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.
The building at 33 Thomas Street looms over Lower Manhattan like a fortress from a Tolkien text, rivalled only in that context by its relatively new neighbor to the west, the so-called “Jenga Tower” that is 56 Leonard Street.
But unlike that architecturally ornate structure of glass and steel, 33 Thomas offers no glinting reflections of the sun, no envy-inducing terraces, no fleeting glimpses of luxury, … and no windows. It stands like an oblong, impenetrable sentinel of indeterminate purpose. It would not look out of place in the opening sequence of “Blade Runner.” Its design is an unwaveringly firm assertion of function, not form. It does not seek your fanciful approval. It suggests something more stern, possibly even sinister.
I walk by 33 Thomas Street pretty much every day and never fail to glace up at it and wonder what transpires beneath its sprawling, brown façade. I assumed it had something to do with telephones, and pretty much left it at that, but since I’ve been regularly walking through TriBeCa every weekday for the past year, it has played with my imagination. What does go on in there? And why do I never see anyone enter .... or leave?
I think I first took notice of it via its placement in the video for “Green Light” by Firewater. In the clip, Tod [A] is seen walking atop the imposing stone perimeter of 33 Thomas, looking down at the camera while ducking and weaving around the structure’s retro-futurist lamp posts. Tod was living in TriBeCa at the time (over on Vestry Street), so 33 Thomas Street’s distinctive edifice was probably a no-brainer for a location.
This may not seem like something that warrants four posts, but the saga of the Madison Square Christmas carolers took a new turn this weekend.
Back in April of 2013, you might remember, I ruminated on the impending fate of the long-standing sentinels of seasonal cheer that held silent court on a perch just above the entrance to the former Commodore Criterion building. Then, sure enough, sometime after the building was purchased and refurbished by high-end bathroom fixture juggernaut, Porcelanosa, they disappeared that next October.
Well, hold onto your eggnog, as yesterday afternoon, my son Oliver and I walked up to Rizzoli, the newish book store on Broadway just north of 16th Street (I am still in search of a copy of Tim Lawrence’s “Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor,” which -– oddly -– no remaining New York City bookshop seems to stock). Upon glancing up at the edifice of the Porcelnosa building (formerly the Commodore Criterion), I spied the below. Notice anything missing?
They are gone again.
Maybe someone bought them? Maybe Porclenosa felt their moment of good will was over? Maybe the Grinch stole them?
I’ve written about the infamous Unband here a couple of times (notably here and here), so won’t bother entirely re-hashing all that, but suffice to say, once upon a time these three friends-of-friends of mine collectively comprised one entertaining little combo of combustable rock fury.
While ostensibly from Northhampton, Mass, the Unband pursued their rock dream first in Los Angeles — frequently soiling the bedding at my friend Rob’s stepmother’s bungalow in Costa Mesa — before attempting same here in NYC. They were a regular fixture in many an East Village watering hole, I was lucky enough to frequently witness them perform live at a few select venues, notably Brownie’s and The Continental, playing alongside a coterie of similarly inclined bands like The Candy Snatchers, Nashville Pussy, the Pleasure Fuckers and the Upper Crust. It was kind of a glorious time.
`Twas at the Continental that I snapped the photo below, one of my favorite shots of the entirely photogenic combo. I rediscovered this photo this past weekend whilst rummaging around my front hall closet, looking for Cop Shoot Cop ephemera for the upcoming book on same I’m working on. In any case, this photo more or less captures the essence of the band.
Despite some comparatively high profile gigs opening for Dio, Def Leppard and Motorhead, the big time never beckoned, and the band broke up, having recorded only two records, the major label Retarder on TVT and their shambolic debut, Chung Wayne Lo Mein on Moon Pig Records (hear a track off the latter here).
No idea what these boys are up to now. The Continental is still there, although they no longer feature live music.
I never saw it, but evidently the Unband even had their own rockumentary….
Just three years after moving off their namesake, Bleecker Street Records is closing for good. You may remember that, after leaving their long-held perch on Bleecker (originally held by Golden Disc Records), Bleecker Street Records decamped to West 4th (ironically into the spot formerly held by Disc-O-Rama Records). Well, that's all over shortly. Here's their announcement...
As of Halloween 2016, we will be making some significant changes at Generation Records.
After much deliberation, we have decided to close our sister store, Bleecker Street Records. A number of factors have contributed to this decision, most notably the proximity of our two stores and the realistic necessity of having more them both in a neighborhood that has seen a drastic rent hike in recent years. We realize that the loss of yet another record store in Manhattan seems discouraging, but our hope is to secure the future of Generation Records as a Village staple.
