Michelle Shocked rocks C Squat in return to her roots

Michelle Shocked in her customized Rangers jersey. She admits she knows nothing about hockey and removed the first “R” and “S” from “Rangers.” Photos by Sarah Ferguson

BY SARAH FERGUSON | Michelle Shocked helped rock in the New Year at C Squat on Monday night. The Grammy-nominated folksinger turned up at a party hosted by the Museum of Reclaimed Space (MORUS) to perform a raucous take on her 1988 song “Graffiti Limbo,” backed by radical ’zine artist Seth Tobocman and his band, Continuity of Struggle.

Shocked said she connected with Tobocman by chance, after the Guggenheim Museum contacted her about her song. It tells the story of artist Michael Stewart, who was beaten to death by New York City transit police in 1983 after he was caught tagging at the subway stop at First Ave. and 14th St.

The Guggenheim is planning another retrospective of Jean-Michel Basquiat, who made a painting about Stewart’s murder. Shocked said the curators there wanted to understand why this young man’s death had such an impact on local artists at the time.

“It was like I had to educate them about the way the underground worked back then,” said Shocked. She said she was inspired to pen her song about Stewart’s murder after reading about it in Overthrow magazine and seeing a mural that Tobocman painted in Stewart’s honor on the corner of Ninth St. and Avenue C.

The former East Village squatter jamming with John Wagner, a fellow former squatter.

“I could only remember the name Seth, so I had to look him up on the Internet,” Shocked said of Tobocman, who she worked with briefly in the 1980s doing benefits around issues of housing and police brutality. After they reconnected, she and Tobocman decided to collaborate for the MORUS gig.

“Being here tonight is really great, it’s like the community welcoming me back,” Shocked said after performing at the former East Village squat. “I feel like a homecoming queen.”

Before she made it big in the folk scene, Shocked toured with the Yippies and Rock Against Racism and lived in a squat on E. 10th St.

“There was no roof, just clear plastic sheeting, and at night the rats would run across it,” Shocked recalled. “They’d be looking down at you and you’d be looking up at them,” she laughed.

Michelle Shocked enjoying the scene at the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space (MORUS). Eric Drooker, the graphic novelist and artist, is entering the room, in background, center.

After switching up from “anarchist skate punk” to born-again Christian, Shocked elicited a storm of controversy when she made what were widely construed as homophobic remarks during a 2013 concert in San Francisco. Shocked insisted her words were misunderstood, and she’s been slowly rebuilding her career since then.

Now “more sober than sober,” Shocked didn’t stick around to party at C squat. Instead, she took off in the rain on a motorized scooter to attend a “watch night” service — ushering in the New Year with prayer and singing — at an African-American church in Brooklyn.

“That’s more my speed these days,” she smiled.

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