Early in May, I returned to a company office to work for the first time since March 2020. The company I worked for at the time is headquartered in Times Square.
The earliest express bus that comes through my neighborhood arrived at 6 a.m. and it was at about half capacity—pre pandemic this bus would often be close to full capacity, even at that early hour.
Times Square is never empty, but the crowds did not meet the massive levels that were typical in the time before COVID-19. That will likely start to change as NYC declares a larger reopening. In the few weeks I’ve been working a few days in the office, the crowds in the streets have been getting larger.
New York’s reopening is picking up steam, there’s still a lot of damage assessment going on in real time. The go-to salad place across Broadway in Times Square I was hoping to visit shut down; luckily, the Times Deli on 44th near Broadway survived, as have several halal carts. But some places are gone and not coming back for a while, and those places that are open are in some cases struggling to find workers.
I switched jobs in mid-June and the company I work for is smaller and not pushing people back to the office. I usually go into the new office once per week, and that’s because I have band rehearsal in midtown Manhattan. This past week, I ventured into Manhattan after hours because someone at my new job is leaving, and there was a farewell party for him at a bar. It was the first-time meeting some of the coworkers I had been working with for three weeks.
Connolly’s Pub on 47th Street near Madison Ave. was doing good business on a Wednesday night. They were short-staffed but their harried waiters were working hard to keep up. I saw few customers wearing masks. More than two decades ago, I went to Connolly’s to see Black 47 ring in the Year 2000. If the Y2K threat—a threat that seems trivial and quaint compared to the problems of today—was going to wipe out civilization as we knew it, I was going to out with a pint in my hand and rocking Irish rebel tunes ringing in my ears.
And it may be many more months before I work in an office with any regularity with my new coworkers. The “hybrid” working model of combining home and office work should become the “new normal” of the post pandemic world. Things were headed in that direction before Wuhan bat stew threw the globe into a tizzy, and the model was proven during the past year and a half of lockdowns. Especially now as people see opportunity to leave their current jobs, companies are going to compete for workers and those trying to push people back to the office will be on the losing side when other things appear equal.
It was interesting from a corporate perspective to see how different companies handled the “back to work” question. More modern tech companies like Facebook quickly gave employees the option of working from home for as long as they wanted. It was more old-school companies like JPMorgan that have been pushing for people to come back to the office.
As before, cultural life is the vanguard of New York’s general wellbeing. If people feel safe enough to cram themselves into Broadway theater seats, we’ve entered the post-pandemic world. Broadway is reopening slowly, with different productions coming back at different times.
Free Shakespeare in the parks has returned to the Delacorte in Central Park and in Queens the Hip to Hip Theatre Company announced they have approval for in-person performances from Actors’ Equity and will be performing productions of Twelfth Night and Antony & Cleopatra. That’s good news for a city that needs it.
Live music is coming back as well. In May I went to the first live music show in nearly a year and a half at the Shillelagh Tavern in Astoria. The bands were great, and it was a catharsis to feel the blast of the music and see people I hadn’t seen in person in so long. I’m happy to report that Blackout Shoppers already have two shows booked for August. Every week it feels great to rehearse and make music. We were able to take our girls roller skating at an outdoor rink on Father’s Day at the TWA Hotel, where I actually used to go to work some days when it was still an airport terminal. One more outing in the emerging world.
There’s not going to be a sudden flip of the switch to reset our world back to normal; we’re going to have to work and scrape and put it back together ourselves. Our work is cut out for us, but it is underway.
This year has seen the departure of some great musicians: Little Richard, Charlie Daniels, Neil Peart from Rush, Frankie Banali of Quiet Riot and W.A.S.P., Fleetwood Mac cofounder Peter Green, Power Trip lead singer Riley Gale, the list goes on.
Walter Lure’s passing is a loss that hits home for music fans, especially punk rock fans. Lure was one of the founders of The Heartbreakers, the band led by former New York Dolls Guitarist Johnny Thunders. The Heartbreakers were immensely influential in shaping punk rock. Lure helped write many of the band’s most famous songs and was part of the vanguard that brought punk rock to the world. After the Heartbreakers, he continued to play and record music with his own band, The Waldos. His musical virtuosity extended beyond his own groups as well. If you ever hear a guitar solo on a Ramones record, chances are Walter Lure is playing it. He was the one holding things down and singing lead vocals oftentimes when Johnny Thunders, addled by drug use, would nod off on stage.
Lure struggled with his own addiction, and recounted in an interview that an arrest for buying drugs on his lunch break and almost losing his job was what finally drove him to beat his habit. He worked in the financial world, running large clearing operations, and eventually retiring in 2015 from Neuberger Berman.
