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What's new in iJamming!...
Sun, Feb 2, 2003
The Best Of 2001
Tony Fletcher's Top Albums, Songs, Concerts, and Books
MUSING on The Manhattan 'Edge':
Will the Island Ever Again Be A 'Cultural Ground Zero?'
A Thanksgiving toast to iJamming! surfers near and afar (American or not)
MUSING ON A SEPTEMBER MOURNING
PART1:
My immediate reaction to September 11
PART 2: Messages from friends & family overseas
PART 3: Observations & quotes from others.
PART 4: LINKS
PART 5: COPING - 2 weeks later
The iJamming! interview:
CARL COX
"'Acid Trax' by Phuture came out and I was just 'Okay, forget all hip hop and all old school rare groove right here, this is it.'"
ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN: "Flowers is Echo & The Bunnymen's finest hour since Ocean Rain."
HEDONISM:
An intrigue of early 90s New York nightlife.
NEW CHAPTER now online
From the Jamming! Archives:
U2 interviewed in 1984.
"It's not U2 that's creating this great art. . .There's something that works through us to create in this way."
From the Jamming! Archives:
PAUL WELLER
interviewed in 1978
"A number one single would be a bit scary."
iJamming! Wino/Muso:
JOHN ACQUAVIVA
"New world wines are just too techno for me."
Featured albums
Albums that sound different since September 11
Featured wine region 3:
SOUTHERN RHÔNE WHITES
Featured wine region 4:
SOUTHERN RHÔNE ROSÉS
iJamming! interview:
Jesse Hartman, aka LAPTOP
"Every New York band knows the meaning of failure"
MIX Albums:
Who, what and why you should bother
FEATURED Wines
The iJAMMING! interview: DAVID SYLVIAN
"I don't think people realize that life can become so exciting and interesting that it can draw you away for long periods of time from creating music - & why not?"
From the Keith Moon archives:
the JEFF BECK interview .
From Homework to the Disco:
DAFT PUNK
grows up and dumbs down
The iJAMMING! chat:
MARK PERRY

"If I was asked why Sniffin' Glue was so important, it was the way we conducted ourselves, the style of it, just the attitude. It had attitude in abundance didn't it?"
The Return of Shoegazing:
DOVES take New York by swarm
Forgotten Classics:
THE CHILLS: Brave Words
THE iJAMMING! Book Review:
SNIFFIN' GLUE: The Essential Punk Accessory
Musing with SALLY TAYLOR:
"I'm not interested in what the major labels have to offer."
From the JAMMING! archives: PAUL WELLER ON POP
Featured wine region 2:
CÔTES DU RHÔNE VILLAGES
From the JAMMING! archives: ALTERNATIVE TV
interviewed in 1978
TRAVIS.
Fran Healy explains why "you cannot own a song." (And why Liam Gallagher "is going to turn into a really great songwriter.")
Featured Artist Web Site:
LLOYD COLE
From the JAMMING! archives: The Story That Spawned Creation
Featured vine:
VIOGNIER:
Finally, a worthy rival to Chardonnay.
The iJAMMING! interview:
BOY GEORGE.
"Once you've had your go, what-ever it may be, they want you to piss off, and they can't bear it if you come back, they can't bear it."
SUPERDRAG
They love rock'n'roll but they don't want to deal with the hassle
The full iJamming! Contents
The Manhattan 'Edge':
WILL THE ISLAND EVER AGAIN BE A CULTURAL GROUND ZERO?
In the Feb 5 edition of libertarian weekly the New York Press, publisher Russ Smith, writing as Mugger, castigates an editorial in Paper magazine (by that New York magazine's own publisher Kim Hastreiter) for daring to suggest that New York might regain its infamous 'edge' in a depressed, recession-hit post-September 11 climate. Smith (whose publication I frequently wrote for in the early '90s) has taken many media pundits to task for coating the September 11 massacres in colorful and inappropriate prose; given that he lives with his family in Battery Park City and has had to endure the horrors of September 11 and its fall-out from a ground-zero vantage point, it's hard to blame him. Besides, railing against the 'liberal' bias of the New York media is his favorite pastime. It's no surprise therefore that he took offence with this following paragraph:

"When enough freaked-out families and out-of-work yuppies have fled downtown for their country homes," writes Hastreiter, "and enough apartments and storefronts are sitting empty, rents will hopefully fall again. Only then will it be possible for that great edge to come back to New York - that unpredictable character that made this city the center of everything. When that happens, the crazy kids will dream and lust again to move here to make their mark, and then there will come a great revival: a cultural explosion reflecting the huge esthetic shift that is upon us at this historical time. And I can't wait. Once again, I will see my old friend New York City become the huge, insane, bubbling, petri dish it once was, turning my home back into the cultural ground zero that it was meant to be. "

Smith is offended by anyone who seeks to find a silver lining in the permanent cloud of September 11, and for those on the defensive, such phrases as David's 'cultural ground zero' can indeed seem tactless; he also views her position as hypocritical, given that he believes Paper was puffed up in the nineties with the very 'yuppie' lifestyle advertising such as has rapidly disappeared and Hastreiter suddenly disowns. My misgivings are different from Smith's. I want to believe that Hastreiter is right. I've had several conversations this past year - several of them preceding September 11 - in which people waxed optimistic that an economic downturn might result in a more creative and egalitarian New York City. But looking at cold hard facts, I can't help but fear that it won't. And here's why:

This beautiful picture landed in my in-box via family friends. It was taken by a lady returning on a cruise this past summer. July 28 2001, at sunrise. It came with the following note, which sounds like permission to print it. Click on the photo for a larger image.

