Burning Flags Press The website of Glen E. Friedman. Renowned for both his work with musicians like Fugazi, Minor Threat, Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, Slayer (and many, many more) as well as his groundbreaking documentation of the burgeoning skateboard phenomenon in the late `70's, Glen has been privvy to (and has summarily captured on film) some of the coolest stuff ever. He's also an incredibly insightful and nice guy to boot.
SoHo Blues - Photography by Allan Tannenbaum Allan Tannenbaum is a local photographer who has been everywhere and shot everything, from members of Blondie hanging out at the Mudd Club through the collapsing towers of the World Trade Center on September 11th. You could spend hours on this site, and I have.
Robert Otter Photographs Amazing vintage photographs of New York City, specifically my own neighborhood, Greenwich Village.
oboylephoto Just some intensely cool photographs of abandoned places.
The Weblog of Spumco's John K. The weblog of cartoonist John Kricfalusi, crazed mind and frantic pencil behind the original "Ren & Stimpy," as well as "The Goddamn George Liquor Show." Surreal, unapologetic, uncompromising genius.
I’ve written pretty extensively already about my attachment to the old Tower Records on 4th and Broadway (most recently here), along with my pointed disdain for the MLB Mancave that currently occupies Tower’s former address (which I pretty much covered here). At this late stage of the day, there’s not much more that needs to be said.
I found a striking shot, recently, of Sixth Avenue — a.k.a “Avenue of the Americas” — taken from the vantage point of about West 51st Street looking south (that’s it above). I feel quite remiss in admitting that I didn’t glean the photographer’s name, nor the year it was snapped. What’s notable about this photograph is the fact that the scene seems mysteriously bereft of any signs of life, and there’s only a few cars parked along the sides of the avenue, recalling the eerie, post-apocalyptic desolation of films like 1959's "The World, The Flesh and The Devil." Judging from the style of the automobiles, it was probably taken at some point in the 70’s (probably in the early morning), but I just don’t know, unfortunately.
ADDENDUM: Loyal reader/excellent friend Chung Wong wrote in to solve the mystery. The black and white photo above was taken by Thomas Struth in 1978.
I was drawn to it not only for its clean, stark symmetry and its lonely, haunting vibe, but also because I spent a wide swathe of my life working on both sides of this particular patch of Manhattan real estate (specifically at LIFE Magazine and TIME Magazine on the right and MSN and NBC over on the left). As such, this neighborhood will always have a special resonance for me ... for better or worse.
In any case, I attended part one of a two-part high school reunion last night that found me trudging up this very strip. Upon crossing the street, it occurred to me that I was walking past the same vantage point, approximately. As such, I stopped and tried to replicate the shot.
Now, granted, that picture was taken in broad daylight with no one around while mine was taken on a rainy night, teeming with activity, but here’s my version below.
While I hadn’t really considered Sounds to have been a crucial shop for some time now, I did indeed feel a bit of remorse as I walked down the steps of that storied stoop for the last time and back onto St. Marks Place.
Between Sounds' shuttering and the impending relocation of Trash & Vaudeville just up the block, we seem to be seeing the final gasp of St. Marks’ incarnation as a destination for a certain variant of music fan.
While, true, you can still buy a wide array of silly rock t-shirts at the otherwise-innocuous Funky Town or spend an inordinately high sum of money on punky regalia at Search & Destroy, both shops are comparative newcomers on that strip of St. Marks, dating back to the mid-90’s (an era that still seems deceptively recent to the naive likes of me).
But more than places to just buy stuff, Sounds and Trash & Vaudeville both exuded such senses of place. Hell, back in the 80’s, Sounds was a just a great spot to simply hang out at, whether you intended to buy anything there or not. I remember being yet another brat sitting on that stoop for hours on end, just soaking up the vibe of the street, and I remember salvaging a blind date in the early 90’s that was in grave peril of death-by-ennui until we repaired to the aisles of Sounds (which, once upon a time, always seemed to be open, day or night) to discover a mutual-if-begrudging affinity for Shout at the Devil by Motley Crue.
Meanwhile, Trash & Vaudeville -- captured above circa 1983 by the great Godlis -- just seemed to sum it all up. Sure, nowadays, they’re not entirely cheap either, but their t-shirt selection remains pretty unimpeachable, be you a fan of certain eras of UK and NYC punk rock.
Much like the stoop at Sounds, the stoop at 4 St. Marks Place — just adjacent to the entrance of Trash & Vaudeville — also used to be an invitation to loiter. As discussed recently in this post, I’m hoping author Ada Calhoun will delve into the historical minutia of some of these addresses, but 4 St. Marks Place used to be a permanent perch for teenage punks. I’m reminded of the 1980 photo below of the Virus kids (whose ranks, for a time, included Jack Natz … later of Cop Shoot Cop), hanging out on 4’s stoop. I also love the “SAMO” tag behind them,….the work of the roving Jean-Michel Basquiat, along with the brazenly ignored "NO LOITERING" stencil.
