A GUEST POSTING FROM ECHORICH &
JONNY THE FRIENDLY LAWYER
The Streets of Your Town
Manhattan seems like a huge place but the actual acreage is minuscule — you’re constantly traversing the same routes. Live there long enough and you establish a regular orbit limited to a couple of square miles that you might not stray from for months at a time. That’s okay: turns out there’s a magic spell, lucky charm and pot of gold hidden every ten steps in the city. For this reason, particular streets, blocks and even corners have more happening than your average American suburb. Also for this reason there are as many songs about single streets as anywhere else in the world. Here are some of our favorites.
1. 14th St. Beat – Sylvain Sylvain.
JTFL: When I finally moved to Gotham it was into a studio apartment at 7 W. 14th Street, just off 5th Ave. (\For those unfamiliar with Manhattan, 14th street runs straight across Greenwich Village, river to river; Fifth Avenue bisects most of the island from the top of Central Park at 110th down to 8th Street. From my front door you could see the Lonestar Cafe on the corner of 13th, with its 30-foot iguana on the roof. (That block was later torn down to make way for the magnificent facilities of The New School). Westward to the corner of 14th and 7th Ave. was The Homestead, an infamous mafia steak house. Cadillacs parked three deep and pinkie rings the size of golf balls on display. If you headed east a few blocks past Union Square to 14th and 3Rd. Ave. you’d find the Palladium, one of the best music venues in the city. (That’s the stage of the Palladium on which Paul Simonon is smashing his bass on the cover of London Calling). I moved in August 1, 1981 and turned 18 two weeks later. It was like going to heaven. Or Oz. Sylvain Sylvain had already written the soundtrack two years earlier.
ER: Sylvain was always my favorite Doll. He always looked the most comfortable in rouge and lipstick and seemed to walk with much more ease in stilettos. This was not only a college radio favorite in 80-81, but crossed over to FM Rock radio a bit. The sound of subway trains pulling into 14th street stations brings back so many memories of Saturdays spent traveling in from Queens and rising from the subterranean other world of NYC Transit to the bright sunshine and ever growing blight that was Union Square back in those days…I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything…
2. 17th St. – Gil Scott-Heron.
JTFL: Still down in the Village. “If you’re looking for excitement you may need only look next door/if you thinking’ bout the Spirit an’ you want to get near it/c’mon c’mon and get down down down. Any questions?
ER: 17th Street on the far Westside is the land of the Fulton Houses and on the Eastside it’s the entrance into Stuyvesant Village. These massive complexes housed families in need of lower income housing, artists, musicians and all the hangers on that The Projects attract to its streets and courtyards. Gil Scott-Heron’s tribute captures the wonderful cultural and artistic mix you could find in these places, the latin, jazz and rock sounds coming from open windows Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. Sure, you might take your life in your hands if you didn’t belong and stayed too long, but these places, 40 years later, are still a microcosm of NYC.
3. 53rd & 3rd – Ramones.
JTFL: Here’s the corner where Dee Dee supposedly turned tricks to support his heroin habit. Not sure if that really happened, but the spot was verifiably notorious as the city’s site of male prostitution. Which is weird, come to think of it, because it’s in mid-town — not the west Village which was the epicenter of gay NYC. It’s close to the 59th St. Bridge off ramp so maybe it was easy to get away from? Dunno — I only sell my ass as a lawyer!
ER: A Ramones Classic for me. When I first heard 53rd & 3rd I will admit I didn’t realize it was about hustlers turning tricks on what was NYC’s most notorious Rough Trade pick up location. This is probably one of Ramones most self-deprecating song, and some of Dee Dee’s most infamous lyrics.
