Wednesday, October 31, 2018

A Tour of Morningside Heights

Morningside Heights is a neighborhood I know extremely well since, uh, yeah, well, you know, I grew up there.

It's a relatively small uptown Manhattan neighborhood nestled between the Upper West Side and Harlem, anchored by the mighty campus of Columbia University. In many ways it's more of a college town than anything else -- oh, and besides yours truly, it's the same neighborhood where George Carlin and Humphrey Bogart grew up in. How cool is that?

Over the years Morningside Heights has gone from a quiet middle-class neighborhood into a gentrified madhouse -- with more high-rise construction, more chain stores, more expensive restaurants and boutique stores, more tourists, more noise, and just more people conquering the streets than ever before. It doesn't even feel like a residential neighborhood anymore -- it feels more like a bustling commerical district where some people happen to live.

That's why this New York Times piece about Morningside Heights confused me -- according to the "paper of record", this neighborhood is still considered "affordable"? 

Really? Really? The average price is a million bucks for an apartment and it's affordable? Basta! It used to be cheap but not anymore -- and not for a long time. It just goes to show you how skewed the idea of what's "affordable" in this town has become.

However, the article does provide a nice "tour" of the neighborhood and it was a fun, nostalgic read. It you want to know more about the streets where Mr NYC, George Carlin and Humphrey Bogart grew up, read this and enjoy.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Louis CK Protest

Jerry Schatzberg on Bob Dylan in 1960s NYC

The ghost of 1960s Bob Dylan haunts NYC. The young man from Minnesota came to town 1961, hit the downtown music scene, and revolutionized music in an astonishingly short period of time. The musical culture of NYC and America has never been the same since. 

Dylan shot to stardom with his 1965/1966 albums Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde, recorded in NYC within an eighteen-month span -- and they produced classic songs like "Just Like a Woman", "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35", "Like a Rolling Stone", "Mr Tambourine Man", "Blowin' in the Wind", "Maggie's Farm" and "Subterrean Homesick Blues." During this time a photographer named Jerry Schatzberg took numerous pictures of the brilliant singer/songwriter, including the famous cover picutre for Blonde and Blonde.

Bob Dylan and this period of American and musical history are now the stuff of legend. Fortunately, Jerry Schatzberg not only took all these amazing pictures of Dylan during this time but he's still alive to talk about it! Over 90, Schatzberg just gave an amazing interview about his career, what it was like to know Dylan during that time, and how both the artist and the man should be best remembered. Read it -- it'll fascinate you. 

"Wicked" @ 15

Read more about the backstory to one of the most popular musicals on Broadway ever.

Monday, October 29, 2018

"60 Minutes" in NYC

For the last two weeks, the news magazine 60 Minutes has had two big, extremely interesting stories about big changes taking place in NYC:

The first is about Andy Byford and changes that he's making to the NYC subway system. This is a really great story that's not only about the subways and its problems but also about how it works -- and the people who make sure we get from point A to point B. It's a great look behind the curtain of life in this city.

And the second is about the new conductor for the NY Phil, a guy named JAAP! He's quite a character -- and musical genius. It's clear he'll be taking the country's most prestigious orchestra in a new, wild direction.

Friday, October 26, 2018

"The Romanoffs" in NYC

I was huge fan of Mad Men, the great TV series about the world of advertising in 1960s NYC. I blogged about a lot over the years and it's one of my favorite shows ever. 

Now the creator of Mad Men, Matthew Weiner, has a new show on Amazon -- and it is weird. It's called The Romanoffs, a modern-day globe-spanning anthology series about various people who are (or believe they are) descended from the Romanov dynasty (the family that ruled the Russian Empire for three hundred years, from 1613-1918).
The individual plots for each episode are either boring or bizarre but the "Romanoff" factor gives it a certain je ne said quoi, another layer of psychological intrigue that makes this show wholly original -- and quite fascinating. Many of the reviews I've read either hate this show or don't know what to make of it -- which is usually proof of something groundbreaking.

There are (or will be) a total of 8 episodes, going from Paris, to Ohio, to a cruise ship, to Austria and, eventually, Mexico City (amongst other places). But the latest episode, called "Expectation", unfolds over one whole day here in NYC. So, obviously, this is one I can't wait to see. 

If you loved Mad Men, you'll like this show because it has the same cerebral storytelling and black humor. However, The Romanoffs is totally different and it dares to do something that few shows ever do -- it doesn't pander, it doesn't explain itself, it doesn't care if you like it, and leaves you thinking. It's just brilliant, unconventional storytelling. 

By the way, if you want to learn more about the fall of the Romanov dynasty, there are lots of great books about it -- or you could watch the 1971 movie Nicholas & Alexandra.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Memo from NYC

Sometimes it feels like we're living in a highly bi-polar country. 

