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.
Feels vaguely disingenuous to be raiding Facebook for content here, but following in the footsteps of the post above, here’s another cool little find, this one courtesy of a user on the also-quite-excellent Manhattan Before 1990 page. Herewith a quick little clip of the Flatiron district circa 1970. It’s fairly amazing.
Spotted this one on the excellent Facebook page, Dirty Old 1970s' New York City. Herewith another photo by the great Edmund V. Gillon of Fifth Avenue, looking north just a few steps shy of East 22nd Street circa the Bicentennial year of 1976.
If you stand in this very spot today and look in the same direction, not that much has really changed, although there is a massive hotel now a few blocks north of the Empire State Building.
The building on the right hand side of the photograph (with the clock) is now, of course, Restoration Hardware, and has been for some time.
In 1976, I was a third grader on the Upper East Side, so didn't see much of this neck of the woods at the time. In later years, when I started exploring Manhattan, though, I do remember a tiny record store (c'mon, you knew that was coming), tucked into the middle of the south side of the block on 22nd Street between Fifth Avenue and Broadway,... in what would now be the area closest to the cash registers at Restoration Hardware. It wasn't an especially distinctive record shop (i.e. it didn't cater to any specific genres or anything), but I still vividly remember it. Anyone else?
I popped out the other evening to make a quick visit to Shakespeare & Co. on Broadway. My daughter's caught the Harry Potter book bug, and had just finished the second novel. Wanting to feed her voracious need to keep reading, I volunteered to go procure her the next book in the series. As such, I found myself walking south on Mercer Street just as it was starting to flurry. I popped in my headphones and hit play, my skull filling with the adrenalized sprint of "Three Sisters" by the great Jim Carroll Band.
The track selection was oddly fitting, as I suddenly found myself walking by the former site of storied NYC rock club, The Bottom Line. Not quite as lionized as fellow-since vanished venues like CBGB or Max's Kansas City, The Bottom Line played an equally crucial role in Manhattan's gestation as a hotbed of music. The list of luminaries to grace the intimate stage of the Bottom Line is long, varied and distinguished (listen to the testimonials in the video below for ample examples of same).
Personally speaking, I didn't actually make it there that many times. I saw only a handful of shows there -- notably Jim Carroll (doing a reading of his poetry), an Irish folk band called The Furies and a rousing performance by Gavin Friday which involved the former Virgin Prune leaping from stage to table with dramatic aplomb. By the time I was a regular gig-goer, the Bottom Line was usually playing host to yawnsome acts like The Roches and The Church of Betty. I liked my live shows a little more visceral.
As has been pointed out here many times, the space the Bottom Line formerly occupied is now a rigorously non-distinct academic facility for NYU today (and currently shrouded in scaffolding). Even still, I still think of Take No Prisoners, the venomously bawdy live album by Lou Reed recorded live at The Bottom Line, every time I walk by the corner of East 4th and Mercer. I spoke a bit about that album on this post.
In any case, I stumbled upon this clip of former Bottom Line regulars, and thought I'd pass it on...
In 1989, an indie lable named Restless Records saw fit to release am ambitious-albiet-somewhat-revisionist box set by one of my favorite bands, Buzzcocks. The starkly named Product arrived on discriminating music shop shelves in a perfect, silver box, culling together a potent arsenal of the British Punk band's oeuvre, omitting selections by their earliest incarnation as led by since-departed vocalist Howard Devoto. Regardless, Product collected the rest of the then-defunct foursome's recordings in one tidy package, appended with an extra disc, the hotly-coveted Many Parts, which featured a bracing live set and some super rare odds and ends. All told, Product was an absolute must for any Buzzcocks fan.
There was one problem. In 1989, I was freshly sprung from college, paylessly interning at SPIN Magazine, doing pick-up administrative work at an Upper West Side real estate agency and occasionally gallery-sitting at a gallery in SoHo (which I described on this post). I was living at home (like a loser), so I was saving money there, but I was otherwise not raking in the dough. Like, at all.