SHE Writes: As I watched the beautiful skyline of New York City float past me I noticed the sun was about to line up just behind the twin towers. I was lucky enough to snap the picture at exactly the right moment. If you look at the sun rays it is almost prophetic... a little spooky. When I show this picture to anyone they almost always ask for a copy. I just want to share it with all who want it. Please take this picture and share it with anyone and everyone who likes it. I've been printing them like crazy on my home computer to give to those that want a copy.

I moved to New York City during its last economic crisis, in the late 1980s, and then, as always, rent was a Manhattanite's largest concern. Still, even if it was not what you'd readily call affordable, it was do-able. After a short sublet in Stuyvesant Town, I moved onto a $400 a month share on the Lower East Side. My room was the size of a shoebox, and the landlady who lived above us so objected to my playing music during the day that she would literally stamp a broom handle to try and drown me out, but it was close enough to the east village that I could walk home from most nights out and it provided just another solace and space for me to write my R.E.M. Biography. I caught a bad dose of New York renter's disease when my room-mate and lease-holder decided to move out while I was in the UK during the summer of '89, giving me a week's notice to come back, collect my stuff and move on, but I was able to find accommodation for much the same price, and in a better part of town no less. In 1990, I met my future wife, Posie; that Christmas, when the market was at an all-time low, we moved in together to a two-bedroom apartment on 22nd Street and 1st Avenue for $1100 a month - a steal given that the place was rent-stabilized, which meant we were subjected only to city-ordained increases, usually in the range of 2% a year.

It was in those very late eighties and early nineties, at the peak of the last recession and when New York was overwhelmed with crack, AIDS and violent crime that, in many ways, I had my greatest time in the city. Partly that was because I was young and single (or at least child-free), but there was no doubt that the tough nature of the city (my British friends could scarcely believe I lived there without getting shot daily) made it an attractive place for creativity. Nightclubs and other performance spaces were accommodating to new ideas because there was a lack of casual money filling their venues; it was in this depressed climate that my old roommate and I started our club night, Communion, at Limelight, which flourished partly because the club had no other incentive even to open on a Tuesday night. The bar scene was simple and old-fashioned - most of the watering holes were old Polish and Irish bars colonized by the young bohemians - but it was cheap. Beers were two dollars; the buy-back was part of the barman's routine. And somebody was always throwing a party somewhere; whether it was casual, in an apartment, or formal, hosted by a record company or gallery, it meant one could have a night out for next to nothing.

"It was in the very late eighties and early nineties, at the peak of the last recession and when New York was overwhelmed with crack, AIDS and violent crime...Nightclubs and other performance spaces were accommodating to new ideas because there was a lack of casual money filling their venues."

The boom of the nineties saw that old Manhattan disappear. As more and more money came into play, not just on Wall Street but in the new economy of high-tech ideas and then dot.com brainstorms, more and more bars emerged to cater to the newly disposable wealth. These newcomers employed elaborate architecture where once they posted local artist's work; they employed DJ's where formerly juke boxes sufficed; they employed wanna-be models as eye candy instead of people who were actually happy serving other people drinks. And why not? None of these places needed the creative urge that had previously directed the flow of downtown Manhattan; they could make their money on Absolut Cosmopolitans and dot.com open bar launches regardless. The nightclubs, likewise, overflowed with disposable income and equally disposable music, besides which, Guiliani decided they didn't fit in with his idea of a newly sanitized New York City in which the once famously decadent Times Square area got an overhaul courtesy of Mickey Mouse, and campaigned to close them down. Manhattan hadn't just lost its edge; the borough was thoroughly blunted.

In 1996, after a sojourn back in London, Posie and I moved out of Manhattan. We had a baby boy, and didn't want to raise him in a vertical community (I.e. high-rise), but rather on a horizontal one (terraced street). But by then we couldn't have afforded bigger accommodation in Manhattan anyway: to rent or buy a three bedroom would have put us in the realm of millionaires. Not wanting to lose that Manhattan 'edge' by moving to the suburbs, we moved across the east river into Brooklyn, where others like us were thinking and acting exactly the same, settling in the brownstone Brooklyn of Park Slope, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens, where we could all get family-style space that didn't cost the earth while maintaining access to the subways and keeping sight of downtown. (The Twin Towers loomed large over our skyline from where we lived.)

