Lately I've been feeling not exactly discouraged but 'slackened'-- maybe I'm coming off the cruel backlash of April, but the spirit of May has felt more like a nagging hangover than a renaissance. The indignities of our political climate are being swallowed down like the shitty mediocre coffee we've all come to accept here... one tweet from some useless celebrity talking head, and the crowd sway seems to drown out all protest. The spring art auctions used to cheer me up-- but now it's all a huge manipulated hedge fund... who needs the tax burdens and massive maintenance issues of real estate when they can buy and sell for millions per square inch? Much more practical... and you get your name out there not just in the tabloids, but the mainstream media.
So many of my beloved old venues have shut down, having given up trying to keep their heads above encroaching debt-water. I have fewer gigs, and can ill-afford going much anywhere with a door. Restaurants don't appreciate food stamps. My overnight inspiration feels sorely moot and underappreciated. I stray--- like a sad old lamb. I readily confess to binging on familiar television noir films, but when those run out-- I admit I have recently discovered Sex in the City. Yes-- me, who shunned Seinfeld, Friends-- every other sitcom in their time... I've found something addicting in viewing the version of 'ruined' New York I snubbed in the 90's. Compared to what we get now-- it looks decent. Obviously others have discovered this, too, apparently, because it seems to be on 24/7 in endless loops.
Of course, each generation had its own version of urban life--- the 'ripe' adult phase-- your girlfriends and roommates-- the inappropriate affairs... the intoxicating hurricane cultures and fads.... bars and restaurants, clubs-- infinite entertainments of menus, club music, art galleries. Things were being invented nightly... men were plentiful and you could go uptown or downtown-- upscale or slummy/grungy... there was nothing like being on your own, with safety in numbers... and people were wide-eyed and alive-- not buried in their phones and texting. We danced and yelled and sang and ate and ran around streets which still felt historic and important and yet new.
What I've discovered, twenty-something years later, is the 'vintage-lite' appeal of this show-- well, the girl-gang thing, a non-familial and more intelligent form of Kardashianism-- but also a certain marketing of New York to the rest of the world who peered in with fascination and voyeurism. How many girls spent their salaries on shoe collections and longed for a West Village studio and a newspaper column? Or the old-school Park Avenue husband? The jogs and horseback rides in Central Park, cafes and bookstores, club openings, new restaurants... billboards on buses, New York Times reviews...these things have changed. The internet has changed most everything. And New York-- well, the local celebrities and eccentrics have all but disappeared in the whitewash of social media.
I sound like an old person now, and I am. Maybe I failed to 'get' what everyone else got, immersed as I had been in my Proust and Jean Genet and David Foster Wallace... but I guess what I'm saying is I would gladly take this SITC version of New York over what we have now. The early episodes still feature landlines and answering machines... cigarettes in bars, couples actually looking at one another over dinner-- taxis-- labels and not brands-- video rental stores and Tower Records...coffee shops... it's 'new' nostalgia but it beats what we're getting today.
In the 90's I had many visitors from Scandinavia who obsessed over the 60's and the roots of American rock and roll. They wandered around Greenwich village looking for Bob Dylan's footprints and Jimi Hendrix's old apartments. They photographed places where Allen Ginsberg had drank and read, visited CBGB's and bought Patti Smith books. I tolerated their hero worship with my 'been there, done that' attitude... after all-- I'd been at Newport in the 60's and met John Lennon several times... I am/was a true New Yorker.
Earlier this week a young couple from Norway visited. One of them had never been to America. He is a renowned but not rich guitarist and she is an artist. In order to afford the lowest fare level and a one-star hotel for 3 nights, he worked painting houses and gardening. They arrived during the worst spring weather I've seen in years-- a stubborn nor'easter pattern which spread a 3-day pall of cold rain and cloud-cover over the city like a punishment. It was funereal and depressing. For a tourist budget which allows for little more than self-directed walking tours and street food, it was a wash. There were rats in their dark room and the communal bathrooms smelled of sewage. Visibility was low on the bridges; the Empire State building seemed to evaporate in the fog. I can't remember a drearier Mother's Day; I wore a fleece coat and watched basketball playoffs with my son in a local bar; everyone seemed muted and cold.
The Norwegians showed up at my Monday night gig, where we old rockers were doing our best to keep up an electric tradition. I can't even buy anyone a drink these days; at least there was no cover... but I had to resist the urge to apologize on behalf of my city. The presidential American shame is bad enough--- but here we all were--- downtown on the Lower East Side... and I was hard pressed to muster a little rock-and-roll joy and to keep myself from talking about the good old days. It is what it is, my guitar player says, as we headed west toward the ailing nighttime trains, past the stores and spaces of what used to be... thinking about the concept of future shock and the reality that every three months Downtown morphs and sheds another skin. I used to guide people through architecture and galleries, down streets; even the Metropolitan Museum is now wearing a Play It Loud banner like an old seer dressed in young man's clothing. I no longer belong anywhere except my own apartment. I wondered how this couple processed the city-- the dream they'd had-- the streets of gold vinyl and talent-- the art and the poetry and the grit now a slick modified vision of pseudo-luxury and bling... the unwholesome smell of over-taxed sewers and wet garbage and the omnipresent homeless-- soaken and broken and swollen.
So I failed in my usual role of tour-guide and old-cultural liaison. They looked cold and hungry and bewildered from their miserable trek in what seemed like winter rain. They came looking for paradise-- a souvenir honeymoon to remember for all time from the Scandinavian countryside, and found a shrouded, subdued island in the midst of an urban identity crisis. Was it the nor'easter that spoiled the dream or was this just a meteorologic excuse for something that has long evaporated except for in late-night television re-runs? I wanted to cry and only hoped, from my cold but dry bed last night, they had enough love between them to have a little sex in the city.