Hangin' Out Down In The City

In recent weeks, we lost one of New York City’s most beloved bohemians, Jim Carroll. While Carroll is remembered as a renaissance man of effortless cool , he first found fame documenting his life as a delinquent druggie teen (albeit an eloquent one) in “The Basketball Diaries,” a watershed effort that acted as a catalyst for later exploits in poetry, art and music. Beyond its placement in the pantheon of New York City cool for its hip cache, it should also be required reading for its gritty depiction of hopeless teenage degeneracy. Carroll willfully lived through hard times, and captured them vividly.

But Jim Carroll wasn’t the only bad-boy-made-good from New York City’s mean streets. Though his vocation took him off in an entirely different direction, flamboyant Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley walked a very similar line. Born only a couple of years after Carroll, one wonders if they ever crossed paths on their respective, substance-assisted trajectories. Though Carroll was from Manhattan and Frehley hailed from the Bronx, might the Catholic Boy and the Space Ace and have encountered one another and compared notes?

In any case, where Carroll exorcised the demons of his youth in print, Ace chose to put them into song via “Hard Times” on Kiss’ somewhat strenuously maligned 1979 album, Dynasty (notorious for the band’s universally-loathed “disco” single, “I Was Made For Loving You.”) Though it boasts one of the lamest, most laughable rhyme schemes in all recorded history, “Hard Times” does manage to paint a convincing portrait of aimless juvenile depravity of the sort still readily on display today. I believe Ace intended the song to be a cautionary tale, being that he asserts towards the tune’s crescendo that he’s finally “on the right track,” but the truth of the matter wasn’t quite so rosy. The notoriously booze-friendly guitar-slinger was ousted from Kiss’ ranks only a few short years after the release of Dynasty, following a 1982 car accident (I’ve heard that he drove his car through the plate-glass window of a Westchester liquor store in leafy Pleasantville, but that might be purely conjecture.) But in 1979, Ace’s hard times were a distant memory.


Please Stand Clear of the Closing Doors, Yo

Just a break in the Manhattan-centric proceedings to cite the arguably coolest song about our neighboring borough of kings. Taken from the soundtrack to 1995’s “Blue in the Face,” the free-form sequel-of-sorts to Paul Auster’s “Smoke,” Soul Coughing’s “The Brooklynites” captures a gritty, slice-of-life, lingo-drenched vibe from Brooklyn’s streets prior to the influx of hipsters, yuppies, stroller-pushers and the dreaded yunnies.


Back to the Bottom Line

The Bottom Line was a great, little intimate live music venue in Greenwich Village back in the day. The list of luminaries who treaded its hallowed boards is invariably long and august. It's arguably most famous for playing host to Lou Reed. Reed's endearingly venomous live album Take No Prisoners was recorded there. Reed later paid bizarre homage to the venue by posing in front of it for a commercial for Honda scooters ("Don't settle for walking"). By the time I came of age, the Bottom Line was still in full swing. That's me posing down the street from it in the Cure t-shirt in about 1987. I was fortunate enough to catch a few performances there by bands like The Furies (a ragtag mob of Irish folk gypsies), Gavin Friday and a great spoken-word performance by the late, great Jim Carroll.

Sadly, the Bottom Line was swallowed up in 2004 by New York University, a revered but controversial learning institution whose stranglehold on Greenwich Village is ever-tightening. Today, the building that formerly housed The Bottom Line is some yawnsome academic complex. To stand outside it, you'd never know it had once been a hotspot of bohemian culture.

Below is a clip of the criminally under-sung Tom Robinson Band captured live on stage at The Bottom Line in 1978. While ostensibly lumped in with punk rock (which doubtlessly inspired them), the TRB were a bit more musically sophisticated than your average two-chord-wonders. Righteous, eloquent, indignant, provocative, proudly homosexual radicals from across the pond, the TRB unflinchingly dared to push buttons in an era that was only just starting to wake up and smell the oppression. Given the tenor of the times (I'm looking at you, Glenn Beck), I'd say the message of the TRB is as salient today as it was in 1978, even here in the (former?) enclave of lefty enlightenment that is New York City. Play it loud & pour one out for the Bottom Line.

It hasn't been updated in quite a while, but check out The Bottom Line's official site here (promising a Live at the Bottom Line box set).