In scrounging around on this subject, I came across this other great shot circa 1985 of the stoop at 4 St. Marks, credited to the New York Historical Society.
Keen-eyed minutia-heads might spot tattered flyers on the door behind the “people in punk-type clothing” (as Getty calls them) for Von LMO, SWANS and the Midnight Records Fuzz Fest (see that flyer below).
Granted, it’s a bit much to be lamenting the demise of all things punk in 2015. As I mentioned in this ancient post, that ship left the dock some time ago, and St. Marks Place (and its surrounding East Village) has continued to (d)evolve for better or worse. I just find it a bit sad that its last vestiges are gradually being squeezed out like zits to accommodate a bland, new future.
What will take the places of Sounds and Trash & Vaudeville once they are gone? What concerns will occupy those spaces? Will they be reduced to hosts for a veritable parade of doomed ventures (like the former site of Mondo Kim’s)? We shall see.
Will, like the swallows that used to flock to the cliffs of Capistrano, the kids who still adhere to the dubious protocols of punk dutifully come back to St. Marks? Would there be any point?
After all, nobody sits on the stoop of number 4 anymore.
There’s a great line in “What Happened to Smith?” by Life in a Blender, one of my favorite anti-gentrication anthems (about Brooklyn, no less) wherein vocalist Don “Ralph” Rauf, incensed by the encroachment of insufferable affluents into his age-old neighborhood, loudly laments “I’ll wait it out by the Gowanus, I’ll wait for the scene to shift. I’ll take the stench of the canal, over what happened to Smith.”
Gowanus. The very name is a grim punchline, conjuring images of a desolate, polluted industrial wasteland, an unimpeachable no-go zone.
It was for arguably this very reason that maverick producer Martin Bisi first opened his fabled recording studio, BC Studio, in Gowanus in 1979. The urban decay and virtual lawlessness of the area in that era made the East Village just across the river seem like Club Med, but it was here that Bisi and a coterie of like-minded individuals forged a hotbed of experimental sound, unwittingly giving birth to Hip Hop and a haven for New York’s once-burgeoning post-punk scene, ruled by Sonic Youth, SWANS, Foetus and, of course, Cop Shoot Cop.
As you may have heard by this point, there is now an excellent documentary out about BC Studio directed by Ryan Douglas and Sara Leavitt. From the first moment I heard about it last year, I was totally psyched for it, being that so many of my favorite records were inexorably linked to Martin Bisi’s story. In any event, it’s out now, and you can rent or buy it off YouTube, I believe. If you’re a fan of the crap I’m in awe of like Cop Shoot Cop and SWANS, it’s mandatory viewing. SEEK IT OUT.
Here’s the trailer.
In any case, I finally got to see it today, and it’s fucking amazing. But there was one little detail that just about blew me right off the porch, and it comes with a backstory.
As mentioned in this very windy post, I first became aware of New York City’s own Cop Shoot Cop back at the dawn of the 90’s. I’d initially been assigned to interview the then-notorious ensemble by a free weekly called New York Perspectives (long dead). Contrary to their fearsome reputation, I found the guys in the band to be thoughtful, grounded and funny individuals, and I became a swift and ardent fan of theirs, catching their shows at a variety of since-closed divey music venues. This being back during a more fertile age for music, the East Village and the Lower East Side in general were awash in gig flyers (much like the ones I collected from the Rock Hotel).
Anyway, around the release of their second album, White Noise, Cop Shoot Cop played a gig at CBGB. The band was renowned for their eye-catching, provocative gig posters — often utilizing bits of striking, inflammatory imagery, and the poster for this particular show was no different. I remember a tattered copy of it being pasted up on a disused notice board outside the forbidding edifice of that since-condemned public school on East 4th between First Avenue and Avenue A. The art utilized a bit of an Anime/Manga cartoon of a screaming, angry face behind bars, with COP SHOOT COP and CBGB displayed in a bold, angular font. It was quite a striking bit of art, and I coveted it.
The trouble was, they were gone almost overnight, either ripped down or covered up by other posters. That shredded one on East 4th Street was impossible to prize (and actually stayed up for several years before the notice board itself was dismantled for whatever reason).
I became friends with the guys in Cop Shoot Cop, and former vocalist/bassist Tod [A] even gave me an armful of old posters and flyers of theirs at one point, but this one was not among them, frustratingly.
