One of my favorite blogs is Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York. In it he he chronicles the latest businesses in NYC to be closed down in lieu of the latest trend of condo buildings, yogurt shops, banks, and drugstores, cupcake shops, and of course ANOTHER Starbucks! We have all seen the change, that is those of us who have called NYC our home for 20 years plus. The newbies, on the other hand, think that Today is Yesterday, as it has Always been. Wrong. Jeremiah laments as do I , the slow but steady, destruction of the authentic quality we always thought was Nyc, the mom and pop stores, the dive bars, the cafés, the artists lofts, the storefront galleries, and of course the music clubs like CBGB, Max’s, and of course the Bottom Line on West 3rd street. In the village. In another time.
Us Boomer types remember Nyc was a place, where artists thrived, and grew on inspiration that came from living in an environment where raw energy pulsated the minute you stepped outside. It was a feeling that was both invigorating, as well as intimidating , the perfect combo for aspiring artists to do different unique things, like make art, make music, or make those ideas come to life between the pages of a novel, a poem, a dance. To stake their claim on that city that Never slept!
Nyc offered up a symbolic plate littered with dirt, graffiti covered subways, Bowery winos, Times Square hookers , and Union Square junkies, Washington Square folkies, and the hustler bars of the now mad glam Meat Packing District. Not the sterile, frigid, boring, redundant duplicity of businesses, all controlling, and infiltrating our city with the power of money that is accelerating the city’s artistic and cultural demise. Yea, Broadway is still lit up,but do you have 200$ to pocket a ticket? Culture has become a very expensive commodity where it once was a natural life force available for everyone, not relegated only for the wealthy. James Agee, author of in praise of famous men said in his Letters to Father Flye, his mentor, “the general verdict is that I can do a lot if I don’t write advertisements. If I remain convinced they’re right, I’ll croak before I write ads, or sell bonds, or do anything except write. Little writing as I ‘very done, and little confidence as I’ve a right to, I still feel that life is short and that no other earthly thing is as important to me as learning how to write. And for that you must have time!” Agee went on to write “Let us Now Praise Famous Men”. Check it out!
Today, do artists have the luxury of making statements like that and actually achieving it? In a city that used to be an artists paradise, the point of no return, Greenwich Village,a place the artist could live cheaply and devote himself to his art, where writers like Dawn Powell, Djuna Barnes, Edna st v Millay, Dylan Thomas, Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, Eugene O’Neil, Mark Twain, Thomas Wolfe, photographer Diane Arbus, and many more,made their mark as icons of the literary world forever . Well, none of them could afford to live in today’s Village. NYU owns it and it is EXPENSIVE! Today’s artists don’t live in NYC, unless they are in the minority of the wealthy class, but aside from that, that ” lovin feeling” is no longer here. That Real Thing has Vanished into the abyss of commerce and so called progressand leaving us with a counterfeit, that seduces with the allure of fantastically pricey dreams where celebrities ,models ,and Wall Street tycoons, abide in lofty penthouses and multi million dollar town houses and uber fabulous lofts sipping Veuve, taking the art out of the equation, and replacing it with the art of the $$$$.
Vanishing New York? Yes. Vanishing artists? Ditto. Because the left over artists still here are starting to flee. In a revealing book’ entitled, ” Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York” ( or any artist ) a group of individual artists, writers specifically, describe how and why they left NY. Why did the love affair sour? When did the honeymoon end?
So to speak. Check out this book for a real expose of the city’s decline artistically.
Beware of the gentrification, the sterilizing process, stripping Nyc of it’s personality, uniqueness, soul, and transforming it into the proverbial Disney-esque shopping mall. For an artist this is Not a good look. A city barren of small galleries, bookshops, music stores, dive bars, diners, small businesses, family owned shops, is not cool. This glass towered condo dominated, yogurt infested paradise might appeal to the hipster nation who don’t know any better or to the Nouveau New Yorker , but to the pioneers , the locals, it’s a royal bummer.
Yes, I know the days of Cedar Tavern, on University Place,the hangout for the ab – ex crowd, the storefront w 10th st galleries, book shop row on 4th avenue, are long gone, as are the rat infested Soho factories, abandoned years before the painters made them studios and living spaces in the 70’s, the famous 8th st bookstore on Macdougal, where beat writers like Jack Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Neil Cassidy,Bill Burroughs, hung out, yes this all died a slow , excruciating death , and there is very little left now but fading reminders of a past that is. No More. John O’Hara, poet extraordinaire , cranking out his hip downtown flavored verse while slugging thru his day job at the MOMA bookstore, Jackson Pollock, grinding out canvases in his tiny apt on 8th st, before he had his splatter paint epiphany in his barn on Long Island ; these events were symptomatic of the NYC, the place artists came to make art in the ultimate creative atmosphere, where different was good, and the same was boring, but sadly, that is not what we see today. Today we see a business centric world , in which art is a business like any other. Go Big, Go for the money, or Go Home! The new NYC mantra, calling the sheeple who pose as artists, —- but are they Really?
The hipster, trust fund babies, Wall Street climbers, celebrity bubble wannabes, cell phone addicts, 15$ cocktails slurpers, shoppers mall paradise automatons, Starbucks swamped computer mesmerized stool sitters, and tourists, the huge tourist mob crowding our streets, all eager, desperate, for a taste of the NY State of Mind. Except it’s really NOT. Now, it’s just a really glitzy, over crowded, obscenely expensive city, with a whole lot of entertainment, all yours to indulge in, if only for a very high price tag. You will be raiding the ATM, and it will empty out faster than you can say “dinner and drinks at The Gansevoort!”
And no, a CBGB would not survive today. or a Mudd Club. Too raw, too dirty, too rough, for the affected poseur trends that the young hipsters are besotted with today. After all they know today’s Nyc , the new cleaned up version. Because the truth is what Jeremiah document s every day in his on top of the moment blog! New York City Is REALLY VANISHING, and with it go the artists, that made their home here, thrived, leaving their footprints, their thumb prints, their DNA, from the days of the Provincetown Players to the Warhol headquarters at Union Square, to the 8th street Bookstore, to the Soho rookies, OK Harris, and Leo Castelli, to LeRoi Jones and Diane diPrima, the Beats, all earned their street cred here in the Art Capital City of the World when it was not only a possibility, but a dream expected to manifest into reality and so it did.
Today, NYC is about Reality, not the dream. The dream, these days, is about another New York, of yesterday, but the harsh reality of today’s New New York hits the ever expanding flock, the minute they begin their city march, subway bound, plugged in, automatons on the beat, fedoras cocked just so, eyes glued to the ubiquitous iphone, oblivious to the Vanishing Artist City before them, and what is forever lost.