Down and Out In New York City

"When a cold wind comes in New, New York City. And the street's no place to be but there you are. So you try hard or die hard. No one really gives a damn to try hard. And to die hard, no one give a damn."

Written by Bodie Chandler & Barry de Vorzon, James Brown's version of "Down and Out..." originally appeared on the Black Caesar soundtrack in 1973, and was definitely one it's highlights. In a way, NYC really helped bring the Godfather to national prominence when he recorded a live album in 1962 at a certain venue on 125th Street. The success of Live At the Apollo exceeded everyone's expectations, and took JB to the next level.


Did You Ever See A Woman...

...coming out of New York City, with a frog in her hands?" Today marks the 32nd anniversary of the death of Marc Bolan...Here is his "New York City," a 1975 non-LP single from T. Rex. Rare has been the songwriter that could do so much with so little as little Mark Feld. Visit The London Nobody Sings for Bolan's "London Boys".

Listening to the New York nobody sings

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New York, I Love You

"New York, I Love You, but you're bringing me down. Like a death of the heart...Jesus, where do I start? But you're still the one pool where I'd happily drown. And oh...Take me off your mailing list for kids that think it still exists. Yes, for those who think it still exists."

"New York I love You But You're Bringing Me Down" by LCD Soundsystem could be the theme song for most of us who contribute to this blog, as well as some of our friends. It can be a daily struggle. I highly recommend the album from whence this song comes, The Sound of Silver.


Times Square's Cage

In honor of Jim Carroll, here is "Time's Square's Cage" from his 1991 album, Praying Mantis.

For your love

Something recently prompted me to revisit NYC's the Vipers. Ira Robbins sums them up nicely at Trouser Press.


Jim Carroll, 1950-2009

“When I was about 9 years old, man, I realized that the real thing was not only to do what you were doing totally great, but to look totally great while you were doing it."


Moby in Manhattan

Despite being a huge fan of several electronic artists, I was never a big fan of techno. It seemed to me like the quintessence of function over form. In the very early 90s, I was working for a tiny, independent music magazine based out of the editor's cramped apartment uptown in Yorkville. He moonlighted as a d.j. for the China Club by night. As such, I was routinely exposed to pulsing dance tracks that would later go onto be considered techno, house and acid house classics. When Moby's "Go" came out -- sampling both the theme from "Twin Peaks" and Daniel Ash from Tones on Tail's anthem of the same name -- I shrugged. Folks strenuously hipper than I waxed rhapsodic about that and subsequent Moby singles, but I remained largely unmoved. When I learned that Moby was an erudite, well-spoken former hardcore kid weaned on punk rock, I certainly had more respect for him, but it still didn't endear me to his music.

A few years later, Moby released his meisterwerk, Play in 1999 and completely blew up. Even my mother-in-law owned a copy. Moby went from being an underground sensation to a household name. Weirder still, he moved into my friend Sean's building. Actually, maybe he'd been there first, but in short order, my friend became the Mobe's neighbor. They used to see each other in the elevator and bitch about the super together etc. This was in a converted old building on swiftly-gentrifying Mott Street that had originally been built for some industrial purpose. As a result, the plumbing in the building -- not built to withstand the rigors of a residential facility -- was somewhat unpredictable. I remember going over to Sean's place one day and seeing all his furniture covered up in plastic and towels on the floor everywhere. Evidently, the night before, there'd been some sort of plumbing catastrophe and Sean's furniture ended up being sprayed with the neighboring apartment's water. In a nutshell, Sean's sofa was soaked in Moby sewage.

How this pertains to the clip below is fleeting at best. Moby has since gone onto lose a bit of his hipster credibility and arguably become a bit of a punch-line, but has continued to make his own distinctive brand of lush, emotive music (which I've since come to appreciate). I have no idea what album this track comes from, but I stumbled upon this clip yesterday, and the pairing of Moby's cinematic soundscape with this time-lapsed tribute to Manhattan is quite striking. Enjoy.

New York city portrait, HD time lapse, April 2006, music by Moby from Max Moos on Vimeo.


New York, New York

Ryan Adams, sometime resident of our fair city, states his intentions with "New York, New York." Apparently, the story with the video version is that it was shot Sept. 7, 2001. We all know what happened a few days later...


