as well. His only complaint about the acting profession is that he doesn’t work as much as he’d like. But if his TV pilot gets picked up he could get his wish.

He has no qualms about being a character actor and you can look for him alongside Charlie Sheen in Roman Coppola’s upcoming flick “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III.”

He’s probably got some Charlie Sheen stories, but the only thing that he’d say was that Sheen is “crazy, like a fox” and was a total professional on set.

Wrapping up our walk through the old world before heading back to the West Coast, Edson pondered the question of whether there was anything he’d take back with him to L.A. from his old stomping ground, if he could.

“The people,” he said, “with all their attitude — good and bad.”

Ah, it’s nice to be appreciated.

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