Photo via Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York
Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York is a brilliant site, which lets me and many others not only know about the closing of New York institutions, but their significance to the fabric of our city. Jeremiah covered the closing of St. Marks mainstay, Trash and Vaudeville, with their usual aplomb. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, New York is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution? There was a time I couldn’t think of living anyplace else. New York, well Manhattan, has been hosed down, scrubbed, de-liced and perfumed—cleansed of the grit that once made it special. The city that never sleeps has become a bedroom community.
For the last couple of months I’ve been living in Philadelphia. I do come up to the Big Apple a few times every week for meetings. On a recent trip up, my significant other offered, “This town isn’t what it used to be,” and she was right. As mom and pop businesses lose their leases and national chains take over those spaces, Manhattan offers little but high rents, traffic and people I would never want to sleep with.
The closing of Patricia Fields and exile of Trash and Vaudeville are the latest in the agonizing death of a culture by a thousand pin pricks. Both boutiques remained true to their schools, providing their own signature style until the very end; both were places to gather, chat up the like-minded, absorb the influences of stylish staff that could hardly be imagined elsewhere. They were clubhouses, destinations, places to desperately search for that big outfit for that big date. Trash has just moved around the corner to 7th Street and those who need it will find the skinny jeans, band tees, Doc Martens and rock, goth or punk accessories. St. Marks hasn’t been what it was for a long time; St. Marks Bookstore recently closed, Sounds, the last record store, as well. The Sockman, Kims video and Andy’s Chee-Pees are as dead as Love Saves the Day, Natasha, Repeat Performance, Manic Panic and so many others.
In 1983 I produced “The East Village Look,” a fashion show at the great Danceteria. The exploding neighborhood of boutiques, art galleries and cool bars attracted the rock stars and hipsters. Now with Trash closing, everyone who participated is shuttered, online or sanitized. Back in the day was amazing; I spent the wee hours in clubs of questionable ethics and at dawn or noon, I’d dodge the junkies and my compatriots already rolled, while sleeping it off on stoops. We lived questionable lives, had dangerous sex, paid the price. We were to live fast and die young. Many kept this bargain.
For eons, St. Marks was the go-to spot to pick up go-go girls or boys shopping for spandex or making their hair stand up straight. It was a 24-hour walk of shame in a world where clubs were still open, as yuppie-scum were eating their lunches. Boy Bar, Coney Island High, Club 82, The Nursery, Brownies and a dozen more joints did their part as did the Saint, a mega club that helped define queer NYC nightlife. Everything and everyone was near and willing to exchange spit. It was cheap, it was fast and it was fun. Its sound, its music still makes us squirm, poured out of its pores from a hundred dives.
I stopped at Gem Spa the other day to get an egg cream and pretzel stick, not because I was thirsty, but to take a breath—maybe a look at the bar across the street where Mick Jagger and Keith once smoked cigarettes outside and inside and cruised the local talent. There’s still some familiar spots left in what once was the center of it all: B&H Dairy, St. Marks Comics, Rays on Avenue A and, of course, Gem Spa, but the crowd has changed and I can’t imagine running into Iggy on St, Marks and of course Joey and Dee Dee Ramone are long gone. I bet and I guess I hope that none of the hookers are still working the St. Marks Hotel. I actually never went, but it was somehow comforting to know they were there.
None of this bothers me as life does go on until it doesn’t. What bothers me is Vinyl, the HBO show that supposedly shows us what it was like back in the day, is just so awful—a rewrite of my romantic past. My significant other offered, “It’s after all only a TV show,” but for me it isn’t just a TV show, it’s my soul. You can knock down the stores and bars, destroy the vibe and make the whole fuckin’ town a mall, but to portray it all in Vinyl’s very small, very inaccurate box is blasphemy. Gem Spa’s egg creams, chocolate of course, are all that’s left that you can roll around in your mouth and appreciate that which was before.