We will be consolidating all of the stock from Bleecker Street Records into Generation Records, and plan on making sure that we can pull all of our resources together for what will hopefully be a stronger and more focalized store.
As of Halloween 2016, the new store hours for Generation Records will be:
Sunday – Thursday: 12pm – 9pm
Friday & Saturday: 12pm – 10pm
We hope that revamping our store in the coming months, injecting a lot more product and making some major overall changes will allow us to take charge of the dwindling record store scene in Manhattan. Hope to see everyone for Record Store Day coming up this Black Friday, November 25th.
Honestly, Bleecker Street Records was never one of my favorites, but I was glad it was still there. I was frankly surprised it held on longer than superior places like Other Music and Rebel Rebel, but it is now succumbing. That leaves the Village with its sibling outlet, Generation, and the sporadically open Record Runner on Cornelia Street, and that's it.
Sure, we still have Academy on 18th Street, Downtown Music Gallery in Chinatown (albeit only for super-esoteric, adventurous music) and the mighty Rough Trade in Brooklyn. But it still sucks to be losing another.
I turn 49 years old today. It’s an odd number. I’m reminded of the malaise I felt at both 29 and, to a lesser extent, 39 … that nagging feeling I need to go out and make the most of the last year of this particular group of ten. By the same token, I’m not sure what that entails. I mean, prior to turning 40, maybe the cliché is to go out and buy a fast car or get a tattoo or something. What’s the equivalent when you’re standing on the precipice of your fifties? Should I go out and buy a bunch of golf clubs or something? How are men in their fifties I supposed to act?
By this point, I should probably update or simply dismantle it, but on the About page of this blog –- composed in the balmy days of 2005 –- I make the fleeting declaration that I had every intention of wearing “silly band t-shirts” well into my forties. Well, mission accomplished. But now that I’m perilously close to a half-century old, I still have an unwieldy collection of same (click here if you honestly give a damn about them). Is it unseemly to continue this practice? Should I care? I probably should, but I don’t. That said, I did notice a particular shirt that I already own hanging in the window of Metropolis on Third Avenue this morning. If you’re unfamiliar, the shop in questions sells “vintage” duds at prices I, personally, consider exorbitant. Ten years ago, the notion of parting with one of my cherished rock shirts for cash would have been unheard of. Now? Well, depends how much they’d offer.
How old were you? 39 Where did you go to school? I was well, well out of school by that point. Where did you work? I would have been ten months into my tenure as Managing Editor at MTV News Online. Where did you live? East 9th Street in Manhattan Where did you hang out? By that point, we had an infant and a toddler to take care of, so you were probably likely to find me at playgrounds and baby supply outlets. How was your hair style?A graying version of what I charitably described as a “retarded pompadour.” Who were your best friends? My best friends, by and large, don’t really change, although I sadly see less of them. Did you wear glasses?No Who was your regular-person crush? The wife. How many tattoos did you have?Zero. How many piercings did you have?Zero. What car did you drive? Didn’t, although I had finally attained a license. What was your worst fear?Unemployment, not being able to provide for my family. Had you been arrested? No. Had your heart been broken? Much earlier, but all was bliss at the time Single/Taken/Married/Divorced/Bitter?Very happily married.
******** October 13, 2016
How old are you?49 Where do you work?At a place that is not MTV New Online. That was already three jobs ago. Where do you live?Same apartment on East 9th Street, but we have outgrown it and will probably move before the end of next year. Where do you hang out?No longer at playgrounds and baby supply places. My kids and I routinely explore all corners of the city. Most of my favorite record stores are gone, and I’m rarely let off my leash to visit the bars of my youth. Do you wear glasses?I now have to wear readers, yes. What is your hairstyle?Pretty much the same as ten years ago, although I’m now pretty much all silver. Who are your best friends?Again, they remain the same people, but I do not get to see them as often as I’d like. Still talk to any of your old friends?There are friends I’ve fallen out of touch with, but thankfully none that I can think of that I’m actively “not talking to.” There are some former colleagues I'm disinclined to chat with, but I'd like to think if I ran into them, we'd be adults about it. How many piercings do you have?None. How many tattoos?None. What kind of car do you have?Still don’t. What is your biggest fear? Unemployment for me or something happening to my family. Have you been arrested since, if so, how many times times total?Never, although I did scrape my mom’s car against a cop car (by accident) and got a speeding ticket in Upstate New York (where I was *NOT* speeding). Has your heart been broken?My heart has indeed been broken over the last ten years, but not over anything to do with failed romance. My heart has been broken by instances of death and illness in my family and periodic job loss for me. Single/Taken/Married/Divorced/Bitter? Still very happily married.
