The New York apartment where Bowie lived in the 90s is on the market and his pianos included in the price
If youre still mourning David Bowie, and want something to remember him by, then theres one unique piece of Bowie memorabilia you might be interested in. The only drawback? It will cost you the thick end of $6.5m.
It should be said, its a fairly splendid setup, located in the famous Essex House apartment block on Central Park South. The living room of apartment 915 has panoramic views of the park, and opens into a stately walnut-panelled office that also faces Central Park the perfect place from which to close the next big deal, write the next bestselling novel or make into a third bedroom, according to the listing.
Inspired by fragments of lyrics and old recordings, novelist Hari Kunzru set off through Americas deep south
We were driving from New York to west Texas, and late in the afternoon we left Nashville and crossed the Tennessee state line into Mississippi. My girlfriend (now my wife), a writer friend and I were following the Natchez Trace, an ancient route that had been turned into a national park, a strip of unbroken green stretching 400 miles south. As I drove, the modern world of gas stations and strip malls fell away, and it seemed to me that I was travelling back into a yellow-hued past. It was beautiful, but at the same time faintly threatening, like several moments on that trip: the Disney castle that loomed up over a dark forest and revealed itself as a chemical plant; the electrical storm on the horizon as we pulled into a motel.
In the rural south, the three of us stuck out like a sore thumb. We were the set-up for a bad joke: an Asian woman, a white woman and a non-specific brown man walk into a bar More than once we brought a place of business to a halt. I remember a gas station with a diner counter where a row of men in hunting camo stopped spooning eggs into their mouths just to watch me pay for a soda. There was a diner in Clarksdale run by a Lebanese family (flag on the wall, tabouleh and hummus on the menu after the usual American items) where the waitress leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially, New York?, as if making contact on behalf of the super-secret immigrant-welcoming committee.
Soon we left Mississippi behind, but the place was firmly lodged in my imagination: the signs of the Baptist churches raining hellfire on passing motorists, the empty bottles of Four Roses bourbon at the William Faulkner House, the Spanish moss hanging from the trees. Even before that journey Id been caught up in the music. Modern Mississippi (the part that isnt buying Faith Hill records) bumps along to trap and bass, nodding its head to Gucci Mane or the Jackson rapper Big KRIT, but I had got mixed up in a style that seems to have been consigned to heritage tourism: the country blues.
If I say its almost impossible to hear the blues now, thats not because its unavailable, quite the opposite. In every city in America (and most others around the world) there is a half-empty bar where a middle-aged man with a ponytail is yodelling about how he woke up this morning and got down on his knees. Young baby boomers fell in love with the blues, and made their taste global. In England, skinny young rock musicians like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones studied the old songs, then sold them back to America with extra heaviness. John Bonhams massive booming drums on When The Levee Breaks werent recorded anywhere near a levee, but in the hall of a Hampshire country house. Though the height of its popularity was 50 years ago, in the popular imagination the blues still stands for authenticity.
But since authenticity is catnip to capital, the blues has become a visual shorthand in advertising: a tastefully blown-out shot of a sharecropper sitting on a porch playing a harmonica, cut with a water droplet running down the flank of a beer bottle. Its hard to think of another kind of music that has been so thoroughly hollowed out.
But it is extraordinary music, if you can really hear it. Ive been making playlists of songs originally recorded on 78rpm shellac discs in the years before the second world war, songs that sounded like the work of ghosts. The voices of the old singers were distant in time, muffled by crackle and hiss, and yet somehow immediate. I started scribbling lists of names in my notebook, fingerpicking guitarists, men from the Mississippi hills who played fife and drums. Inevitably, I started writing a novel, if only as a pretext for my obsession. A couple of years after my first short trip, I went back, following a meandering path dictated by fragments of old lyrics and the life stories of musicians.