“The funny bit was that back in the 90s when I was in charge of all those people on the job, a lot of them would come to my shows and laugh at the fact that their boss was playing punk rock music onstage. My clothes closet had all my work suits and ties on one side and the other side had all the beat-up stage clothes. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde here you are!”
And here is another way in which Walter Lure continues to inspire so many musicians. The rock stars you see on the covers of magazines are an exceedingly small percentage of the people who are out there playing music every night. Most musicians who make music don’t make money at it and have to hold down day jobs to keep a roof over their head. Walter Lure was a big enough musician that if this were a just world, he would have had mansions all over the world, but he held down a day job and continued to make great music.
My band Blackout Shoppers got to play with The Waldos in the basement of CBGB’s 13, which was part of CBGB’s but not the more famous main stage. Walter Lure had played that main stage plenty of times and would later be one of the last acts to play when CB’s shut down a few years later.
He would have had every right to carry a massive rock star ego or bristle at the idea playing on a small stage in a basement with a bunch of unknown bands, but there was none of that from him. He showed up with his band and rocked, playing lots of the famous punk rock songs he helped write. He gladly took pictures with people who wanted to and hung around and chatted with everyone afterwards. He stayed true to the punk ethos to his dying day.
One of my friends whose band was on that same show commented, “We all got to play with Walter Lure, how lucky were we all??”
The world was lucky to have Walter Lure making music for so long. RIP and thank you Waldo.
Capturing the New York punk scene better than anyone since the death of Lester Bangs is The New York Waste, and picking up the Waste is a must. When I first started reading it almost two decades ago, it introduced me to the best punk rock bands on the scene at the time. It featured cool photos of the Lunachicks and the Toilet Boys and the Bullys, awesome mention of The Spunk Lads and others. Paging a little farther, what did I find but ‘Last in Line for the Gang Bang, a comic biography of G.G. Allin.’
For those unaware, G.G. Allin was a punk rock musician infamous for his violent and obscene performances. He may be better known today as his legend has grown with retellings of his stories and the admiration of musicians who have broken into the mainstream. But in the early 2000s, only a select and disturbed few were allied in their admiration of the late self-described “scumfuck.” (Insider’s note: despite his violent habits, G.G. Allin was a gifted songwriter who left a prolific legacy of excellent punk rock and country music before his untimely end at age 36 in 1993.)
So the fact that someone was producing a comic strip serial biography of G.G. Allin bowled me over. That such an awesome artistic endeavor was underway and had an audience getting it free through the New York Waste made me realize I had found a great home in the punk scene of New York. The Big Apple became a little less lonely knowing that there were other sickos out there.
Discreetly inked into the margins of every comic strip was a web site address for a local punk rock band, World War IX. The band’s guitar player, Justin Melkmann, was the talented cartoonist documenting G.G. Allin’s life.
At the same time, I began looking to start my own punk rock band, and was soon working on original songs with, as the luck of the Internet would have it, Bruce Steinert from the band Buzzkill. We needed a singer.
“I’m friends with a guy who our band would play with back in the day in New Jersey. He used to do things like take bloody meat out of his pants and throw it at the audience,” Bruce mentioned at rehearsal, speaking of the New Jersey band Daisycutter.
“That sounds like our guy,” I said. “Call that guy.”
Soon afterwards, Seth Amphetamines entered the picture and became the singer of what would be Blackout Shoppers. There are not too many people who can command a stage and make the entire venue the center of punk rock chaos in the way that Seth can, and that’s a good thing. It’s an acquired skill to engage with the audience in a mosh pit with great passion without creating lasting hostility or becoming one of the bogus tough-guy copycats that have created so many boring hardcore bands over the last few decades.
Seth is the only singer I’ve seen who has gotten members of the audience angry enough to throw beer cans at him only to have them share beers afterwards. Whatever violence he dishes out is in without hate or malice, and in sincere appreciation of old school hardcore punk.
I went to see World War IX at CB’s basement, which was part of a still-existent CBGBs at the time (where Blackout Shoppers would play its first show in a complete fluke later that year), and introduced myself to Justin. He was glad to meet someone who enjoyed his comic and we vowed to stay in touch.
Not soon afterwards, World War IX and Blackout Shoppers played the first of many shows together. It’s an alliance that has lasted about a decade and a half. We’ve put out a split seven-inch record together. Blackout Shoppers’ guitar player Mike Moosehead now plays in World War IX, and World War IX’s drummer Johnny Special K has filled in on drums for Blackout Shoppers. Blackout Shoppers came back from an official hiatus at a show where World War IX bid farewell to its singer Philthy Phill. It’s an incestuous bouillabaisse that only works in punk rock or among inbred Mormon fanatics, and we love it.
