FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

New York City, Just Like I Pictured It…

by RON JACOBS

My stated reason for being in New York in 1973 was to go to school, but my real intent was to immerse myself in leftist politics and rock and roll culture.  Almost every weekend I headed to the Village and Lower East Side in search of weed and music or politics.  There were plenty of protests even after the heyday of 1968-1972 and the issues were still the same.  Imperialism, war, poverty, racism and police brutality.  The music, however, was starting to change.  There were rumblings of something new in the dives and occasional street fair.  I remember seeing a band (I think it was the New York Dolls or their predecessor) near St. Mark’s Place one Saturday afternoon.  I was not into the poor quality of the music, but found the presentation fascinating and unlike anything I had seen before.  Still, though, my primary musical preferences were Bob Dylan, the Stones, Grateful Dead and the Beatles.

One weekend a friend and I saw a poster for a rock show at the Hotel Diplomat near Times Square.  The show featured a woman whose book of poetry I had just bought on the Lower East Side. The book was called Witt and the poet’s name was Patti Smith. The show I remember I remember because of Smith. The hotel I remember because it’s where Abbie Hoffmann got busted for coke and then went underground.12282

I was a scholarship student at Fordham University in the Bronx.  So was almost everyone else on the floor of my dorm.  There were only a couple of us white-skinned guys on that floor.  The rest were Puerto Rican and African-American.  I heard more salsa than I knew existed.  Smoking pot, discussing Marxism and Eddie Palmieri was how I spent many Saturday nights.  Sometimes, nobody in the dorm would go home for the weekend.  On those weekends, the music leaking under the dorm room doors with the pot smoke included the Allman Brothers, the aforementioned Palmieri, Earth, Wind & Fire, Sly & the Family Stone, the Dead and Bob Dylan.  I left New York after seven short months.  A floormate from Teaneck, NJ had just introduced me to a new band on the scene known as Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.  I saw him in Maryland a few months later.

The changes I felt were soon to rule the world of popular music.  This is the story rock music writer Will Hermes tells in his 2011 book Love Goes to Buildings On Fire: Five Years in New York City That Changed Music Forever.  Recently released for the first time in paperback, Hermes’ text is more than a look at music in New York.  It is a history of the city during the period covered that rarely mentions economics and politics yet ekes them.  From the steamy street of the South Bronx and the future that would become hip-hop to the steamier bathhouses and clubs in lower Manhattan that became world-famous dens of disco, Hermes relates his tale.  Like his namesake, he carries the message that punk rock shouted and salsa sang.  The period herein may have been the last time New York mattered as much as it did in the world of popular culture.  Jay-Z may still be there, but there is no creative center any more.  In fact, the dispersion of that center into the global world may have been the unforeseen result of the bands, beats, and jazzmen Hermes writes about so wonderfully.

Lurking behind Hermes’ tales of Patti Smith and Richard Hell; Afrika Bambaata and David Murray; and the multitude of others that star in this book is the spectre of corporate greed destroying culture and pretty much anything else it touched. Indeed, this included an attempt by Gerald Ford and Donald Rumsfeld to make Manhattan default.  Yet, while this attempt to force austerity on the world’s cultural capital ultimately succeeded only partially, the mélange of cultural mixes did create what became termed world music.

This is a book about Debbie Harry and Eddie Palmieri; Bruce Springsteen and Grandmaster Flash; Abe Beame and CBGBs;   Miles Davis and Anthony Braxton. It’s a book about the clubbers and the brothers and sisters attending the DJ contests in the Bronx and the punkers bleeding in the Bowery.  The names are so familiar that some are forgotten.  The cover art is by Mark Stamaty, formerly of the Village Voice (back before Murdoch destroyed it).  He is also the author and illustrator of one of my favorite children’s books, Who Needs Donuts?  The drawings he does are cartoonish, encompassing and busy, as if he was on stimulants.  They are the artistic representation of the story Hermes has written down.  In a nutshell, that story is about the birth of hip hop via the transition of the beat; the C-section that was punk and the future of rock and roll that was Bruce Springsteen.  Love Goes to Buildings On Fire isn’t about passing a torch.  It’s about that torch enveloping the past and the future of popular music in its flames.

Ron Jacobs is the author of the forthcoming novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Did the Elites Have Martin Luther King Jr. Killed?
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Clobbers Ocean Life
Patrick Cockburn
The Terrifying Parallels Between Trump and Erdogan
Kenneth Surin
The Neoliberal Stranglehold on the American Public University
Lawrence Davidson
Is There a Future for the Democratic Party?
Douglas Valentine
Who Killed MLK Jr?
Robert Fisk
The Foreign Correspondent in the Age of Twitter and Trump
Dale Bryan
“Where Do We Go from Here?”
David Swanson
The Deep State Wants to Deep Six Us
Dan Bacher
Obama Administration Orders Speedy Completion of Delta Tunnels Plan
Mark Weisbrot
Obama Should Make Sure that Haitian Victims of UN-Caused Cholera are Compensated
Winslow Myers
The Light of the World
Bruce Mastron
My Latest Reason to Boycott the NFL: Guns
Weekend Edition
January 13, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Gregory Elich
Did the Russians Really Hack the DNC?
Jeffrey St. Clair
The President Who Wasn’t There: Barack Obama’s Legacy of Impotence
Anthony DiMaggio
Ethics Fiasco: Trump, Divestment and the Perversion of Executive Politics
Joshua Frank
Farewell Obummer, Hello Golden Showers
Paul Street
Hit the Road, Barack: Some Farewell Reflections
Vijay Prashad
After Aleppo: the State of Syria
John Wight
Russia Must be Destroyed: John McCain and the Case of the Dodgy Dossier
Rob Urie
Meet the Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
The Russian Dossier Reminds Me of the Row Over Saddam’s WMDs
Eric Sommer
U.S.-China War: a Danger Hidden from the American People
Andrew Levine
Are Democrats Still the Lesser Evil?
Linda Pentz Gunter
What’s Really Behind the Indian Point Nuclear Deal?
Robert Fantina
Trucks, ‘Terror’ and Israel
Richard Moser
Universal Values are Revolutionary Values
Russell Mokhiber
Build the Bagdikian Wall: “Sponsored News” at the Washington Post
Yoav Litvin
Establishment Narcissism – The Democrats’ Game of Thrones
David Rosen
Return of the Repressed: Trump & the Revival of the Culture Wars
Robert Koehler
War Consciousness and the F-35
Rev. William Alberts
The New Smell of McCarthyism Demands Faith Leaders Speak Truth to Power
John Laforge
Federal Regulator Halts Move to Toughen Radiation Exposure Limits
Norman Pollack
Farewell Address: Nazification of Hope
David Swanson
Imagine the Confirmation Hearing for Secretary of Peace
CJ Hopkins
Why Ridiculous Official Propaganda Still Works
Ron Jacobs
Striking in Reagan Time
Missy Comley Beattie
The Streep
Graham Peebles
Climate Change: The Potential Impacts of Collective Inaction
Uri Avnery
Confessions of a Megalomaniac
Kenneth Worles
Black Without a Home: King’s Dream Still Deferred
Geoff Dutton
The Russian Patsy
Jill Richardson
The Coming War on Regulations
Jeremy Brecher
Resisting the Trump Agenda is Social Self-Defense
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail