Some of you might remember a post I put up in 2013 about Nelson Sullivan’s tireless videos of downtown NYC from the 1980’s. Some of you might even remember seeing them air on cable access TV back in the day, alongside similarly inclined programs like “The Church of Shooting Yourself” and “Dog the Cat.”…. comparatively primitive video-diaries that basically acted as proto-video blogs. It’s great stuff when you can track them down. In Nelson Sullivan’s case, there was a actually a documentary about him that I think you can still find on iTunes.
In any case, Gothamist wrote up a little profile of Sullivan yesterday, citing that his archive of 1,900 hours of footage is now in the hands of NYU (Sullivan passed away in 1989). If you haven’t checked out his stuff and you’re nostalgic for the era in question, it’s really worth your time.
A lot of it was just Nelson walking around, having brunch and chatting with friends….nothing all that special much of the time. But in terms of capturing sights and scenes from that era, it’s pretty priceless. It also dispels a lot of revisionist mythology. Much as he did in that last post, my friend Drew shot me the clip of Sullivan’s below this morning and remarked how “normal” Avenue A looked in 1986 (having long been fed the yarn that it was a lawless badlands). Similarly, I put up a clip this past summer featuring a clip of Sullivan’s where he visits CBGB, revealing it to be just another night out on the town, and not a perilous dive into a violent underground scenario rife with chain-weilding mohicans. Clearly not every day in the 1980’s east of Astor Place was a dystopian apocalypse.
People will invariably cherry pick the things they like best about these clips. Personally speaking, my favorite site in the video above is the Rock Hotel flyer for an upcoming GBH show. I’ve spoken at length about the Rock Hotel flyers before.
Speaking of the Rock Hotel and the old NYHC scene, if you harbor even the slightest interest in that era, you really ought to treat yourself to Tony Rettman’s new book, “NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980-1990.”
Following in the now established milieu of other celebrated oral histories like Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain’s “Please Kill Me,” it’s a fairly exhaustive examination of this city’s contribution to hardcore as told by most of its principal players. Personally speaking, while I was only invested in about half of that time period (and frankly put off by more of the mookish, knuckle-dragging antics of much of the NYHC scene), I still found it to be an illuminating and compelling read. Contrary to popular stereotypes, not every mover and shaker on the New York hardcore scene was a complete lunkhead.
I was particularly intrigued by the whole Rock Hotel passage, a period wherein aspiring promoter Chris Williamson effectively exploited the until-then fairly insular NYHC scene. While he indeed may have broadened the horizons and audiences of these bands (and purposely cross-polinated them with the metal community), he is largely perceived throughout the pages of “NYHC” to have been an avaricious svengali figure who was ultimately only out for his own gain. Having been a big fan of the Rock Hotel shows, I found this to be a bit depressing but not especially surprising. Even then, he seemed like kind of an operator and a bit of cheesy sleazeball (witness his cameos in the Cro-Mags’ video for “We Gotta Know” as he ushers the youthful and impressionable band into waiting limousines on their tour with Motorhead).
Seems like a good excuse to dust this one off….