This month, both Justin and Seth turn 50, and the bands are celebrating with a show together at Otto’s Shrunken Head, one of our favorite places to play. It will be an evening filled with alcohol, music and good times. Please join us.
I knew it was a possibility; he had told me about the idea. But when I got word from Philthy Phill that he was leaving town I was still shocked.
Phill Lentz, better known to the New York punk rock world as Philthy Phill, is the singer for World War IX. He’s much more than that though. Over the 13 years he’s been in New York he’s excelled at stand-up comedy, writing, podcasting, concert organizing, and being a creative jack-of-all-trades that would be the envy of most Big Apple newcomers. He’s conquered New York City without losing the Midwestern disarming charm and good humor that drew some of this town’s finest musicians, artists, and comedians into his orbit.
I first got to know Phill when he was the lead singer in a band called Sexual Suicide. His singing style captured the necessary aggression of the genre while also displaying a keen sense of humor; a you-are-being-subjected-to-our-noise-but-we’re-in-on-this-together vibe. Bands with no sense of humor are miserable to watch. If you had any doubts about Phill’s take on things, the highlight of any Sexual Suicide show was when Phill would put on a Spider Man mask and sing a song about performing cunnilingus on Mary Jane Watson.
He came to New York City from the suburbs North of Chicago in 2003, following a girlfriend who had moved here. Three years later they broke up and he considered moving out of town at that point but decided to stay and drown his sorrows in punk rock.
Phill not only sings but also plays guitar and drums. Over the years he has served as the drummer for Joey Steel and the Attitude Adjusters, the Misanthropes, and toured Canada and Europe with the Scream’n Rebel Angels. I was fortunate to play with him in New Damage.
Phill wrote a book, a long-form short story, written from the point of view of a down-on-his-luck New Yorker who made a living as a Spider Man character for kid’s parties. It was a great read because it celebrated, among other things, the joy of the creative act. Read Self Poor Trait if you are down and feel jaded as a creative person, you won’t be sorry.
Earlier on in my time in New York, I discovered the comics of Justin Melkmann through the New York Waste. I was so impressed that someone was doing a comic strip about the life of GG Allin, that I made it a point to go see the artist’s band, which was subtly advertised in each strip with a discreetly inked URL. Catching my first World War IX show at CB’s Lounge and meeting Justin was a turning point in my punk rock life. Blackout Shoppers have played numerous shows with World War IX and there’s nothing we like better.
A few years after I got to play my first show with World War IX, they were looking for a singer, and I and I’m sure a whole bunch of others called and told them to get Philthy Phill.
Having Philthy Phill join World War IX was like Beethoven coming back from the dead to conduct the London Philharmonic – it’s the supreme punk rock combination that had to happen. And it did.
World War IX entered a new period of productivity and creativity and produced some of my favorite songs over the past several years. I had the honor of playing a villain in a few of their videos, including the video for my favorite World War IX song, Cutlass Supreme. Phill’s acting chops earned him roles in other punk rock videos as well.
“Without a doubt, I will miss my World War IX and the friends I made playing with that band,” Phill told me. “We’ve toured many times, put out an envious number of high-quality music videos and some outstanding music to boot. Anyone who has partied with us at a show can tell how well we all get along because it comes across in what we did. Unrelated fun fact: everyone in the band has wanted to fight me at some point.”
Phill also met his wife among the punk rock fans that came to his shows. He and Erin married in 2012 and last year they had twin boys. While they excelled at making a family of their own, they have no other family in the area, at all. That, coupled with the high cost of living and the need for more space, was the deciding factor in making the move to Indianapolis.
Sometimes, the people who best embody the humor, creativity, and egalitarian grit of New York City find it is best to leave New York City.
There’s also a trap that New Yorkers fall in to easily, thinking that the world revolves around what happens in the five boroughs and believing that residing in the New York City area counts as an artistic achievement in and of itself. While surviving in New York is an accomplishment, we’d be kidding ourselves to think that any work of art is somehow automatically superior if it originates from an NYC zip code.
This Saturday, Philthy Phill will sing with World War IX for one last time at Otto’s Shrunken Head. My band, Blackout Shoppers, will be joining them, along with Controlled Substance. It will be a packed house and there will be lots of music, loudness and alcohol.
Phill hasn’t stopped being creative, and he’s already working on his next project, which he’s keeping under wraps for now.