On one side, things have never felt more scary and dire: a reality-show tabloid freak show from my childhood is now the President and his ruling party is openly fascistic, their government engaging in outright racism and cruelty, things I never imagined I'd ever see, especially in the 21st century. As a result of this, we're seeing literal BOMBS sent to their political rivals. It's spine-chilling, frightening stuff (not to mention that a hero from my childhood, Bill Cosby, is now a jailed convicted rapist).

And then on the other side ... things have neve been better! The activism we're seeing in response to all this evil stuff is truly inspiring to watch and, at least entertainment wise, things have never been better. Is it sad that I'm super excited that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is coming back for a second season? It stuff like this -- political and social activism, an extremely rich culture -- that make me feel like, in some ways, we're living in the best of times. 

F. Scott Fitzgerald talked about how a genius is someone who can hold two opposing thoughts in his or her head at the same time. Things in this country have never been worse -- or better. So both are true -- and let's hope that the bad stuff (i.e. the GOP in power) goes away soon).

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Cuomo & De Blasio on Bomb Scare

Ray Donovan in NYC -- and (almost) my house!

I'm a big fan of the show Ray Donovan, a very entertaining, noirish-crime saga about a Boston-born "fixer" and his extremely dysfunctional family. It stars the great Liev Schreiber and returns for a sixth season on Sunday.

Best of all -- Ray and the gang are in NYC! 

After five seasons exploring the seedy depths of a morally depraved Los Angeles, the show has relocated to NYC and will, presumably, explore our own seedy depths and moral depravity. It'll be amazing to see what kinds of plots the show comes up with here!

And here's an interesting side note: the home of yours truly, Mr NYC, was "scouted" by this show!

That's right, the location scouts for Ray Donovan were interested in filming part of the show in my very own house and a guy came and took lots of pictures. He really liked the exteriors but, apparently, the also needed a basement they could shoot in and ours was (is), well, not exactly user-friendly (it's not finished, low ceilings, no light, very narrow -- although it would've been a great place to dump a body which they do a lot of on that show). This was the notice we got of their interest:

Anyway, I can't wait for the next season to begin -- and I'll be curious to see what house and basement they used! Here's the first episode of Season Six for you enjoyment. 

Bomb Threat! Time Warner Center Evacuated

Free Stuff in NYC

This is just an FYI - TimeOut New York has great info about stuff to do in NYC and, best of all, FREE STUFF to do in NYC.

Definately check this out, it'll open to all the great things this city has to offer and save you money! 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Interview: Alexander Zalben, Managing Editor of

These days there's more pop culture than ever before -- more movies, more TV shows, more music, more celebrity gossip and cultural trends, that's it's impossible to keep track of it. Thankfully, Alexander Zalben is here to help us make sense of it all!

A professional pop culture junkie and commentator, Alex runs, a website that helps all of us fans out there figure out what and what kind of pop culture we want to consume and what shows we want to stream. He's worked at MTV, TV Guide, AMC, and he appears often on TV and radio, as well as at numerous conventions, to give fans the latest news as well as provide commentary about their favorite shows.

Alex was kind enough to tell Mr NYC about how he came upon this very cool, very unlikely career as well as what pop culture means in 2018 (the Trump effect, #MeToo, etc.) as well as his love for the show Riverdale

Tell us briefly about your background and how you managed to forge a career as a professional pop culture junkie/critic/commentator? 

I kind of fell into it by accident! I was working as the Artistic Director of a comedy theater, and started doing a weekly, live talk show about comic books called Comic Book Club, which I still host/produce every week. That led to some comics critic and writing gigs, which led to a full time gig writing for MTV, which is now my whole life! Career paths are weird, man! 

What's, the website that you're the Managing Editor for?

Decider is an entertainment journalism outlet focused on TV, and streaming TV in particular. So Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video... But also you can stream anything nowadays, so it's all fair game.

Quickly, what are some of your favorite movies, TV shows, and bands?

Oh boy. I've been into Game of Thrones and Walking Dead for a long time, but recently have fallen in love with Riverdale and The Good Place. My favorite movies are pretty basic, too: Star Wars, Marvel movies, and I had a birthday party screening of Labyrinth last year, so that probably counts. What are these bands of which you speak?

In the "Golden Age of Television" and streaming shows, has TV become more cultural relevant or dominant than movies? Has TV become equal or more prestigious than movies in the pop culture hierarchy?

I'd say they're different. TV definitely had the volume at the moment, but there's still a cachet to doing a movie in a movie theater. The line is eroding - peak TV shows are often encroaching movie length every week anyway. But you can't match the experience of being in a theater with hundreds of people experiencing the same thing. That said, as movies get more expensive, there's more of a "coin" to watching TV... Not everyone has seen every movie, but the availability of Netflix and others means that everyone can easily watch Maniac "opening weekend," for example, where if that sort of thing was in theaters, it would be seen by a fraction of the audience. Short answer, for the time being they're different... But I definitely watch exponentially more TV, than movies. 

In your opinion, how has the Trump presidency affected pop culture? Does pop culture have a role in keeping people sane during an insane time? 