4. Avenue B – Major Thinkers.
JTFL: I have a super soft spot in my heart for Avenue B because my band, Chronic Citizens, shared an AWESOME rehearsal space at 4th and B with a bunch of downtown scenesters: Ritual Tension, Film at 11, the Honeymoon Killlers–who would morph into the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion–and the Reverb Motherfuckers. The space was like a submarine: long, narrow and airless, the walls lined to the ceiling with amps and, for no good reason, a poster of Ace Frehley swinging a smoking Les Paul. Before every rehearsal we’d go the bodega on the corner and buy two El Presidente beers for $1 and a string of Santeria beads if we were feeling unlucky. Up the block on the corner of 7th and B the Horseshoe Bar still sits; it was used as a location for the movies ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Five Corners’. (Almost got killed in there once, but that’s another story.) Iggy Pop and Gogol Bordello both have songs called Avenue B, but this track by the unheralded Major Thinkers gets the nod because it hit the clubs in 1981 just when I got there myself. The Thinkers later became Black 47.
ER: The sound of Downtown Manhattan was changing rapidly in 1980 and 1981. Rap, Hardcore, Synth music were all making inroads in what was, for the most part, a really straightforward Rock and Punk scene on the surface. The DIY culture was in full bloom and younger artists and bands began to stretch the boundaries of sounds. Taking a simple drum machine pattern, throwing some layers of polyrhythmic live drums and a bone crushing bass with a Ventures guitar riff and a Terrace Shouting lyric and Major Thinkers had a perfect Pogoing classic on their hands.
5. Avenue A – The Dictators.
JTFL: Yer basic rock ‘n roll from another downtown stalwart, the Dictators. I have an even softer spot for Avenue A because it was the location of my only (modest) musical triumph: a record release party. It’s cool to have played CB’s and the Knitting Factory and everything, but everyone played those clubs at some point. Our gig at the Pyramid Club, on Avenue A and 7th at the southwest corner of Tompkins Square Park, was a different story — coveted Thursday night headline slot, full house, great show, people singing along — we even made money. (Followed by a weird episode in an S&M club, but that’s also another story.) Two weeks later I took the NY bar exam and that was the end of my music career. Two weeks after that the Tompkins Square Riots took place. The cops came in swinging batons, name tags removed and badge numbers covered. I dipped out when the bacon arrived on horseback, but they beat up a bunch of my friends who couldn’t get out fast enough.
ER: Metal Gods in their minds – well certainly in Handsome Dick Manitoba’s mind, and in reality Proto-Punks that had the respect of Rockers and Punks alike when I was growing up in NYC. My favorite Handsome Dick story involves one two many Jack + Cokes and a short staircase down from the VIP Room at Limelight. Missing the first step, he managed to staircase surf down two landings without planting his face on the floor. THAT takes experience.
6. Great Jones Street – Luna.
JTFL: A quieter number by a quiet band about a quiet street. Great Jones is actually 3rd street between Broadway and the Bowery. The term “Jonesing” supposedly comes from this short stretch of turf, which used to be a junkie precinct. That may be an urban legend, although it’s true that Jean-Michel Basquiat OD’ed at number 57, a converted stable owned by Andy Warhol. Across the street at number 54 the Great Jones Cafe is still up and running. It’s just a little block with a lot of character; somehow peaceful and isolated despite sitting between two major North-South throughways. Don Deliilo wrote a novel called Great Jones Street and that’s what Luna’s song is about.
ER: Luna have a knack for taking their brand of Dreampop and infusing it with an arty Downtown NYC vibe that really REALLY has its origins in the sounds of The Velvets. Hell, they even supported the reformed Velvets between their first and second albums. They took it to the next level by having original VU member Sterling Morrison guest on guitar on Great Jones Street. The lyrics of Great Jones Street really speak to the “walking in place” that many artists and musicians find themselves doing when they get to NYC chasing their muse, searching for fortune or fame. But it’s also about how the simple things become so important and desirous when we find love. Setting the piece on the rooftops of Greenwich Village is simply romantic and truly bohemian.