While people will forever come from all over the world to pursue their creative dreams in New York City, the point is to keep being creative and live a good life while doing so. Great art, music, and literature can be found wherever there are people great enough to do great work, wherever the creative spirit ignites a spark that leads to more ideas, wherever there are people like Philthy Phill.
Mike Moosehead is the hardest working man in punk rock, and this weekend he’s playing shows with five different bands. Four of those bands are playing a special show to commemorate his and his wife Xtene Moosehead’s 10th wedding anniversary. The two are both punk rock bass players, though Mike plays guitar quite a bit also.
The Cobra Club in Brooklyn is the venue where the show will be. It is in a now-trendy area of Brooklyn where the remnant industrialization means a greater chance to find parking if you are driving there.
Full disclosure: I’m playing guitar in Beer Drinking Fools, the opening band of the night that features Mike on bass. The name of the band pretty much gives you the story: songs about beer. But there are some really great songs not directly related to beer that make me love Beer Drinking Fools long after I left the drinking life. Songs like ‘Work Sucks’ and ‘Let’s Get on Welfare’ offer common anthems for anyone frustrated by the standard dirge of working life. And even if you don’t drink, ‘Drinking 40s on the Subway’ is a great homage to the spirit of freedom that makes life worth living.
The second band playing that night is a special guest, and the name of the band will not be announced in advance. I happen to know what band this is and I can say first-hand that they will be in keeping with the spirit of local New York punk and hardcore with a sense of humor and chaotic stage performance.
Skum City features Mike on guitar and Xtene on bass. They started this band in 2007 and played their first show in 2008. Some former members are going to be coming back to play, and it will be a great time. Skum City blends old school punk rock with West Coast style early era hardcore. If you are looking for down-tuned grunge music to fall asleep to, look elsewhere.
Mike is also a guitar player for World War IX. World War IX was a band I learned about from reading their founding guitar player Justin Melkmann’s biographical comic strip of G.G. Allin in the New York Waste. They have been friends and comrades for years and they made my punk rock dreams come true when the inspiring Renaissance man Philthy Phill became their lead singer. I have had the honor to play some villainous characters in a few of their music videos. Who will they proclaim to be the King of the King of the King of Beers? I’ll have to find out (will not be me).
Headlining the night is Philadelphia’s Loafass, a band I have loved since I saw them open for Murphy’s Law on St. Patrick’s Day in 2003. Their lead singer, Fish, was the officiant at my wedding. Few bands are able to harness the sense of humor that punk music requires as well as Loafass. If a ramshackle jalopy with Pennsylvania license plates careens across the highway in front of you in a blaze of marijuana smoke and empty beer cans, the band playing on that car’s stereo is Loafass.
The show is only $5 dollars and requires you have an ID that says you are 21 or older. Mike and Xtene have put together a great show and the longevity of their band and marriage is a testament to the notion that making great music together can make a lot of people happy. I hope to see you there.
St. Patrick’s Day is the time of year when everyone wants to be Irish for a few hours and their definition of being Irish is being an obnoxious drunk. There are actually a lot of nice things about being Irish and Ireland has given us a lot of great things besides a love of the drink.
Among the many positive contributions the Irish have made to the world is music, and around St. Patrick’s Day every year a litany of Irish groups come through the Big Apple to quench our thirst for authentic Irish art.
The Chieftains have been popularizing traditional Irish music since the 1960s and with some luck of the Irish and the busy schedule of generous in-laws, my wife and I scored tickets to see them at Town Hall in midtown Manhattan.
Most of the crowd at the show were well-dressed middle aged people like me or older. I thought I might be overdressed but I wasn’t, which confirms yet again I’ve reached middle age where I can blend in with a crowd that used to look old to me.
But sitting behind us was a loud, possibly drunk, but definitely rude women who acted as if she were in her living room, talking loudly and even shouting ahead to a woman seated in the row ahead of us. After sitting through several songs listening to this absurdly inane and incredibly impolite chatter, my wife asked her to keep her voice down.
The woman took great offense and spent the rest of the show muttering under her breath about how she planned to confront my wife. ‘Go ahead lady,’ I thought to myself. ‘It’s your funeral.’
The Chieftains put on an outstanding performance. They’ve had many celebrated collaborators in the past and had an impressive cast of guest musicians and dancers joining them throughout the evening. A good time was had by all.
