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.
Springing off from this post, whilst walking around SoHo with the kids on this beautifully sunny day, I decided to pay homage to two of my favorite SoHo movies...."After Hours" (as recently discussed here), and Spalding Gray's "Swimming to Cambodia." Time to take the kids for some ice cream after indulging me.
Spotted a notice that this New Museum art installment only has a few days left, so I may as well weigh in while it's still going. First, watch the video.
I gotta say, while I do really love the concept, it's still seems so recent to me. I mean, yeah -- twenty years is twenty years, but as I said back in this post about 1992 (a better year, for my money), it still feels like yesterday to me. For some reason, my real line of demarcation of the past remains 1989. Anything prior to that seems like ancient history.
Of course, I'm purely projecting. This city is entirely different now than it was in 1993. The change is everywhere. It's physical. Things don't look the same. Things aren't the same. But, still, I can remember 1993 as if it were just earlier this week.
In 1993, I was 26. I was long out of college, but back living at home with my mom (like a bit of a loser) if only because it was cheaper, and I was able to pursue my dream career as a journalist (then as now, not the most lucrative field). That all said, as 1993 began, I would shortly be laid off from my gig as an editorial assistant at LIFE Magazine. My high school friend Rob lost his job around the same time, so we took our respective severance pays and blew them on airfare to London, where we spent a week or so going to British record shops and pubs (with no great desire to return to reality in New York City). That didn't suck.
I came home to a frustrating game of vocational cat & mouse -- doing odd editorial gigs around Time Inc., doing some pick-up work in an art gallery, a real estate agency and continuing to write for a clutch of music magazines. I'd later land another full-time gig at TIME Magazine before 1993 came to a close, but it was a financially threadbare and stressful year.
I was also on the rebound from a heroically botched office romance that had still left me naively shellshocked for several more months than was realistically warranted.
I'll say this, though. Music was better in 1993. For me, 1993 was all about Suede, Wu-Tang Clan, Cop Shoot Cop, Anthrax, Grant Lee Buffalo, Monster Magnet, A Tribe Called Quest, James, Morphine and, if I'm being honest, that first LIz Phair record. All good stuff. Of course, back in 1993, there were many, many more record and disc shops still around, and just as many live music venues still in operation.
Earlier this week, I made the above photo (taken some time in the late 90's, if memory serves) my "cover photo" on the dreaded Facebook. A few friends chimed in their "likes" and reminiscences of the fabled cube. Some pushed it around. Some rode on it. Some remember flyers being plastered to it. Etc.
Breathe easy, readers. The Cube is still there. For now, at least, although it just doesn't loom as large as it once did.
While not the same vantage point, here's a sligthly comparable shot of the same basic area today.
You may remember a post I put up back in December wherein I went off on a photo mission with my little ones to try to divine the precise locations of ... and replicate ... certain photographs of notable rock-types loitering stylishly around the streets of the city. Well, this weekend -- with my wife still away on a family matter -- I found myself in need of an activity to fill Saturday with my little kids in-between errands. As such, we found ourselves around Gramercy, following in some fairly fabled footsteps. We'd have attempted more, but it got pretty dang cold after a bit. In any case, here's some of the fun we had.
I only recently spotted this great shot of David Johansen of the New York Dolls by way of this excellent site. This is, of course, our David blocking traffic at the bottom end of Lexington Avenue. Taken by one Gary Green in 1977, this shot finds the erstwhile Doll looking south into what would be Gramercy Park. To his right -- just out of shot -- is the Gramercy Park Hotel, but more about that later. Below David is our take, which was fairly tricky, being that there was a steady stream of cars on the street.
Speaking of Cars, here's Ebet Roberts' take of the fledgling Cars in almost the exact same spot (originally spotted in the amazing collection, "Blank Generation Revisited." Apart from maybe the Chelsea Hotel, the Gramercy Park Hotel was the go-to rock n' roll hotel, given its proximity to the promise of downtown just steps from its entrance. It looks totally different today, but you can catch a glimpse of what it used to look like in the video for the Psychedelic Furs' "Run and Run," a vid I've put up here a few times.
I quite enjoy Oliver faithfully mimicking guitarist Elliot Easton's pose in this pairing.