But rents soared so high, propelled not just by market forces but by real estate greed, that many of those who weren't even thinking of starting families - artists, musicians, designers and writers yet to make their fortunes, people happy living in shoeboxes as long as they had just enough room to work and a neighborhood in which to socialize - were also forced to move on. They dispersed, a large number to Williamsburg and Greenpoint in North Brooklyn, some to our part of brownstone Brooklyn, others as far afield as Queens, the Bronx, Jersey City and Hoboken. More pointedly, new young immigrants to the great city took one look at Manhattan rents and balked: the rent-stabilized $1100 a month two-bedroom apartment simply didn't exist any more. And this is not a question of inflation: during a period in which a slice of pizza or a subway ride edged up from a dollar to a buck-fifty, rents tripled and quadrupled. At $2000 minimum for a one-bedroom, only the most wealthy could move into Manhattan. Even the hipster workers of Silicon Alley, those who filled the bars with their pretentious cocktails, retro clothes and karaoke nights as they drunk themselves into a nightly delusion of IPOs and stock options, were mostly hitching a ride to the outer boroughs when the party stopped. They could afford a $10 cab ride across the Manhattan Bridge every other night; they certainly couldn't afford an extra $1000 a month in rent for the option of walking home instead. So while Manhattan maintained its status as a hub, a meeting place, the locale of the major venues and galleries and restaurants and so on, for many people, it stopped being home.

As bull went bust and the bear market moved in, the 'edge' was more clearly absent in Manhattan than ever, but it hadn't vacated the city entirely: it had simply moved across the river, dispersed across surrounding boroughs.

Once these artists and musicians, writers and designers, poets and activists alike had moved off the island in search of cheaper accommodation, they looked around them, saw great neighborhoods screaming for rejuvenation, and starting sinking their money where their homes were. Restaurants, bars and coffee shops - the focal points of a youthful community - were naturally the first to arrive in the outer boroughs, followed, just as the bull market looked to have peaked and dot-coms started to crash, by rock venues, DJ spots, art galleries, book shops, record stores, clothing boutiques and the like. As bull went bust and the bear market moved in, the 'edge' was more clearly absent in Manhattan than ever, but it hadn't vacated the city entirely: it had simply moved across the river, dispersed across surrounding boroughs. Post-September 11, this scenario has only become amplified. Who wants to battle with the ever-delayed subway lines or take costly cabs back from an unhappy island still counting its dead? If the new entertainment is staying close to home, taking comfort in community, then isn't it just as well that New Yorkers' far flung new communities are already providing comfort and entertainment on their local streets?

This exodus of perhaps half a generation's creative youth from Manhattan is not temporary. The people who've settled into the outer boroughs and Hudson-banking Jersey are not about to return, not now they've laid down roots, built up their neighborhoods, made friends, some started families and others opened businesses. Kim Hastreiter's hope of Manhattan rebounding creatively therefore necessitates an entirely new generation moving in. Yet market forces surely dictate that this won't happen. For one, despite her optimism, landlords don't voluntarily lower their prices. Indeed, they prefer acting tough, holding onto empty storefronts, than looking desperate. At best, apartment rentals will plateau. Then do the maths. Seven million people work on Manhattan, only a million can live on it, and even in a post-September 11 downturn (so make that 6,800,000 working on the island), there's still enough people in high-end jobs able to pay over the odds to ensure that the landlords sleep well at night.

The creative types that David is relying upon therefore need a reason to move to Manhattan, even if the cost of living does take a slight dip. But what reason do such people have right now? New York City is not just in some cyclical downturn: it's in freefall. The combination of a (duly) burst bubble, a national recession, and the terror attacks and the horror they unleashed, financially and emotionally, surely reduces the attraction for someone just to come to Manhattan and 'make it.' And those that do have a reason to come to the city - college, perhaps, an entry-level job in something vaguely fashionable that is riding out the recession - are not complete idiots. They read the style mags, they talk to friends, they surf the net and they know what's gong on. The action isn't in Manhattan, it's elsewhere. And being that it's action they crave, it's elsewhere to which they're likely to move. They have every incentive to settle in the cheaper, suddenly flourishing surrounding communities - brownstone Brooklyn, Williamsburg and Greenpoint, the South Bronx even - than in the heart of Manhattan itself.

Don't get me wrong. New York is too great a city for its cultural energy to dissipate entirely. It will rebound; in so many ways, it already has. But I know I'm not alone when I state that at this moment in time, you don't trawl round Manhattan at night and get the feeling that anything of genuine excitement is happening. And while you might put that down to post-terror-trauma, a quick jaunt round the outer boroughs suggests that the newly settled neighborhoods are flourishing in their place. The edge has moved on. Which means, sadly, that the 'cultural ground zero' may remain just an awkwardly-phrased metaphor.

TONY FLETCHER, February 1 2002
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