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The Bowery Boy

The Misfit's Journey Book (COMING SOON)

The Misfit's Journey Book (COMING SOON)

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Numerous works of popular fiction have been identified as examples of the monomyth, or archetypal journey: Homer’s Odyssey, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz. Additionally, legendary filmmakers such as George Lucas and Stanley Kubrick have been famously inspired by Joseph Campbell’s 1949 study The Hero with a Thousand Faces. For a variety of reasons, the monomyth template that Campbell details here (and further develops in 1990’s The Hero’s Journey) has become a cornerstone for the contemporary well-being movement. And yet, we don’t need to be heroes to seek self-awareness during our own life adventures. We all share the same story elements: losses and victories. We all want the same things: love and security. And while some of use choose to participate in the writing of our own life stories, far too many of us sleepwalk through life until we are shocked into an awakening – sometimes by the loss of a loved one or the onset of a life-threatening illness. Sadly, death often takes us before we understand our reason for being alive in the first place.

Bowery Boy: The Misfit’s Journey follows Campbell’s template of the hero’s journey, even if it meanders off the path occasionally. The protagonist, Bobby Sheehan, is a prime example of someone born into an Ordinary World who answers the Call of Adventure. Actually, it wasn’t an Ordinary World – it was a world of poverty and scarcity (which Sheehan experienced as “scare city”). As a white boy born into New York City’s Bowery in the sixties, Sheehan was automatically a bona fide Misfit. And it wasn’t just a Call of Adventure that he was heeding; it was a desperate need to escape and discover a better life – or die trying.

At the core of Sheehan’s Refusal of the Call were fear and self-loathing. After the death of his grandmother, Sheehan was transplanted to Canarsie, Brooklyn with his very young mother Dolores “Tida” McKofke and her second husband, Danny McCloud. After one too many acid trips, Danny defaulted back to his Jehovah’s Witness upbringing and became an elder in the cult. In Canarsie, Sheehan had to lie about being half Italian to become part of a gang of tough Italian kids who protected him from being bullied. To join the gang, he concocted a story that his mother’s family was from an Italian city near Switzerland where everyone had blonde hair and blue eyes. Not only was Sheehan lying about being half Italian, but he also had a cousin of mixed race, Maria. Maria was like a sister to him when he was living on Fourth Street and Avenue D as a small child. But when she would visit him in Canarsie, Sheehan’s survival hinged on hiding Maria from view. If the Italian kids found out that Sheehan had a Black cousin, he would be kicked out of the gang. To make matters worse, there were race riots going on across the country at this time – even in Canarsie. The Misfit was living a lie and in a constant state of hypervigilance bordering on panic. At home, his refusal to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses led to constant fighting with his stepfather. At school, his survival hinged on hiding his true ethnicity – and his Black cousin – from the Italian kids in his gang. All of these stressors were being experienced by Sheehan at a prepubescent age.

The next setback for Sheehan came in the form of alcoholic Mentors. As a seventh grader at Bildersee Junior High in Canarsie, Sheehan discovered his first superpower: drinking. His ability to easily down a six-pack of Old Milwaukee beer elevated his status among the other kids. It also unleashed a fearless and reckless version of the Misfit. There were older drinkers who educated Sheehan on alcoholic efficiency (“Why drink beer that’s gonna make you piss all the time when you can throw back shots of bourbon?”). Not only did these lessons make sense, but they enabled Sheehan to find his own personal rocket fuel.

No longer willing to accept being a victim, the Misfit was ready for the next step: Crossing the Threshold. The timing was perfect because CBGB had just become a mecca for Misfits. The 45-minute train ride from Rockaway Parkway in Canarsie to Fourteenth Street in Manhattan gave Sheehan time to drink, which gave him the confidence he needed to jump into the angry mob of punk rockers screaming and venting to the heady noise of bands like the Ramones.

Tests, Allies and Enemies were driving forces for Sheehan. An important Test came when he discovered his creative voice with an old Nikon camera and a collection of vintage lenses. Photographing his fellow Misfits at clubs such as CBGB and Max’s Kansas City gave Sheehan Purpose and Allies, while also becoming his Bliss. This was heightened by Sheehan’s discovery of and subsequent addiction to speed, known at the time as Black Beauties. Given that Sheehan’s Supernatural Aids were alcohol and drugs, the inner battle for his Bliss became an all-out war. While his photography enabled him to excel (his portfolio of fellow Misfits helped him get a full-ride scholarship to NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts), his drug problem had become serious enough that Dee Dee Ramone, himself a notorious speed freak, dubbed Sheehan “Rockin’ Bobby.”