Berrys style permeated rock music so completely that you could hear his influence in everyone who picked up a guitar for decades afterwards
When Chuck Berry wrote School Day (Ring Ring Goes the Bell), his detailed evocation of a day in the life of an American teenager in the Eisenhower era, he created an anthem for a generation: As soon as three oclock rolls around, you finally lay your burden down / Close up your books, get out of your seat / Down the hall and into the street / Up the corner and round the bend / Right to the juke joint you go in. What he also provided was an education. Young Britons of the postwar era took their 11-plus exams, followed a few years later by their O-levels. In between, a significant number of them studied Chuck Berry.
Also on the informal course were the works of Bo Diddley and Jimmy Reed. The more advanced students made their way to Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and John Lee Hooker. But among the array of great American rhythm and blues heroes, it was Berry who provided the most stimulating and influential set texts, mainly because it was in his work that the harsh poetry of the blues was softened, streamlined and neon-lit in a way that made it immediately palatable to a young white audience.
To the generation born in Britain around the end of the second world war, his songs opened up a new world. What Little Richard and Elvis Presley suggested in sound, he portrayed in words as well: a world of freedom and pleasure, in which adults no longer set the whole agenda.
It was Berry who presented kids still going to school on a bike or in a trolleybus with the exhilarating details of a battle on the open highway between a Cadillac Coupe de Ville and a V8 Ford, and with lascivious descriptions of girls like the immortal Little Queenie: There she is again, standing over by the record machine / Looking like a model on the cover of a magazine / Shes too cute to be a minute over 17. With minds inflamed by such images, we found ourselves looking at our parents Morris Minor and our neighbours daughter in a quite different light.
Those of us who had never even seen a jukebox heard from his lips what it might be like to drop the coin into the slot and hear something thats really hot. In a provincial England where Levi jeans and white T-shirts were virtually unobtainable, Berrys word-pictures were a tantalising glimpse of a better world elsewhere, or at least one soon to come.
Skiffle had been the musical 11-plus. All you needed for a passable mastery was a washboard, a tea-chest bass, some sort of guitar, possibly home-made, and unlimited enthusiasm. And when that became too restricting a form, when you were putting away the washboard and the Lonnie Donegan Fan Club badge, moving on from the works of Lead Belly and Big Bill Broonzy and getting hold of a real electric guitar and a rudimentary drum kit, Chuck Berry was what happened next.
Instead of a music that reflected the experience of hoboes riding the rails or convicts on a chain gang in some southern penitentiary, here was the soundtrack to the experience of being a teenager in the postwar years of growing affluence, when societys rules were being gently tested for what seemed like the first time: Sweet little 16, shes got the grown-up blues / Tight dresses and lipstick, shes sporting high-heeled shoes / Oh, but tomorrow morning shell have to change her trend / And be sweet 16 and back in class again. Roll Over Beethoven seemed, if not exactly a call to the barricades, then a harbinger of the end of deference.
Berrys influence was (and is) everywhere, starting with every note ever played by Keith Richards, who mastered Berrys distinctive hard-driving riffs heard on the introductions to Johnny B Goode, Sweet Little Rock and Roller and Promised Land and fashioned them into his own style. By learning how to play Berrys signature figures, in their simple but potent thirds and fourths, a young musician acquired free access to the driving momentum of early rocknroll. This was a cooler, more modern equivalent of Fats Dominos or Little Richards hammered boogie-woogie eight-to-the-bar piano riffs cooler and more modern because it was played on an electric guitar, a glittering and still-exotic device that, unlike the upright Victorian keyboard instrument residing in your parents parlour, clearly belonged amid the glittering of the world of tailfins and jukeboxes.
Richards group even made their recording debut with a Berry song, Come On, with its typically wry lyric: Everything is wrong since me and my baby parted / All day long Im walking cos I couldnt get my car started / Laid off from my job and I cant afford to check it /I wish somebodyd come along and run into it and wreck it The groups singer, Mick Jagger, found just the right tone of youthful petulance.