7. St. Marks Place – Earl Slick.
JTFL: St. Marks is another stretch of blocks: 8th Street between 3rd Ave. and Ave. A. It had the best pizza place in lower Manhattan, Sounds record store, the Holiday Lounge, Trash & Vaudeville and countless other hipster shops, bars and tattoo joints. (It’s kind of the equivalent of King’s Road in London.) The cover of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti shows 96 and 98 St. Marks — Mick Jagger and Peter Tosh are sitting on the stoop of these exact buildings in the video for the Stones’ ‘Waiting on a Friend’. The back cover of the NY Dolls’ first album shows the band standing in front of the Gem Spa at the corner of St. Marks and 2nd Ave. I wonder how many folks recognize that Earl Slick is a NY pun: “earl” would be how you pronounced “oil” in Brooklynese. Frank Madeloni is, in fact, a Brooklyn boy, and made good as one of many guitar heroes that recorded with Bowie. You can hear him giving it the full StationtoStation as he just burns down the lead on this track. He’s joined on vocals by the Motels’ Martha Davis.
ER: Of all the places to hang out and grow up in Lower Manhattan, no other street had the magnetism that St. Mark’s Place did. St. Marks from Cooper Square traveling east was a young teen Punk/New Waver’s Mecca. We prayed in the direction of Trash & Vaudeville Boutique – where I bought my first pair of Doc Martens and a silver shark skin suit to graduate high school, sat on the steps of No. 96-98 St. Mark’s Place making fun of the fact that Led Zeppelin captured the building on the cover of Physical Graffiti – any Punk Teen’s least favorite album (except for maybe Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon). I used to hang around Manic Panic as a 15 year old helping owners Tish and Snooky unpack boxes and set up shelves. My favorite record store was on Second Ave. just around the corner from St. Marks – Freebeing Records. The owner seemed to be the most unapproachable, hardcore, punk/ex-con, but in reality he was a really affable, knowledgeable music lover who seemed to have on Tuesday what was released on Monday in the UK. Like every neighborhood with its own micro-culture, by the late 80’s “high street” stores like The Gap and Crunch Fitness started popping up. But my favorite experience on St. Mark’s Place was a summer afternoon with a few friends. I was walking backwards so I could talk to them about something that had me excited. Oblivious to where I was going, I saw my friends begin to slow down and mouths open as I was still at my walking/talking gait when I suddenly crashed into someone knocking them to the ground. I turned around immediately to find I had just knocked Patti Smith flat on her back. I was frozen, SHE was dazed, and my friends rushed to her aid. She got herself up, literally brushed herself off and walked up to me and said sorry TO ME! I immediately went into an apology babble which I have still not quite lived down and by the end of it all, Patti was asking US what we were up to and where we were going. She told us to walk down to Avenue B to have lunch at a little Polish diner – which we did and thus a legend was written.
8. Ludlow Street – Julian Casablancas.
JTFL: I never understood why The Strokes were seen as rock’s new saviors when they arrived. Their songs are kind of basic and they suck in concert. I do like Casablancas’ voice, however, and he uses it nicely on this track, even if he still hasn’t figured out how to program that sorry drum machine. Ludlow was one of the city’s hippest streets on the lower east side. In the mid-80’s, before the neighborhood became insufferably gentrified, my sister waitressed at The Hat – a Mexican restaurant on the corner of Ludlow and Stanton. She said the yuppies tipped better if you were rude to them. As Soho became more posh, the scene moved further downtown and Ludlow was the new ground zero of an artist’s community (which has since moved to the outer boroughs). I’m not too nostalgic about it, despite the fact that all four of my grandparents were born just blocks away from there. Pretty good panoramic view of the corner of Ludlow and Rivington on the cover of the Beastie Boys’ LP Paul’s Boutique.
