This morning I awoke to the news that Anita Sarko, a DJ who worked at such New York clubs as Mudd Club, Danceteria and Palladium, killed herself.
I didn’t know Ms. Sarko, but I used to go to these clubs in the early ’80s and probably heard her deejaying.
Once again I was confronted with a strange feeling of grief over someone I didn’t know, but felt like I did. I also felt a need to express my grief, but I was worried it might seem like I was using someone else’s death to talk about myself (which, perhaps, I partly am). But I also felt it was important to say that sometimes people you barely know can profoundly affect your life—sometimes just for what they symbolize—without their even knowing it.
As it happens, I had to go to the post office on Canal Street this morning to pick up some mail. I can’t walk down a street in Manhattan anymore without being assaulted by a rush of memories, of people and places that used to be. Around the corner from the post office was the first club I ever went to, the Rock Lounge on West Broadway, and not too far below Canal Street was, of course, the Mudd Club. Now there’s an enormous high-rise towering over the post office, completely out of scale with the neighborhood, just as there’s now a high-rise down the block from where the Mudd Club used to be.
There was a line in Michael Musto’s touching obituary on Facebook1 that shook me to my core. “She couldn’t find creatively satisfying work and worried about her career, feeling that various projects had reached an absolute dead end for her…she found that nothing clicked, since employers were looking for recent college grads, not old-timers with history and personality.”
Could this perhaps be my future, too?
I posted a link to Musto’s obituary on my Facebook page and one of my friends recalled that Sarko used to deejay at a bar called the Lismar Lounge in the East Village. I struggled to place the bar (which was right around the corner from where I used to live on East 4th Street), so I Googled it and found an article about it2, which also mentioned the now-defunct 99 Records and a performer named G.G. Allin, who also passed away—could it be?—22 years ago! (That’s another hazard of getting older in the age of the Internet: any memory can send you off to Google in search of your lost past, until you disappear down a nostalgic K-hole, to use a drug term that was popular in the ’80s--or was it the ’90s?)
Maybe it’s my imagination, but when I hear the drunken club-goers outside my apartment now, there seems to be an air of desperation to their behavior. They know that they’ve already missed out on what was arguably New York’s cultural zenith and that their future looks even more depressing. They think that today’s New York of chain stores and suburban safeness is fabulous because they’ve never known anything else.
That’s what I meant before about someone symbolizing something. And that’s what Anita Sarko symbolized for me: the pre-chain store, pre-safe New York of unlimited possibilities.