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.
Today is the birthday of Mike D of the Beastie Boys, so I thought I'd try to solve a toughie...
I've penned an inordinate amount of posts about the Beastie Boys here over the years and not just a few photo quizzes. Granted, I'm a big fan, but I think their frequent appearances here on Flaming Pablum have more to do with the fact that they've always been NYC to the bone. There's also no shortage of material to work with.
That being said, there is one photograph of the band that has always stumped me, that being the band photo of the back of their debut vinyl 7", Polly Wog Stew, featuring such..er..timeless classics as "Transit Cop," "Holy Snappers" and "Egg Raid on Mojo."
My first introduction to the band was via their frenzied contributions to the cassette-only ROIR compilation New York Thrash, but I don't believe I paid any meaningful attention to them until their mutation into a hip hop act. At some point after that, I remember dutifully picking up their debut 7" at Bleecker Bob's for a forgettable song (this was way before the band became revered elder statesmen).
Endearingly sloppy, Polly Wog Stew captured the nascent Beasties in their uber-primitive infancy. As a result, while the record's bracing, breakneck pace emulated the burgeoning hardcore of the day (the band were clearly devoted acolytes of Bad Brains and Minor Threat), their abilities had yet to match their ambitions. But, as was always the case with the Beastie Boys, what made them compelling was that they were doing it -- not just talking about it. Here were kids my own age who weren't just collecting records, they were making their own goddamn punk rock. For that alone, their coolness is forever cemented, as far as I'm concerned.
Anyway, I've gone on to cherish my copy of Polly Wog Stew. I've never quite understood what's on the front cover (frogs? chickens?), but the back cover featured a group shot of the band. The photo in question was taken by one Arabella Field, who is now a an actress and film producer. This is the photograph in question...
My question .... meanwhile ... is -- WAIT FOR IT -- where was this photo taken?
Obviously, it's a crazy tough question being that there aren't many visual signifiers to work with. This photograph could have been taken quite literally anywhere in New York City.
That said, I do have my hunches. My first guess sprang from the information on the record label.
Put out by Rat Cage Records, the Polly Wog Stew e.p. cites the tiny operation's address being located at 307 East 9th Street. Could the youthful Beastie Boys have been photographed on the curb in front of that address?
Granted, it's been 32 (fucking Hell!) years since the release of Polly Wog Stew, so the very spot in question may not look the same anymore. These days, 307 East 9th Street plays host to the brick-&-mortal incarnation of Mud Coffee. If this hunch is correct, here's what that strip looks like today....
Hard to imagine right? But check out that little architectural detail on the frame of the doorway at the left....similar to the same detail on the Polly Wog Stew picture, no? Look again...
I actually reached out to Ms. Field to see if she could shed some light (we have a mutual friend on Facebook), but I've yet to hear back from her. She also took some other amazing pics of the Beastie Boys around Manhattan from the same era that are well worth checking out.
At some point, Rat Cage Records moved their home base to 171 Avenue A..... might that be the location?
In lieu of doing something productive, I found myself wading into a YouTube k-hole the other morning and stumbled upon the clip below. Herewith a music video from 1985 by a band called — ahem — The Minstrels of the Digital Dynasty. With a moniker like that, it’s a wonder global stardom didn’t beckon.
Clearly caught up in the throes of the broad expanse of the still-burgeoning New Wave, here we see the Minstrels experimenting with the accoutrements of the day (eye liner, gratuitous sunglasses, incongruous bow ties, make-up), presumably in an attempt to push the envelope. I’ll let you decide if that worked or not. Suffice to say, it’s very of its era.
Thematically, the band strives to make an overarching point about the vacuous priorities of the “modern wasteland,” splicing images of society’s conflicts and absurdities. It's all a bit po-faced, but more celebrated bands were certainly doing similar things at the time, like Midnight Oil, The The, Gang of Four, Devo and even my beloved Killing Joke. Who can blame a struggling band for emlating same?
In any case, along the way — between the somewhat heavy-handed montage, the slightly hammy delivery and the performance clips — there are some shots of the New York City of 1985. That's what hooked me in.
I should also point out that I did a broad search for more information on this band, but came up entirely empty. I don’t know who these guys were, much less if they’re still a going concern today (I’m inclined to doubt it, but you never know). I'd be curious to hear what these guys have to say about this clip now.
In any case, here is "Human Race." Welcome back to 1985....
For a start, I should confess that — despite having been an English major and still considering myself reasonably literate — I have never read a single sentence by storied American author John Cheever. I’m not proud of that fact, but there it is. I have a pile of books on my bedside table. I’ll add a copy of “The Stories of John Cheever” to it right after I post this.
In any case, Golden Suits is the pseudonym of a musician named Fred Nicolaus. Indie-heads might recognize him from a duo called Department of Eagles. In the guise of Golden Suits, however, Nicolaus gives sway to his obsession with author John Cheever (the very name of the band, evidently, is taken from the last line of “The Country Husband,” a Cheever short story). Like I said, I’ve never read Cheever, but I love that this guy is so singularly obsessed that he’s devoted a project to it.
