We Need To Talk…

 

Really?

Really?

Sit down.

Yeah, you…

Alright, I get it. You can’t because you’re busy in the heart of Midtown and you still need to be cleaned before thousands will flock to you come daybreak.  Fair enough.

It came to my attention last week that you were showing off, right in the middle of the city for everyone to see. I don’t know if it was for Easter or Passover or because the warm weather finally made a return to our neck of the woods and I also know that it wasn’t the first time I caught you doing this either. After having you distract enough of my passengers and even myself as I made way up up 6 Ave. several times during the night, I felt that it was finally time to have a little heart-to-heart talk with you.

I love you. Really, I do. It goes way back to when you were one the few remnants of old New York that I could behold in pristine shape when much of your surrounds were in battered, ragged, and tagged shape. I got goosebumps the first time you came into view as I rounded the bend on Route 3 and could see you and your spire off in the distance, beckoning me as if I dropped in from a Kansas Tornado and had to make my way over to Oz off in the distance. Although you weren’t the most prominent landmark in the city since the early 70’s, there wasn’t anything that could compare to you. Not the lady in the harbor, nor your nirosta-topped cousin on the corner of Lexington and 42 St could match your soaring verticality, ornate lobby, or grasp that you held onto the collective psyche of this country. It came as no surprise that in classics such as Fail Safe and Independence Day, that it was you that the filmmakers ultimately chose to destroy when it came time to give the Big Apple its death blow. Although the accounts were fictitious, I still cannot bear to look at those scenes on film, and this was long before the real thing came to pass on 9/11.

Unfortunately, I *did* have to look at you putting on one of your luminous extravaganzas recently, and it wasn’t by choice. Let’s face it, even in 2014, you’re still out there by yourself. Nothing over 50 stories stands close to you and it will be quite some time before you’re unseated as the King of Midtown. A pile of “pencils” that will house the world’s super-rich is still taking form up on 57 Street and the supertall glassy spire that’s going to open in Lower Manhattan later this year still does not have the charm, bravado, and zeitgeist that you do, even though it’s been growing on me more now that it’s been topped off and the scaffolding is finally starting to come down the side of it. Your isolation and prominence makes you easy to see (as well as an easy target), which was proven when a few of my passengers looked at you too and asked me what was going on, as if I didn’t have enough to deal with now that the jaywalkers and tour buses are back out in full force.

Yeah, really

Yeah, really

Never mind that, though. I know that this will probably go in one ear and out the…um, make that window. Yeah, in one window and out the other. I’ll say it anyway for the record.

You’re a better than this.

A *lot* better than this.

All those hypodermic skyscrapers in Times Square put on a light show nightly and even the old New York Central Building on Park Ave. has gotten in on the act, showcasing the latest in LED and timing technology in some hyperactive bid to outdo each other to be the baddest, hippest, and coolest presence on the skyline at night. You don’t need that though.

Did you need it when a giant Ape climbed up you in 1933?

Or when a plane accidentally hit you in 1945?

Or when a steel column was hoisted up 100 stories in Lower Manhattan in 1972, taking away the title that you graciously and confidently held for 40 years?

No, and you don’t need it now either.

I anticipated watching your lights come on as dusk settled into night, but that was when you had one scheme that stayed on until you shut down for the evening at 2. On the dot, I could watch it happen as I crossed a bridge or caught you in between the gaps of the other towers, knowing that you were calling it a night and that in 3 hours, I would be doing the same. Now, I look forward to that moment so I don’t have to plant a face palm when I’m sitting at a red light, wondering what visual cacophony I will be subjected to as you luminously scream for my attention.

And you know what? It shouldn’t be like this.

All those tacky souvenir shops in Midtown have lots of kitsch in them but besides the lady holding the torch in the harbor, it’s you that they feature the most. Anything else that they display from your era has only aged gracefully – take a look at the towers involved in the race to the sky in the early 20th Century. They’ve been cleaned, modernized, and in some cases, converted to apartments but they’re still grand dames and they don’t have to resort to the lower common denominator to grab everyone’s attention.

