Although immortalized in the first reel of my favorite film, “After Hours,” I believe the first time I ever spent any meaningful amount of time on Crosby Street in SoHo — beyond just occasionally walking down it — was in about 1990.
I was writing, at the time, for a tiny, independent music `zine, and my favorite band of all time — that being, of course, Killing Joke — were on the precipice of releasing their heroic return to splenetic form, Extremities, Dirt and Various Repressed Emotions. Having been forcibly recused from the services of their major label deal after the fraught, proggy opus that was their previous album, Outside the Gate, Killing Joke had been newly signed by an independent metal label called Noise International. Their offices were at 5 Crosby Street.
Through the auspices of the label’s publicist, an endearingly gregarious hardcore punk/metal veteran named Yana — a bleach-blonde bombshell who'd played in NYC bands like Wench and P.M.S. — I managed to secure an interview with Martin Atkins, the fabled punk rocker recently drafted from the ranks of Public Image Ltd. and Brian Brain to assume the Killing Joke drum stool following the departure of band-founder, Big Paul Ferguson (who, you might remember, I spoke at great length with here).
This being the first time interviewing a member of Killing Joke, I was incredibly nervous. I’m sure I paced up and down Crosby Street for a good forty minutes before my scheduled appointment. When the time came, Yana buzzed me up to the Noise International offices, which occupied a loft in a former raw industrial space. True to both the origins of the building and the indie record label’s thorny aesthetic, I seem to recall lots of exposed metal elements (geddit?) in the office decor. They may have been an indie label, but this felt like the big time for this wide-eyed fanboy.
All was going swimmingly until Yana directed me to a desk … with a phone on it. As it turned out, I wasn’t going to actually meet Martin Atkins. It was just going to be a phoner. Beyond being disappointing, this also posed a problem given my inability to record the call and my shoddy short-hand skills, to say nothing of the fact that Martin spoke with an enthusiasm best described as “rapid.”
It all worked out. Martin spoke effusively, but understood my plight, obliging me with brief breaks so that I could frantically scribble my notes and keep up. Both he and Yana also saw their way clear to inviting me to future Killing Joke events later that year in the city. I left Noise International’s offices smiling broadly. To this day, I can’t hear that album without thinking of that afternoon.
Crosby Street is also just one of the more atmospheric strips of SoHo. In the `80’s and `90’s, its narrow corridor was entirely slathered in cryptic street art. I took hundreds of photos of it over the years (that's one of them at the very top of this post, circa 1998). Not unlike the similarly bleak Cortlandt Alley off Canal Street, Crosby used to exude a beguilingly dark vibe, landing it as a prime location in the afore-cited “After Hours,” “Downtown `81,” “Ghost,” “Basquiat" and countless other flicks. Michael Lavine took some now-iconic shots of Sonic Youth (below) loitering on the same strip. It was just that sorta street.
Today, of course, that portion of SoHo is an entirely different scene. The building once occupied by the punky metalheads at Noise International now plays host to a ridiculously well appointed furniture company called BDDW. Crosby Street is no longer a desolate backwater off the beaten track, but rather a posh destination for the well-heeled.
The only reason I’m discussing any of this, meanwhile, is because of an entry recently posted on Yukie Ohta’s brilliant SoHo Memory Project. Yukie recently unearthed an archival film from the early 1970’s that casts Crosby Street in a completely different light from both my recollections and the current, monied incarnation of the address.
Check out that film, and read what Yukie — who I had the great pleasure of finally meeting earlier this year — had to say by clicking right here.
Here, meanwhile, is the mighty Killing Joke from their fleeting Noise International era…. featuring Martin Atkins in typically feral form behind the drum kit. PLAY THIS VERY LOUD!