Once the show was over and the lights went up, the woman told my wife that she had no right to ask her to be quiet, that the show was for everyone to enjoy and some such malarkey. My wife told her in no uncertain terms that she was wrong and needed to learn some manners. The woman, embarrassed to be called out for such puerile behavior, wouldn’t let go. But my wife can dish out whatever you send her way. The woman’s friends were horrified and did not want to see their friend get thrashed by a visibly pregnant woman.
One of her friends motioned to me and implored me to get my wife out of the building. I told her it was her friend that needed the help, not my wife. The rude woman’s friends eventually corralled her and we all went our separate ways.
No punches were thrown, no chairs hurled through the air. I’m glad for that, though I think it would have been great to watch my pregnant wife knock out this nasty shrew of a woman. I’d take a video of it and then yell, “WORLDSTAR!!” and post it to WorldStarHipHop web site, a popular place to post videos of altercations.
In the end we walked out into the sweet Spring New York night and walked to Times Square, where my wife once reminded me that sometimes you have to enjoy being a tourist in your own city.
We will survive the stupidity of this St. Patrick’s Day as we have survived all others, with pride in our Irish culture intact and our tempers only a little bit the worse for wear.
The other night I left home to walk to the Parkside Pub in Whitestone, Queens to see an excellent hardcore punk rock show. I love punk rock music and this show was so close it took only a few minutes to walk there. I have loved punk rock for a long time and knew some of the bands that were playing from playing with my own band, Blackout Shoppers (currently on hiatus).
It was late and I didn’t have a lot of time to spend there, but as I set out I noticed an envelope that needed mailing, so I figured I could drop it in a mailbox on my way to the show.
Publisher’s Clearinghouse is a shitty lottery that only requires you mail back a form. Of course my chances of winning are next to zero, but instead of spending two bucks on Powerball I spend only the price of a stamp. That’s a very low-cost form of gambling, though it does come with the added humiliation of having your name on a Publisher’s Clearinghouse envelope.
I didn’t run across a mailbox until I got the block that the Parkside Pub was on. How can I show up at a hardcore punk rock show with a Publisher’s Clearinghouse envelope? Would that make me a horrible old poser? I had no choice. Those Publisher’s Clearinghouse millions are destined to me mine. If I win enough money, I’ll spend part of my fortune on starting a new non-profit arts venue in New York City that will feature punk shows. As I neared the show, I hoped no one would see me drop the sweepstakes envelope into the mailbox. No one did, or at least had the kindness not to call me out on it.
It was glad to see the show was packed. There were people there old and young and the bands were excellent. It was great to see friends from many different bands there. Some of them are my age or even older and many of them also have kids.
Being a parent with serious bills to pay and a job that requires long hours means I don’t get to very many concerts anymore. So any time I can steal away for a few hours and subject myself to the full blasting fury of as much aggressive music I can take.
The show at the Parkside did not disappoint. The bands were excellent. And even if they hadn’t been, it was worthwhile to see people you haven’t seen in a while. There are a lot of people that I know and love to see but only see them in the context of going to shows.
There are people like my friend Pete, who I ran into at the show. I have known Pete for years but don’t know his full name and couldn’t tell you what he does for a living. I’ve seen him at numerous shows for my band and others. I’ve spent hours talking to him at bars and on sidewalks outside of music clubs. I know he lives in Douglaston, Queens and used to have a girlfriend named Nicole and he loves punk and metal music, and that’s all I need to know. We love the music and the scene around it and so it doesn’t matter what we may or may not have in common.
Because while the band one plays in may not last, the friendships and the love of music will endure. People have been writing punk rock’s obituary since the 1970s. It’s still here. And as long as I can stand on my feet, I’ll make it to shows from time to time. No regrets. See you there.
Sid Yiddish is a Chicago performance artist who is running for president as a write-in candidate. He describes himself as a “Lincoln Republican” though his politics are more in line with the Democrats, but you are welcome to write him in on whatever ballot you choose; he’s not picky. He is the only candidate promising to invade Denmark.
Why Denmark? “Because it’s there and because I can,” he said. He has performed in Denmark but did his first show with Danish musicians over Skype for the Chicago Calling Festival in 2009. He travels the U.S. frequently. This Friday, Jan. 22 (2016) will find him in Kansas City, Missouri at the Poetry & Absinthe Open Mic at the Uptown Arts Bar.
Sid Yiddish usually dresses like a kind of mischievous cantor, as if The Rocky Horror Picture show took place in a Catskills summer camp or if Fiddler on the Roof was an avant-garde punk rock opera instead of a Broadway musical. With a prayer shawl and Kittel – a traditional garment worn by orthodox Jewish men and a face mask, he both pays homage to and satirizes Jewish heritage with his appearance. When he appeared on America’s Got Talent, Howie Mandel called him a “Hasidic Lone Ranger.”
