Neighborhood Scenes

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A post from last year that rounds up our Patti-related content on this site (and a little bit elsewhere as well). Since then, we took note that her 2010 memoir, Just Kids, won the National Book Award.

Most of what I have to say about Television I’ve saved for this project, due out in June, as most of our readers and/or Twitter followers undoubtedly know (#shamelessselfpromotion #seeadontheright). Our students have a couple preview chapters to make their way through this week and may come out knowing more than they ever wanted to about CBGB arcana. Over the last year or so I’ve posted a few related items here: some memories of Club 82, the drag venue on 4th St. that played co-host to early punk alongside CB’s and Max’s. I mentioned some selections from the CBGB jukebox, along with some of Television and Patti’s rival bands. I embedded a clip of Television performing in the Chinatown loft that was their rehearsal space (1974, w/ Richard Hell). For more, stay tuned. I’m sure Cyrus and I will both have plenty to post leading up to the June release date for both our volumes.

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Previously on PWHNY. Also. And.

A few people and/or pieces mentioned in this morning’s lecture on Downtown Scenes from 1950 to 67 or so.

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A guide to posts we’ve written in past years about Ginsberg’s Howl and the history of hipsters in New York:

In last year’s roundup post, I offered additional thoughts on some contexts I’d brought up in lecture but hadn’t explored fully: Diana Trilling’s famous reflections on her attendance at a 1959 Beat poetry reading at Columbia University, boycotted by several faculty members, including her husband, Lionel — in spite of the fact that he had been Ginsberg’s teacher. Last year’s post also includes some discussion of Norman Mailer’s “The White Negro” (also 1959), in which he defines the hipster as born from the confrontation of young white intellectuals in the Village (many of whom were raised Jewish) with black American culture. Both pieces are worth thinking about for their discussions of race and their competing desires for assimilates “whiteness” and for the freedom to cross racial lines. I suggested in that post that Mailer’s essay may be considered a forerunner of Patti Smith’s use of cross-racial fantasy in “Rock & Roll Nigger,” but it should also be seen as a forerunner of this famous photo of Smith’s contemporary, Lester Bangs.

Since then we’ve considered a variety of other Howl-related material, from Eric Drooker’s illustrated edition of the poem (drawn from his animation sequences for the recent film) to my initial take on the film itself. I also posted some thoughts about Ginsberg in relation to the intensive seminar I taught last summer, “The Downtown Scene, 1960-1980.” As part of that course we watched the early Beat film “Pull My Daisy,” and my post about it elicited comments from one of its actors, the musician David Amram. (I’m teaching that course again this May if anyone’s up for it.)

Part of our consideration of Ginsberg’s “angelheaded hipsters” (and Mailer’s “White Negro”) has included lighthearted looks at hipster history here at PWHNY. My favorite has always been our consideration of Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog’s role in this cultural formation. We’ve also noted a contemporary graffiti writer called “White Negro” take to the streets. We wish we had been able to attend this panel, which is now published as this book, which we wish we’d had the time yet to read. We’ve pondered whether contemporary Williambsburg attire is indebted to Mose and the Bowery B’hoys, but I’ve also wondered whether or not Sesame Street might have had something to do with it:

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This week in Writing New York we’re still in the early twentieth century, with looks at two artistic enclaves: bohemian Greenwich Village (just before and after World War I) and the Harlem Renaissance, the subject of Cyrus’s lecture Wednesday morning.

Over the last few years we’ve pulled together some posts about the original Village bohemians that might be useful to our students or interesting to those of you who are following along at home (or arriving here via a Google image search for the Provincetown Playhouse, shown above). The main resource we’d recommend, though, is Melissa Bradshaw’s chapter on the Village in our Cambridge Companion, which our students are assigned to read this week. We can’t say enough good things about that essay and how well is anchors this unit for our course.