Ahoy again, all. Sorry for the slowdown, but it’s been a busy week at both home and at the office. Also trying to get my ducks in a row in divining the way forward with the book project about Cop Shoot Cop I mentioned a couple of posts back. That will doubtlessly be an ongoing thing for quite some time. Suffice to say, it’s odd to be writing about a New York City band that broke up two decades ago. To my ears, their music still sounds endearingly fresh and entirely distinctive, but the New York City that spawned and inspired them is now a totally different place. It will certainly be a challenge, but I’m greatly looking forward to getting it officially off the ground.
In any case, I spotted the photo below earlier this week, and it immediately resonated with me, so I thought I’d address it here. Click on it to enlarge.
This is an image by photographer Bruce Martin, taken during June of 1985.
Personally speaking, I think it’s a remarkable, beautifully composed photograph no matter how you slice it. I wonder if Martin stood poised waiting for the very precise moment he ended up capturing, of if he just got lucky. There’s so much texture and life in the image, I can’t seem to stop looking at it.
But there are two other reasons why I’m captivated by it.
First and foremost, I was drawn to the photo in that it depicts the Downing Street playground, a little, walled-in plot of play-space where Bleecker Street intersects with Downing Street and Sixth Avenue. It abuts a little circular garden to its north called Winston Churchill Square. The playground is a spot I know quite well, as I used to bring my own children to it on a regular basis.
We never called it The Downing Street Playground, however. My kids referred to it as “The Dinosaur Playground,” as – until five or six years ago, I suppose – there’d been a large, yellow dinosaur sculpture therein that little folks could climb on. That is, of course, until someone decided to bash in that dinosaur’s head for no readily apparent reason. Now, all that remains of the dinosaur are its footprints still etched into the concrete.
Regardless, the Downing Street Playground was a long-time favorite destination, especially after we’d collectively tired of the playgrounds on offer in Washington Square Park (to say nothing of the further flung reaches of Tompkins Square Park). Rivalled only by the more expansive playground at St. Luke’s Place (another staunch favorite), the Downing Street Playground provided a seemingly secluded suggestion of idyllic privacy. It almost looks like a stage-set for a play.
I say “suggestion” as that’s all it was -- and remains. Though walled-in by the hustle and bustle of its abutting streets, this space is by no means cut off from the general public. Quite the deceptive opposite, in fact.
While entering the Downing Street Playground might feel like stepping into an exclusive children’s oasis, it’s prudent to note the homeless population that frequently camps-out on the adjoining grounds of Winston Churchill Square just outside its northern gate. To that same end, at its westerly entrance on Carmine Street, there are some frankly dodgy public restrooms that seem to frequently serve as makeshift accommodations for a coterie of transients. While I don’t harbor a phobic disdain for the homeless, I would maybe think twice before sending my children into those quarters unaccompanied.
Back in the main area of the playground, the fact that the space is set apart from the street makes it attractive for those looking to evade scrutiny. On a few occasions, I have encountered gaggles of truant teens furtively smoking or engaged in illicit trysts within the playground’s walls, fleetingly hidden from view of the seeking eyes of the street.
That didn’t necessarily bother me, but I do take great exception to teenagers loitering on swing-sets inarguably meant for children several years their junior (as sneerily asserted here).
And while I have volumes of photographs of my children happily at play in the Downing Street Playground, my most visceral memory of the place involves an overcast afternoon one Autumn when I brought my little son Oliver. At first, there were only two other individuals in the playground – a young mother and her own little toddler. Oliver and I minded our own business as he happily scampered up and down the curly slide. After several minutes, the energy and the atmosphere in the playground seemed to suddenly change. I looked over at the young mother just as she was trying to catch my eye. At that moment, a portly, disheveled man had entered the playground from the Sixth Avenue gate and stood expectantly just inside the door, his eyes fixed on the young mother and her child. While he didn’t look especially intimidating, his demeanor seemed a bit hard to discern. Then, he started moving intently around the perimeter of the playground.
We hadn’t yet shared a single syllable, but the young mother scooped up her child and moved closer to me as the newcomer started to edge closer to where she’d been standing. In a moment, the visitor had circled around the jungle gyms where we’d been situated and was staring a second go-around, seemingly on some sort of concentric trajectory known only to him. The mother shot me a concerned glance, and we both wordlessly gathered up our kids and made for the exit together. Seeing that we were heading out, the man broke off his circular path and started walking right towards the mother, before stopping in the center and – again – standing dead-still with his eyes locked on her. With my oblivious little Oliver in one arm (he was considerably lighter, then), I held open the heavy, iron gate for the woman’s stroller to squeeze out, trying to assert some calm to the uncomfortable situation. We left the man standing in the middle of the Downing Street Playground, looking out.
