Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Radio Remembrances

Over the years, I've blogged about my love for the old days of NYC radio. Heck, I realize I've blogged enough about it that I could create a whole separate blog about it all on its own! (Don't worry, I won't).

So talking about old NYC radio, I should note that this past January of 2023, one of the longest running show in NYC radio history came to an end: "Woody's Children" hosted by Bob Sherman.

Bob Sherman is an NYC radio legend, having worked at classical music station WQXR for more than 50 years. He's hosted shows like "The Listening Room" and "Young Artists Showcase" and others. At the age of 90, he's still working. His longevity is amazing.

"Woody's Children" was something different -- an American folk music show who's name was inspired by Woody Guthrie. "Woody's Children" debuted in 1969 on WQXR and ran there until 1999 when Bob Sherman moved it to WFUV. Sherman played every kind of folk music during those decades and interviewed everyone, including Pete Seeger (his first guest ever). Due to his age and other commitments, Bob has ended the show but what an incredible run!

I remember I used to listen to "Woody's Children" every so often when I was a kid. It used to be on Saturday nights at 7 PM. It was the first place where I ever heard "Alice's Restaurant". I can't say that I'm a huge folk music fan but I clearly remember this moment as being transformative for me -- where music could be funny and thoughtful, where a song could be a story unto itself. So thanks Bob Sherman, congrats on an historic achievement with "Woody's Children."

For some reason, at the same time I saw that "Woody's Children" was ending, I was remembering the weeknight radio show from my youth that used to air on Z100: "Love Phones" with Dr Judy. 

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, before the Internet and social media, call-in radio shows like this were very popular. They were, in a way, the original social media. And call-in shows about sex and relationships, airing after 10 PM in "safe harbor", where the hosts and callers would have explicit conversations, were especially popular, really being a kind of audio porn. The most popular, and longest running, was called "Lovelines" but, for whatever reason, it didn't air in NYC in the 1990s (it did, briefly, circa 2001-2003 on the ill-fated WNEW talk format).

"Love Phones" was the NYC-centric version of this show. Horny young people would call in with their weird sex experiences and questions, and Dr Judy would give wacky advice like suggesting that men write letters to their penises. They would have guests in the studio sometimes, many of whom didn't seem understand what kind of show they were on. I clearly remember one time a British guest was on and he was asked if he liked women making a lot of noise during lovemaking. His answer was rather odd: "Naw, I like 'em ratha' quiet." Eww. Anyway, this was, for that time, outrageous stuff although, by today's standards, quite tame and lame. But it was a moment in time where the exhibitionism that we see so much of in today's society was beginning to take off.

So, in remembering this show, it's easy to see today that "Love Phones" is both an artifact of its time, the kind of show that no longer exists, but also prelude of what was to ... come.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Greetings from the Rep. George Santos Office in Queens

 

Heavenly Riverside Drive

One of the defining features of great cities is that even its streets and avenues are famous: think Saville Row in London, the Champs D'Elysee in Paris, the Via Del Corso in Rome, Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Mulholland Drive in LA, and many others. 

In NYC, especially Manhattan, Wall Street, Park Avenue, Fifth Avenue, Central Park West, and Sutton Place are famous the world over because they posses some of the most expensive real estate on earth. These avenues are synonymous with wealth, power, fame, glamour -- you name it. The richest and most famous people in the world live there, its architecture and streets exude the 1%. Tom Wolfe wrote a whole book about it back in 1987. 

'nough said.

So what about Riverside Drive?

Unlike those avenues, it doesn't have anywhere near the fame and pedigree. But what's crazy is that Riverside Drive is probably more beautiful than any of them. Nestled next to the Hudson River, running quietly from 72nd street up to the top of Manhattan island, it's an amazingly peaceful avenue right next to one the most frenzied places in the entire world. You just walk a block west from the loud craziness of Broadway onto the leafy, zen-like Riverside Drive and it's like you've stepped out of one world into another. 

I know a lot about Riverside Drive because, well, I grew up there. And I've always felt like it never got the respect of Manhattan's other great avenue. But that's changed a little recently: there's now a book about it called Heaven on the Hudson that chronicles its amazing history. Riverside Drive is full not only of beautiful buildings, it's not only across the street from its own park with sweeting views of the Hudson River, but it's also full of monuments and also contains some of the last remaining free-standing mansions in NYC. You should read the interview with the author. I can't wait to read the book.

If you want to know more about what makes Riverside Drive so magical, you should read this 1998 essay "My Manhattan: 44 Blocks of Enchantment." I remember reading it when it was published -- I was in college, far from NYC, and it brought me right home in my mind. 