Previously on PWHNY, we’ve taken a look at nineteenth-century precursors to Village bohemia, including the scene at Pfaff’s, a bar at Bleecker and Broadway where Whitman hung out with the likes of the scandalous actress Adah Isaacs Mencken. The earliest description I know of a New York bohemian enclave comes slightly earlier, in Melville’s outrageous novel Pierre (1852).

Our trip through bohemian GV includes consideration of the Provincetown Players and especially Eugene O’Neill, whose play The Hairy Ape is on the syllabus. Locals will know how much buzz there’s been in the neighborhood over the demolition/reconstruction of the Provincetown Playhouse on Macdougal. (See Curbed’s archive of related stories for details.) For images of the refurbished theater, click here. Earlier this semester our friend Joe Salvatore directed a trio of Provincetown originals, embedded in an original frame narrative, to launch the space’s reopening. I’d hoped to write more about that at the time, but it obviously didn’t happen. Students who attended with me or others who saw those shows are certainly welcome to comment here.

O’Neill has popped up on this blog from time to time, including yesterday, when I mentioned Ric Burns’s documentary about the playwright and included a clip from the film that showed James O’Neill in action in The Count of Monte Cristo, circa 1913. I should have included this clip from Burns’s film, which features Christopher Plummer first discussing then performing lines from the role of James Tyrone, from O’Neill’s masterpiece, Long Day’s Journey into Night, written in 1940 but not staged until 1956. The role, of course, is based on O’Neill’s father. The really amazing stuff comes about five minutes into this clip:

A few years ago I wrote about a set of early O’Neill plays that were staged by the Metropolitan Playhouse. I’ve also tried to imagine how Emma Goldman, whose New York circles overlapped with O’Neill’s, would have reacted to his drama. She had her own bit to say in her lectures on modern drama’s significance.

Elsewhere: Don’t miss the Bowery Boys’ post about O’Neill’s favorite bohemian dive, The Golden Swan. (He just called it the “Hell Hole.”) That last link will take you to John Sloan’s visual rendering of the place; Sloan was also involved in something I mentioned briefly in lecture: the night in January 1917 when Marcel Duchamp and friends, including Sloan, climbed Washington Square Arch and declared Greenwich Village a free and independent republic. Sloan’s “Arch Conspirators” marks that occasion.

Inspired? Check out Teri Tynes’s list of 25 radical things to do in Greenwich Village, from her blog Walking Off the Big Apple.

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Earlier today, as part of his lecture on Abraham Cahan’s Yekl (1896), Cyrus showed a clip from Ric Burns’s New York that offered the history of the popular song “Sidewalks of New York.” The version featured above situates the song in a medley of other popular songs about the city and has some nice illustrations of the city from the turn of the twentieth century.

Another way of thinking about New York’s sidewalks, especially on the Lower East Side from the same moment, comes via Thomas Edison’s footage of a “ghetto” fish market:

For more clips along the same line, check out the uploads from YouTube user TigerRocket.

For a round-up of our earlier posts about Cahan’s novel, click here.

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Yesterday Jeremiah posted about the 1974 Martin Scorsese doc Italianamerican, featuring the director’s parents. Jeremiah’s post is one in a series about the contest in Little Italy/Nolita over the future of the San Gennaro Feast. My own take on that debate is that I get annoyed by high-fashion Nolita newcomers who poo-poo neighborhood tradition, but I also get annoyed by drunk people roaming Little Italy at night and streets slick with coconut milk and puke (neither of which has any intrinsic tie to Italian heritage). My own preference would be for the festival to amp itself up on the tradition side, to make the whole affair a celebration of the neighorhood’s history, not just an excuse for generic carnival attractions. But … I’m just a newcomer to that neighborhood myself, so I’ll stop now.

Here’s the first installment of Italianamerican. I do think that newcomers to the neighborhood have an obligation at least to find out a little about the place to which they’ve come to live or work:

For more on San Gennaro, check out this 2007 series from the Bowery Boys.

Previously on PWHNY.

