Dinosaur, “Kiss Me Again,” 12-inch, side A, 1978. Composed by Arthur Russell. Remix by Jimmy Simpson.
The personnel for this record blows my mind:
Arthur Russell (cello, organ)
David Byrne (guitar)
Sammy Figueroa (percussion)
Frank Owens (piano)
Henry Flynt (violin)
Peter Gordon (sax)
Larry Saltzman (guitar)
Peter Zummo (trombone)
Myrian Valle (vocals)
The Henry Flynt finale is an especially rewarding touch, & it’s kind of thrilling to hear him — and Byrne — on the same record as Russell, Gordon, & Zummo.
See Tim Lawrence’s richly detailed Hold On to Your Dreams, pp. 130-37, for an account of this record’s origins. Find a download link here.
Music by Lou Reed, images from a number of Warhol’s films.
Ellen Willis writes in 1979, a year after “Street Hassle” was released:
Though Lou Reed rejected optimism, he was enough of his time to crave transcendence. And finally — as “Rock & Roll” makes explicit — the Velvets’ use of a mass art for was a metaphor for transcendence, for connection, for resistance to solipsism and despair. Which is also what it is for the punks; whether they admit it or not, that is what their irony is about. It may be sheer coincidence, but it was in the wake of the new wave that Reed recorded “Street Hassle,” a three-part, eleven-minute anti-nihilist anthem that is by far the most compelling piece of work he has done in his post-Velvets solo career. In it he represents nihilism as double damnation: loss of faith that love is possible, compounded by denial that it matters. “That’s just a lie,” he mutters at the beginning of part three. “That’s why she tells her friends. ‘Cause the real song — the real song she won’t even admit to herself.”
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.
Last week my J-Term class went to the Whitney Museum to see the exhibition Modern Life: Edward Hopper and His Time, which is on display through April 10. In our course, Hopper represents one strain of what William B. Scott and Peter M. Rutkoff call “New York Modern,” a realist strain that is distinct from the avant-garde formal experimentations of “modernism” and his links to the vernacular free verse of Walt Whitman, the painting of Thomas Eakins, and the prose of Edith Wharton, among others. We made explicit connections to Whitman and Eakins as well as to the verismo of Puccini’s 1910 opera La Fanciulla del West, which we caught at the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday.
Yesterday evening we went to see American Idiot, the Broadway adaptation of the 2004 album by the second-generation punk band Green Day. Separated in time by about four decades, Hopper and Billie Joe Armstrong, the band’s songwriter, guitarist, and lead singer, lived in different eras but they each produced art that takes a bleak view of urban modernity. Hopper’s paintings depict what E. B. White would term”the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy.” Although he experienced the same crowded city streets depicted by Whitman’s poetry and by early silent films shot in New York, Hopper’s depictions of New York modernity invariably focus on lone individuals, often with their backs turned to the viewer, or individuals literally marginalized by their milieus and pushed to the margins of Hopper’s frames. In an essay from the show’s catalogue entitled “Urban Visions: The Ashcan School and Edward Hopper,” Rebecca Zurier writes, “For all the beauty and resonance of Hopper’s art, however, I would argue that its urban vision is somewhat limited. It fails to consider the ways in which cities have brought people together, both in Hopper’s time and since, and fails to take into account the complexity of the urban population.” I’d probably put it a different way: Hopper’s art deliberately limits itself in order to express an urban loneliness that exists despite the ways in which cities bring diverse peoples together.
Urban loneliness is a theme that runs throughout American Idiot as well. The narrator of the song “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” sings
I walk a lonely road
The only one that I have ever known
Don’t know where it goes
But it’s home to me and I walk alone
I walk this empty street
On the boulevard of broken dreams
Where the city sleeps
And I’m the only one and I walk alone …
The similarity between these visions isn’t accidental, because Armstrong’s song is indirectly in dialogue with Hopper’s art.
According to an interview with Billie Joe Armstrong on VH1’s Storytellers, the title of the song comes from the artist Gottfried Helnwein‘s famous reinterpretation of Edward Hopper’s iconic painting Nighthawks (1942).
And here’s Helnwein’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams, which places James Dean, Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis Presley into Hopper’s setting:
Here’s Green Day’s video for “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”:
Frankly, I wish the video were more Hopper-like, because its images don’t seem to me to capture the loneliness depicted in the song’s lyrics: Billie Joe, after all, never does walk alone in it, because he’s always accompanied by bandmates Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool. Nor does the video capture the duplicitous promise of Hollywood that lurks behind Helnwein’s painting.
But the musical does. It’s a rich elaboration and extension of the band’s depiction of the dead-end culture of America in the Age of Bush and Beyond, made all the more poignant by the fact that even though Bush has left the scene the mark he left on the country is a scar that refuses to fade.
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:
Fans of either Lego or the television series Matt Groening and David X. Cohen’s animated series Futurama, which began its sixth season on Comedy Central last Thursday, might enjoy looking at Pepa Quin’s rendition of New New York City in Lego. Take a look at this article on Gizmodo.com.