Product, meanwhile, in all its pristine, lovingly boxed splendor (the first real box set for a Punk band?) cost a whopping $35.00. At the time, that was an unthinkable amount of cash. Rob B., my primary co-hort in feverish music immersion (not to be confused with Rob C. or Rob D.), was similarly financially contricted. Also still living at home, while I was earning pennies answering the phone at a second-floor art gallery in SoHo, he was simiarly scraping by working at a neighborhood video rental place in his native Queens called Video Box. Together, we could barely pool together paltry beer money, let alone pony up the cash for our beloved Buzzcocks.
As such, in swift course, Product became an increment of financial measurement by which all goods and services were quantified. "Leanne's rent is crazy," Rob would exclaim about a friend. "She basically has to pay 48 copies of Product a month!" "I'd love to try that new East Village sushi place," I'd counter, "but a meal there is easily at least a copy and a half of Product."
In November of 1989, we did go see Buzzcocks' triumphant reunion show at the New Ritz on West 54th Street (the former site of Studio 54). A year or so after that, the band (albeit without original drummer John Maher, who left again to resume his career racing cars) would release the Alive Tonight e.p. (see super-rare video for same below). Honestly, I never actually procured a copy of Product. Being that I already owned most of the music on it in one form or another, I could never justify the expenditure. I did manage to track down a copy of the mighty Many Parts disc (featuring rollicking renditions of "Breakdown" and "Time's Up") courtesy of the soon-to-vanish Sounds on St. Mark's Place.
To this day, Rob B. and I still use Product as a unit of cost, despite the fact that Product is long out of print (and the lable that released it long out of business) and the box set itself has become (for most) the quitessence of obsolescence. In time, Rob and I both secured more lucrative variations of employment to the extent wherein the weighty cost of Product wasn't so intimidating.
Twenty-five years later, Buzzcocks are still going (and currently crowd-sourcing funds for a new album on PledgeMusic). Most of the downtown Manhattan records shops wherein Rob and I fleetingly held copies of Product in our sweaty palms are long, long gone. In all likelihood, all the tracks from same are out on the `Net somewhere. You can now attain your own copy of Product via eBay for sums not too removed from the original asking price.
It must seem somewhat peculiar for me to go banging on about The Scrap Bar when so many other locales are circling the drain these days, especially since The Scrap Bar basically closed up shop in the mid-90's.
As you can see here and here, the former exterior of the Scrap Bar boasted some far-out metalwork designed to broadcast the post-apocalypitc bunker aesthetic of the place. In most instances, when places close up shop, the slate is wiped clean, and all evidence of that particular incarnation vanishes. Not so with the Scrap Bar.
I'm not sure what takes place now -- if anything -- in the subterranean space the Scrap Bar formerly occupied, but I was heartened to see some remnants of the old exterior's metallic spillover still in evidence on MacDougal Street. It was probably too much work to fully dismantle.
Honestly, I’ve got to stop writing about these places, as they’re vanishing left, right and center.
Back in May of last year, you may remember, I penned a post about Sounds on St. Marks (some call it St. Marks Sounds… I’ll let you debate that). The thrust of that post was that while other age-old record shops were either already long-gone, or in the process of closing, Sounds was hanging in there, largely thanks to the fact that the guy who ran Sounds also owned the building. That's me to the left back in December, shooting a selfie on its storied stoop.
Grieve posted the news on Facebook, and the comments started coming fast and furiously. One contributor somewhat churlishly had this to say.
Seriously folks, except for a niche market for vinyl, there's no reason for record stores to exist anymore. As a long-ago manager of a St. Mark's Place record store myself (East Village Oldies) I am sad to see Sounds go, but not in the slightest bit mad.
