Leave it to me not to read the fine print. After spotting a notice in Sunday's New York Times about it, when Peggy and the kids went down for a nap on Wednesday afternoon, I hopped on the uptown 4 train to go check out Street Dance: The New York Photographs of Rudy Burckhardt at the Museum of the City of New York. I hadn't been up to that neck of the woods in a while, and I'm a big fan of Burckhardt's (probably most famous for his pictures of the Flatiron Building and Astor Place in the 1940s). So, I get all the way up there only to find that the exhibition doesn't start until Friday, February 1. I'm a dope.
The trip wasn't a total loss, though. I love the old museum itself. Much of it was under wraps and renovation, but I remember visiting the place often when I was a child and wandering around its halls brought back a lot of memories. Oddly, scoring my journey uptown and while walking through the streets of the Upper East Side was another relic (albeit slightly less lofty) of a New York City that has changed almost beyond all recognition, namely the New York Thrash compilation.
A widely circulated and revered artifact from the pre-NYHC era, New York Thrash was originally a cassette-only release put out by the ROIR label in 1982. Culling tracks together by then largely esoteric and relatively unknown bands like The Mad, False Prophets, Heart Attack, Nihilistics and Even Worse (to name but a few), New York Thrash was an amazing primer in New York City Punk Rock in its adolescent stage (after its over-documented and arguably over-rhapsodized infancy with The Ramones, Television, Patti Smith et al.) Very few of the bands captured on the cassette exist today, apart from The Undead (now in their umpteenth line-up), the venerable Bad Brains and the Beastie Boys, although at the time, the way pre-Hip Hopified Beasties seemed like the least likely act of the bunch to ever go anywhere.
I first heard New York Thrash via my friend Rich, who I've written about before. Rich and I both went to the same grade school and - for a couple of years - even the same high school (before he dropped out) and had been friends literally since kindergarten. In later years, both Rich and I became slavish fans of bands like Devo and The Ramones, although Rich was always one step ahead. I was still listening to bands like 999, Adam & the Ants and Generation X when he was getting into hardcore bands like The Mob and Flipper. Always eager to spread the gospel, I remember Rich force-lending me several disparate LPs, among them the Strength Through Oi! compilation, I Didn't See It Coming by The Professionals, Westworld by Theatre of Hate, Condition Red by the Red Rockers (this was prior to their sickly makeover as an MTV -friendly New Wave band), We Are The League by the Anti-Nowhere League and, finally, the New York Thrash cassette.
Dutifully taping each, I remember returning these albums in drips and drabs to Rich, although I somehow ended up holding onto his cassette of New York Thrash (sorry, Rich), probably because I didn't have tape-to-tape technology available to me at the time. At some point in college, however, I managed to lose the tape (or someone similarly appropriated it from me, spreading the sonic gospel onward like a virus in combat boots). By the late `80s, I'd grown pretty bored of Hardcore. It seemed to have run its course by around `86 or `87 anyway.
Over the ensuing years, I'd pretty much forgotten about New York Thrash. Much like the seminal Alternative Tentacles compilation, Let Them Eat Jellybeans, the ROIR compilation was unavailable on compact disc for the longest time. Finally, in 1998, ROIR finally got their act together and started issuing their revered catalog on CD at last. Ten years later, I was killing time before picking up my daughter in school and found a used copy of New York Thrash on CD for a relatively paltry sum. How could I resist?
Rare is the opportunity in a household with two children under the age of 4 to play blistering vintage Punk Rock at the volume it so richly deserves, so I dutifully ripped the disc to my iTunes, waiting for the perfect long walk to re-discover New York Thrash again on my iPod. That opportunity came yesterday, somewhat fittingly, for my trip up to The Museum of the City of New York. I got off at my old stop at East 86th Street with long forgotten songs from my own adolescence suddenly flooding back into my ears. From the ridiculously amped-up sprint of "New Year's Eve" by Adrenalin O.D. (the opening drums of which still defy human capability) to the slackjawed attack of "Love and Kisses" by the Nihilistics (never cared for them much), it was great to hear this stuff again. Of all the bands on the mix, the one I really warmed to and embraced was Kraut, of whom I became a slavishly completist fan. "Last Chance" still sounds completely feral.
Admittedly, most of this stuff does sound fairly dated, but that's somewhat understandable. To labor an obvious point, the New York City that these bands stalked around simply doesn't exist anymore. The live venues that hosted their performances are long closed. Even most of the record shops that stocked their prized 7" singles have vanished. Sure, there are still a few dutifully-uniformed Punks still skulking around Tompkins Square Park and St. Mark's Place, but most of them weren't even born when the music on New York Thrash was recorded.
In any case, I'd say the track that's aged the best off New York Thrash is "The Big Takeover (version)" by the Bad Brains. Ironically, the Bad Brains were already a somewhat established underground act by the time the ROIR cassette was being compiled. As much as I still love the Kraut stuff, it still sounds very much of its era. The Bad Brains songs still sound as vital as they did upon their conception.
If you're even a passive fan of this age of Hardcore, seek out New York Thrash with all speed. And if you're out there and reading this, Rich, give me a shout. I have a disc for you.