Well these are two opposing questions, in a way. Trump has absolutely affected pop culture, for better or worse. It's frustrating to watch nearly every TV show make the same "fake news" joke, even if it ostensibly takes place in a world different from ours. But that said, I do think people retreat into pop culture regardless of references and thematic ties, because it offers a brief respite. I was talking to a colleague earlier today about Riverdale, arguably the craziest show on television. But what I like about it is that it's a crazy that's enjoyable, that's manageable, and ultimately one that impacts the characters but is thrilling for the viewers. The reality show we're currently stuck in is the opposite of that: it's crazy, but it'll ultimately impact you in the real world, whether you like it or not. I'd prefer to live in Riverdale, all things considered.

Has the politicization of everything made pop culture better, worse -- or just weird? Is it possible to simply enjoy something because it's funny or well-done or does it feel like there's this dark cloud over everything in the culture today?

I don't think there's a dark cloud over everything. There's a need to feel relevant, but that varies by show, and some do it better than others. Don't just do an episode about #MeToo because you think you should... Do it because it fits the context of the show, the tone, the feel. For example, not TV, but a recent X-Men comic tackled border separation, in a shockingly timely and powerful manner. It worked because the X-Men have always been a metaphor for the "other," whatever that other may be. Or on TV, something like The Good Fight that's inherently a political show can dive right into that. But seeing say, Sofia The First's take on international trade would be a weird fit. It's the responsibility of art to mirror the world we live it, and to shine a light on injustice. But it's not the responsibility of everyone to do it, or in the same way. 

Where does pop culture go after Trump? Can it ever be just fun again? 

I'm having a blast, man! Ha ha, just kidding, I'm depressed every day. But there are those pockets of hope that keep us going. I recently watched The Flash premiere, and it was full of fun and good people being good to each other. Or something like Game Night, that has nothing to do with politics and is just a delightful break from the outside world. There's a lot happening, and I think it's okay to take a break for an hour or two and decompress. Going forward, the world will be different, and entertainment will be changed; but ultimately there are fun things that are fun, there are things that are not fun, and there will always be variations between the two. 

Any other thoughts you'd like to share? Is there anything about pop culture in 2018 that most people don't understand?

I don't think people should feel bad about using pop culture as metaphors. Yes, it's a simplification, and not everything can be broken into Harry Potter vs Voldemort. But that's how people process overwhelming emotions and events, through things they do understand. I love fans. I love that people love things, more than anything else in the world. I am a fan of fans! And there's this mass misunderstanding that people can't like what they like. That's what leads to toxic fandoms, versus the understanding that there can be more than one thing, of a thing. Star Wars can be for girls, and boys, y'all! Sometimes even at the same time! That's okay! The world is a burning hellfire and we have maybe 10 years before the climate collapses. Let people enjoy what makes their heart soar, and as long as they're not hurting someone else it's a-okay. They'll let you like the thing you like, too. 

Thanks Alex!

Friday, October 19, 2018

Lenny Letter RIP

Lena Dunham, she of Girls and much social/gender/racial/political/you-name-it controversy, has shut down her media company Lenny Letter

It was a "female-empowerment" online magazine that published articles be celebrities and various prominent women thinkers about the challenges of being a successful woman in this male dominated culture. 

The reason is clear: lack of money, lack of advertisers, and, presumably, lack of readers.

It's too bad that this didn't succeed and it's just another depressing reminder that it's very hard to do work that promotes social justice while also being profitable.

Along with the closing of the Village Voice, more and more important voices are being drowned out by the digital mob. 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Music Mavens

In the classic NYC movie Moonstruck, Nicholas Cage declares "I love two things: I love you and I love opera."

Well, to paraphrase, I love many things, including two things: the music of Lou Reed and opera.

So it was great to read about two New Yorker the behind the music that I and so many people love.

One is an interview with Marsha Vlasic, a traiblazing music agent who represented many great artists including Lou Reed.

Another is the obituary of Alfred Hubay who ran the box office for the Metropolitan Opera and was responsible for tracking which operas would hit, which wouldn't, and basically kept the most famous opera house in the world afloat for decades. 

Without music mavens like this, the business geniuses supporting the musical geniuses, we wouldn't get to enjoy the wonderful music we love. 

Who Will Inherit Chinatown?

Chinatown is one of the few Manhattan neighborhoods (actually, the only one) that retains its strong ethnic identity. Little Italy barely exists anymore (it's basically just a couple of blocks of restaurants now), Harlem is now majority non-black, and Spanish Harlem and Washington Heights have a huge number of non-Hispanic residents. Gentrification has basically rendered asunder the "ethnic" Manhattan neighborhood.

Except Chinatown. Strong communities activism, community boards, and real estate owners have kept this part of Lower Manhattan identifiably Chinese.

Small family businesses have played a huge part of this ongoing legacy as well. Generation after generation of Chinese Americans have inherited their families restaurants, clothing stores, supplies stores, laundromats, eye glass stores, you name it, and kept them going.