ER: Ok, so I have to shake my head here. I am in the “I HATE THE STROKES” camp and I’m probably in an even bigger “No Time For Julian Casablancas” detractor. So let’s talk about Ludlow Street. Of all the streets on the Lower East Side, Ludlow is one that boasts the highest percentage of artists and musicians that I can think of. Lou Reed, John Cale and Sterling Morrison all lived on Ludlow, recorded on Ludlow as well. A few of Warhol’s Superstars found apartments on Ludlow. It was also the center for New York’s No Wave scene. But what Ludlow is most important for in my mind is the location of Katz’s Deli at the corner of Ludlow and Houston Street. It is the palace of kosher Pastrami and hot dogs. It’s where Sally faked an orgasm for Harry and it’s where I seem to find myself every trip back to NYC.
9. Eighth Avenue – Hospitality.
JTFL: I’m expecting folks won’t be too familiar with newish Brooklyn outfit Hospitality — as this series progresses I hope to introduce music that’s not so well known. I like how Amber Papini’s high, breathy voice floats over the song and I like the pretty acoustic passing chords. In the song she walks 20 blocks to 44th and Eighth Avenue, which would be where Hell’s Kitchen approaches the theater district. She plays cards on the roof (naturally). It’s kind of a sentimental picture that shows how you can be alone and reflective in the middle of all the action.
ER: This track brings back a certain nostalgia I have for “the old” Times Square and Hell’s Kitchen. It was the time before Rudy Giuliani sold off midtown to Disney and the area lost all sense of itself. The Eighth Avenue of my youth was a seedy mix of prostitutes and young hustlers in tight jeans and Converse sneakers. It was a land of seedy dive bars and hole in the wall restaurants. The street was filled with yellow taxis and delivery trucks. Anyone driving up Eighth Avenue in their car was obviously not from NYC. I would eventually end up working on Broadway and 44th Street after college and Eighth Avenue was a bit of an afterwork playground.
10. Slaughter On Tenth Avenue – Mick Ronson.
ER: Tenth Avenue slices Manhattan’s West Side from the Meat Packing District until it morphs into Amsterdam Ave at 59th Street. It is a thoroughfare that is a main artery through Chelsea and Times Square. It is that special mix of tenements, storefront businesses, manufacturers and warehouses that defines many neighborhoods in lower half of Manhattan Island. It can be gritty, soulful, dangerous and familial. It is a perfect slice of New York City. Ronson named his first solo album after the song/dance sequence from the 1930’s On Your Toes. He is faithful to the Richard Rogers original in capturing the allure of the hustle and bustle, the dangers and darkness of this most urban section of NYC. Ronson, with the help of Mike Garson and Trevor Bolder, adds some of the Glam dramatics so deftly provided to David Bowie to this epic instrumental.
JTFL: Agree 100% with ER; 10th Ave. remains one of the most essential NYC north-south strips despite the constantly changing nature of the town. The action in the 1930’s musical concerns a murder on the upper west side. But 10th means something different to me. From the windows of my 11th floor apartment in Chelsea I could see a stretch of disused elevated rail tracks, rusting in place since the 1940’s. Over time that little strip, twenty feet above the street, developed its own ecosystem and wildlife. Somebody smart turned it into The Highline, an open air promenade with a view of the Hudson and now a major city park and tourist attraction, on par with the Arch in Washington Square.
5th Avenue – Gold Panda.
An electronic number for those in the TnVV crowd that appreciate this sort of thing, like my kids.
M79 – Vampire Weekend.
M79 isn’t a street; it’s a bus route. This is the bus you’d take going back and forth from the upper east side, through Central Park to the upper west side, then back again. Everyone knows that the subway is the fastest way to get around town (Take the ‘A’ Train!). But, after daily journeys crammed into the electric sewer with a million of your sweaty, agitated neighbors, sometimes it’s a luxury to take a little extra time and ride the bus. You get a unique view of the streets, perched up a good six feet off the pavement. The different perspective and more leisurely pace engenders daydreaming, especially if you’re riding through the park, and that’s what’s going on in this tune.
Readers will notice that all of the songs in this post concern the little/big island of Manhattan. ER and I aren’t ignoring NYC’s four other boroughs, just getting ready to sing their songs a little down the road…
Jonny and Echorich