What’s in a name?

This week I begin teaching two summer courses, both of which are outgrowths of the Writing New York course I team-teach each year with Cyrus.

The first is an undergraduate seminar called “Writing New York: The Downtown Scene, 1960-1980.” I pioneered it last summer as a way to get me in an appropriate frame of mind to work on my book for the 33 1/3 series. It’s a 2-week intensive seminar: four hours a day, five days a week, for two weeks. It’s baptism by immersion, and by the end of the second week we certainly feel like we’ve been through a full semester.

My second course this summer will be a graduate seminar called “New York in the Age of Warhol.” Compared to the undergraduate course, this one will have  luxurious pacing, spread out over six weeks. This is still quite a bit faster than a seminar in the regular semester, though, meeting twice a week whereas in the regular semester we’d meet once.

The two courses share over 90% of the same readings, which is one way I can keep this load manageable. They begin with some seminal figures on the downtown scene — Ginsberg, O’Hara, Cage — and end with Patti Smith’s glance backwards in Just Kids. I’m going to be curious to see, though, what effect the course title has on our discussion. What will it mean to foreground the concept of “scenes” over any particular personality? Or to define an era by the influence of one figure — Warhol? The grad seminar will have a heavier dose of Warhol, it’s true: we’ll read Popism in full and even tackle “his” novel, A. In my 33 1/3 book on Television’s Marquee Moon I consider, following the critic and filmmaker Mary Harron, the long shadow Warhol cast over the downtown underground rock scene, even as some bands (including Television) eventually sought to define themselves by breaking with the Warhol-influenced glitter scene that preceded them. Implicit in my account, I think, is my own sense that we’ve not yet escaped the Age of Warhol. Will we ever?

Over the next six weeks I’ll have more to say here. I’ll also be using the Twitter hashtag #downtown11 to indicate material relevant to our discussions. Feel free to follow along and join in as you’re inclined.

Photo: CBGB Pinball 1977, by Bob Gruen.

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