Naturally, there were young Americans who responded to what Berry was doing. Buddy Holly, the first great white rocknroll singer-songwriter, had a posthumous UK hit with his cover of Brown-Eyed Handsome Man. The Beach Boys took Sweet Little Sixteen and turned it into Surfin USA. But it was in Britain that the spark turned into a blaze.
In those days, you went to a club to see a Mersey Sound group or an R&B band from the Thames Delta, at a time before any of them got famous, simply hoping to hear one or more of Berrys songs played live, with those guitar riffs powering out of a Vox. For a while, the Stones practically lived off his work. Carol was on their first album, Im Talkin About You was on Out of Our Heads, and Little Queenie was still in their repertoire when a 1969 show at Madison Square Garden was released as Get Yer Ya-Yas Out. Like many others, they borrowed his radical rearrangements of Bobby Troups Route 66 and Don Rayes Down the Road Apiece.
The Beatles second album included Roll Over Beethoven, and the anthemic RocknRoll Music appeared on Beatles for Sale. A few years later, on the White Album, Paul McCartney paid homage to Back in the USA with Back in the USSR. John Lennon, who once said, If you had to try and give rocknroll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry, modelled a line in Abbey Roads Come Together Here come ol flat-top, he come groovin up slowly on one from Berrys You Cant Catch Me.
The rapid-fire complaint of Too Much Monkey Business would inspire Bob Dylans game-changing Subterranean Homesick Blues in 1965. Eight years later, Bruce Springsteen borrowed the same template for Blinded by the Light, the first track on his debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, and thus the song with which he announced himself to the world.
Let It Rock another anthem gave its title to that of a magazine founded in London in 1972 by the late Charlie Gillett and later published by a short-lived body called the Rock Writers Collective. It was also used by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood for a clothes shop on the Kings Road in premises that had begun life as Paradise Garage and would continue as Sex, Too Fast to Live Too Young to Die, Seditionaries and Worlds End.
Berry was the great librettist of the first era of teenage music. He took the preoccupations of the blues and country music and gave them a rejuvenating twirl, introducing names, detail and incidental colour in a way that brought entire scenes to vivid life, painting pictures in the minds of those for whom Georgia and Louisiana were an ocean away.
Never did his words and music fuse more effectively than on Memphis, Tennessee, where the plaintive guitar and Latin rhythm underscored the sad, sweet story of a man, far from home, trying to place a call to a girl who turns out to be the nine-year-old daughter of his broken marriage. The portrait of Johnny B Goode, the country boy who extracted his guitar from a gunny sack in order to strum along with the rhythms of passing trains, is extended into Bye Bye Johnny, where the protagonist leaves Louisiana for the Golden West, his dreams of a career in motion pictures funded by a doting mother.
Berrys gift reached its apogee in Promised Land, probably the finest song ever written about the American dream. A modern Odyssey, it describes a journey from Norfolk, Virginia to Hollywood by Greyhound bus, Midnight Flyer train and jet plane, giving details of family favours bestowed on the po boy en route (They bought me a silk suit, put luggage in my hand) and the wonder of in-flight meals (Working on a T-bone steak a-la-carty) before the magic moment arrives: Swing low, chariot, come down easy / Taxi to the terminal zone / Cut your engines and cool your wings / And let me make it to the telephone. When Elvis Presley recorded it at the Stax studio in Memphis in 1973, the former truck driver sounded like a man who had lived the song: Tell the folks back home this is the promised land calling / And the po boy is on the line.
Berry also demonstrated that the new music could be made with a sense of humour that did not compromise its credibility. He could empathise with the put-upon young man seeing the summer slip away in the monotony of a dead-end job Workin at the filling station, too many tasks / Wipe the windows, check the tyres / Check the oil, a dollar gas and with the young lovers fumbling their way to a session of 1950s-style heavy petting: The night was young and the moon was gold / So we both decided to take a stroll / Can you imagine the way I felt / I couldnt unfasten her safety belt. With its adolescent epiphanies and insecurities, what was George Lucass American Graffiti, if not a two-hour Chuck Berry song?