Big Star

We've been all Richard Hell of late. Which caused us to revisit the one-and-only (overlooked!) 1992 record by the Dim Stars, the supergroup featuring Thurston Moore, Steve Shelley, Don Fleming and Hell. Here's a sample.

you said something

“I held my breath” (reposted form my blog)

The only time I saw my father really cry was at his brother’s funeral. His brother died of a heart attack in his 40’s, so young. The funeral was in my uncle's neighborhood in the Bronx. I went outside the funeral parlor with my father for some air. The day was clear, the air was still, the light was familiar. Actually everything was familiar in the cool shade of brick buildings on the quiet Bronx street. The only thing odd was just how quiet it was, no distant bird calls, cars, screams of kids happy or sad. Time stood still for a moment. I was sitting on a car and my father said something to me and cried. I didn’t hear what he what he said and I didn’t dare ask. I just didn’t know what to do. I always wonder what that sentence was, what he confided in me. I know the gist, I got the feeling, but I have always wondered what those few words were. My father is gone so I can’t ask. There is a song that I love called “You said Something” by PJ Harvey. Gorgeous in every way, it reminds me of that moment outside the funeral parlor. The details are completely different. Hers is a love song and unlike me, she heard the words that were spoken. In the song, she takes you to that moment in time, but she never tells what it was that was said. Still, you are left with an understanding. I held my breath.   

"You Said Something" by PJ Harvey
On a rooftop in BrooklynOne in the morning Watching the lights flash In Manhattan I see five bridges The empire state building And you said something That I've never forgotten   We lean against railings Describing the colours And the smells of our homelands Acting like lovers How did we get here? To this point of living? I held my breath And you said something   And I am doing nothing wrong Riding in your car Your radio playing We sing up to the eighth floor A rooftop, in Manhattan One in the morning When you said something That I've never forgotten When you said something That was really important  

oh man! this song s so good. so fun to watch this version!


One Night in NYC

Waiting For the D Train

Thanks to Arthur Magazine for premiering this track from Yoko Ono and the new version of the Plastic Ono Band. Sean Lennon is in the band along with a plethora of other folks. Their new album, Between My Head and the Sky, will be out Sept. 22 on Chimera Music.

"Waiting For the D Train" is a fantastic sounding, bottom heavy, driving slice of No Wave-inspired funk. Personally, I've never been much of an Ono fan, but this sounds like it might be a train worth waiting for...


A knife, a fork...

...a bottle, and a cork. That's the way we spell New York." I have no idea what Dillinger is on about, but the important thing (besides the cocaine) is how to spell New York. This 1976 single never fails to get or keep a party moving.


Dirty Stinkin' Broadway

Alex's Bee Gees post nudged me to post this which I had coincidentally been thinking about for the last few days...Broadway...the street, the theater, the Great White Way, etc, etc...New York's own version of Hollywood Boulevard.

Everyone knows the Mann/Weil song "On Broadway." The original was updated by Lieber/Stoller (earning them a co-writing credit) to be recorded by the Drifters with huge success in 1963. It went on, of course, to be covered by many, many other folks as well. Some (George Benson namely) with a little bit more success than the Drifters.

Then came Dyke & the Blazers...one of the finest and funkiest outfits to ever roam the earth. They originated out of Buffalo NY, relocated to Phoenix AZ, and there, inspired by the similarly dubbed Broadway Road, came up with "Funky Broadway" in 1967. That same year, shortly after their release, Wilson Pickett released a version which has become the definitive version of the song to the masses.

Most likely an answer song to Dyke's hit single, New Orleans R&B vocalist Chris Kenner, best known for his hit "Land of 1000 Dances" a year or so prior, released the humorous, and very funny "Fumigate Funky Broadway" in 1967 as well.

So you can see, 1967 was a very funky year for streets called Broadway...from Phoenix to New York City, and all points in-between.


Blamin' It All ...