But for how much longer? Will young, highly-educated Chinese people from Chinatown who maybe want to make their fortunes in other businesses, in other industries, maybe even (gasp) in other cities, want to keep family businesses like this going? And, if they don't, will this erode the life and community of Chinatown?

Perhaps but some young people do want to keep their family businesses in Chinatown, and Chinatown itself, going. Sometimes family and community and continuing a legacy are more important than money.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Day the Music (Sorta) Died: The Short, Bizarre Life of Jack FM

On Friday June 3 2005, at around 5 PM, as the afternoon drive was getting under way, listeners to WCBS 101.1 FM turned on their radios and got a nasty shock -- their beloved oldies station, the home of legendary DJs like Cousin Brucie and Don K Reed and shows like the "Doo Wop Shop", suddenly switched formats to a creepy thing called JACK FM.

JACK was strange beast -- a pop music station but without any DJs. Instead, the music was punctuated by snarky comments from an anonymous, pre-recorded voice named JACK. JACK was a very weird, very cruel, and very unpopular commentor. It was impersonal -- in fact, that was the entire point. This station without DJs was trying to be an IPod on the radio -- and the city was outraged.

Mayor Bloomberg used obscene language to register his displeasure with the format change. The Internet blew up with complaints. Cousin Brucie himself even called into WNYC radio to exclaim how music radio was different, special, and an experience that no IPod could replicate. Outraged reigned.

No one liked JACK. JACK was wack. All boring music and no DJs made JACK a dull boy.

The ratings tanked. NYC firmly rejected JACK. The station didn't get JACK in the ratings. And, finally, in 2007, they decided to take JACK off ... the radio. (To paraphrase Fight Club, "I am JACK's total lack of ratings."). Soon enough, WCBS FM returned in all its oldies, high ratings glory.

JACK FM was an attempt to do something "cool" and "cutting edge" and it failed completely. Just a reminder that different isn't always better or more popular. And today, more than a decade, no one in NYC remembers -- or wants to remember -- JACK FM. It's like that embarrassing person you dated years ago that you want to forget and you want everyone else to forget. JACK has gone into NYC radio infamy -- gone and almost forgotten ... but not completely.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Could NYC Become a Ghost Town?

Huge, looming apartment buildings conquer the skyline ... and almost nobody lives in them ...

Retail and store space occupy some of the most famous streets in the world, highly valuable locations ... and much of it is empty ...

That is the reality of NYC today -- it's rapidly becoming a ghost town.

The reason is obvious: the city has become so expensive that many people can't afford to live here and many businesses can't afford to set up shop here. The result is that some of the most desirable real estate in the world is actually empty. You walk by these buildings and storefronts and you're looking at extremely expensive shells that house and cater to no one. 

And it's not just in Manhattan. Go to parts of Brooklyn and Queens and you'll see the same thing: huge swaths of commercial and residential real estate that everyone wants and no one wants to buy (because they can't afford to).

Of course, NYC is not a really ghost town -- more people live here than ever before. But in one of the many paradoxes of this paradoxical times, the vast majority cannot live and cannot shop in many of the locations where they would like to and where geographic logic would dictate that they should. Neighborhoods that are desirable are canniblizing themselves, making them, ironically, less interesting. 

Increasingly, neighborhoods aren't really neighborhoods -- they're strip malls of chain stores and, when a business closes and/or a landlord jacks up the rent, storefronts remain vacant in order to attract another chain store or business that'll pay exorbitant rents. But if they don't ... the spaces remain empty, further degrading the neighborhoods that more and more people can't afford. 

It's a vicious cycle of economics, a death rattle for a once great city. It can't go on like this -- or the kind of NYC that we love will be lost forever.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Interview: Tama Janowitz, Legendary New York Novelist

If you’ve read this blog long enough you know how much I love the work of Tama Janowitz, the author of Slaves of New York and other New York novels. Her writing is funny, quirky, and brutally honest. She explores the loves, lusts, ambitions, and anxieties of people striving to be successful and happy – and how it’s almost impossible to be either in this super-competitive world. 

Tama has been publishing books for over thirty years, a literary survivor. Describing herself as a “depressed person who laughs a lot”, she has lived an amazing life. Tama was kind enough to tell Mr NYC readers about her life’s journey, her work, her writing process, her memories of NYC in the 1980s, what it was like to know Andy Warhol -- and about the future. 
Very briefly, who is Tama Janowitz and where did she come from? What made you choose a crazy career like writing -- or did it choose you?

I wanted to be a painter but my mom was single, unemployed (for the most part) and we lived very, very marginally. Paints/materials cost money. You could write with a pencil and paper (although in my case I had a manual typewriter!). I just was very determined and even in high school I wrote and wrote and wrote. Plus, me and my mom were huge readers, we read avidly, all the time, we discussed everything we passed back and forth. We got books at the drugstore with the covers ripped off, they cost a quarter; we went to the library every week. Reading to me was being allowed to visit another planet; to enter into someone else's head. If you are reading something you are absorbed by, you are THERE, and then you put down the book and you are NOT there, you are back in the world, but as soon as you pick up that book again you are right back teleported onto that other planet, other time, other people. The actual writing was far harder than I imagined. My mother was very encouraging. She never said, 'You are great!' she just said, 'Good work, keep going, I am enjoying this.' She was never shocked by anything I wrote, just supportive and encouraging. Painting for me was fun; writing was work, but I expect that had I continued to paint as a 'career' or 'life path' it would have eventually turned into 'work'. My mother told me, 'You don't wait to be 'inspired,' you just put words down on paper and when you have enough pages, you can start revising, which is where the work really begins.

