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.
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).”