Thursday, May 14, 2009

Take Me Back to Funky Town

Mr NYC is nothing if not nostalgic. If you read this blog regularly then you know that plumbing the depths of New York's collective memory is one of my favorite things to do.

I'm not alone. For some reason, in the last few years, there's been a little boomlette of movies, TV shows, and other stuff that seeks to remember NYC back in what Tom Wolfe called the Me Decade -- the 1970s. Movies like 54, American Gangster, Summer of Sam, and the coming remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3; TV shows like Life on Mars and The Bronx is Burning (based on the book "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning"); and a new exhibit about John Lennon in NYC, all bring back memories of the city in that most of tumultuous of decades.

Call this anti-, or ironic, nostalgia.

NYC in the 1970s was supposedly not a pretty place. Literally and figuratively. According to history, the city was a horror show back then. You couldn't go outside without getting raped, mugged, molested, beaten up, or kept out of Studio 54. Robert Caro wrote in The Power Broker that the city was in "chaos and despair." Annie Hall in Annie Hall said it was "a dying city." That's when the city almost went bankrupt and President Ford told it to "drop dead" (he never actually said it but it made for one of the greatest headlines ever).

Apparently, NYC in the seventies just sucked.

Or maybe not. Maybe it wasn't so bad. Maybe it was actually kinda great. Some people are looking back at this low, dishonest decade and thinking that for all the misery, there was something special about it. They want to go back to funky town.

One of these people is James Walcott of Vanity Fair. He has a great article and a slide show in this month's issue about NYC in the 1970s that remembers the city as a strange, exciting place. It hadn't totally and completely sold out to money like it would in the 80s, 90s, and the oughts. NYC back then was still a place that embraced funky people more so than now. This includes the band The New York Dolls and Walcott has another great short article about this band and the late, great CBGBs.

Reading this, I couldn't help but sigh a little. I don't remember NYC in the 1970s at all -- I spent the three years I was alive in it crawling and running around my parents apartment. All of the exciting stuff was happening downtown, far away. And while the city has in no doubt improved since then, for everything we've gained, no doubt, as Walcott says, we've lost something to.

So all we have now is nostalgia.

P.S. I managed to write two blog posts in a row with "funky" in the title. Good for me. Mr NYC vows to keep it (whatever "it" is, presumably this blog) quite funky indeed.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad I saw an indie band play at CBGBs before it shut down...


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