You became famous for Slaves of New York in 1986 -- a book about struggling artists and hangers-on in early 1980s Manhattan. Did you still feel like a struggling artist when you wrote it, and even after you became successful? Does a professional writer always need to feel like he or she is struggling in order to stay good?

Oh I don't know. I never made much money from the whole thing, I always say had I started at McDonald's I would now have made more, plus I might be a manager or own my own franchise AND have health insurance. I know rich people who are writers, or look at Edith Wharton! She not only never struggled financially, she never -- apparently -- struggled with getting words on paper, and she is a great writer! Or, William Styron, he struggled with depression but he was married to a wealthy heiress, at least he didn't have to worry about money! Ultimately all human beings are pretty much struggling with something, from what I can see. However, I really, really want to win a BIG lottery so I can fully understand what it is like to not worry or struggle financially. Indeed, winning might prove to 'blight' me. It might be dreadfully burdensome. However, I am WILLING to accept the prize money, if for no further reason than to STRUGGLE with the outcome.

One of the things I like about your books is that the characters are complex and messy. They have very real but also contradicting motivations, just like people in real life. For instance, Eleanor in "Slaves", Florence Collins in A Certain Age, and Peyton Amberg are women who want to be successful in their own right but also feel dependent on men. Is that a good way to describe your characters or, as a man, am I missing something?

Again, I don't know. I think in A Certain Age Florence wanted the societal conveniences and acceptance that come -- at least in my experience, in NYC -- from being married to/associated with -- a wealthy man. (And, these days, same sex is also a status thing). I don't think she felt dependent on a man -- not for love, really -- but for status. She felt like she had waited too long, at 32, the game of musical chairs was ending and she didn't have a seat. Peyton Amberg was different than Florence, it was in a sense a study of a nymphomaniac, she had a void she kept trying to fill: adventure, excitement, basically she was looking for love but since she did not understand what love was, the hunger was all consuming. I can't explain further, I don't think. Both books are in a way about desperation, despair, wanting and an inability to find an inner peace.

When you write, are you more interested in advancing a plot or exploring the lives of your characters?

I don't think plots are my forte. I always think of E.M. Forster's advice 'the king died and then the queen died' is different than, 'the king died and then the queen died OF GRIEF' the latter is a plot. I'm paraphrasing Forster now of course. How does real life work? Dickens was heavy with the plot. And the coincidences too. Most of 'real life' is not a plot. You are born, you go to school, your parent’s divorce, you go to college, you get a job, you get married, you have kids, your parents die, whatever -- it's a string of events. How do you turn a string of events into a plot that, in so many ways, is NOT real life? Even W.G. Sebold, who one reads for the purity of the writing, manages to put a plot into the work of some sort, however un-plot like. The novel: there are suspense novels, mystery novels, horror novels, family sagas, historical novels etc. the person living her or his life may or -- more probably -- doesn't see their life as having a plot. There's very little way to understand much more than waking up in the morning, eating breakfast. Let's say you have a bad night's sleep and in the morning you are irritable with your child and so that child goes to school that day and gets in a fight with another kid and gets suspended and during that time hangs out in the park and burns down a nearby house, killing an elderly woman and her grandchild and blah blah blah. To see the 'plot' on the part of the person who was irritable that morning with their child, would take an outside observer. Because otherwise, we'd all go crazy, just because we got irritable with someone the entire planet is destroyed? Or, you're very kind to someone and give them five dollars and that gives them just enough to buy some bullets? What I'm trying to say is, just because you as a person are irritable at breakfast, you're not taking part in a plot.

How do you go about creating characters in your fiction? Who are some of your personal favorite characters that you've created?

I can't even remember my books. I struggle writing, sometimes it is more of a struggle. When I am done I have a good feeling for about five minutes. If my book gets accepted, published, I feel good for about five minutes. I can't feel so good for more than five minutes. And there are some fun moments in writing but they are rare and then I do feel good for five minutes. Sometimes I write a line or so that I can still feel good about. Or the moment when a character starts doing stuff I didn't know they would do, that is a good feeling.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but you've published 12 books, including a memoir. Has it gotten easier or harder to keep writing over the years?