Although Berry was already coming to the end of his 20s when he recorded Maybellene, his very first hit, in 1955, he had the gift of sounding young sometimes disturbingly so. When you were a teenager, it didnt seem to matter that Berry was obviously 10 years or more older than the pubescent girls he celebrated; his unapologetic loucheness, and the fact that he played guitar like ringin a bell while sliding across the stage in his patented Duck Walk, took him right out of the category of grown-ups.
In 1962, at a time when he owned a nightclub and was investing in real estate, and just as his British disciples were about to spread his fame, he served an 18-month jail sentence for contravening the Mann Act, a US law penalising those guilty of the offence of taking an under-age girl across a state line for immoral purposes. It seemed like a vicious piece of discrimination, as brutal as the persecution of Jerry Lee Lewis for doing what had come naturally in rural Louisiana (ie marrying his 13-year-old cousin). But then, in 1990, Berry paid more than a million dollars to settle a collective lawsuit from a group of women who claimed that he had installed a video camera in the female restrooms at his restaurant, the Southern Air, in Wentzville, Missouri. As with Roman Polanski, the shadow lingered.
After that first prison term, he was never the same creative force. While he was inside, he wrote his last really memorable songs: No Particular Place to Go, Nadine, You Never Can Tell, Tulane and Promised Land. In the following years he gave many performances that were barely even perfunctory, he insisted on being paid in cash (a habit that eventually landed him in trouble with the tax authorities), he was evasive and enigmatic in his encounters with the media, and he never seemed more than superficially grateful for good fortune that came his way, whether the eventual No 1 hit with the egregious My Ding-a-Ling or a command performance at the White House in front of Jimmy Carter in 1979. But back when it was all new, he was the one who really laid it all out.
The rapper finally served up Broccoli to his adoring fans, while the Thai-inspired tones of Khruangbin and Real Estates soothing singalongs were other highlights
The prospect of Thai-inspired funk written and performed by three friends from Houston, Texas, might sound like a terrible prospect, however Khruangbin are anything but. Laura Lee (bass), Mark Speer (guitar), and Donald Johnson (drums) make the kind of instrumental music youd imagine J Dilla would be cribbing from if he were still around, with lush expansive tracks that are performed with a hair metal-style exuberance. Lee and Johnson provide the backing on beautiful psych numbers like White Gloves, while Speer reels around, alternating between subtle picking and over-the-top, down-on-both-knees shredding. Its at times needlessly over the top but behind it all is music that is carefully crafted and a fitting tribute to the groups found on excellent Thai music sites such as monrakplengthai.blogspot.com. Tracks like Mr White and Two Fish and an Elephant break through the clammy, humid Austin afternoon with their own brand of sunshine.
Premieres from Terrence Malick and Edgar Wright will pull in the crowds, but theres an impressive list of talks, TV showcases and music to investigate
This year, South by Southwest (SXSW) has had to weather a storm in the buildup to the annual week-long festival in Austin. Artist outrage and an open letter concerning a clause in contracts that seemed to suggest collusion between organizers and immigration officials has seen the festival promise to make a change for 2018. It has overshadowed a year that looks like one of the strongest yet, with the film element snagging premieres from the likes of Terrence Malick and Edgar Wright, and a list of featured speakers that offers looks into the topical issues of surveillance and virtual reality. The TV coverage continues to become an increasingly important part of the festival, with first looks at the highly anticipated Neil Gaiman adaptation American Gods and the film to TV transformation of Dear White People. Music is its usual sprawling mix of on-site showcases and offerings off the beaten path. Heres our pick of the must-see moments this year.
The likes of Doug Aitken have decamped to the outskirts of Palm Springs to exhibit large-scale works that challenge the history of the western expansion and appear along the route to a certain music festival
Speeding down the Gene Autry Trail, a Palm Springs desert road named after the singing cowboy, there are mountains to the north and south, and billboards on each side. Somewhere between the ads for milkshakes and legal counsel, there are large-scale images of mountains, and from three exacting positions on the road, they suddenly snap into place; for a few brief moments, they perfectly align with the jagged scenery. And just as quickly, theyre behind you. Perhaps you had imagined it, or perhaps you didnt notice them at all.
