Recommended Reading

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mudd Club / TriBeCa

This ain't no party, this ain't no disco,
This ain't no fooling around
This ain't no Mudd Club, or C. B. G. B.,
I ain't got time for that now
-"Life During Wartime," Talking Heads 

As a self-proclaimed Talking Heads head, I'll admit that this week's venture turned into quite the sentimental journey. But I'll hold back the tears and leave you all with the good parts. 

Long, long ago in the early 1980's, the Mudd Club closed its doors almost as soon as it opened them. But the 5 years it spent at the corner of White Street and Cortlandt Alley brought more music to TriBeCa's nightlife than any venue ever did before.

Between the years 1978 and 1983, many punk and new wave bands emerged at the turn of the decade and performed onstage at the Mudd Club. Sonic Youth and R.E.M. were among the venue's top-billed acts, while members of Talking Heads--David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, and Jerry Harrison--were well-known regulars, both onstage and in the audience. 

Performing there in 1979, Talking Heads mention the famed nightclub in their song "Life During Wartime," which also alludes to the famous East Village venue C.B.G.B.'s (recently converted into a high-end men's boutique, John Varvatos.) Because C.B.G.B.'s had a much longer and loudly celebrated life (and still operates as an annual music & film festival) I'd prefer to draw attention to the short-lived space Mudd Club and the fascinating area surrounding it.

The space at 77 White Street occupies the corner of a very significant and rare feature of New York City--a back alley. Cortlandt Alley is one of few existing back alleys that have remained untouched by years of New York's extensive urban renewal. It is everything I'd look for in a back alley--secluded, dank, graffiti-clad. The only thing missing is a street gang making their way through while snapping their fingers in unison. (Be sure to read up on this historic alley and check out some awesome photodocumentation over at ScoutingNY.)

FUN FACT: Throwing it back to one of my first posts ever, where I profiled a falafel shop mentioned in a song by New York band Vampire Weekend. The same fellows shot an incredibly awesome music video for their hit song "Cousins" in this very alley! So cool!

I love this song, because it has that classic manic quality that Talking Heads exudes in song (and dance.) The song is a musical jet engine, held together by Frantz on the drums, Weymouth on bass, and Harrison on the guitar, and Byrne on vocals while doing aerobic jogging motions.The lyrics, while maybe slightly hyperbolic in their comparison of rock & roll to fighting a war, convey some fantastic imagery of tour life on the road. Though I'm a far cry from a punk rocker, I can't help but feel their description of the sheer madness and foreignness that comes with being away from home, away from the usual stomping grounds like the Mudd Club.

I geek out so hard when I see old doorways like the one above, where I can imagine so many awesome bands made their way in and out, loading and unloading the instruments they'd use to put on legendary performances.

And now, darling readers, what is your favorite NYC music venue--past or present?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Hotel Chelsea / Chelsea

"Sara, Sara
It's all so clear, I could never forget
Sara, Sara
Loving you is the one thing I'll never regret.

I can still hear the sounds of those Methodist bells
I'd taken the cure and had just gotten through
Staying up for days in the Chelsea Hotel
Writing 'Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands' for you

Sara, Sara
Wherever we travel we're never apart
Sara, Sara
Beautiful lady, so dear to my heart."
-"Sara," Bob Dylan

Honestly, the only thing more dismal than the present appearance of the Hotel Chelsea is its track record of tragedies in the world of wandering poets. The hotel seems to have been a haven for the lost sheep of Greenwich Village, most memorably Leonard Cohen who penned the famous "Chelsea Hotel No. 2" which details the singer's not-so-romantic rendezvous with the late Janis Joplin. It was at the Hotel Chelsea that Dylan Thomas, who once famously roared, "rage, rage against the dying light!" died of alcohol intoxication. And perhaps the hotel's most "rock & roll" story of all was the downfall of Nancy Spungeon who was stabbed to death by her boyfriend, the one and only Sid Vicious, who all but lived up to his name.

And just when everyone thought that there was nowhere left to go but up, the hotel went to shambles and closed its doors to the public in 2011. Today, the scaffolding which embraces the empty edifice has all the charm of a mental asylum. When I dared to enter the front door I was greeted with the temporary doorman's furrowed brow and thundering voice: "We're closed." Indeed, it is hard to believe that this very building, erected in 1883, was once the high-brow and glamorous landmark that inspired the very name of its surrounding neighborhood.

Thankfully, good old Bob Dylan put the bohemian splendor of this hotel into words before old age came in like a Miley Cyrus on a wrecking ball. As always, we can count on Zimmy's sing-songy stories to remind us of times and places we've never experienced, and we trust him enough to believe every word. As much as I am fascinated and disturbed by the dark times and the devilry that took place in this hotel, I am settled by this beautiful testament of love, fated though it was, that graced a moment in Bob Dylan's life and made this place a home to something other than death and drugs (although one cannot be too optimistic that the latter was not totally uninvolved in the story.)

Even if the hotel has been stripped of its placeholder in the artistic world, there is still music in the air today. I needed only to walk a couple doors down from the hotel to see this winsome little hole-in-the-wall, a used-guitar shop that Leonard and Bobby could very well have jammed at together had they crossed paths in the early 1990's on a day off with nothing to do and a little time on the hands for some freewheelin'. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Forsyth and Bowery / Lower East Side

"We were standing 
At Forsythe and Bowery,
Flowers and painted forehead
Trying to forget

You can't tell if the ceiling's rising
Or if the floor's falling out.

At the time I wasn't with you
By that time I didn't care"

-"Bowery," Local Natives

This week's visit took me to Sarah Roosevelt Park which falls between Chrystie and Forsyth, skirting the north and south of the Lower East Side. It's a beautiful stretch down Forsyth Street, but my heart tells me it was no walk in the park that inspired the lyrics of "Bowery" by Local Natives.

 The song is achingly personal, much like the rest of the album, which is a window into darker times for the band. Kelcey Ayer, vocalist, keyboardist, and lyricist, shared that together they were wracked with the loss of Ayer's mother, the departure of their bassist Andy Hamm, and relationship troubles, following their debut album Gorilla Manor. The beautiful byproduct of these troubled times came to be called Hummingbird.

It was a day of pink blossoms and blue skies with white clouds, strikingly reminiscent of the background and color palette of the Hummingbird album cover (which you can see on the playlist I've created to supplement blog posts.)

Interestingly enough, there is no corner of Forsyth and Bowery. Perhaps the lyrics refer to two separate corners, or, most likely, they refer to the Bowery area, rather than Bowery Street. Above is the corner of Forsyth looking down Rivington Street and below is the corner of Forsyth and Delancey Street. While I do not know this to be fact, I imagine that the lyrics refer to the corner pictured below, because Delancey Street runs along the Bowery, and the Bowery Ballroom, where the band has performed, sits at the corner of Delancey Street and Bowery Street. This corner is very central in the LES, and is brushed closely with the bustling nightlife. I'm sure many memories are made here.

I stopped to take a photo of the sky on my way to the Essex subway station. From where I stood, it looked like this white dagger seemed to end somewhere on Forsyth. I don't know, it just seemed symbolic, and a little bit sad.

There is not much for me to say, as the broken relationship in "Bowery" is not mine to explain. 
But because pieces of this experience have been shared and immortalized into art, there's a sense of beckoning by them to be heard. Likewise the sights described in the song seem so ready to be beheld. I feel honored at the invitation to ache alongside this band. 
It's amazing how intimate music can be, how committed artists are to their craft in sickness, in health, joy, and sorrow. And I vouch that their loving listeners feel exactly the same way.