Yes, I wrote about that many and I did write more that never got published. And it got harder over the years with nasty reviews 99.9 per cent of the time and I mean that seriously, and no money, and fewer brain cells. And I used to wake up determined DETERMINED I would write 1,500 words a day like a job, just DO IT good bad indifferent until the book took off on its own recognizance or there was enough of a finished book to get an actual idea and start re-writing (like my mom would say, 'gee, this book really starts to take off on page seventy, throw out the first seventy pages and start from there'). I'm not complaining, I had a lot of fun. But if you do something and you don't make money and you don't get good reviews and it's not that much fun to do it most of the time, you get tired out.

In the 1980s, you were part of the glamorous party, art, and literary scene in NYC. What was special about the city and that time to you?

I had so much fun then and met people and traveled all over the world and ate in all the restaurants and went to openings, nightclubs, theater, ballet, opera, openings. And back then you could pretty much create your own outfit, even if you didn't have the same cache as rich people buying Hermes and Valentino etc. one time a magazine made me over to look like a rich person and, wow, did I command respect and was ushered into the V.I.P [. board members club at the opera. free champagne, for sure! Other times I went to Three Roses on Canal Street back when NYC was ROUGH. In retrospect, had I been more confident, had I had any self-esteem, had I been less scared, had I had any financial cushion/security to fall back on (other than scrambling to apply for grants/awards, writing a story that possibly The New Yorker might buy for 3k that would pay my rent for 3 months) had I been prettier, had I not been treated with hostility, well, gosh! Things might have been different.

You and other popular young writer in the 1980s became known as the "Brat Pack." Did you resent that label or is it a badge of honor?

It did not bother me because it had nothing to do with me and other people I barely knew/met. It was odd to be lumped together, but the media sure liked it.

You also knew Andy Warhol in his final years. What was he like -- and what's was it like knowing someone who was already a legend?

Now I wish I had written down everything he said when I would get home every night because he was so so so funny and in a really brilliant way, dry, observant, witty and I did not write down what he said and he had me howling with laughter every night and now I can't remember what he said. and he was so maligned at the time, by critics, by a lot of people, they were so snarky about him - a has-been gay aging pop artist - but he did not let it get to him, at least outwardly, and he always told me, 'gee Tama it doesn’t matter what they say about you in a column, it's how many inches they give you' but he said it in a much better way. but, the difference is, he loved going out and going to the places and seeing the celebrities and the latest play, show, opening, club, whatever, and he loved the attention = good, bad, indifferent -- and I just can't stand it. I just feel invaded, accosted, scared. There is no fun in that for me. That's why I left the city, I like to see some plants growing and my horse and the seasons, and in NYC if you are a success you don't have a second to realize it before you are rated a SECOND CLASS HAS-BEEN TOAD. Which is how they treated Andy, but he didn't mind. 

You're a female writer in a male-dominated field. How did you deal with the sexism that came from that? And what do you think about #MeToo?

I don't think people realize the level of contempt that men have for women (I'm generalizing now) but until recently women were no more than something held 'a little higher than my horse, a little lower than my dogs' anyway life is so so short, I know I am lucky there is dental care and antibiotics and it is strange first you are young, as a female, and considered a sex entity or just plain and valueless, and then you get old and you become invisible as a female, but if you are an old guy, you are still esteemed. But that's my opinion. 

As someone who has lived in and written a lot about NYC, what do you think about how the city has changed over the years? 

It is not the same place where thirty years ago although that time was almost over, you could come to NYC and survive, you did not need to have money, you just needed to escape where you came from, you needed to have desire, dreams, ambition, you needed a community with which to identify, you needed to go there because you wanted to 'make it'. You could find probably a cheap apartment, you could find a job that was in a copy shop or a waiter position that would pay for the rent, if you were young you could go out at night and find other lunatics of your ilk. now it is a city of young P.R. people paid for by their parents and anxious to get a ticket to a P.R. event on a rooftop where the crowd is composed of other P.R. kids. 

You eventually left NYC for upstate New York. What was that transition like and do you miss the city at all? 

I don't miss NYC but it is so grim bleak and dreary here six months of the year it is mud, cold, darkness, there is no delivery of food, it is hunting season, they go bang bang bang with the guns, they shoot anything they want and the roads are icy. And it is bleak here but it can be bleak in the mountains of West Virginia and many, many other places but it is not that cold there! then six months a year it is beautiful and there are leaves on the trees, although there are many flies and things, we have horse flies, deer flies, green flies, bot flies, mosquitos, ground bees, wasps, no, I would not choose to come to this area. No no no. I think Hawaii sounds really nice, away from a volcano. Maybe the mountains of Tennessee? Mountains of Arizona? What about, parts of Oregon? I would like to move to one of those places. But I have applied for many, many teaching jobs. I applied for a job at the community college of Laramie, Wyoming but they did not even trouble themselves to respond and say, 'Sorry, Tama Janowitz, you did not get the job.' What do you hope to accomplish in the future, either personally or in your writing? I am trying to learn how to ride a horse. I have a horse, she is a 16 year old quarter-horse I purchased from my teacher, Stasia Newell at Newell Farm. I have been riding this horse for five and a half years now. So far, I am not a good rider. But, my dream would be to LOOK good on her. Plus, my mare Fox is, like, my closest friend! I know that sounds silly but we just love each other. 