In the ensuing years, that single Cop Shoot Cop poster became something of a holy grail for me, but I simply never saw it again. Tod [A] didn’t even remember it (and he did most if not all of the poster designs).
Maybe I’d dreamt it??
But then, as I’m watching “Sound and Chaos: The Story of BC Studio,” there comes a discussion of a particular happening at the studio wherein Cop Shoot Cop and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion partook in some sort of jam session. In a bit of archival footage from the event, they show a snippet of an interview with Spencer, and what’s on the wall behind the couch they’re sitting on?? THAT GODDAMN POSTER!!
Here it is closer up….albeit only the bottom half.
Anyway, that really blew a new part in my hair. If you have a copy of this poster — get in touch, `COS I WANT IT
I’ve written about False Prophets before (most recently here). I’ve also penned some posts about the old Rock Against Racism shows in Central Park (notably here and here). In any case, at the bottom of this post is a clip of False Prophets playing that same Rock Against Racism showcase in May of 1988 in Central Park, opening for Nausea. George Tabb is still in their ranks here, fresh from his formative days in Roach Motel, and soon to de-camp to join Letch Patrol, Iron Prostate and, later, Furious George (among others … ever the prolific punk).
The video quality is really top drawer (for 1988), finding the inimitable Stephan Ielpi in classic, surrealist agitator form. Below is the original flyer for the gig in question. Also on the bill were storied NYC ska-vets The Toasters (who I wrote about here) and fledgling hip-hoppers Stetsasonic, who scored a hit that same year with “All That Jazz.”
Actually, here’s a not-so-quick aside about Stetsasonic…
I remember going to the the New Music Seminar in 1990 (about two years after this Rock Against Racism show) and attending one of their panels (this at a gigantic hotel on Times Square whose name escapes me). Among this panel’s participants were Ice Cube (who left early), Queen Latifah and Peter Hook, then still of New Order (although, at the time, I suppose he was in the throes of promoting his ill-fated side-project, Revenge). This esteemed gaggle of musicians were all gathered on a dais in this main conference hall, tasked with discussing the state of the music business at the time.
At some point in the discussion, the topic of “bootlegging” was introduced, prompting a spirited round of debate. There was, however, something of a fundamental misunderstanding going on. At the time in New York City, there was a rash of street vendors hawking cheap-o ripoff (i.e. home-burned) copies of various hit albums on compact disc (usually Hip Hop). These shoddy knockoff CD's were awkwardly referred to as “bootlegs,” not to be confused with the older definition, which referred to covertly recorded documents of concerts (of the sort fanatically collected and traded by Deadheads). In any case, Queen Latifah — as was her wont, I suppose — was roundly outspoken in her disapproval of bootlegging, whereas Peter Hook — invariably thinking everyone was talking conventional bootlegs (i.e. concert recordings) took more of a “what’s the big deal?” stance. In any case, they got well into it, and Peter Hook (of whom I was and remain a major fan) said something cheekily dismissive of Queen Latifah — which prompted me, standing in the back of the room, to snort and laugh loudly. This, in turn, prompted a phalanx of gentlemen standing in front of me to all whip their heads around and glare venomously at me (presumably for showing disrespect to Queen Latifah). I suddenly found myself being stared down by the ranks of Stetsasonic.
Anyway, back to the False Prophets clip. If you enjoy it, there are about five others. Unlike many of their scene-peers, False Prophets never really hit the big time, so to speak (not that it was necessarily their intention to). I believe Stephen still fronts an incarnation of the band today. Nausea, meanwhile, broke-up around 1992, and I’ve heard from a reliable source that Amy from Nausea (formerly married to Agnostic Front’s Roger Miret) is now a doctor ( … and, strangely, now a Republican). The Toasters are still going in one form or another. Stetsasonic initially broke up in 1991 (doubtlessly divided by their decision whether or not to pound me into submission), but then evidently reconvened in 2008.
But here, meanwhile, is another glimpse of that Spring afternoon in Central Park....
Disclaimer:If you’re understandably turned off by old, greying, crotchedy dudes bitching about since-closed record stores, stop reading now. Boom. There’s your warning.
I don’t think I ever saved so much money as when I stopped buying those beefy British music monthlies like Mojo, Q and all the rest of them. For eons, I’d dutifully pick them up. They were simply a joy to read — beautifully written, informative, funny, etc. For a slavishly anglophilic music geek like myself, they were hard to say ‘no’ to. That said, they were — and remain — totally too goddamn expensive. Given my continuing lack of employment, they were the first item to go on the belt-tightening list.