This fleeting mirage is LA-based artist Jennifer Bolandes new work, Visible Distance/Second Sight, a site-specific homage to the landscape. She and 15 other artists have come to Palm Springs and the surrounding area as part of Desert X, a new exhibition of large-scale installations that stretches across 45 miles until 30 April. (Not coincidentally, theyre sited along the path leading from Los Angeles to behemoth music festival Coachella, which also takes place in April).
I live in New York, so I was interested in this sort of manifest destiny of the migration west, English-born artistic director Neville Wakefield explains, citing a 19th-century idea that divine sanction validated the United States merciless, violent westward expansion, regardless of who was already living there.
Yeah, no, it was awful, Wakefield concedes. But in terms of New York having evolved or devolved into a marketplace, I was a little bit disillusioned at having watched wealth evacuate art from the city center. It was interesting to do a show that recognized whats happening on this coast.
He invited the artists to search for their own sites in the desert, offering little in the way of curatorial direction in order to allow the place itself to become the curator. In the rich tradition of 1970s land art, it would be the myriad conditions unique to the desert the pristine daylight, the untouched expanses of land, the brutal climate that shaped the work.
After a bit of research, trial and error, Bahamian artist Tavares Strachan found himself an unused, 100,000 sq ft plot of land to use down a little dirt road in Rancho Mirage, a desert town where the population hovers around 18,000. He has carved an alternative landscape into the sand: 4ft deep craters and trenches in vaguely celestial shapes, lined with bars of cool yellow neon. From above, the lights spell out the simple proclamation, I Am, amid exploding shards of light, although youd only see that online via images captured by drones. Standing inside this work during an inky black desert night is like standing on a glowing planet.
With a set of wheels and a decent 4G connection, anyone can come visit these sites, which have been conveniently plotted as Dropped Pins on Google Maps courtesy of the Desert X website. The best work engages the viewer with a dialogue with the land, including Sherin Guirguiss One I Call, a clay bird refuge with glittery bits of gold in the open roof, nestled in the shadow of a steep cliff in the serene Whitewater Preserve. Theres also Lita Albuqerques hEARTH, a cobalt sculpture of a woman lying inside a circle of white sand, ear pressed to the earth as a low, looped reverberating chorus rhythmically repeats the question, Why did you come here?, which turns out to be an excellent question in the context of this show.
The scene in the Bay Area was never chronicled in the same way as New York or Los Angeles. Now a new crop of photography books and projects are bringing San Franciscan punk into focus
In early 1979, photographer Jim Jocoy attended an auction at the Peoples Temple in San Francisco. More than 900 of its worshipers had died in a mass suicide-murder which came to be known as the Jonestown massacre, led to their deaths by activist-turned-doomsday cultist Jim Jones. When Jocoy saw some of the followers left-behind luggage, he saw a symbol of Jones hollow, empty promise, and took a picture. Jonestown, the assassinations they worked into the fabric of San Francisco, and unraveled its tapestry, Jocoy says. It was quite gloomy, that summer of hate, and punk was the soundtrack.
The image is in Order of Appearance, a new book of Jocoys photography from the San Francisco punk scene of the late-1970s. Its an intimate, diaristic view of an incipient youth subculture as Jocoys punk subjects primp and sneer while the city crumbles around them. Theres a yellow Volkswagen upturned in the street, freshly applied blue hair-dye, and allusions to the imminent outbreak of Aids.
Billionaire Philip Anschutz said reports of Anschutz Foundation giving almost $200,000 to anti-gay conservative activists were fake news and garbage
Billionaire Philip Anschutz, the businessman whose company organizes Coachella, has denied donating funds to anti-LGBT groups after reports resurfaced linking his charitable foundation to the organizations.