Finally, tell us something about Tama Janowitz that we don't know! 

There's nothing I can tell you; really. I am a depressed person who laughs a LOT.

Couldn’t have said it better myself! That said, when you look at the great works and amazing life she's had, I hope you feel some joy! Thanks!

You can find all of Tama's book on here

Friday, October 12, 2018

Pump Up the Volume: The Rise and Fall of Pirate Radio in NYC

As a young'un, one of my favorite movies was Pump Up the Volume. It's about a miserably lonely teenager who starts a pirate radio station out of his bedroom/parent's garage that becomes a sensation in the desolate, boring Arizona town he's just moved to with his family. 

Operating under the name "Happy Harry", he speaks directly to the emotional pain and tumult of his fellow teenagers. Unlike his regular shy, reserved self (named Mark), "Harry" is funny, outrageous, profane; he plays wild music, calls kids who write confessional letters, and even prank calls the high school's guidance counselor. His craziness quickly becomes a target by the town elders and eventually the FCC -- and it all ends dramatically. 

As a teenager this movie "spoke" to me. It was and remains the most realistic, most accurate look at what it was like to be an early 1990's teenager. And the idea of creating your own pirate radio station seemed amazing to me at the time.

Of course, these days, we'll all pirate radio broadcasters thanks to the Internet. We can create YouTube channels, Facebook Live, or podcasts -- and, of course, blogs! Pump Up the Volume reminds you of a time where the idea of young, regular person reaching hundreds, thousands of other people to broadcast their lives was a truly novel, totally strange concept.

But pirate radio was a real thing! In Brooklyn, back in the 1990s, there was an amazing pirate radio station called WBAD, a hip-hop station that quickly become a local phenomenon (I remember a guy in one of my SAT prep classes talking about it). Eventually, of course, the media and the FCC got wind of it and pursued it to its grave.

Listen to this amazing Studio 306 segment about WBAD, a piece of NYC history, and remind yourself of another time when the idea of regular people broadcasting to the masses was a truly revolutionary idea 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

"The Life and Times of Tim" Revisited

Eight years ago I blogged about a hilarious, obscure cable cartoon show called "The Life and Times of Tim" about a sad sack who lives with his girlfriend in NYC, has a crummy job and awful friends, and finds the world totally bewildering and scary and overwhelming.

As I said at the time, it felt like this show had been created just for me. It's viciously funny, its sense of humor is, well, like mine, and Tim even looks like me! 

The show only lasted for about three seasons and vanished into the cultural ether but it's great to see that, years later, this classic show is getting some revisionist love.

Best of all, you can find many of the episodes on YouTube so click here if you want to laugh your ass off about a guy who is, in too many painful ways to count, a lot like your friend, Mr NYC. 

Salvador Dali & Rikers Island - A Story Too Bizarre to be Believed

This is a story that's too bizarre, too weird, too only-in-New York to be believed.

It begins like this: Salvador Dali -- yes, that Salvador Dali! -- painted a picture for Rikers Island ... and that's not even the strangest thing about this very strange story of an inside-job art heist that went wrong ... or did it?

Read it and wrap your mind around how small decisions plus bad decisions plus bad luck plus dumb good luck can lead to some people's lives getting ruined and others prospering. It's a reminder of why life, and this world, is so unfair.

And what ever happened to the painting? We still don't know! 

Postscript: here's a clip from a documantary about Salvador Dali in NYC in 1965, the same year he painted this picture for Rikers Island.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

'Tis the (Cultural) Season

This fall the culture of NYC is richer than ever.

We recently went to the just-closed Heavenly Bodies exhibit at the Met (the fashion show of Catholic Church and Catholic Church-inspired garb) and I'm itching to see the New York at Its Core exhibit at the Museum of the City of NY (it tells the story of NYC through the lives of important individual New Yorkers and 450 objects). 

Also this fall, if you can afford the tickets, is a booming season on Broadway of original plays. For the last several years Broadway has seen an influx of "blockbuster" musicals, many based on movies, and original straight-plays have become scarcer and scarcer. But this season is different. There's a bunch of new plays featuring great actors like Kerry Washington, Bryan Cranston, Daniel Radcliffe, and Cherry Jones that should make any fan of great acting and original drama salivate.

But what's got moi really salivating is this: the new Velvet Underground Experience exhibit. This a massive multi-media show of films, pictures, "projections", special events, and lots of other stuff that not only is about the band and its music but also about the late 1960s music and artistic scene in NYC that birthed and nurtured it. I cannot wait to see this!

So, this fall, as always, the cultural life in NYC never disappoints. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Wall Street *Hearts* Democrats

Okay, not really, but lots of people in the financial industry are pouring huge amounts of money into Democratic campaigns to help the party win control of Congress next month.

Normally the financial industry gives way more money to their employees in the Republican party but, this year, it seems that all bets are off.