A Sid Yiddish performance is always an eclectic ensemble of songs, poems, comedy and compelling noise. Each performance will usually involve some form of Tuvan throat singing, which sounds like it is painful to do and can rattle the uninitiated. He often performs with a band, the Candy Store Henchmen. With connections in various cities, his auxiliary of Candy Store Henchman can be summoned to perform on short notice and very little rehearsal.
[Full disclosure: I have known Sid Yiddish for several years and have performed in the New York City version of his Candy Store Henchmen. I met him through Mykel Board, who had the wisdom to write about Sid much sooner.]
His presidential campaign is his latest effort in reaching out to the world. His platform includes heavy support of the arts. “I believe schools should cut sports from schools and give all their money to the arts.” He would also buy everyone a new pair of shoes and hand out bubble gum with good comics in them, not the shabby comics that have become the standard today.
He has extended his reach through some small acting roles. He appears briefly in a Ludacris video and recently had a bit part in the Showtime show Shameless, which stars William H. Macy. There’s an online petition to make Sid a recurring character on the series.
While he revels in his outsider status, he makes an effort to make each show as interesting and participatory as possible, inviting audience members to join his band and play instruments if they choose, even if that instrumentation consists of banging on a table top or tapping a beer glass.
He’s devised a series of hand signals that instructs the band on what to play. One gesture means to stop, another gesture means a free-for-all, other gestures mean other things. If you play the wrong thing, he doesn’t ask you to change, he just may be a bit more emphatic with his gestures. No two Sid Yiddish shows will ever be the same and he likes it that way.
Sid Yiddish describes himself as a late bloomer and suffers from depression. His past is littered with sad memories of where clinical depression can lead. He hopes his work can reach people and help encourage those who also suffer from the disorder. To him, being a performance artist is a redeeming experience that puts him on a good path and colors his worldview. “It feels like I take LSD without taking LSD,” he notes.
His music and acting takes up a lot of his time and he is interested in going to another audition for America’s Got Talent. “I’m a renaissance man, a Jack and Jill of all trades. No one can put me in a category; you can’t pin me down. But sometimes I’ve felt that I’m spreading myself too thin.”
The world has given up a good bit of the civility and thoughtfulness that was more commonplace when Sid Yiddish was growing up, and he offers himself as a one-man protest against that. Instead of waving his fist at the world, his hand gestures conducts a motley crew making avant-garde punk rock symphony. He can take your rejection; he’s faced it all before and just keeps coming back, serving as a reminder that the act of creation and expression is sometimes all that matters and all you have left.
Judging by what I see on my much-too-frequent perusal of social media, many of my friends and acquaintances have taken great lengths to see the latest Star Wars movie. I’ve read some excellent reviews and fully intend to see it, but this may be the first time I have not seen a Star Wars movie in the theater. It’s not because I don’t like Star Wars, it’s because I no longer put the same value or effort into pop culture.
I am the oldest person in the small office where I work. I’m even a few years older than the manager, my boss. I work with people who were born while I was in high school or college. It makes me feel old. Very few of them own a SLAYER CD, if they own CDs at all. I recognize some of the names of the people or musical groups they say they listen to, but I’m definitely plugged into another era. This summer my wife and I were talking to her teenage niece about what music she listens to. She mentioned several popular bands that played large venues and I had never heard of any of them.
I am not attuned to what is popular with today’s teenagers and young adults. And I’m perfectly fine with that. I am glad that I’m out of touch on these things and out of the loop, and not because today’s pop culture is all crap and the pop culture of my time was so much better. I watched Morton Downey Jr. and listened to Howard Stern habitually when I was a teen and young adult, I honestly have no business looking down my nose at people who follow the Kardashians (but I still do).
One can make the argument that that pop culture of today is overly sanitized and bears the telltale signs of patchwork social engineering. Because our society’s mass media is trying to appeal to a multitude of cultures in a divided and tribal world, any cultural authenticity has been discreetly purged from it. But pop culture is always a remnant and a reflection of its times, and human beings have a tendency to romanticize the past.
Being unfamiliar with today’s popular culture doesn’t bother me because I ought to be spending my time more wisely than familiarizing myself with it. There was a time that I was very much immersed in pop culture, but life goes on after high school and college.
It’s a natural part of aging, to be out of touch with the latest in pop culture. If I was well-versed in what is trendy among the younger generations, I’d be a pathetic middle-aged clown desperately trying to cling to some shred of youth. I want no part in that. Acting your age is part of embracing life and living it to the fullest.