That little almost-horror story notwithstanding, I still have nothing but fond associations with the Downing Street Playground as – apologies for getting slavishly melancholy, here -- we don’t seem to go anymore. My children are growing up. At ages 12 and 10, respectively, Charlotte and Oliver have basically graduated out of the playground class. The notion of spending hours on the swings no longer really thrills them. They both have myriad interests and hobbies and favorite activities and gaggles of similarly inclined friends to engage in same with. Their days of going to playgrounds with Daddy are basically over, and they slipped away far too quickly and without a great deal of fanfare. My kids love to go out and explore the great, big world around them, but they no longer feverishly petition to be taken to the playground. And that’s just how it all goes.
Let’s bring back Bruce Martin’s photograph again…
Captured here in 1985, it’s reasonably safe to assume the two children pictured playing in the sprinkler here are now deep into their respective thirties. And they, too, probably have their own very specific and very special memories of playing in the Downing Street Playground. And, as with my own children, there was probably only a relatively brief window of years that they routinely played there before suddenly no longer feeling the desire to. And just like that, their family probably just stopped taking them.
How many generations of children have passed through that playground over the years, each with their own precious memories of it? Sure, some of the details have changed – that jungle gym in the background, for example, was long gone by the time my kids got there – but the place still retains its character, which rendered it immediately recognizable to me when I first spotted Martin's photo of it on the Manhattan Before 1990 page on Facebook.
But there was still one more thing that I was preoccupied by.
Like I said, the jungle gym in the back was long gone when we first started going, but every other detail seemed so familiar but also somehow wrong.
As I’ve suggested as much over the eleven years I’ve been composing this blog (let alone the fifteen years since the day in question), I’ve largely run out of insightful things to say about the events of September 11, 2001. I’ve written about the death of my high school friend, Mike Armstrong, who was working at Cantor Fitzgerald the morning that first plane hit the first tower. I’ve written about how New York City has (and hasn’t) changed in various capacities. I’ve written about my reactions to how the day has been used as a political football to further the agendas of any number of dubious endeavors. By and large, I don’t think what I have to say about it is especially distinctive or unique, at this stage of the proceedings.
While my memories of the event and the days and weeks thereafter still seem entirely fresh, it’s prudent to remember that it’s been a decade and a half. I've raised two kids and changed jobs ... jesus ...four times since 9/11 (and even fifteen years later, I still hate referring to it as "9/11." Something about that really bugs me, although I'm at a loss as to articulate why).
Strangely enough, I now work pretty much directly on the site. My current office is inside part of the since re-built complex. In fact, the building I work in stands in the footprint of the epicenter of a thousand conspiracy theories -- i.e. the building the collapsed despite not having been hit by a plane.
The odd thing for me now is that I find it very hard to reconcile the neighborhood in question as I remember it, and what it's like now. Truthfully, I rarely went down to the WTC, and I only ever went to the top of the towers once -- with my friend Steve, who discovered his long-dormant, acute acrophobia the second we reached the top, forcing us to immediately come back down.
I've always been more or less versed in the topography of TriBeCa, but I rarely went south of it -- there wasn't much reason to, for me. There weren't any cool record stores, comic shops or live music venues that far down. What was the point? As such, I can't remember what the very bottom of West Broadway (where I walk every day) really looked like prior to that morning in 2001.
I do remember walking around it relatively soon after the fact. But even those images seem incompatible with the scene there now.
I haven't been inside the 9/11 museum, and I don't foresee a time I will anytime soon. I've fleetingly walked by the memorial fountains (built into the actual footprints of the towers), but have not taken the time to find my friend Mike's name carved into the marble. Maybe it's a cliché, but I'm entirely put off by the hordes of obliviously smiling tourists in their American flag t-shirts and selfie-sticks.
Again, even after this many years, it doesn't feel real.
It wasn’t something we’d planned on, but in wanting to provide my wife some quiet time with which to catch up on some work, I volunteered to take the kids to Central Park for a few hours this afternoon. We’d initially been under the impression that Tropical Storm Hermine was going to dump a load of inclement weather on us, but when that never happened, the Park seemed like the perfect destination for a day with nothing else to do.
Along the way, of course, I couldn’t stop myself from staging a few photo replications. I remembered an old photo of the Ramones sitting at the foot of the statue of William Tecumseh Sherman at 59th and Fifth (across from the Plaza). Despite a plague of tourists, we managed to more or less replicate the photo.
Once in the Park, we looped around the The Pond until we got to the foot of the steps that lead back up to the drive that empties out at 59th and Sixth Avenue, and I remembered a post Bob Egan of PopSpots had put up about the Grateful Dead in this very spot. As much as I harbor absolutely zero affinity for the music or the mythos of the Dead, i couldn’t resist…..