Well, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, Sounds (and its many since-vanished peers) were part of a particular culture that thrived downtown (East and West). The fact that (most) people choose to "consume" their music in an entirely different manner these days doesn't diminish the fact that we are losing more than just a brick-&-mortar outlet wherein to procure music software. I made some of my best friends and life-affirming discoveries in grotty mom'n'pop record stores, and connected with like-minds. I doubt a frorzen yogurt emporium, CVS or another fucking bank will serve that same end.
As I mentioned back in this post from 2012, The Scrap Bar on MacDougal Street was a somewhat goofy affair, but hey… it was the 80’s and 90’s, and goof was in high demand. I certainly logged several hours down in the Scrap Bar’s dank confines, supping shitty beer next to dudes in unironic Queensryche t-shirts, so I can’t condemn the place too much.
In any case, I stumbled upon the rather poor quality video clip below of an old episode of “120 Minutes” which, for your youngsters out there, was a relatively entertaining program on MTV dedicated to so-called “alternative” rock (this, of course, being back in the era when MTV actually played music).
Herewith we see cheeky host Kevin Seal fraternizing down in the Scrap Bar circa 1988, and interviewing none other than the great Joe Strummer (looking strikingly young and slim). It’s a weird trip back through time.
Twenty-six years later, I’m not sure what transpires at the old spot of the Scrap Bar on MacDougal, if anything (although the building has an even more august history as the old site of the Gaslight). “120 Minutes” went off the air at some point in the mid-to-late 90’s. MTV stopped playing music pretty much entirely at some point in the 2000’s (just a little bit after I stopped working there). No idea where Kevin Seal is today. And Joe Strummer, of course, passed away in 2002.
The Speedies, meanwhile, never really took off, I'm sorry to say. One of them lived quite nearby me off University Place for a while. I haven't seen him in quite a quite, I'm sorry to say. Always meant to chat with him and find out more.
Much like the Metropolitan Museum of Art over on my native Upper East Side, I was taken to the Natural History museum so many times as a wee lad that I’m still pretty much able to find my way around it with my eyes closed. Sure, it’s changed here and there, but much like that scene in J.D. Salinger’s “A Catcher in the Rye” wherein Holden takes solace in the unchanging nature of a particular diorama in the Native American wing, there is a feeling of stately permanence to the place. That said, I’m sure I’ve just jinxed it. Expect it to be razed one day soon and replaced by a massive condo.
One aspect that has changed about the museum in question, however, is the Hayden Planetarium. The original building (above) was closed and destroyed in the late 90’s to pave the way for the Rose Center for Earth and Space. To be perfectly honest, I’ve never set foot in the new incarnation. I’m sure it’s a wonder to behold, but I just miss the old place.
And while I associate the rest of the Natural History museum with my childhood, the old Hayden Planetarium is rooted firmly in my teenhood, and there’s only one reason for that: LASER FUCKING FLOYD
Many a night did my rockhead friends and I loiter menacingly on those very steps, waiting to enter for another brain-frying round of “Laserlumia” (as it always read on the ticket stub), pairing high-volume airings of predictable selections from Dark Side of the Moon, Meddle, The Wall and Wish You Were Here (why never any love for Animals?) with retina-bedazzling laser animation. And it wasn’t just the Floyd. There was Laser Zeppelin, Laser Rush, “Heavy Laser” (which featured some Judas Priest tracks, if memory serves) and, later on, a “college rock” version that featured tracks by The Pretenders, Gary Numan, Joe Jackson and Julian Cope.
Sure, it was a bit hokey, but it was still pretty goddamn awesome. We used to make an evening of it, gathering in the rotunda outside the Planetarium hours in advance amid hordes of other bedenimed cretins, many partaking in various taboo activities prior to being let into the incongruously buttoned-down halls of the Hayden Planetarium, to shuffle by a replica of a meteorite and images of moon-landings before entering the great sphere to get their minds blown.
I’m not sure, but I don’t believe the current incarnation of the planetarium offers anything comparable to the Laser Floyd of my youth, and they’re probably a little embarrassed by it. Regardless, I’ll never forget those night under the stars in the big sphere.