I’m late to the table on this, but in 2013, he released an eponymous album revolving around the author. The video below, “Swimming in '99,” is taken from that album. True to his preoccupation, the video portrays Nicolaus exiting Brooklyn by subway to dutifully criss-cross Manhattan on a singular mission — to buy up every hard copy of “The Stories of John Cheever” he can put his hand to.
Sure, it’s all a bit precious and not just a little pretentious, but who cares?
For fans of the vanishing Manhattan book store, treat yourself as Nicolaus dutifully visits a Barnes & Noble (the former one on 6th Avenue?), McNally Jackson in Soho, Mercer Street Books off Bleecker Street, Shakespeare & Co. on Broadway (r.i.p.), Book Book on Bleecker, Biography Books on Bleecker, Left Bank Books on 8th Avenue (wherein he finds a signed, hardcover first edition), Penn Books (in the bowels of Penn Station), — a spot on the Upper West Side I couldn’t identify — , Bookculture on West 112th Street, The Corner Bookstore on East 93rd and Madison (I grew up around the corner from this spot), the Strand Book Stalls on Fifth Avenue at the southeast corner of Central Park, Posman Books in Grand Central (soon to vanish), Barnes & Noble on Union Square, The Strand on 12th and Broadway, Mast Books on Avenue A, East Village Books on St. Marks Place and — finally — the former spot of St. Mark’s Books on Third Avenue before he heads back home with an unwieldy bag of Cheever's celebrated fiction.
In a lightning quick turnaround, a regular contributor to Manhattan Before 1990 on Facebook nailed the Sonic Youth shot mystery without so much as batting an eyelash.
Chung Wong cites the corner of Hanover and Exchange Place in the Financial District as the spot in question, and provided the visual to back up his claim! We have a match!
Chung also cited the below Eric Staller light drawing from 1970s at the same location.
Closing the deal, Chung mentione the 1985 video by Yoko Ono, "Hell in Paradise," as being filmed in the same spot ...about three years prior. Keen-eyed viewers may recognize the jerky, eccentric style of this video as being the signature of director Zbigniew Rybczynski, who gave similar treatments to "Close to the Edit" by Art of Noise (shot on the High Line) and "Original Wrapper" by Lou Reed (shot in TriBeCa). He's also the director of possibly my favorite video of all time, that being "All That I Wanted" by Belfegore.
In any case, well done Chung!!!
Meanwhile, here's a bit more Sonic Youth -- in happier, younger days. This is an MTV News clip regarding their 1992 Central Park Summerstage appearance with Sun Ra. I was actually at this show (and wrote about it here).
Okay, here’s one that I've pretty much thrown the towel in on, but I’m still curious if it’s findable.
The strangely elongated photo below of Sonic Youth by Michael Lavine is a somewhat iconic shot of the band, taken around the era of the watershed Daydream Nation album. I remember seeing it at the time and thinking that it perfectly captured the band — urban, distorted, enigmatic. The suitably dreamy picture — snapped, presumably, on a Manhattan street corner — is simultaneously arty and gritty, providing both sides of the band’s aesthetic.
My inevitable question remains, however — where was it taken?
Lavine had shot another session with the band, depicting Thurston, Kim & Co. doing some nocturnal loitering around Crosby and Howard Street (you can check out Bob Egan’s breakdown of same here on Pop Spots). Given the afore-cited distortion of this photograph, it’s sort of hard to tell if this was from that same shoot, but I don’t believe it was.
I’ve always assumed that this photo shows Sonic Youth standing adjacent to a corner of the massive 240 Centre Street, the massive former police-station-turned-luxury condo between Broome and Grand Streets. This building was famously captured in the background of the below shot by Berenice Abbott. That seemed like likely enough turf.
But upon closer inspection, that assumption doesn’t quite line up. The factor that negates that theory is the building seen behind Sonic Youth (replete with architectural detail below each window). Simply put, there isn’t a building of comparable height next to 240 Grand that matches that.
So the question remains — where was this photo taken?
Here’s a bit of Sonic Youth to get you on yr. way….
Here’s another post not unlike this one wherein I extoll the merits of something that used to be in a different city, but it’s still kinda about New York.
Back in the late summer of 1985, I spent my summer soaking up as much of what I considered the atmospheric, bohemian cool of New York City as I could, knowing full well that I was shortly bound for the verdant wilds of Central Ohio in the fall to begin what would be my freshman year at Denison University. Suffice to say, I was not entirely psyched! I mean, I was excited about the school, but the thought of being deep in the heart of a Midwestern “flyover” state didn’t thrill me. Look, let’s face it — as a native New Yorker, I’m a born snob. The nearest city was going to be Columbus. I mean, sure — Akron has given the world Devo. Cleveland spawned Rocket from the Tombs, Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys. Cincinnati was home to …er….”WKRP.” What cool thing had ever come out of Columbus?
