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.
Documenting the closing of relatively new restaurants is really more of EV Grieve’s beat than mine, but I spotted this on the way to work this morning, and it struck a chord with me.
I honestly can’t remember what this space was back in the 1980’s, but I remember the upstairs was the home of freaky rock poster gallery, Psychedelic Solution (which I spoke about way back here).
As one of the first high-end restaurants to open up during the initial campaign to turn West 8th Street into some kind of new Restaurant Row, a venture called Elettaria opened up beneath the former Psychedelic Solution around 2008. I never went. Evidently, neither did a lot of people, and the restaurant closed without a lot of fanfare shortly thereafter. Sometime after that -– I can’t even remember -– the space in question was repurposed as a downtown iteration of The Burger Joint (in 2013, evidently). The original Burger Joint still holds its oddball space in the lobby of the Park Meridian in midtown. This downtown version, however, boasted all the same aesthetic trappings and same great fare.
I was skeptical at first, but I swiftly became something of regular about two summers ago, and my kids absolutely adore it.
Well, apparently, it’s now “closed for now” if the sign on the front door is to be believed.
Honestly, it’s crazy stressful at my end. I have a few demanding projects looming at work that are taking up most of my cognitive abilities, which means I’m now frequently walking into walls, forgetting basic motor functions and speaking in a series of squeaks and groans instead of concise sentences. This all said, I’ll get through it. I’m lucky to be working and do enjoy the place I’m at. All will be good.
In the short term, however, a quick observation.
I was with some friends for dinner, over the weekend, discussing our kids' favorite music, and I was struggling to make a point --- one I’m guilty of flogging to death here on this blog -- about how the manner in which music is disseminated, experienced and consumed has changed so radically since we were kids. In the process, I went off on a typically thorny tangent about how most of my favorite music when I was a kid served as not so much the "alternative" to mainstream pop/rock, but the "ANTIDOTE." In doing so, I felt myself getting bug-eyed and angry, and it occurred to me that I probably still assign way too much significance to stuff most people just consider entertainment. So, ... sorry about that.
How many people must I have put off in this manner over the years?
Incidentally, during the course of that same evening, a few photos were snapped that arguably replicated some classic album cover art. This first one is obvious, although I’m ashamed that I got the positioning wrong (the instrument about to be destroyed should be over my left shoulder, not right).
The second one was less obvious. By shouting a series of seemingly random commands, I was hoping I'd inspire my kids (flanked by their pals Charlie & Aidan) to unwittingly replicate the pose from the cover of Destroyer by KISS. Missed it by that much.
Some of you might remember a post I put up a little while back about the Joey Ramone mural on Bleecker Street, just steps to the west of the Bowery (across, naturally, from the former site of CBGB). While I was all for anything that paid proper respect to the legacy of the Ramones, I was quizzically struck by the incongruity of the depiction of the towering front-man sporting boxing gloves, being that Joey was never particularly renowned for being a pugilist. Some cursory surface-scratching led me to the conclusion that it was ultimately just a promotional initiative to call attention to Overthrow, the then-newly opened boxing gym across the street.
Honestly speaking, that left a bad taste in my mouth, since the Ramones, CBGB and Punk Rock pretty much all had absolutely fuck-all do to with boxing. It seemed like Overthrow was borrowing a page from the playbook of John Varvatos and Daniel Boulud and engaging in a bit of cultural appropriation to give their commercial venture some cache. Sorry, but fuck all that.
When news broke earlier this week, meanwhile, that the Joey mural in question had been painted over in anticipation of a new mural, I remained skeptical. On social media, there was a lot of hue and cry that overlooked the clunky boxing allusion. “That corner belongs to Joey,” cried one commenter on a friend’s thread about it. I countered that by citing that if that corner truly “belonged” to anyone, it was maverick photographer Drew Carolan, who utlized that very spot to document the nascent hardcore punk scene at CBGB in the early 80’s. You can read more about that here and here, and you should treat yourself and buy his book.
In any case, the further development was that Joey was going to be replaced by a new invocation – courtesy of Shepherd Fairey – of Deborah Harry and Blondie. Again, on that discussion thread, many cried foul, but -– personally speaking --- I see absolultely nothing wrong with that. For a start, I’m a huge Blondie fan, but beyond that, Blondie are just as significant in the pantheon of CBGB alumni as the Ramones. Who wants to debate that?
I believe there are plans to regularly rotate the art on this particular façade to pay tribute to other period-specific luminaries. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Debbie & the boys were later replaced by images of Richard Hell or Television or Talking Heads or the Dead Boys or Patti Smith. I’m not holding my breath, but maybe latter-era CB vets like the Bad Brains or the Cro-Mags or Lydia Lunch or even my beloved Cop Shoot Cop (ha!....fat fucking chance) will get their due.
