Thanks to Kirkus Reviews for running this great Gregory McNamee feature: “Nobody goes there anymore,” the late Yogi Berra once said of a New York nightspot, adding, by way of explanation, “It’s too crowded.” It’s in that light that the title of New York journalist Ada Calhoun’s lively new book St. Marks Is Dead: The Many Lives of America’s Hippest Street should be read: for generations, she notes, the residents of “America’s hippest street” have lamented that its last, best days were sometime before the present, when rent was cheap, the wine flowed freely, and peace and love prevailed in the streets. Read the whole thing here.
Holy shit, everyone. That was the best night of my life save getting married and having a child. What I loved most was seeing 700 people from different eras of the street’s history, from teenagers to people in their eighties, all talking and drinking and laughing together in the place where Lincoln gave his “Right Makes Might” speech.
One photo contributor to the book wore an outfit she’d bought on the street in the 1960s and ran into the woman quoted in the book who had made it. Someone else told me, “I was hoping this guy I haven’t seen for 30 years would show up tonight, and he did. We’re having dinner tomorrow night.”
Here are a few of the articles I saw about the party: Bedford+Bowery, Untapped Cities, Brooklyn Vegan, The Guardian, SavetheVillage. I especially love this line from The Observer: “The neighborhood may not be what it used to be, but, at least for the night, a lot of people were happy to gather and remember the way it once was, and imagine what it might become.” (more…)
St. Marks Is Dead: The Many Lives of America’s Hippest Street, by Ada Calhoun (W.W. Norton, November 2). St. Marks Place just hasn’t been the same since the artists left, or the anarchists, or the Lenape. This three-block free-for-all, currently dominated by crude T-shirts and cheap sushi, has always been the subject of some old-timer’s nostalgia. Calhoun, who grew up there, wisely makes the strip’s perpetual over-ness a core theme. Another is its never-changing status as a free zone for an ever-changing misfit parade. It was home to Warhol happenings, sure, and dirt-poor artists and savvy ragpickers, but also to Emma Goldman, Leon Trotsky, Ukrainian dissidents, religious heretics, and Jimmy “Rent Is Too Damn High” McMillan. Read the list here.
John McMillian, writing for The Atlantic, calls St. Marks Is Dead: “Timely, provocative, and stylishly written …Calhoun’s book serves as a welcome corrective to that rallying cry [that gentrification is bad], and to the tendency to romanticize New York City in the 1970s, when the city was far more riotous and permissive than it is now. … Her aplomb, in fact, is precisely what the discussion needs. Her portrait of neighborhood resilience might suggest more temperate proposals for an increasingly polarized debate.” Read the rest here. He hsa lots of great lines, like this: “Residents of St. Marks Place lamented that the street was never quiet, not even in the middle of the night (especially not in the middle of the night).”
William Warder Norton launched his publishing company in 1923 with “Lectures in Print” pamphlets at Cooper Union, at the western end of St. Marks Place. Nearly a century later, his house has given this book the best of all possible homes. My wise and creative editor, Tom Mayer, had me rewrite this book several times without making me hate him. He did this by always being right, and by offering advice like, “Read a few August Wilson plays and think about the structure of one-set drama,” which is sort of the opposite of what editors usually say two years into a book project.
I think there’s more to these “the city is dead now” complaints than money. People have pronounced St. Marks Place dead many times over the past centuries — when it became poor, and then again when it became rich, and then again when it returned to being poor, and so on. My theory is that the neighborhood hasn’t stopped being cool because it’s too expensive now; it stops being cool for each generation the second we stop feeling cool there. Any claim to objectivity is clouded by one’s former glory. Read the whole op-ed here.
The New Yorker has published the first serial excerpt of St. Marks Is Dead.
“You grew up on St. Marks Place?” people sometimes ask me, as if they didn’t know children could. Or, “You grew up on St. Marks Place?” implying that I seem too normal to come from a place known for Mohawks and tattoo parlors. Then, invariably, these strangers pity me for having missed the street’s golden era. St. Marks bohemians—those who were Beats in the fifties, hippies in the sixties, punks in the seventies, or anarchists in the eighties—often say that the East Village is dead now, with only the time of death a matter of debate. New Yorkers are street-proud, and every neighborhood invites its share of good-old-days lamenting. But just as St. Marks Place has long been an amplified corner of the city—louder, drunker, more garish than its neighbors—today it seems to evoke a more intense nostalgia.
Read the whole thing here.
5. MR. ZERO
Calhoun writes, “He is arguably the first example of an East Village type that endures today: a man selling a colorful myth about his role in the world that’s more fun than the reality.”
Urbain J. Ledoux fed the homeless and indigent in the ‘20s, earning the name Zero by representing himself as “nothing but bread and water.” He got an audience with President Warren G. Harding, who “denied Ledoux’s request to publish a list of those who had profited most from the war.” When Mr. Zero left St. Marks for South America, he owed $7,345 in back rent (a million in 2015 dollars).
Read the whole thing here.