Largehearted Boy asked me to do one of that site’s cool “Book Notes” playlists for St. Marks Is Dead. You can read the whole thing there, or here, now with video of kids singing “Welcome to NY”:
Because I wrote this book on my laptop at too-loud coffee shops and too-quiet libraries, for three-plus years I used iTunes as a white-noise machine. Music I liked and knew well enough to tune out was ideal, so I shunned the new (with a few exceptions, like Wussy) and stuck to standards like Guided By Voices, Drive-By Truckers, Ass Ponys, Old 97s, The Rolling Stones, plus a playlist of songs that mention St. Marks Place by name. On a couple of book-tour stops, friends have covered some of these songs, and it has been a particularly delirium-inducing experience to hear—at the same time that this book I had in my head is suddenly out in the world—the songs I had on repeat in my headphones performed out loud, too.
“Avenue A,” The Dictators (+ cover by the St. Marks Zeros)
Handsome Dick Manitoba is quoted a lot in my book, and this song about the crème brûlée-phase of the neighborhood to me is the quintessential St. Marks Place-of-2015 song. I like the idea that it’s all over when you see a Range Rover.
“Detachable Penis,” King Missile (+ cover by Neal Medlyn, aka Champagne Jerry)
This silly song was on pretty much every indie mix tape exchanged in the early-1990s East Village. I miss the 24-hour diner Kiev, which is where I used to go for eggs in the middle of the night. It’s also where John S. Hall wrote this song. (more…)
Owen Egerton at KUT interviewed me for his books podcast, The Write Up. He also says some really nice things about it in his write-up:
“It’s her observational skills mixed with the passion of devotee that makes St. Marks is Dead such a fun read…The book covers four centuries worth of cultural upheaval, urban growth, musical uprisings, and front-stoop conversations. In the weeks since its release, St. Marks is Dead has garnered rave reviews and critical accolades including being named an Amazon Best Book of November 2015 and Best Nonfiction Book about New York by the Village Voice. On this episode of The Write Up, Calhoun discusses what inspired her to explore the history and influence of St. Marks Place. We touch on issues of gentrification, the complicated politics of place, and the reasons three square blocks have influenced the cultural history of a nation… Best of all, Calhoun shares her unbridled enthusiasm about discovering the colorful and complicated individuals that have populated St. Marks. Saintly poets, larger-than-life gangsters, hippies, hipsters, beatniks and Beastie Boys all take the stage as we discuss her fascinating book.” Listen to it here.
METRO interviewed me, writing: When people talk about the three-block strip that is St. Marks Place, it’s often with a “there goes the neighborhood” sigh, nostalgic for the beatnik days in the ‘60s and rock ‘n’ roll days in the 1970s. But Ada Calhoun’s new book, “St. Marks Is Dead,” which tells the history of the street from the 1600s to now, shows that people have always had the feeling that it was “better before.” Read the whole thing here.
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.
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).”