"Bet" is the operative word. A lot of this money is probably being given so that the financial industry will get access (and favorable regulations, etc.) from a Democratic congress, assuming the Democrats win. But it appears that raw greed and self-interest isn't the only thing motivating this giving: it seems that even people in the brutal, cut-throat world of Wall Street have some decency and don't like seeing their country slide into fascism.

If only the maniacs in DC had the decency of the people on Wall Street. 

Friday, October 5, 2018

Memo from NYC

To: Senator Susan Collins of Maine, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia
From: The People of NYC

You are both disgraces to humanity and, specifically, women everywhere.

History will judge you both harshly.

I hope that neither of you ever enjoy a moment's peace and that people boycott your states.

We will never forget!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Power vs. Hope: Where Do They Lead?

We live in anxious times. Actually, times have always been anxious but especially now.

We have a distorted economy that works for an elite few and not the many. Foreign powers are trying to corrupt our democracy. Men are scared of being accused of sexual misconduct -- and women are even scared of accusing them. Social media rules our world in scary ways. The threat of terrorism is never far from anyone's mind.

More and more, NYC is being sold off to the highest bidders. And, oh yes, and the president of the United States is insane.

Lots of reasons to be anxious. The only thing that seems like a Balm in Gilead is that TV is better than ever. That's about it.

If you want to understand why, structurally, our society is so warped, read these two very different, but ultimately interrelated NYC tales. One is about how Donald Trump and his family used out-right fraud to increase their wealth. Another is about the bad decisions made by clueless rich people who drove the New York City Opera out of business. In both stories, you read about the arrogance of wealth -- the indifference to consequence, the belief that they can do no wrong even when they very wrong things, complete insouciance to the people who work for them or the society they live in. It makes for depressing, rage-inducing reading -- but explains a lot about how greed and willful blindness inflict so much damage.

But hope is always somewhere, glimmering on the horizen. It was true in the past and it's true today.

Read the original 1967 review of the Velvet Underground, predicting that this was an important band (indeed it was, it revolutionized music). And read a short interview with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the soon-to-be-Congresswoman who's bravery and brilliant political instincts will, hopefully, lead to a revolution in how this country is governed -- and how we might unwarp our society. There's always hope somewhere, fighting against the dominant paradigm, fighting against the power, always something good boiling beneath the surface, creating inevitable, positive change.

Full Van Morrison Concert - NYC, 1978

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

"Nighthawks" -- The Eternal NYC Noir Enigmatic Masterpiece

Some paintings are breathtaking for their beauty or dazzling in their imagery (think Vermeer or J.W. Turner or most Renaissance paintings).

Some paintings tickle our brain with their complexity (think Jackson Pollack or George Seurat).

Some paintings are iconic for what they represent (think the romance of the “Mona Lisa” or the fiery political passion of “Guernica”).

And some paintings are memorable for their mystery.

No painting is more memorably mysterious than Edward Hopper's 1942 masterpiece “Nighthawks.” 

It's the painting that defines New York City noir. It's haunting, beautiful, and simple. “Nighthawks” depicts the exterior of a coffee shop on an anonymous downtown street, most probably Greenwich Village. Light emanates out of the window onto a dark, empty sidewalk. Through the window we see two men in suits sitting at the enormous counter along with a woman in a red dress. A uniformed man behind the counter bends over.

What is the man doing? What is he getting under the counter? What are the man and woman sitting next to each other talking about? Why is the other man sitting at the counter alone? Where is the door that leads from the street into the coffee shop -- and why don't we see it? What time of the night is it? Why is no else around? What’s going on?

The picture is nothing but mystery -- unanswered, unanswerable questions, an eternal enigma. Its simplicity -- the chromatic uniformity of the people’s clothes, the street, the buildings, all of the images -- gives us little to go on. All we know is that the coffee shop is called "Phillies". And each cup of coffee costs five cents (the going rate in 1942).

That's it. That's all. 

That's genius.

When Edward Hopper painted “Nighthawks” in 1942, the world was at war. New York was still a city of factory workers, tenement dwellers, and average Joes. The city was recovering from the Depression along with the rest of the country. It was a time when the future seemed uncertain (much like now). The mystery of those times, the spirit of those times and the haunting the New York that captured it, is reflected in the painting, and that's what makes it masterpiece.

I've blogged a lot about my love of NYC at night -- the jazzy, sexy, mysterious, dangerous feel of it. There's a hint of crime, of secret transgression about it. “Nighthawks” not only captures that mood perfectly but defines it. Not for nothing this painting has become an American icon, parodied and lionized throughout American culture (for example, The Simpsons or TCM's Open All Night intro).

How did “Nighthawks”, this ultimate NYC painting, come to be? Why has it endured?

Listen to this extensive segment from Studio 360 about the painting's creation and amazing legacy. In many ways, it asks more questions than it answers -- much like the painting itself. Sadly you can't see Nighthawks in NYC -- it belong to the Art Institute of Chicago. So if you're ever in the Windy City, perhaps drop in and see this ultimate piece of New York lore.