Anschutz, 77, has reaped billions across the oil, telecom, real estate and entertainment industries, but his Anschutz Foundation drew criticism last year from Freedom For All Americans, a group that supports gay rights. The campaign last year reported that the Anschutz Foundation had given almost $200,000 to anti-gay conservative activists, including the Family Research Council and Alliance Defending Freedom. Both groups have been condemned for anti-gay rights activism by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a left-leaning watchdog of hate groups.
In a statement sent to Rolling Stone, Anschutz called the recent reports fake news and garbage. He denied that he would ever knowingly support any anti-gay cause.
I unequivocally support the rights of all people without regard to sexual orientation, Anschutz said. Neither I nor the Foundation fund any organization with the purpose or expectation that it would finance anti-LGBTQ initiatives.
He added that when anti-gay activity by recipients has come to his attention, we have immediately ceased all contributions to such groups.
Matthew Conboys new doc Goodnight BrooklynThe Story of Death By Audio chronicles the painful death of his Williamsburg music haven. Here, he writes about its bitter end.”>
People come and go. Bars, restaurants, bodegas and bagel shops close and change hands. Thats a part of living in New York. Maybe its the fertilizer that feeds new generations of immigrants. My friends skew more towards artists and musicians, and I can safely say that that demographic is leaving this city faster than I can remember. From the perspective of real estate owners and businesses that cater to the upwardly mobile, its a great thing. But what will a New York City without creative poor and working people look like?
This city changes at a glacial pace, the pendulum swinging through neighborhoods of prosperity and tearing them down into poverty, erasing their memory and building something new. A glacier moving through your bedroom might seem slow from 10,000 feet away but when its your home, your favorite restaurant or community center, your kids favorite park, the speed of development and destruction happens fast.
I lost a warehouse I called home just over two years ago. For years it served as a music venue called Death By Audio. We also had a recording studio, photo studio, workshops and bedrooms. Im not the first creative person to lose their home in this city, but the irony was visceral and frustrating: Vice Media, a company that built its brand selling advertisers access to underground culture, counter-normative ideas, sex, drugs, music, art, and youth took over our building and forced us out. It was painful and destructive on many levels but I was able to make a movie about the experience and the utopia we lived in called Goodnight BrooklynThe Story of Death By Audio. Ive spent much of the past two years making this film and its been both rewarding and cathartic to have the chance to make something positive out of a painful time.
Optimism is essential. I can walk through the changing parts of this city and laugh at its gaudy excess, smile at its nooks of wilderness and excitement. Its hard at times not to feel resentment or frustration at the people who have moved into developing neighborhoods without any sense of history or community, but I never forget that I was new here once, too. This city is too old for anybody to say they were here first. The pioneers are long dead. I still love this city; I love that its always changing. People crazier and younger than me show up and bring their will and passion with them.
I havent played in a band since my venue closed and thats OK. Friends of mine around the world are making great music; its their life passion. Maybe its getting older, but I feel like being in a band, opening a DIY venue or art gallery, these things should be done by the people who need to do them. I feel grateful that we had the chance to do as much as we did, but I would not want to stand in the way of the next person who needs to do it.
For every underground music venue or ad-hoc art gallery thats closed, I like to think another one has opened in a different part of town. Perhaps thats not the case, but so long as there is a space for creative people to live in this city, theyre going to do amazing things. Unfortunately, those spaces are becoming fewer and farther between, and its a terrible trend. These spaces are vital to our survivalculturally, artistically, and creatively.
Whatever small part, if any, Death By Audio played in the citys troubling transformation from abandoned warehouses to nightclubs, Apple Stores, condos, and offices is for historians to decide. But the friends that I lived with on S. 2nd street were searching for an environment of creative freedom. Any great city should value these sacred spaces, and its my hope that the spirit of Death by Audio will inspire them to keep fighting the good fight.