That said, I do cheat and pick one up every now and again. There was a lovely-albeit-not-especialy-insightful feature on Killing Joke in the latest Uncut (I always thought that title sounded a bit porny). Likewise, I couldn’t resist picking up the latest issue of Mojo (with Patti Smith on the cover), given the promise of features on the Cocteau Twins and an essay on the ‘noise rock’ of 1985, penned by Thurston Moore (pictured above in fetching SWANS shirt). How could I turn that down?
In paging through same, however, I noticed a curious little paragraph wherein Thurston waxed rhapsodic about the technologically primitive age of 1985…
There was no internet, and you found about bands via fanzines and record stores, which were really important. Pier Platters in Hoboken was the only record store in New York hip to this new music — Bleecker Bob’s certainly wasn’t — and you’d go there to hang out, listen to records and find out who’s who.
Alrighty, Thurston, hold the goddamn phone.
For a start, last time I checked, Hoboken — despite its close proximity — is not in New York City. Secondly, to say that Pier Platters — fine shop though it was — was “the only record store in New York hip to this new music” is also a bit of a stretch. Thirdly, why shit on Bleecker Bob’s?
It should be remembered that Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley was a Hoboken resident (and may have even been a Pier Platters employee at one point, if I’m not mistaken). This would handily explain Moore’s bias towards the store.
And, again, as great as Pier Platters was, to suggest that it alone was the stronghold for the burgeoning noise-rock/piguck/post-hardcore/American indie scene is a bit revisionist. And while it’s commendable to be a loyal consumer, genuine music heads tended to scour whole networks of shops — not simply patronize a single establishment.
Off the top of my head, I’d suggest that Rocks in Your Head in SoHo (now a real estate agency), 99 Records in Greenwich Village (now a comedy club), Venus Records on West 8th Street (now a foot rub parlor) and FreeBeing off St. Marks Place (now a tanqueria) all more than held their own in keeping up with what was going on.
Back to Bleecker Bob’s, Thurston’s shade-throwing isn’t that surprising. Lots of folks demurred from shopping at Bleecker Bob’s, given fabled owner Bleecker Bob Plotnick’s less-that-always-personable style. That said, I vividly remember Bleecker Bob’s prominently displaying Sonic Youth’s “Star Power” 12” upon its 1986 release (I may have even bought my copy there). So, ease the Hell up, Thurston.
Don’t get me wrong, once again — I’m not knocking Pier Platters. It was indeed a great spot. If you’d exhausted the shops of lower Manhattan, it was a simple PATH train ride away, initially close enough to the station to the point where you’d barely have to penetrate the byways of Hoboken (unless, of course, you were headed for Maxwell’s….also gone). I have very fond memories of prizing my copy of Pussy Galore’s Dial ‘M’ For Motherfucker in its comparatively cramped little space.
I’ll defer to more-knowledgable Hobokenauts for this one, but I want to say there was a second incarnation of Pier Platters later on (before it, too, closed).
In case you’re too much of a whippersnapper or were too young to make it across the river to Pier Platters, check out this great little video of Daniel Johnston (another beloved and eccentric figure of the mid-80’s indie scene) performing therein circa 1988). Today, much like Rocks in Your Head, the space that the original Pier Platters shop occupied is now a real estate agency.
More about beloved record shops on Flaming Pablum here:
A good friend of mine is currently working on a strenuously exciting archival project, although I can’t really go into any detail about it at this early stage of the proceedings. In any event, while he was generously walking me through some of it today, he showed me this other clip he’d unearthed on YouTube, and I thought it was worth sharing here.
I’m not going to lie — I really don’t know who the Misguided are (or, more likely, were). They weren’t “one of my bands,” so to speak. In fact, the only instance wherein I’ve read their name in association with the annals of hardcore punk was via a flyer that was taped up to my dormitory wall in college (one of many … see some more of them here). That flyer was this one below….which I liked more because of Jerry’s Kids and the F.U.’s (and the fact that the cartoony punk pictured is wearing a Heart Attack shirt).
In any case, according to an organization called the “Independent Network News” (where are they today, one wonders), a performance by the Misguided at CBGB during some point in 1983 seemed like the perfect opportunity to do an investigative report — of a sort — on hardcore punk, although, if truth be told, the Misguided don’t really seem especially hardcore.
Essentially, the clip is just yet another anaemic attempt by the then-mainstream media to wrap their heads around the concept of hardcore, invariably concentrating on the sartorial/tonsorial trappings and, of course, the brow-furrowing (if you were over twenty years of age at the time) practice of slam-dancing. It’s not quite as hysterical as CBS News’ coverage of Missing Foundation, but it’s not far from it —also harkening back to that fabled “Quincy” episode and setting the table for that after-school cautionary epic, 1987’s “The Day My Kid Went Punk.”
Regardless, enjoy the grainy, vintage footage of CBGB and the Bowery.