St. Marks Is Dead: The Many Lives of America’s Hippest Street is part history of the Manhattan hot spot and part memoir. Born to artist-hipster parents, Ms. Calhoun grew up in a walk-up on St. Marks Place before leaving for college and then returning to cast a sophisticated eye on this era’s trend-setting urban tribes. She begins in 1651, when Dutch West India Company administrator Peter Stuyvesant purchased the acreage that is today’s East Village. She ends 364 years later with the zone’s rapid rise (some would argue “steep decline”) of chain retailers and glass-sheathed apartment towers, followed by the scattering of all that’s hip and happening to the outer boroughs. In between we meet Alexander Hamilton, Horatio Alger, Emma Goldman and the Ramones. The book takes its title from a conviction—shared, emphatically, by just about anyone who ever Made the Scene—that a district once deemed the epitome of cool no longer is. What once was trendy, in other words, must inexorably become “dead.” The author concedes: “I missed a lot. I did not love-in or be-in or do anything in. I never sat on a trash can outside the Five Spot jazz club . . . I did not see Andy Warhol introduce the Velvet Underground [or] hang out with the Ramones or the New York Dolls.” Instead she wrote a delightful book. Read the whole review 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.
The terrific Audrey Gray interviewed me about St. Marks Is Dead: The Many Lives of America’s Hippest Street for the very cool new Municipal Arts Society podcast. We geek out about W.H. Auden and zip through the entire history of St. Marks Place in half an hour. Listen here. And buy the book here.
An Amazon Best Book of November 2015: “In this – sometimes history book, sometimes tour guide – Ada Calhoun crafts an account of New York’s St. Marks Place in the most wonderful way- through the stories of the people who lived there. Journalist and local native, Calhoun knits together stories, essays, photos, and personal accounts to document a 400 year history of what is considered one of the most culturally significant streets in the United States. Whether you are a native of New York or a dreamer, this book will have you yearning for the streets of the city and the unique spirit of St. Marks.” — Penny Mann, Amazon.com
The “bad old days” of Times Square may be more infamous, but let’s not forget St. Marks Place, the endearingly scuzzy three-block stretch of East Eighth Street that’s been home to sexual exploration, druggie debauchery and epic human perversity for centuries.
I grew up there but didn’t know about some of the more notorious episodes I discovered researching “St. Marks Is Dead: The Many Lives of America’s Hippest Street” (W. W. Norton & Company), out this week. Some notable lowlights:
1. Cannibal stew. Pothead Daniel Rakowitz, who went everywhere with a live chicken, met a Swedish dancer in Tompkins Square Park, at the eastern end of St. Marks Place, and they moved in together. In 1989, he killed her and made her into a stew, then fed her to the homeless in the park.
Read the whole thing here.
You can go home again, just not without drinking a lot of Lone Star. Two days (11/3-4/15) in my college town = 4 events, and 4 hours of sleep. THANK YOU to Matt Valentine for having me lecture at UT and buying books for the (way-smarter-than-I-was-in-college) students. Thanks to Owen Egerton for having me on his KUT podcast and at his One-Page Salon. Thank you to Gillian Driscoll at Sound Dessert for the fun Q&A; it was great to meet you in person while I was in town. Thank you Wayne Allen Brenner for this great Austin Chronicle write-up and for doing the best of all possible readings of the Don Terry section of the book at the Carousel Lounge (you would have killed the audiobook). At that party, thanks to Allyson Lipkin for expertly reading the sexy punk part. Thanks to Adam Sultan for his great covers, including the amazing version of They Might Be Giants’s “On the Drag.” Thanks to Ethan Azarian and Jeff Johnston for beautifully singing the book’s theme song, “Kids (Don’t Know),” with the telephone and everything. (more…)
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.