When nightlife expert Tim Lawrence came to the city to promote his book about the early 80s, the clubs he went to revealed how much has (and hasnt) changed
The timing and location of the nights entertainment Grandmaster Flash at House of Yes was entirely coincidental. On the eve of a week that would see New York City host a handful of events to celebrate and spotlight the release of Tim Lawrences new book, Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980-1983 a study of what the author convincingly identifies as the citys cultural renaissance, when hip-hop, new wave and dance music collided in clubs like Mudd and the Paradise Garage one of the books characters was making a rare Brooklyn appearance at a space in Bushwick.
Though theres rarely a lack of nighttime activity in the city that supposedly never sleeps, on paper it seemed like an especially great match. Unlike many New York clubs in the post-Rudy Giuliani era, House of Yes tries hard with its musical bookings, setting and entertainment acumen. Billing itself as part disco, part circus theatre, it features DIY dcor, psychedelic projections, dressed-for-cabaret employees and an audience always ready to let loose.
Flash, meanwhile, is riding his third wind. In the mid-1970s, he helped perfect record-scratching as one of the cornerstones of the Bronx culture that came to be known as hip-hop. Now he is one of the executive producers of The Get Down, Baz Luhrmanns colorful Netflix show that recasts the creation myth of rap and modern DJing as a fairytale musical. (And is a wonderful fact-meets-fiction preamble to Lawrences historical account.) So, while Flashs stock as a local legend never fell off, its been a minute since it paid such high market dividends.
Understandably, the packed House of Yes crowd an impressive congregation of young and old, black and white, straight and gay went wild. Flashs skills at cutting up records, and his interpretation of the cross-genre flow at the heart of the citys original sound (disco, rap, funk, dance-punk, Latin, mutant electronic, all in the mix) were rapturous and timeless.
The scene played out like a simulacrum of the very bygone moment that Lawrences book documents. Reading Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor as a clubber in the city is to reflect not only on whats been lost over the past three decades, but on how the sounds, events and characters at the center of Lawrences story still influence NYCs nightlife. At House of Yes, one of this tales endless postscripts played out as real-time legend. In fact, through sheer circumstance, over the course of a single week in October 2016 you could watch and listen to urban folklore cement as history. Better yet, you could dance to that transformation.
There was always a sense of New York in my imagination, said Lawrence in one of our numerous conversations during his visit. The wiry 49-year-old may have grown up in the London exurb of Winnersh and teaches cultural studies at the University of East London, but theres little question that New Yorks late 20th-century nightlife has served as his muse. Life and Death is the third of Lawrences books about the citys rhythms, joining the disco scene-redefining Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music, 1970-79, and the quasi-biography, Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene, 1973-92. He also credits the citys house music scene for his initial focus on the meaning of the dancefloor.
Lawrence first escaped to New York in the early 90s at a sensitive time in his life, following the sudden death of both parents and an early crisis of professional faith at BBC Newsnight. He studied a doctorate in English literature at Columbia University by day, and clubs by night. Love Saves the Day began as a dissertation on house music and postmodernity, mutated into a quickie book about dance music culture, before his research brought him face to face with the then little-known story of a musical host named David Mancuso, his private weekly gatherings at a Soho loft, and all the DJs deeply influenced by it (including the legendary Larry Levan, and father of house music, Frankie Knuckles). That party, nicknamed the Loft, basically launched global DJ and club culture; and in presenting its details, Lawrence suddenly had a career documenting the founding corner of contemporary dance music.
Life and Death on the New York Dance Floorbegan as another attempt to write that history of house, but ended up as a 500-page dive into a three-year period that exemplified the melting pot idea that had been synonymous with New York, yet hadnt been written about. Popular history claimed the citys dance scene died under the strain of the forces that killed the disco craze. Yet as Lawrence writes, the influence of Levan and his club, the Paradise Garage, was already being felt at art-punk discotheques like the Mudd Club and Danceteria, where DJs such as Johnny Dynell and Mark Kamins were creating a new mix for a new, mixed audience.
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