I took a walk down memory lane today. In fact, every day I talk a walk down memory lane. There are entire neighborhoods in Manhattan that I can’t walk through without a profound sense of sadness and loss.
Today I went to a gallery in Chinatown to see a show by the actor and artist Duncan Hannah, who was in Jim Jarmusch’s first film, Permanent Vacation. The woman running the gallery (who seemed to be about 25) was wearing a T-shirt that said “I’m OK, You’re OK.” I told her that this was the name of a self-help book in the ’70s that I actually read. She was not aware that she was wearing the name of a best-selling book, even though her shirt had the same typeface and logo as the book’s cover.
But this should have been no surprise.
Since I was in the neighborhood, I decided to walk by the former site of the Mudd Club, which now has a plaque to commemorate its place in music history. How many weekends did I walk from my apartment on East Fourth Street to that building down on White Street? Too many to remember. (At a certain point, however, even the Mudd Club wasn’t cool enough for me, so I used to bide my time at my apartment until the after-hours club Berlin—at 622 Broadway—would open.)
Walking north from White Street, I passed another landmark from my life, the former site of the Rock Lounge at 285 West Broadway, the first “new wave” club I ever went to. I was tempted to take a picture of that, as well as of the former site of Sohozat, the book and zine store that used to be on West Broadway across from the empty lot that is now the Soho Grand Hotel, but once you start going down that path, where does it stop?
I passed some newly constructed luxury buildings on West Broadway and spoke briefly to a man who was trying to attract customers to his clothing store. I told him that I live a few blocks away, but that I hardly walk down West Broadway anymore because it’s nothing but Eurotrash. He laughed. (Who among these arrivistes would remember that the Eileen Fisher store was once a Chinese restaurant called Oh Ho So? Who can even imagine a Chinese restaurant in Soho now?)
Continuing on to the West Village, I walked down Bleecker Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. I can remember when there used to be a used clothing store near the corner of Bleecker and Leroy Streets (where I used to buy many of my clothes in the early ’80s) and Bleecker Street Records was across the street. It was like a miniature universe peopled by nothing but musicians and music fans! Where are those people now? Do people still wear metal buttons with the names of their favorite bands on their vintage overcoats? If they did, they would look ridiculous on the streets of today’s designer-dressed Manhattan.
Last night, I saw a movie called A Bigger Splash, which features a scene of Ralph Fiennes dancing wildly to the Rolling Stones song “Emotional Rescue.” It’s one of the most thrilling film moments I’ve seen in a long time, and not just because of the wild abandon with which Fiennes dances, but because I distinctly remember buying that album the first summer I lived in New York City and hearing that song brought me right back to that first carefree summer of 1980.
When I look at my life now, I’m reminded of that line from the Talking Heads song, “Once in a Lifetime”: How did I get here?
How is it that I had more fun in New York City 30 years ago when I had less money, than I’m having now?
Maybe it’s because 30 years of deficit spending has finally caught up with me at the same time that the jobs I used to have are disappearing.
Or maybe it’s because New York is just a less fun city.