You don’t think I just forgot about this one, did you?
From the get-go, I’ll admit that this one’s pretty tough. I mean, …. it’s just a loading dock, for chrissakes. It could be ANYwhere.
That said, I had a few people weigh in. Some said Brooklyn. Another suggested somewhere in the Village. I forwarded the link to the inimitable Bob Egan of PopSpots, and he was typically scrupulous in his reply. Having dug up some other photos from the session, he pointed to some minutia in the background to pose a few possibilities over on the western edges of Manhattan. He came the closest, unsurprisingly.
I decided to try to cut out the middle man. I reached out directly to the photographer, Colin Lane. He was speedy and gracious in his reply….
I don't remember the exact street but it's somewhere in the 30's (high 30's?) over between 9th and 11th Aves. That was the second time I'd shot the Strokes, it was the press shoot for Is This It and we shot a bunch of stuff over in that area. They were leaving the very next day for their first big tour of Europe and Australia and the label were pressuring them to pick an image for the cover before they left. Lucky for me I'd brought my portfolio along for them to see and the "ass shot" was in it. Julian saw it and said "that would be a good cover. Would you mind if we used that?". The rest is history!
The “ass shot” he’s referring to, of course, is this….
Anyway, after spending another frustrating morning firing off multiple job applications into the ether (ugh!), I decided to buy myself a little extra time before picking my kids up from school, and I boarded an uptown M train.
My plan was fairly simple: I would start at West 39th Street and 9th Avenue and walk west to 11th Avenue, and then slowly serpentine my way down through the Thirties, hoping to come across a loading dock that matches Lane’s photo (here it is again).
There were, of course, some major obstacles with this plan.
Since 2001 — when Colin Lane snapped this photograph — there have been innumerable changes to the topography of Manhattan. As with many other neighborhoods, Hell’s Kitchen (everything west of 8th Avenue from 34th Street up to 59th Street, very arguably) has undergone its fair share of new development, with myriad new towers of gleaming glass and metal sprouting incongruously out of the concrete every few blocks. The old, presumably crumbly building that the Strokes’ elusive loading dock was part of might have long been razed to accommodate some new structure.
That said, there are still countless rotting old buildings up there and certainly no shortage of decrepit loading docks.
I had my work sincerely cut out for me.
I don’t know when you last spent any quality time perusing the backwater byways of this particular patch of Hell’s Kitchen, but it’s a grim neck of the woods to be sure. On a gloomy day in the chilly bowels of an endless winter, it was harder to imagine a less hospitable slice of decaying urban reality. It’s striking how unwelcoming an area it remains, especially since it’s now where the celebrated High Line deposits people.
The rail yards are, of course, in the midst of being converted into a plush new development, but suffice to say that it's still a long way to completion. In the interim, the streets between 11th and 9th Avenues in the high Thirties don’t exactly beg for tourists out for a festive stroll.
Perhaps it was just the weather, but in the hulking shadow of the seemingly forgotten Javitz Center, there was a pervasive sense of desolation. Hearkening back to a post idea I spoke of here, there were several hundred places therein where something unspeakable could transpire, and it would probably be a sizable amount of time before anyone found out about it. Being that this area used to be the backyard of The Westies -- the fabled Irish Mob — it’s not at all hard to imagine suitably unspeakable deeds going down over there.
In the midst of this ominously atmospheric expedition, I found it very hard to place stylishly bedraggled and flouncily monikered Strokes like Julian Casablancas, Fabrizio Morretti, Nicholas Valensi et al. on these same filthy streets once frequented by giddily violent Westie thugs like Mickey Featherstone and Jimmy Coogan.
While the neighborhood does exude a palpable urban vibe (it’s no mystery why Colin Lane chose it), the Strokes seemed to belong elsewhere in the city, either in the bars of the East Village or loitering in front of private girls schools on the Upper East Side. I’d initially cued up the early Strokes e.p.s and Is This It on my iPod for my walk, but given the the bleakness of the surroundings (like a gritty, black & white photo by Don McCullin of Belfast during “The Troubles"), the scene seemed to beg for icy, brittle post-punk, not the comparatively good-timey garage rock of The Strokes.
By the time I wound my way to 34th Street, however, I still hadn’t spotted a loading dock that matched up, and figured I’d either missed it, or that it no longer exists.
So, yeah, that’s that, I guess….. unless any of you want to give it a shot?