In any case, when I strolled down Bleecker yesterday afternoon to check the new mural out, I was considerably releived to find the colorful, eye-catching patinting refreshingly bereft of any invocation of boxing or sports of any kind. Maybe Overthrow still have some stake in the endeavor and they’re just showing more restraint? Who knows. But I’m happing it’s just about the music and the legacy.
It is, this time, right?
Post-script:As I was snapping this, punk photographer extraordinaire Godlis (who I’ve mentioned a few times here, notably here) was standing just out of frame on the left. I ran up and accosted him like the hapless fanboy I am and then ran off.
As far back as I can remember, the northwest corner of St. Marks Place at Avenue A was a pizza parlor, namely Nino’s. Frankly speaking, I didn’t find it to be an especially distinctive pizzeria (I much preferred Sal’s down Avenue A a couple of blocks), but it sold perfectly reasonable, dependable fare, and it made perfect sense being at that end of a well-traveled strip, just across from Tompkins Square Park.
It vanished a while back, of course, as things in that neighborhood have had a tendency to do for the last several years. The space Nino’s occupied was dormant for a while. The rumors started circulating as to what was going to take its place. Many rightly feared the worst, expecting the go-to standbys like “a bank” or “another CVS.” What we’ve ended up with, if you ask me, is worse than either of those.
As unveiled via EV Grieve below, that corner is now occupied by a --- WAIT FOR IT -- Starbucks. `Cos ya know … we need another one of those.
The reasons to be dispirited by this are legion, but one supporter spoke up on Grieve’s Facebook thread….
Starbucks is a great job they pay for 100% of college tuition, paid parental leave, paid adoption leave, $12000 bonus to help adopt a child, and gave free legal counseling to employees who are affected by Trump's executive orders regarding immigrants. Also, Starbucks is like the #1 best place to be a homeless person. There's worse places to hate. Also I'm pretty sure the ones in the city pay $15/hr.
I’ll let you debate all that, if you like.
Personally speaking, the infestation of Starbucks in Manhattan reached an epidemic level years ago. Regardless of the myriad benefits they may offer their employees, the FACT remains that this borough does not need another one. At all.
Moreover, the Starbucking -– for want of a better term – of this particular corner in this particular neighborhood just feels like one more insult to its decimated character. There won't be anything left of it, at this rate.
Upon spotting EV Grieve’s photo, I was reminded of this post of mine from 2011, which focused on the photography of one Brooke “Silence of the Lambs” Smith, who documented the NYHC scene. She snapped the photo below of the same corner at some point in the early 80’s, prior to the arrival of even Nino's. It’s quite a contrast.
ADDENDUM from the great RB Korbet: That's Lazar and Blue (both RIP) in that photo. The deli was good for cigs, booze and Little Debbie cakes when they were only 25 cents.
I started reading the Voice probably towards the tail end of high school, invariably because of the gig listings in the back pages. Just the sheer anticipation of seeing who was going to playing where was genuinely exciting. I also had several friends and former colleagues who'd passed through the ranks of its editorial staff. I pitched a few things to them over the years, but never got a bite.
Regardless, I am sorry to learn of its quasi-demise (though it will supposedly carry on online). We'll see.
If I had a crisp one-dollar bill for every time I’ve declared SoHo dead to me here on Flaming Pablum, I could probably buy myself a lovely lunch. As I’m prone to laboriously remind everyone, not only was SoHo once the center of the New York City art scene, but it used to act as an almost literal canvas, its narrow canyons colorfully slathered in all manifestations of street art – from chicken-scratch graffiti and huge, garish murals to hidden stencils and stickers bearing cryptic legends. It was as if the very neighborhood itself couldn’t contain all the art happening within it. When you crossed its borders, you knew you were in SoHo. The art was literally inescapable.
These days, of course, it’s a pointedly different scene. Following a veritable blitzkrieg of gentrification, the SoHo of 2017 is nigh on bereft of any semblance of its former self. Sure, there are still a handful of art galleries, but it's essentially become a haven for exhorbitantly pricey real estate, luxury retail outlets, high-end bistros and precious fuck-all else. There's still a bit of street art, but nothing like there used to be. More often than not, spaces that used to act as de facto outdoor gallery spaces now usually play host to clothier ads. For a more authoritative account of all things SoHo, of course, I humbly defer to Yukie Ohta’s excellent SoHo Memory Project.
This all said, I still love SoHo, and -- much like my walks through the East Village --– my eyes still hunt for signifiers of its former incarnation. As it happens, I have to walk through SoHo on my daily commutes to and from my office down at the bottom of West Broadway (mentioned as recently as here). This morning, I was met with a sight that felt like a nail pounded into the coffin of the SoHo my eyes still pine for.