The music I listened to and the movies I watched when I was steeped in the pop culture of my time are now decades old and being rehashed for profit. I don’t want to spoil the memories I have of those times by trying to relive the days of my youth with self-congratulating sentimentality. I don’t need to see a movie about N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton album; I had the album on cassette when it came out.
Let’s not be close-minded and refuse to pay attention to worthwhile contemporary art and culture, but let’s be comfortable with who we are and with our stage in life.
It has taken Brooklyn less than a decade to achieve the kind of overpriced cultural rot that normally takes a generation in other places.
There have been some very large events that illustrate this: the demolition of the beautiful Prospect Heights neighborhood to build the ugly Barclays Center being a landmark event that marks a shameful chapter in city history.
Brooklyn wears its shame again as two very excellent music venues have found it necessary to close their doors. The Trash Bar and The Lake are two places where I’ve seen and played some of the best shows ever. Their closing demonstrates how lousy, overrated and overpriced Brooklyn has gotten.
With the rapid rise of real estate in Manhattan, the outer boroughs became a refuge for the arts, and many music venues moved or set up in Brooklyn.
The Trash Bar quickly became Brooklyn’s home for punk rock shows that were chased out of Manhattan. Many of the great traditional punk shows that had made their place in Manhattan were now at the Trash Bar: Murphy’s Law’s St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween and New Year’s Eve shows were held at The Trash Bar. When our band, Blackout Shoppers, had its 10th Anniversary show, it was at The Trash Bar. Some of our best shows were there. We were honored to play a tribute show to Norman Bates and the Showerheads’ J. Garino there that included a reunion of The Six and Violence. The Bullys held their Johnny Heff tribute shows there after they lost their regular spot in Manhattan. For many years a picture of Johnny Heff, the Bully’s guitar player who was a New York Firefighter who lost his life in the September 11 attacks, looked over the stage.
Also in Brooklyn, at an address the owners prefer not to publish, is The Swamp, formerly known as The Lake, formerly known only by its street address. Not far from the Montrose stop of the L train, The Swamp is just a few blocks away from a major Brooklyn thoroughfare but in a quiet-looking, industrial area. It serves as a great example of how punk rock has been kept alive by DIY spaces. The Swamp was basically a very large apartment that was run as a venue by people who lived there. They built a stage and bleacher seating in a room that served as a performance space. It was a great punk rock venue like no other. When my wife and I got married, we threw a wedding celebration there that featured some of our favorite bands. Less than a year later, Blackout Shoppers held an album release concert there to mark the long overdue completion of our second album. The Swamp also hosted reggae and other shows and it hosted combined punk and reggae shows that packed them in. It was an honor to play shows there and it will be sorely missed.
Brooklyn stopped being an “up and coming” borough nearly 10 years ago. It’s now an overrated playground for the wealthy and clueless. There are a few artists and enclaves still fighting the good fight, but it’s a losing battle against the tides of money and history.
We will welcome you all to Queens and the Bronx.
Last Friday, my band Blackout Shoppers was fortunate enough to be one of several bands to play for the last time at The Trash Bar. A great music venue, The Trash Bar has been a great place to see a show. They have a great sound system and manage to bring a wide array of music there.
Trash Bar is the kind of live music venue that used to thrive in Manhattan, and now it’s found itself priced out of Williamsburg. It’s the latest victim of the city’s own success and Brooklyn’s transformation from downtrodden borough to one of the most expensive places in the world to live.
The Williamsburg section of Brooklyn used to be a bad place. Frank Serpico was shot not far from the Williamsburg Bridge. Apartments in that building are now listed for sale at up to $1 million.
Williamsburg is where young artistic types began moving to at the end of the last century because space was cheap and the area was close to Manhattan. But creative young people can’t afford to live in the popular parts of Brooklyn anymore. The kind of people more likely to move to these areas now are wealthy people who had traditionally occupied the more upscale parts of Manhattan. A recent episode from the TV show Broad City captured this perfectly. One of the show’s main characters is chatting with three high-priced lawyers. They all tell her that they currently live in Murray Hill (a high-priced part of Manhattan) but that they are all moving to Williamsburg.
It follows a familiar pattern, a pattern we saw in the East Village and Lower East Side of Manhattan: A run-down area attracts enthusiastic artists and musicians because living is cheap. Those artists make the area desirable, which raises property values. Those property values drive away the artists and their venues that began the rejuvenation.
While it was the place that music venues fled to when Manhattan became too overpriced, Williamsburg is losing the art and music that made it attractive.