Here's a newsflash: I've never given a rat's ass about Bob Dylan. Sure, loads of my friends -- let alone musicians' whose work I greatly enjoy -- cite Dylan as a massive influence, but I just can't get into it. Not sure if it's the voice or just the fact that he's so universally deified, but I can't seem to get it. I certainly respect the man, but don't ask me to get excited about his music. That all said, since we were in Gramercy Park, I thought I'd tip my hat to the great Bob Egan (a Bob whose work I have more time for) and pay homage to the cover of Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited. The steps in question are inaccessible today ... but we got up real close.
No rock-informed trip to this neighborhood would be complete without a swing by the former site of Max's Kansas City. Much like the Mudd Club, I never actually darkened the doors of this hallowed venue at 213 Park Avenue South, being that I was only 14 years old when it closed its doors, but its legacy is rich in the annals of rock history. From the Velvet Underground to Bob Marley to Suicide to Devo to Sid Vicious to even KISS (I think) and all points in between, anyone who was anyone played Max's. Today, that storied legacy is sullied by the fact that it's now a friggin' deli.
When they razed the block that stood between East 14th and East 13th street between Broadway and 4th Avenue in the mid-90's, I was living on East 12th between University Place and Broadway. Strangely, I can only barely remember what the architecture looked like before that block came down. When it was all demolished, there was a giant swathe of open space on the southern tip of Union Square. I remember thinking how nice it would be if they just put down a simple square of grass, instead of the mammoth building they were planning to erect. I felt a similar sentiment last year, when they stealthily tore down the weathered academic structure on Astor Place that's now the looming, black Death Star building. I wasn't alone. For a couple of months, there was a tenuous stencil and sticker campaign that read: "Imagine a park here." Obviously, that fanciful notion never came to pass.
Just like over on Astor Place, progress on the Union Square site progressed with great immediacy. In seemingly no time at all, there was a brand new movie theater (or arena, as it was billed) and -- more importantly for me -- a brand, spankin' new Virgin Megastore. Tireless champion though I am of independent, mom'n'pop music shops, I did not lament Virgin's arrival. Though comparatively late in the day, the writing was not yet on the wall about the impending demise of the music industry as we know it. In any event, any physical, brick and mortar outlet that sells music is a good thing, as far as I was (and remain) concerned. I snapped the picture up top of it shortly after it opened.
About seventeen or so years later, the theater's still there, but the Virgin Megastore is now long gone (I penned a weepy paean to its demise here). Now there's a -- WAIT FOR IT -- bank branch where Virgin was initially perched.
In any case, why am I blathering about all this now? Well, if you're a regular reader here, you've heard me sing the praises of Gregoire Alessandrini's great photo blog, New York City 1990's before. Well, while re-perusing his site, I found these two amazing photos of the block in question after the initial structures had been razed. I thought I'd replicate them here for the purposes of illustrating this post (and I hope he doesn't mind, as usual).
This top one is basically the view looking south from Union Square Park. That corner is where the entrance to the Virgin Megastore was. Hard to picture now, I know.
This shot is the block as viewed from 4th Avenue looking West. Now, this space is marked by the lobby of an expensive condominium and a frankly very pricey wine emporium.
Tramps on West 21st street stopped being Tramps in 2001, at which point it became a hip hop-centric lounge by the name of Centro-Fly and then a gimmicky club called Duvet, which was filled with beds (geddit?). I never darkened the door of the place during those last two dubious incarnations, but as Tramps, it was a regular stop of mine.
Off the top of my head, I saw Matthew Sweet, Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Nashville Pussy (I took that picture up top of them), the Hellacopters, Prong, The Wedding Present, James, Elastica, Pigface, the Kitchens of Distinction, Barkmarket, jazz dude Ronald Shannon Jackson, my beloved Cop Shoot Cop and about a dozen other bands I can’t recall at the moment in that awesome little space. It’s fair to say that I never had a bad time there. When it closed its doors, I was thoroughly bummed.
It was also a cool strip. Up the block, towards 5th Avenue, there was the Sound Factory and Danceteria. There was also a bar whose name escapes me in the spot that is now the Shaffer City Oyster Bar that was cool. It’s gone too, of course.
In any case, when am I moaning about all this now? Well, earlier this week, I happened to walk down West 21st Street for the first time in quite a while. Like I said, Tramp’s has been gone since about 2001, but I was somewhat blown away to see that the site it formerly occupied is no longer a club or venue of any kind anymore. That same spot where I spent so many nights experiencing more great live music than I could shake a stick at … is now a stationary boutique called Envelopers. That's it in the picture below.
The wife and I had some old friends over for dinner the other night who now live out of state, and the conversation quickly turned -- as it frequently does in our house -- to the physical erosion of culture (for lack of a better description) caused by the jackbooted march of technology. By this, of course, I'm talking about how the alluring ease and accessibility of purchasing goods and services on the internet has virtually wiped clean the chances of long-term survival for independent, brick n' mortar mom n' pop establishments that sell stuff like, say, music and literature. In other words, record & disc shops and bookstores are all going bye-bye.
The predictable retorts about the "brilliant user-friendliness" of Kindles and the convenience (the dreaded "c" word) of Amazon ensued, but I'm far too stubborn and pig-headed to cop to those arguments. It probably sounds ridiculous, but I still feel pointedly guilty anytime I order something from friggin' Amazon, and usually only resort to that after I've vainly combed the city's comparatively dwindling network of stores for whatever item it is I'm searching for and come up (predictably) empty-handed.
Anyway, blah blah blah, moan moan moan, gripe gripe gripe. To drive my point home, I started citing a laundry list of formerly beloved book and record shops that have since gone the way of the wooly mammoth. The Pageant Book & Print Shop, formerly at 109 East 9th Street, was near the top of my list, which reminded me that I'd "favorited" the shot below on Flickr by one Kccnola. Ideally, they won't mind me re-producing that photograph below.
A longtime neighborhood fixture (when the neighborhood had more bookstores than banks, coffee shops and pharmaceutical chains), Pageant was a lovely shop, staffed by intimidatingly literate albeit entirely friendly folks. I believe it made the odd cameo in a Woody Allen flick or two. In any event, the shop shuttered in 1994 and was replaced a couple of years later, if memory serves, by a bar who kept the name Pageant. That decision must have been bad karma, as the venture flopped. Sometime in the early 2000's, I want to say, the place re-opened as The Central Bar, a perfectly decent -- if strikingly indistinctive -- Irish Bar choked to the rafters with widescreen televisions that play sports at you around the clock. I've certainly put away a few pints there in my day, but it's never my first choice.
Anyway, here's my inevitable Then & Now entry...
The Pageant Book & Print Shop at 109 East 9th Street circa the early 1990s (courtesy of Kccnola)
In all honesty, while still noteworthy for its gritty depictions of early 80's Manhattan (SoHo and TriBeCa, mostly), there is something kind of excruciating about "Permanent Vacation." Protagonist Allie, portrayed somewhat cloyingly by Chris Parker, isn't exactly that sympathetic a character. Coupled with his adenoidal voice and indefinable accent, by the middle of the film, I found myself truly rooting against the guy. The film plays very much like someone's first effort -- the plot is thin, the pacing is erratic and the acting is spectacularly abysmal. In terms of cinema, it makes comparable films of the era like Glen O'Brien's "Downtown 81" and Amos Poe's "The Foreigner" practically seem like big budget action flicks. But, I'm glad I saw it.
The real treat, though, was watching "Stranger Than Paradise" again. Jarmusch was honing his style by this point, and the film holds together with much more cohesion than its predecessor. While also very far from a slick, conventionally-constructed movie, "Stranger Than Paradise" exudes that familiar haunting quality that marked many of Jarmusch's later films like "Mystery Train" and "Dead Man."
Unsurprisingly, I thrilled once again to the atmospheric footage of grim downtown Manhattan when Ava first walks the Bowery in search of her cousin's Lower East Side apartment. The streets she slowly traverses are barely recognizable today. For the sake of illustration, I took my kids out for a stroll today in an ersatz homage to that segment of the film. Compare and contrast the location of where Bleecker meets Bowery below. 1984 and 2012, respectively. Talk about strange.
ADDENDUM: Who can name the location of the shot at the top of this post?