You can read all of Mr NYC's Riverside Drive coverage here.

I never say things like this but I'll say it here: Riverside Drive is the best avenue in NYC!

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Mr NYC & COVID-19

If you go back to my blog posts of March, 2020 it's like watching an act of disruption in real time -- for the first part of the month there are, as usual, a bunch of posts about various random things and then ... boom! 

It's all COVID all the time. 

Reading those posts from three years ago, it's chilling to see how our world was just hit like a missile with this virus, this pandemic. It brings you back to that moment in time, in real time, and shows you both how scary it was and how far we've come since then.

Fortunately, for yours truly, over these past three years, I was super-lucky never to get COVID and got four vaccination shots. I've still been masking, taking precautions but, like most people, was living more and more like it was a thing of the past.

Well, it's not -- and, as is true for everyone, eventually my luck ran out. Last week the virus paid me a short visit. I took a home test and those two dreaded lines appeared with all the impersonal cruelty of the skinless metal terminator walking through fire. I had a stuffy head, a running nose, and got tired easily. I had to isolate at home, test regularly, tell all my friends and family and co-workers, and just sweat it out.

But here's where my good decisions in the past helped make this experience more of an inconvenience instead of a crises: I was already fully vaxxed, had all the information I needed for next steps, and called the city to get Paxlovid which helps to fight virus. In short, I nipped that sucker in the bud.

We're truly fortunate to live not only in the greatest city in the world but also in a city that takes care of its citizens. The NYC government actually has many great services that all New Yorkers can avail themselves of. If you're a fortunate son like me, you don't usually need these services but it's great to know they're there.

So, if you get COVID, you should hit the NYC COVID site and get all the services and resources you can -- including Paxlovid (if you qualify) that can help you beat the virus quickly. My experience with COVID makes all the anti-vax, anti-government lies and propaganda from the Republican party even more outrageous and stupid. Vaccines work and government can help and anyone who disagrees is just a moron. 

To quote that wise man Jerry Springer, take care of yourself and each other -- that's the NYC way!


Monday, January 23, 2023

Remembering Kathy Acker

Writing is solitary work. It's also very earnest work. There's only so many ways to write something, anything, without it becoming boring, pretentious, or incomprehensible. Writing needs to be clear or at least readable in order to capture a reader's continuing interest. Writing also requires discipline -- just sitting down and doing it, over and over again, editing and rewriting your words into something comprehensible. 

It's not a surprise then that many writers are what we call "nerds" -- socially withdraw, socially awkward people interested more in a life of the mind than a life outside their door. It's also why the concept of the "reclusive writer" -- like JD Salinger or Harper Lee -- is so potent.

To be a writer is in a sense to be alone, to be apart, to observe and reflect the world rather that participate in it. To be its conscience instead of its muse. 

That's what makes the life and career of Kathy Acker so interesting. She was a writer but she was most certainly not a nerd. She was the closes thing a writer can be to a punk rocker -- her work is often called "experimental", "transgressive, "post-modern." She was a novelist and essayist, and dabbled in playwriting. Long before it became fashionable, she was writing about the long-term effects of childhood trauma, bisexuality, and the rebellious spirit. The titles to some of her work: "I Dreamt I Was a Nymphomaniac", "Don Quixote: Which Was My Dream", "P@#$y, King of the Pirates", "Blood and Guts in High School", and her 1979 Pushcart Prize winning story "N.Y.C. in 1979". She also wrote things with titles that were subversively conventional: "Great Expectations" and "Florida." 

Born in NYC in 1947, Kathy Acker grew up in a privileged but troubled home on Sutton Place. She was one of those New Yorkers who was from the city but who found more of a voice on the West Coast, eventually migrating to San Francisco before moving to London. She would return to live in NYC on occasion but, after a cancer diagnosis, she became a fan of alternative medicine, dying in an "alternative cancer clinic" in 1997, aged 50. 

Kathy lived a wild, exhausting life. She was no hermit. While a prolific writer, she also taught writing classes, held odd jobs, moved around constantly, married twice, and had many affairs with both men and women. She was openly bi at a time when few weren't. She even, allegedly, appeared in adult movies. 

Kathy Acker was, in short, a restless spirit. And now, more than 25 years after her death, her work still resonates. She has been the subject of not one but two biographies, one called After Kathy Acker, the other called Eat Your Mind

I will admit that I never heard of Kathy Acker until I stumbled across these biographies. She was a little before my time. But I became intrigued.