Affixed to the edifices of a building on the northwest corner of Wooster & Grand Street -– a square of real estate made more claustrophobic by recent development -– was a series of angry, circular metal plaques. This street used to be positively awash in color and expression. Just steps to its south, between Grand and Canal, was a building called The Candy Factory, which was covered in a dizzying patina of street art. The since-vanished parking lot on the southwest corner of Wooster and Grand played host to huge pieces by Shepherd Fairey and Banksy, to say nothing of colorful works by lesser known street-artists. I can’t begin to imagine how many pictures I snapped of the ever-changing tableaux of art in that particular plot.
Today, the Candy Factory’s long gone, replaced by a condo. The lot, too, is gone, replaced by a condo. And the plaques on the northeast might just as well speak for the whole neighborhood now. Where once street art was welcomed, encouraged, admired and enjoyed by all, the sentiment of the neighborhood’s affleuent occupants is a very different one.
The Dead Kennedys are kind of an obvious go-to in times of socio-political strife (witness my last post, a track that is also all over social media these days, for relatively obvious reasons). But beyond the band’s venomous spleen-venting and agitprop sloganeering, the DK’s don’t seem to get nearly enough credit. Hear me out.
In addition to their genuinely hilarious (pitch) black humor and fabled ex-frontman Jello Biafra’s willfully histrionic vocal delivery, the musicianship at play was neck-snappingly taut. Even at their most stripped-down circa In God We Trust, Inc., the DK’s were way more musically sophisticated than most of the hardcore ensembles they’d go onto inspire. The contributions of guitarist East Bay Ray, bassist Klaus Flouride and powerhouse drummer D.H. Peligro (who joined after their seminal debut LP, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables) seem like sorely under-praised components of the band’s legacy and lore.
My first introduction to the music of the Dead Kennedys came via an airing of their single “Too Drunk to Fuck” in the student commons of my high school at some point during my freshman year in 1981. Emanating out of the “senior section” (a slim quarter of the basement-level, wood-paneled cafeteria), I heard the signature strains of East Bay Ray’s spidery surf-rock riff, but even then – I knew there was something wrong with it. My hunch was correct. The gent spinning the vinyl single, a guy named Christian, if memory serves, was playing the 45 at the wrong speed, presumably either to try to decipher the lyrics or because the song – at the time – was played at a faster tempo than the layperson’s ears might have been used to (although the Bad Brains would shortly change all that). I was instantly intrigued.
The single in question, while still a goddamn classic, isn’t really totally indicative of the band’s strengths. In the by-then-already-kinda-tired vein of “shocking” punk song titles (i.e. “Beat on the Brat,” “White Riot,” “Now I Wanna Be Your Dog,” etc.), “Too Drunk to Fuck” might initially give the impression that the Dead Kennedys were just a gaggle of inebriated, potty-mouthed nihilists, when the truth of the matter was far more complex. No slack-jawed Sid Vicious-acolytes they, the Dead Kennedys actually had smarts, conviction, points to make and – in mouthpiece Jello Biafra – a helluva lot to say. Less a lothario’s lament than a withering indictment of vacuous frat-party culture, “Too Drunk to Fuck” still arguably belies the band’s real intentions by seeming like a prurient gag for those who don’t bother to scratch the surface.
I picked up both the “Too Drunk..” single and the LP that preceded it, the afore-cited Fresh Fruit…, in short order, my investments made all the more rock-solid by first hearing the seismic Alternative Tentacles compilation, Let The Eat Jellybeans around the same time, courtesy of my forward-listening comrade, Brad. The crucial contribution from the Dead Kennedys on that record was the single that came to define them, for many, that being the afore-cited “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.”
Later albums by the band, specifically Frankenchrist and their swan-song, Bedtime for Democracy, both had great moments on them, but didn’t come near to approaching the brilliance of their earlier records (including their second proper LP, Plastic Surgery Disasters). To my mind, between their inception and the release of Plastic Surgery.. in 1982, they were firing on all cylinders.
Y’know, I started writing this when things were calmer, and then news of Barcelona broke and more post-Charlottesville think pieces rolled out and then Trump opened his big fucking mouth again and now everything seems like a giant waste of time. I was originally going to delve into chapter and verse about the brilliance of each track on Fresh Fruit..., but ... no one needs me to do that.
Bottom line: Listen to this album. It could change the way you look at the world. It did for me. Incidentally, the quote that titles this post was harvested from the Dk’s Wikipedia page with regards to the band’s controvertial name.
However, despite popular belief, the name was not meant to insult the Kennedy family, but according to Biafra, "to bring attention to the end of the American Dream"