NYU was Sheehan’s Belly of the Whale phase. Being exposed to cinema as an art form and discovering that his eye for still photography could be applied to motion picture cameras inspired Sheehan to no end, and made him hunger for a better life. Meanwhile, the fact that Sheehan came from far humbler beginnings than his fellow university students empowered him to revel in his Misfit status. He was attracted to and attracted extraordinary humans. Hippie artist Ira Cohen exposed him to writers like Jerzy Kosinski and filmmakers like Kenneth Anger, whom Sheehan brought to NYU for a screening of his seminal shocker, Lucifer Rising. Sheehan also exposed his fellow NYU film students to the militant poetry of Jayne Cortez, aunt to his Misfit friend, Tony Frere. But the most profound influence on his life at this time was that of Rosetta LeNoire – goddaughter to Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, founder of the influential Amas Musical Theatre, and one hell of a Mentor for an up-and-coming Misfit like Sheehan. As a staff photographer for LeNoire’s theater, Sheehan was struck by her strict worth ethic – which eventually became foundational for him. Moreover, the job afforded him the opportunity to photograph legendary Black artists like Sidney Poitier and Eartha Kitt.

Sheehan also had his share of failures on The Road of Trial. His budding career as a rock photographer crashed and burned when Circus magazine sent him to photograph Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards’s birthday party backstage at a 1981 concert in Hampton, Virginia – which also happened to be the first ever pay-per-view concert produced by HBO. Ensconced in the same hotel as the Stones, Sheehan was petrified of running into these rock demigods in the elevator – and had to stay drunk around the clock in order to cope. Despite being in the front row at the show, he was far too hammered to get any decent shots – and far too intimidated to so much as lift his camera backstage during the birthday party. Back in New York, Sheehan tried to convince Circus’s photo editor that it was Mick Jagger’s frenetic performing style that prevented him from getting any shots in focus. The editor didn’t buy it, pointing out that legions of photographers had managed to capture sharply focused images of the Stones since the sixties. Oh well.

Sheehan become a true believer in divine intervention when a journalist named Sara Feldmann interviewed him for a fashion magazine in 1985. This was unmistakably The Meeting with the Goddess who would ultimately save the Misfit’s life. Feldmann was writing an article about young fashion directors, which led her to Sheehan’s studio on Fourteenth Street and Ninth Avenue at a time when the Meatpacking District was not a neighborhood to be visited by sophisticated people. Sheehan was so taken by Feldmann’s grace and beauty that he had his assistant tell her he was too busy to do the interview – but that he could meet her for dinner later at Cafe Bruxelles (where a member of Sheehan’s posse happened to be the maître d’). Sheehan’s self-esteem was so low that he couldn’t even ask Feldmann out for their first date.

In the years that followed, Sheehan pulled Feldmann into his crazy world. What at first seemed like an unexpected adventure eventually became an untenable situation, and by 1989 Feldmann knew that she had to escape. Her leaving the relationship coincided with Sheehan’s most epic failure. In August of 1988, Sheehan was hired by a Finnish radio station to direct and produce a documentary film about a concert in Estonia, which at the time was still part of the Soviet Union. Hailed as the Russian Woodstock, Glasnost Rock had attracted bands from all over Europe to perform – including former Sex Pistol John Lydon’s postpunk outfit, Public Image Ltd. Sheehan’s alcoholism completely screwed up what could have been a historic documentary. This was the very beginning of Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost movement, and Glasnost Rock was the first cultural event where foreigners were allowed to participate – and even be filmed – behind the Iron Curtain. In retaliation for the drunk and disorderly behavior of Sheehan and his crew on set, the KGB locked them in a defunct Soviet submarine for a night. A terrible hangover and the fear that they could actually be made to disappear forever wasn’t enough to stop Sheehan and his crew from continuing their drunken antics, leaving them with 60 hours of footage that was disorganized beyond all hope. Not with a bang but a whimper, the Glasnost Rock documentary died on the vine.