Well, to make a long story short, not only did I find many kindred spirits at Denison, but Columbus was a great town for exactly the type of shit I was into. I already waxed rhapsodic about its music scene on this post, but it bears repeating — between the Newport Music Hall and Stache’s (and a couple of other clubs like Neely B’s and Mean Mister Mustard’s), I caught shows by some of my favorite bands. And as I said back on that other post, most of those shows were better than the performances by the same bands I witnessed at home in New York City, mostly because Midwestern audiences weren’t as uptight, stuck-up and too-cool-for-school as they were (and remain) here in New York.
In any case, why am I talking about all this now? Well, a number of years back, I bought a few prints from a photographer who goes by the name JFotoman of one of my favorite bands — Cop Shoot Cop — playing in Stache’s. True to the nature of the venue, the photos were taken from a tight, intimate vantage point (seeing a band at Stache’s was like watching them play in someone’s downstairs rec room). Just recently, I discovered JFotoman’s archives online (you might remember the shot I posted yesterday of Pussy Galore’s Julia Cafritz). If you’re a fan of the independent, underground, “alternative,” punk and hardcore music of the 80’s, 90’s and beyond, you owe it to yourself to check out JFotoman’s pictures.
Not only did J. capture images from several of the shows I attended (I keep looking for myself in the crowd shots), but he completely captured the sweaty, intense vibe of places like Stache’s. But even if you’re not familiar with the venues in question — or even some of the bands — these photos are completely amazing.
Not to get all self-effacey on you, but I’m always amazed that people read this stuff. I mean, I know there are folks out there who care about the same sorta silly crap I do (like Bob Egan, EV Grieve and the like), but it never fails to surprise me that people chime in — least of all some of the principal players involved (most of whom would probably rather I got on with my life).
In any case, after multiple posts about the whereabouts of mid-to-late 80’s Pussy Galore in various pictures across the fair island of Manhattan, none other than the great Julia Cafritz herself joined the conversation this week, which pretty much blew a new part in my hair.
Ace detective work. I certainly do not remember where we took but yeah that would have been very close to our practice space. Here's the weirdest thing about Mr. Egan pinpointing that spot. See that school there. I taught at Satellite Academy, right there in the background, from 1997-2000. I never made that connection to that shoot. And I was the person in the band not drinking and doing drugs.
My favorite aspect of this pic, honestly, beyond Julia’s endearing sneer, is the Redd Kross “Quit School” sticker on her guitar. I remember getting that same sticker in my copy of the Teen Babes From Monstanto e.p.. I’m also intrigued that she’s CROSSED IT OUT. Was there beef between the two bands? I posted a photo quiz, you might remember, about Redd Kross just last week!
I was sitting down to eat a bagel earlier and flicked on VH1 Classic, only to see the clip below pop up.
I always liked The Smithereens. I mean, they were never going to be a huge deal, but they pumped out a clutch of pretty great tunes along the way. Especially For You remains a great goddamn record, as far as I’m concerned.
In any case, here’s the clip for “A Girl Like You,” from their 1989 album, 11.
While it’s actually not one of my favorite tracks by the band, the video is shot entirely in the space that was formerly known as The Cat Club (then later the Grand and then, after that, about five or six different names before it was closed for good) off the corner of East 13th Street and Fourth Avenue.
I’ve talked about this space before (see below), but I saw some amazing shows here. From Big Country, The Primitives and Ethyl Meatplow through Redd Kross, Cop Shoot Cop and Killing Joke, this room played host to a lot of great music.
It’s gone today, of course. The actual facade of the exterior is still there, strangely, but the space where all this happened is now part of the hugely expensive Hyatt Union Square Hotel….a venue I shall quite assuredly never spend a night -- let alone a thin red dime -- in.
Anyway, the beginning of the video is shot right on Fourth Avenue (across from what was briefly Pie Face). For the guitar solo, they go outside…..can you spot the Missing Foundation logo on the wall?
Okay, here’s one I’m not going stress over very much.
A couple of weeks back, I was meandering around Lower Manhattan, trying to pinpoint the exact location of a shot of the mighty Pussy Galore circa 1987. With the help of Bob Egan, we eventually nailed that one down. In doing so, though, I remembered this other shot of the band from 1989 by one of my favorite rock photographers, Michael Lavine. That’s this shot…click on it to enlarge.
Yep, here’s drummer Bob Bert, singer/guitarist Jon Spencer, guitarist Kurt Wolf and singer/guitarist Julia Cafritz looking surly and ready for trouble between some incongruously regal Roman columns. Lavine’s credited the photo in the past as having been taken in New York, but for the longest time, I couldn’t imagine where.
….until it hit me.
I remember driving up the Henry Hudson Parkway, possibly en route to the Cloisters, and catching a fleeting glimpse on my left hand side of a random Romanesque structure overlooking the Hudson River. I figured that must be the place.
In any case, it’s a long goddamn trip to Inspiration Point from my little perch here in the Village, but maybe I’ll get up there at some point. In any case, I’m about 99% certain that’s where Lavine’s picture finds this incarnation of Pussy Galore provocatively slouching. It’s odd to think of Pussy Galore being this far uptown (they strike me as the types who’d have gotten light-headed if they strolled north of 14th Street, but that’s just fanciful projection).