Personally speaking, I never considered The Bee Gees the enemy. Oh sure, growing up as a nascent rock head in my tween years during the late 70s, I'd been dutifully conditioned by my chosen subculture to hate all things disco (despite the fact that my then-favorite bands in Kiss, Queen & Pink Floyd would all cut their own disco-informed singles shortly thereafter), but I also lived in a household with an older sister. Oblivious to the narrow mores and thinly-veiled prejudices of strident rock fandom, my sister had more than her fair share of disco records, most notably the oeuvre of Donna Summer, the fabled soundtrack to "Saturday Night Fever" and several records by the brothers Gibb -- all of which she'd play regularly. I never considered that stuff a threat of any kind. My folks even had an eight-track of one of the `Gees' early, pre-disco albums, that being Idea (the cover of which used to freak me out). So while much of the the rest of the world may have reviled them, I always kinda dug the Bee Gees. It wasn't until the early 90s, however, that I realized that they were prophets.

Let's rewind a bit. In the Summer of 1992, I made the ill-considered decision to involve myself in an office romance. I was working at a glossy monthly magazine at the time -- I was in editorial, she worked in production -- what could go wrong? For a fleeting few, sweet weeks, life was good. The girl -- let's call her Faith -- rented a somewhat squalid apartment over on Upper Broadway, a neighborhood I wasn't at all familiar with. As such, Faith and I spent many a balmy, beatific summer evening strolling up and down those streets, holding hands and gazing moonily into each other's eyes. It was, of course, way too good to last.

In exceptionally short order, Faith decided that it would be a good idea for us to go back to being "friends." Needless to say, I wasn't exactly chuffed with this idea, but what choice did I have? I played nice for a while, secretly crushed that our status had changed so dramatically, but it became increasingly more difficult with each passing month. Having to work together didn't make matters any easier. During my downtime, I found myself taking entirely needless bike rides over to the Upper West Side. My friends were getting concerned. Things reached a fever pitch at the magazine's Christmas party (great choice for a confrontation, eh?) when I dramatically exclaimed my dissatisfaction with the arrangement. It did not go at all well.

Life got quite grim after that. Going to work was a heartbreaking chore. I spent most of my time sulking, listening to Nine Inch Nails' then-recently released Broken e.p. (a fitting cocktail of spite) and wallowing in self-pity. My friends tried to shake me out of it, but it was little use. I was committed to fixing what now seemed hopelessly beyond repair. When I saw Faith at the office, it was dreadful and awkward. On a good day she was passively polite. On a bad day, she was rude bordering on hostile. Still, I was hopelessly committed to putting it back to the way it was.

My friend Rob reached the end of his tether. He and some of my other comrades grabbed me by the lapels and dragged me out one evening to try to knock some sense into me. Over a meal at a cheap-o Chinese restaurant (also on Broadway) during a snowy January evening, my pals read me the riot act, trying to shock some sense into my love-clouded mind. Repairing to a nearby dive bar on Broadway, my boys crowded around me, berating my futile, torch-carrying tendencies as I pumped coins into the jukebox. I still wasn't listening. All I wanted was to get this girl back. Nothing else mattered.

Poetically, "Nights on Broadway" by the Bee Gees -- from their 1975 album, Main Course -- came trilling out of the jukebox. Sure, it's a classic, but when was the last time you really sat down and listened to it? After that rockin', piano-charged intro that sounds like the theme song to a 70's cop show, Barry Gibb and his brothers launched into an uncharacteristically dark narrative that hit me in a whole new way. If you excise that funky bass, those mellifluous harmonies, Robin Gibb's angelic falsetto and those treacly pianos in the middle-eight, what you're essentially left with is the creepy manifesto of the jilted stalker. Let's review, shall we?

Here we are
In a room full of strangers
Standing in the dark where your eyes couldn't see me

Well I had to follow you
Though you did not want me to
That won't stop my loving you
I can't stay away

Blamin' it all on the nights on Broadway
Singin' them love songs
Singin' them straight to the heart songs
Blamin' it all on the nights on Broadway
Singing them sweet sounds
To that crazy, crazy town

Now in my place
There are so many others
Standing in the line;
How long will they stand between us?