Writers like Kathy Acker or Ernest Hemingway or Hunter S. Thompson or Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac have always inspired me with awe. These were people who had wild lives, myriad experiences, lived life at 100 miles an hour -- and yet still found the time and energy and peace of mind to sit down and do the hard, solitary work of writing. They travelled extensively, drank and did drugs, had lots of sex, met lots of people, did all sorts of things -- and wrote. How they did all that and could still write brilliantly and earn a living is stunning to me. 

Talking about "experimental" or "transgressive writing", I like to think that this blog is just that. But probably not. It's not up to me or any writer to declare themselves that, only the public. But, for Kathy Acker, the public most certainly did. 

Friday, January 20, 2023

NYC Movie Theaters Are Vanishing

In some big news, the Regal Cinema multiplex in Union Square is closing. (This is part of a bankruptcy proceeding by Regal Cinema that is seeing its multiplexes close nationwide.)

While it's always seemed like it's been part of the Union Square scene forever, this multiplex has only been there since 1998. Nonetheless, it fast became a vital part of the neighborhood and its location made it one of the most heavily patronized movie theaters in the city. I went there countless times, seeing movies like Signs and Up and so many others. It was very popular with NYU students and it's also the movie theater where I once accidently bumped into Ed Koch on Christmas Eve 2004. Even though it was a big, impersonal, and wildly overpopulated multiplex, it had a cozy feel.

Now it's gone, following on the heels of so many other movie theaters around the city that are vanishing, especially in residential neighborhoods, and especially in downtown Manhattan. As sad as this is, it's not surprising. Streaming has utterly transformed how we consume movies. Now people can watch first-run movies on their phone while traveling or on their huge flatscreens on home -- why venture out and pay a ton of dough and put up with other moviegoers when you sit in the comfort of home, get some take out, and watch it there? In the same way that the Internet transformed Times Square by putting porno movie theaters out of business, streaming is transforming NYC and other cities by stamping out movie theaters. Sad but plus ca change

Video stores were an even earlier casualty of streaming. There's even a documentary about the once mighty, now gone, Kim's Video stores that used to populate the city (I used to live near one). Even though it was a basic CD/DVD store, it had a nerdy vibe that made you feel part of a movie-loving, pop culture community. That's been lost now -- the community belongs on remote. 

My favorite long-gone movie theater was the Ziegfeld on 54th street. It was a massive single-run movie house, the closest thing we ever had to a movie palace in this town. I saw many great movies there like Inglorious Basterds (and some not so great ones, like the Star Wars prequels). It was the kind of place that made movies feel important in a way that streaming and watching them on phones  doesn't.

There are a lot of great movies set in NYC -- it's just too bad there are increasing few great places to see movies in NYC. 

Friday, January 6, 2023

East Village Real Estate Rumble

Walk on any street in NYC and sooner or later you'll come across a building that's just standing there empty, disused, a total waste of space. Sometimes the contrast between the thriving storefronts and busy entryways to other buildings is striking -- these buildings just ... exist .. abandoned ... living a hopeless real estate limbo.

Every empty building in NYC has a story behind it. Often there's a legal tangle between the owners, the city, community groups, and others -- along with various financial problems -- that leads to years, even decades (!) of litigation and other fights ... and all the while the building in question just sits there, forlorn, the ugly duckling on the block.

One such example is in the East Village. An old school building (the former P.S. 64) has been in the middle of a contentious real estate fight since 1998 ever since it was put up for auction. That's right, for nearly a quarter of a century this building smack dab in the heart of one of Manhattan's prime neighborhoods has sat vacant as legal fights and foreclosures and all sorts of stuff has gone on.

It's a lesson on how real estate in NYC, that most valuable of items, can lead to Dickensian battles that span a generation -- a rumble not on the streets but on the structures that loom over them.


Thursday, January 5, 2023

The Water Borders of NYC

I never get tired of looking at maps of NYC. The city is such a massive, oddly-shaped, oddly-arranged archipelago of 40-odd islands that I feel like I discover something new each time: another island, another peninsula, another contour of the city and borough borders, another patch of park or green, another unexpected thing. 

Befitting a city of islands, the topography of NYC also includes vast amounts of water -- the Lower Bay, Jamaica Bay, the harbor, the East and Hudson rivers, Hell Gate, Little Neck Bay, and part of Long Island Sound. This map shows just how much water is part of NYC, almost a borough of its own. You could boat or swim far from the city's shores and still be within the borders of the five boroughs.

If you include all of the water that falls within the city's limits, NYC is even bigger than you realize.