Last weekend, I paid a most-likely final visit to the picked-over ruins of St. Marks Sounds, whose very last day is “probably tomorrow.” They continued to not sell me those Misfits and Plasmatics posters I’ve been asking for since about 1983, but I did bring an arguably rare Soul Coughing promo to the counter. “Just take it,” they said, “…and have a good one.”
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.
Immortalized in an opening montage of visceral New York sights in the 1983-84 season of “Saturday Night Live,” that neon “TRASH” sign seemed to embody the snarling heart of St. Marks Place. I will be genuinely incredulous when that sign goes away (even if only a block or so to the south).
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 by Dave 'Daze' Parsons of Rat Cage Records 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.