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Given our ongoing interest in that classic New York film Ghostbusters (see here and here and here), it seems only right to present you with this picture, created by Lower East Side polymath Shawn Chittle, whose website brings together a variety of interests: the Lower East Side, music, and kinds of tech, old and new:

The image was featured recently on EV Grieve’s post about the Post, specifically the New York tabloid’s report about a new boutique hotel set to sprout up on the site of the former Salvation Army building on the Bowery.

Frankly, we’re more worked up about the hotel itself than about the Post‘s blooper about Bowery geography. We fantasize about being Dan Aykroyd’s character Ray Stantz listening to the command, “Choose the form of the destroyer!” We know what we’d choose.

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Wow. In case you missed this story at the Local East Village yesterday: our friends at Fales Library are acquiring a treasure trove of documentary concert footage and interviews from the heyday of New York punk. I’m wishing I’d had access to these over the last six months while writing about CBGB’s origins, but still glad they’ll be available to future researchers. From the blog:

The Fales Collection at New York University will shortly begin the process of preserving and cataloging an extraordinary video archive of punk and new wave performances known as “Gonightclubbing, Ltd.,” mainly recorded in the nineteen seventies at East Village clubs like CBGB using reel-to-reel video.

The archive is the work of video artists Emily Armstrong and Pat Ivers, and until collected by a team from Fales last week it occupied significant cupboard space in Ms. Armstrong’s apartment. Although the material has been presented at museum and theater shows, it has never been commercially available. Almost 200 live shows by acts like the Dead Boys, the Heartbreakers, Iggy Pop and Suicide have remained largely unseen since the two young cable TV employees hauled their gear around downtown clubs more than 30 years ago.

Fales has been collecting documentation of the downtown art scene since 1994. Marvin Taylor, director of the archive, told The Local, “You can’t talk about the art scene without talking about the birth of punk rock.” He described the Armstrong-Ivers material as the “premiere collection” of live recordings from the period, with great sound quality because the makers were able to record directly from the soundboards at clubs. “It’s the very best. I have never seen anything like it,” he said.

The rest of the story here.

Photo by Emily Armstrong for Local East Village.

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Because I sometimes only get out of my neighborhood when I’m online. Sad, I know.

Calling out the Times for not knowing much about Marble Hill, where Manhattan and the Bronx meet by land. [Boogie Downer]

The Times should have talked to Michael Miscione, Manhattan’s borough historian. See his comments on this old City Room piece by Jennifer 8. Lee, which gets the borough border history right.

New Yorkers who want to protest the censorship of David Wojnarowicz’s video at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. will march along museum mile on Sunday, December 19. [Art +]

What did we lose to gain the Bayonne Bridge? [Ape Shall Not Kill Ape]

We loved this profile of Newtown Pentacle’s Mitch Waxman: “Tour Guide of the Toxic.” [Baruch College Dollars & Sense]

A rare Coney Island victory: Shore Theater landmarked. [Amusing the Zillion]

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While I’ve been working on my book about Television’s Marquee Moon I’ve had ample opportunity to poke around the history of Club 82, a historic downtown drag venue (founded in the late ’50s by the mob, who controlled much pre-Stonewall gay nightlife) and an important early site, alongside nearby CBGB’s, for New York’s underground rock scene. (Here’s the entry from About.com’s Gay and Lesbian Travel section; here’s a fan site brimming with photos from the club’s earliest days.)

Everyone played there: Television, The Stillettoes (pre-Blondie), Wayne County (of course). The New York Dolls played an important show there in April of ’74 in which all the members but Johnny Thunders played in dresses. Lou Reed and David Bowie were in the audience now and again. Debbie Harry once said Club 82 was where kids from her New Jersey high school went after the prom; when she played there with the Stillettoes, members of the Who were in the audience.

Poking around to see if any video from the club existed, I came across a great video memoir of the scene, recorded by T. Roth, former frontman of the glitter band Another Pretty Face, who currently has a substantial following on YouTube where he posts videos under the name Zipster08. Here are his fantastic recollections of the club:

And of course a bit of video from the club does exist: Here’s Ivan Kral’s footage of Wayne/Jayne County in stage at the 82:

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