Well I had to follow you
Though you did not want me to
That won't stop my loving you
I can't stay away

Blamin' it all on the nights on Broadway
Singin' them love songs
Singin' them straight to the heart songs
Blamin' it all on the nights on Broadway
Singing them sweet sounds
To that crazy, crazy town

I will wait
Even if it takes forever
I will wait
Even if it takes a life time
Somehow I feel inside
You never ever left my side
Make it like it was before
Even if it takes a life time, takes a life time

Blamin' it all on the nights on Broadway
Singin' them love songs
Singin' them straight to the heart songs
Blamin' it all on the nights on Broadway
Singing them sweet sounds
To that crazy, crazy town

In all his grimacey days, Trent Reznor could never come up with anything as desperate and disturbing as that stuff. It seemed to come right out of the pages of John Hinkley's diary, replete with a disquieting patina of denial on the part of the high-piped protagonist. Whose fault is it? Why, it's those crazy New York City nights' fault, of course. Even more creepy, it seemed that the Bee Gees were singing my own sordid story right back to me in worryingly vivid detail. I stood at the jukebox, staring incredulously into the machine while my friends assumed comedy Travolta poses behind me. It was, as they say, a moment of clarity.

It was obviously a good deal more complicated than this, but I do feel I owe some credit to the Bee Gees in shocking me out of my self-destructive stupor of unrequited love. I moved on. Faith moved on and eventually away. We saw each other again a few years later, and I wondered how I'd ever gotten to that crazy point to begin with. Time healed the wounds. But I still don't think I could have gotten there myself had it not been for the Bee Gees.

Crank it.

Richard Hell returns to "Destiny Street"

Over at NYPress, Matt Harvey talks with Richard Hell about the remastered version of "Destiny Street," the second and last studio album by Richard Hell & The Voidoids. The redux version, called "Destiny Street Repaired," was released Tuesday and features Marc Ribot and Bill Frisell on guitar.

Meanwhile, here's an original version of the album's first track, "The Kid With The Replaceable Head."


I just wanna have something to do

Ramones New Years Eve at the Palladium on 14th street 1979/80 New York City. So many of us were there but didn’t know each other yet, right? Yes long before it was a dorm with Trader Joes beneath it, even before it was a disco, the Palladium was an amazing venue, the Academy of Music which also housed Julian's Billiard Academy. Ah, that was a time.

I was in 8th grade. I left Good Shepherd School at lunch time to take the bus up Broadway to get tickets at Broadway Records in the Bronx on 231st street. My mother even wrote me a note saying I had a doctor’s appointment and would be late after lunch, so I could get the tickets. I changed from my plaid uniform into jeans in the bathroom because I didn’t want to commit the act of buying tickets to a Ramones show in a hideous uniform. That is how much it meant to me. It was like a ritual, the joyous act of just buying the tickets. Physical tickets I held like jewels in hand, my secret in my pocket. I took them out and looked at them again and again. That’s how things used to be. I think I bought three. I had plans! On New Years Eve! To be at a cool event with cool people! In 8th grade! I was such a little kid.

They showed the film Rock and Roll High School before the band played. I thought it brilliant. In the film the band plays I Just Wanna Have Something To Do in a classic car of sorts as they drive to a show. “Hanging out on Second Avenue…..”  Joey is eating a chicken leg, and singing and Dee Dee and Johnny play their instruments while Marky hits the drumsticks together. The pure SEX,, yes SEX & LOVE & ROCK & ROLL of it! I could barely stand it. I could almost die from the greatness. Watching it now, I still see it with those 8th grade eyes. It is burned into my memory as a visceral experience that I can still almost die from. So fucking cool!

I dressed up for the big night in dark red velvet Gloria Vanderbilt Jeans skinny jeans. My shirt had some silver glittery threads in it. The show was great. I stood on my seat the whole time to see. The band played through midnight, not announcing the moment, the end of the 70’s. As we files out with the crowd, passing disco doughnuts, back to the car to head uptown, I felt so grown up. I felt so happy. I was becoming exactly what I had wanted to be.  

Bye bye Lullaby of Birdland

Chris Connor, one of my favorite jazz singers, passed away last weekend at the age of 81. Perhaps best known for the albums she recorded for the Bethlehem label in the 50's, her version of this song never fails to perk my ears up. She worked at the Birdland club quite a bit, and managed to make this well worn tune her own.

The "Nanny" diaries

If you will, a quick one from an overlooked band through the years -- the Lilys, who are basicially Kurt Heasley and anyone he anyone he happens to be working with. The band has been kicking around since 1988, dabbling in everything from the shoegazing of My Bloody Valentine to the pop idealism of The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society.

And here are the Lilys with their most well-known song, from 1996...


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