Bushwick has become the new Williamsburg, although the pace of gentrification seems to speed up in some respects. Prices on apartments start to rise in advance of the vanguard of gentrification that makes a neighborhood safe. Williamsburg has been relatively safe for a while now, but Bushwick is still more dangerous with higher crime.
This kind of gentrification has been going in the city for years. Since the time of the Dutch settlers, this has been a city in flux. Nothing stays for too long. The churn of commerce and change is constant. The city wouldn’t thrive otherwise.
It’s true that the city is losing some of its trademark characteristics and grit. No doubt part of Big Apple lore is lost forever. It’s not all bad though. I’m glad I can walk down the Bowery without being afraid for my life, though I’m sad that there aren’t as many music venues there.
Williamsburg been overpriced for years, but I didn’t think that Trash Bar would get priced out of existence in a decade. It brought in big crowds and even catered to the obnoxious yuppies and hipsters with some of its live music and its karaoke. The show we played Friday night was well attended. The bands played great and it sounded excellent. Everyone left it all on stage and we walked out with our heads held high.
And that’s all you can do as a New Yorker. Change is never going to stop, so don’t let it stop you. There will be new places to make and see music. The pioneer spirit that brought the Dutch to the New World and brought rock clubs to formerly desolate and dangerous parts of the city can’t be killed off, it’s just moving to a new neighborhood.
Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn was hosting a punk rock show celebrating the birthday of Mike Moosehead, one of the city’s most talented musicians. I was not going to miss it, even though the weather was horrible and the city was slow to plow the roads.
Driving cautiously over roads and highways caked with snow that had been churned by traffic to a grim grey slurry, I eventually found my way to Hank’s. I pulled up to the traffic light outside the hearty saloon and prepared to make a turn to look for parking.
Some young men outside the bar looked towards my truck and I thought I recognized them. One of them at least looked like a guy I know from playing in punk bands. They looked like they recognized me and approached me.
“Uber?” said the young man.
“No, sorry,” I said, feeling stupid, though I’m guessing he felt dumber. The cars that are Uber cars are usually newer and have a very clear and recognizable ‘UBER’ or ‘U’ sign in their window.
“Does Uber have pickup trucks?” I asked. The young man didn’t seem to know.
Uber, the online taxi service that allows users to summon and pay for cabs entirely online and without cash, does have pickup trucks, though they are rare in New York.
Being the resident old man in the office where I work, I do not have the Uber app on my smart phone. My wife has used it to secure a ride for her mother when the weather locked our truck under a sheet of ice a while ago. It’s a useful thing to have because you can take the mystery and risk out of whether or not you’ll get a cab. I rarely take cabs and I don’t trust Uber.
Years ago, when I spent more time drinking into the early hours of the morning in bars far from home, I wound up taking a lot more cabs. I enjoyed talking to the drivers, who are usually from a different part of the world, about where they are from and life in the city. I once met a Muslim driver from Pakistan with a long beard and traditional garb who had become an American citizen. He was heartfelt in his frustration at how extremists had come to define his religion in his adopted home.
The migration to online taxi hailing means trouble for New York’s yellow cabs, and the yellow cab drivers have only themselves to blame. Every New Yorker can recount a litany of horror stories about the difficulty in hailing and getting decent service from yellow cabs.
Yellow cabs will cherry pick who they take. Even though this is illegal, they will drive around with their ‘out of service’ lights on to avoid regulations. I have successfully hailed a yellow cabs only to have them drive away when they thought I had too much luggage. Drivers have been known to overcharge, tamper with meters, and otherwise cheat and nickel and dime their fares.
Online taxi service is a concept whose time is long overdue. We can rent cars online and buy plane and bus tickets online. There’s no reason calling a cab online shouldn’t be commonplace for everyone, and in a few short years I have no doubt it will be standard operating procedure.
Where Uber goes wrong however, is in its pricing. It runs pricing on a strict supply and demand basis and gouges its prices through “surge pricing,” so when demand goes up, pricing can go through the roof. Because the service is not cash-based and is charged to the customer’s credit card, people can be charged exorbitant amounts of money for what would normally be an inexpensive cab ride. Recently Uber quickly raised its prices in Sydney, Australia during a recent terrorist hostage standoff. The fare algorithm that Uber uses does not adjust for human decency.
Like other New York traditions, hailing a taxi on the street is one that is fading. Nostalgia will keep it alive for a good while longer, but technology has found a more reliable way to get people in and out of cabs. Like other New York traditions, there is good and bad about its loss, but it’s a loss nonetheless.