Friday, December 28, 2007

Some of Them Got Out Alive


I lived in Chelsea at the same time I had one pair of dance tights, and that pair of tights had a run in them that looked like the scar from a botched appendectomy. When inevitably another run would appear, I'd perform surgery on it as well, until someone at a dance shop offered to sell me a new pair for two dollars.

I broke the heel of my shoe on the way home. I had no change left for the bus.

I lived in Chelsea during the time period covered in the new book from Soul Jazz Records, New York Noise. New York Noise is a coffee-table book, a big, heavy thing that pictorially catalogues the confluence of art, music, film, and dance that occurred during the decade from 1978-1988.

When has Manhattan not been fertile? The question isn't one of fecundity, but rather of degree, and New York Noise makes a good case that the fertility of those years rivals anything before or since.

I'd gone to Manhattan to be a Broadway hoofer; I ended up doing Pinter on a fire escape, then I was a stylist, then I was a writer. Somewhere in there I sang, occasionally for a date-nut sandwich or a cheap steak dinner. It was a creative period where it was marvelous to be young (in my case, 19), hungry, and fearless. Undaunted, too.

The book graphically displays the shapeshifting you could do in those years: You could be a writer and a filmmaker and a painter, sometimes all at the same time, and tap dance on the night sky for all anyone cared, so long as you created. In utmost poverty, in a circle of cockroaches beating rhythm with their wings, no brothers to spare dimes or much else except the hot shared breath of art.

Of course this couldn't have occurred if surrounded by luxe anything; it's all for the better stuffed with a nose full of snot against yet another gray winter and a blizzard of unpaid bills like February's shittiest snow.

Cindy Sherman points out that "People were experimenting with making art, being in a band, making a film, or being a stand-up comic. Perhaps it was because until then there were very few precedents for making money out of those things, so there was little pressure. You were free to try anything."

I've said before that the big question in L. A. is, "What's she done?" and by this inquiry one's relative worth is measured; not much when you look at the sheer bulk of the temples and the castles and the Hollywood feedlots. Where what you try has a calculus, must have a calculus, before you can try it, lest you slip up and fall into that category of "wannabe" or "not a player." And yet, there are similarities even as I write from inside the monster bloom of an unfinished script: And so in Hollywood have people chased tin dreams like dragons, inhaling them in sweet, hypnotic smoke.

Link: New York Noise

14 comments:

WendyB said...

Those were the days!

CuteMess said...

Ahhh....I was around 6 years old in 1980. Discovered how amazing things were around that time in my teens, a few years too late. I always remind myself that Kim Gordon turned 30 in the early eighties...I can kick ass at 33 and forever more if I want.

Suzanna Mars said...

Keep on kicking, CM! It is NEVER too late.

Jen (MahaloFashion.Com) said...

I agree with wendy, those were the days!!

Bobble Bee said...

I don't have words enough in my vocabulary to ell you how much i love this post.
I live in NY and everyday i try to fight against this artless city; really. People finds it amusing and "amazing" but i always have the feeling that a past was much better, even though i haven't lived it at all!. So now your post kind of tell me i was right...

[[!! Horror, i just sounded like an old lady...]]

Suzanna Mars said...

BB, the book makes a strong argument that this type of creative scene has been steamrolled by gentrification; there are no longer any "starving artist" enclaves--what there was has been replaced by the crush of upwardly mobile modern civilization.

susie_bubble said...

These days you describe are before I was born but you put me right there with your beautiful post....

riz said...

What a well executed narrative...You are such a wonderful writer. If I had time I would sing your praises all day.

Merry belated Xmas btw, I am in the midst of writing you a longer email right now actually.


Are we kindred spirits?? Cindy Sherman will also be a part of my diss. I like quite a lot of what I know of her work...

Happy New Year in advance!

Suzanna Mars said...

Riz, I'm a big fan of yours! I was hoping to see you turn back up--makes my day!

Your dissertation sounds ever more intriguing and "Riz-like," which means it is going to be brilliant.

Heather said...

This sounds fascinating. A beautifully written post, by the way.

Libertygirl said...

What a wonderful post. Happy New Year my dear, LLG xx

Hailey said...

Thanks for the post, sounds magical. I went to NYC for the first time a year ago (I'm Canadian), it was such an important trip and I loved being there! I only wish I could live in New York - a dream I hope to one day make reality.

Claire said...

Apparently this is the day when I catch up on your blog...

I was in Berlin recently and was struck by the artistic energy you feel while walking through the city. Upon returning, I read an article in the Guardian which compared Berlin to the creative energy New York had in the 80's. I was a small child in the 80's, it made me sad that I missed this era.

Suzanna Mars said...

Claire, I think there's an energy peculiar to all eras, the difference is whether one responds to it or not.

I think the freedom of the era relative to today's rather more narrow permissions is what made it fascinating. Sort of like you didn't need a business card then, but you do now, or a black Amex, or whatever totem or token of belonging to some tribe.

I find today's society quite strict and guarded. There are fewer permissions and quite a lot of restrictions that did not exist beforehand.