Jimmy Webb, Purveyor of Punk Fashion, Is Dead at 62


Jimmy Webb, the kindly, spindly-legged, leather-vested East Village fixture who was the longtime manager of Trash and Vaudeville, the rock ’n’ roll clothiers that once ruled St. Marks Place, died on Tuesday at his apartment in Manhattan. He was 62.

The cause was cancer, said Heart Montalbano, a friend.

With a rocker’s bleached-out shag, ropy arms vined with tattoos and jangly silver bracelets, and skintight jeans slashed by rips and rivets, Mr. Webb was a proudly resolute bearer of the punk-glam torch, even as the decades moved inexorably along.

Stomping through the East Village like a visitor from another time and place, he barely missed a day as the manager of Trash and Vaudeville, where he worked from 2000 until a few years ago, when the store, which opened in 1975, moved around the corner.

“A kind of Proust in streetwear” is how his idol, Iggy Pop, described Mr. Webb in a statement. He was, he added, “a relentlessly enthusiastic fan who enjoyed your fame and oddity so much he wants to be you, and why not?”

Ada Calhoun, the author of “St. Marks Is Dead: The Many Lives of America’s Hippest Street,” said: “I thought of him like one of those Gettysburg re-enactors. He was in full punk regalia every day, and it wasn’t a costume.”

Mr. Webb wasn’t a rocker himself, but he loved them. Mr. Pop, Debbie Harry, Slash of Guns and Roses and David Johansen of the New York Dolls were among his customers, and he showered them with gifts, not always to the benefit of the store’s bottom line.

When Mr. Johansen took his teenage stepdaughter, Leah Hennessey, shopping at Trash and Vaudeville almost 20 years ago, Mr. Webb wept copiously. “He was just so moved to see David,” said Mara Hennessey, Leah’s mother. “For years, Leah said she made sure to walk on the other side of St. Marks Place to avoid running into Jimmy because the emotional level was just so high. She said she couldn’t always take the crying.”

Stylists from MTV and Vogue relied on Mr. Webb for his punk sensibility. “If you needed 30 Beatle boots in all colors, he’d hook you up,” said Bill Mullen, a fashion stylist whose visual touchstones include Lou Reed, Patti Smith and the Ramones.

But Mr. Webb was no snob. He helped generations of teenagers find their inner rock star, too. It was common to find gangs of girls in their school uniforms wriggling into peg-legged jeans in candy colors, encouraged by the antic patter of Mr. Webb, who ran the store like a heavy metal Auntie Mame.

His fashion credo, as he told Alec Wilkinson of The New Yorker in 2007, was simple: “It’s not rock ’n’ roll if your pants don’t hurt.”

“I once watched Liza Minnelli get ready for a show,” said the rock photographer Dustin Pittman, a longtime friend. “And Jimmy took longer.”

James Kenneth Webb was born on Aug. 28, 1957, in Troy, N.Y., to William and Nancy Webb, and grew up in nearby Wynantskill. His father ran a gas station attached to the family home.

When Jimmy arrived in New York City with his clothes in a pillowcase, he was just 16. For years he lived on and off the streets, chased by a heroin addiction, working as a bar back in a gay club, sometimes turning tricks, picking up odd jobs here and there, but always dressed to the nines in his signature regalia.

He was clean by the late 1990s when he asked Ray Goodman, the owner of Trash and Vaudeville, for a job. He had been haunting the store for years.

In 2017, a year after Trash and Vaudeville moved off St. Marks Place, Mr. Webb opened his own store on Orchard Street on the Lower East Side, I Need More. The store was named after an Iggy Pop song, and it was a shrine to his idols, whose photographs line the pink walls. It was also a new go-to spot for Schott motorcycle jackets and one-of-a-kind punk accouterments.

Mr. Webb learned he had cancer two years ago and, with typical stoicism, kept it to himself, working through chemotherapy and radiation, Ms. Montalbano said.

He is survived by a brother, Ronald. Another brother, Richard, died before him.

It was his dream to make a punk version of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame in front of his new store, featuring Mr. Pop’s and Ms. Harry’s hands in cement. In February, he organized a party for them to do so.

It took reserves of strength “that I didn’t think he had,” said David Godlis, a street photographer. “But everyone pitched in, and everyone came. Debbie and Iggy and David Johansen. Henry Rollins and Jim Jarmusch.”

“It was very crowded, and he was so excited,” Mr. Godlis said. “I think he thought everyone was there to to see Iggy and Debbie. But they were all there for him.”

That was certainly true for Ms. Harry. “Jimmy lived and died for rock ’n’ roll,” she said. “And he put a lot of pants on a lot of people.”



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