In Campbell’s terms, Woman as the Temptress wasn’t a woman but alcohol for Sheehan – a temptation that was trying to end his life. And it almost won. By 1989, Sheehan felt he had two choices: find the least painful way to commit suicide or get sober. Even though he accepted that Feldmann would be better off without him, he secretly hoped that he might be able to ger her back IF he were able to get sober. On August first, 1989, Sheehan walked into his first AA meeting – and he’s been sober ever since. It took a lot of time and an extraordinary effort to get his Goddess to give him another chance, but that’s ultimately what she did. Not only did Feldmann help Sheehan survive The Ordeal of getting sober, but she has been his life’s greatest Reward.

It's ironic for Sheehan that surviving the abyss within Campbell’s monomyth template of death and rebirth is identified as Atonement with the Father/Abyss. The Misfit had spent a lifetime filling the hole of not having a father with alcohol and drugs. When Sheehan’s biological father eventually convinced his mother that he had changed his violent and drunken ways, the two began dating again. After Sheehan refused on multiple occasions to meet the father he never knew, the old man showed up intoxicated at my mother’s workplace. Brandishing a gun, he announced that he would shoot his son if he continued to snub him. In addition to betraying the fact that he had not changed in the slightest, Sheehan’s father clearly felt the need to exert his Death Power over the son he never knew.

Early sobriety is tough for all Misfits. Fortunately, the shining light on the Road Back was Sheehan and Feldmann’s shared love of photography. In the early days, Feldmann was reluctant to spend evenings drinking and drugging with Sheehan and all his Misfit friends. To avoid alienating her, Sheehan bought a vintage 4x5 Graflex Speed Graphic camera and took to the streets of New York City every night in search of images. Instead of going into bars, he would find a spot in an alleyway, compose a shot, close the aperture way, way down to get maximum focus, and take long exposures. Many of these exposures would take hours, but those hours were better spent on the streets than in bars and clubs. To strengthen his resolve to get sober, Sheehan convinced the Partnership for a Drug Free America (now known as the Partnership to End Addiction) to let him direct and produce a series of public service announcements. Further assured that Sheehan was indeed committed to a life of sobriety, Feldmann offered to produce the PSAs with him. In 1991, the couple founded a production company called Working Pictures. To this day, Sheehan and Feldmann are still producing work together – including projects for nonprofits.

Sheehan’s Resurrection could only begin with starting a family of his own and becoming the father he never had. But there was a huge hurdle to overcome: Feldmann’s parents. Joseph Skip Feldmann was a pushover compared to Caryl Fried Feldmann. Sheehan took Skip out to lunch and pledged to love his daughter with all his heart. Skip, an artist dressed in a businessman’s suit, recognized a kindred spirit in Sheehan who just wanted to become a good person. Winning Caryl over wasn’t nearly as easy, given the umbrage she took at the idea of her daughter marrying a Misfit. Over the course of several years, however, Caryl would become a second mother to Sheehan. Sheehan and Feldmann eventually married and started a family in Mamaroneck, New York, where Feldmann had grown up. The Misfit felt, and still feels, like a poor man living in a rich man’s house. And yet this Misfit has traveled all over the world with his camera, survived the ups and downs of owning an independent film company, various crises, and the deaths of many loved ones. Campbell would chalk all this up to The Crossing of the Return Threshold; Sheehan, meanwhile, would take it a step further by insisting that Feldmann is actually his Goddess – the Gift or the Elixir of his life. Without her, he wouldn’t have made it out of the eighties alive. Nor would his three incredible children have been born.

Sheehan is no Master of Two Worlds; nor did he return to the Ordinary World into which he was born. But having gone through his own Misfit’s Journey, he is self-aware and unafraid to look inward at the demons that are ready to wreak havoc at any given moment. His commitment to his family and the nonprofit work that he and Feldmann produce are enough to empower the Misfit to strive for the Freedom to Live. The wisdom and love earned is constantly fueled by living a life of creativity – and seeking a balance between making enough money to live in abundance and being of service to those less fortunate. Sheehan is particularly committed to providing his services to organizations that focus on children in need – other Bowery Boys or Bowery Girls or Bowery They or Bowery Them. The long and short of it is this: We are all the authors of our own Journeys, so pay attention and write your best story.

All words in bold are references to The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Joseph Campbell, 1949) or The Hero’s Journey (Joseph Campbell, 1990)

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