Know what’s guilty of that, however? All those towers popping up in those Asian Tiger cities, as they attempt to assert themselves without having any of the romance or bravado that made Manhattan the place to be during the peak of American hegemony. Every year, there’s another glass monolith that takes away the title away from its predecessor and I read recently that a building in Saudi Arabia is going to stretch a kilometer into the sky. Do I care? No. Why should I? Skyscrapers, like everything else in life, are what they are because of the stories behind them. I may not like what’s rising at Ground Zero but should I ever lose it and decide to have kids of my own someday, I will cherish the opportunity to tell them about what used to be there, their untimely demise, and our resolve to rebuild and make the site a better place for future generations.

That’s what New York is all about, and so are you. Admit it – you’re the face of this town as much as Gabe Pressman, the rush of air from a subway grate, the lower East River Bridges, a giant sandwich from Katz’s, and yes, even the vehicle that I drive. You’ll never be the champ again when it comes to touching the clouds but you’re still the King of Gotham, no matter how much you’ll get bumped down the list in the coming generations. Yes, I understand that it’s the 21st Century and that the old way of manually changing the lights on you is gone for good but that doesn’t mean that you have to be a show-off on major holidays or on New Year’s; which was a spectacle unto itself and beyond words.

No matter, though. I still love you and always will, even if no one sees the goosebumps I get every time I approach the city every day for work.

Still the King

Still the King

 

 

Advertisements

Bringing Down the House

Roseland Ballroom - Theatre District

Roseland Ballroom – Theatre District

 

Can’t read my, can’t read my, no he can’t read my poker face…

“Lemme guess, ya went to the Lady Gaga concert tonight at the Roseland Ballroom.”

“Oh yeah!”

“How was it?”

“It was greeeeaaaatttttt!”

The last few weeks were notable in the annals of Gotham’s nightlife for two seemingly unrelated reasons. The first of which was the closing of the Roseland Ballroom and although it had been around since 1919, it called 52 Street home only since 1958. I attended one concert there and aside from the girl I was with bailing on me, the most memorable part of the night was that like every other attendee there, I had to stand for the entire show that Hot Chip put on. Given that the building’s prior use was as a skating rink, it only made sense that even after it was renovated in the early 90’s, that the giant floor remained without seats and column-free. Long gone were the days of ballroom dancing there as big acts coveted the space in recent years, due to the site’s location and mid-sized capacity. Sure, the Garden and the Barclay’s Center are the top-of-the-line spaces today but as was the case with Lady Gaga, performers loved playing at the Roseland because it was “homecoming” of sorts as many of them attended concerts there when they were growing up.

What many people didn’t notice was that right before the Roseland shut its doors for good, none other than the Godfather of House passed away. Francis Nicholls passed on at the age of 59 but to nearly everyone, he was known as Frankie Knuckles. Frankie was a DJ and I mean a real, innovative, groundbreaking, DJ…and not someone who took a device, plugged it in, and let it play his favorite songs for 3 hours. Like David Morales, Todd Terje, and Junior Vasquez, Frankie provided the soundtrack for so many people that needed to let off steam via the radio or at one of the city’s late night wonderlands. I passed by many of them during the day when I was growing up but since I was (and still am, to some extent) the shy, suburban brainiac that has dance moves worse than Elaine Benes, I never saw the inside of the establishments that helped make New York the glittering Oz that lay off to the east of my humble abode.

Growing up in the ’80’s and ’90’s meant that house music was the soundtrack to my Friday and Saturday nights. See, in those days, we didn’t have the internet. No cell phones either. Just a radio next to my bed and some videos on MTV sprinkled amongst the Hair Bands, 3rd British Invasion groups, and still-emerging genre known as hip-hop was all I had to get my fix. Once in a while, I’d get the cassette tapes synced up right and record American Dance Traxx, which counted down the top dance songs in the United States each week. Once I started driving and staying up late, I had Hot-97 going constantly (it didn’t flip over to hip-hop until 1993) and later on, the new ‘KTU. The ups, downs, heartbreaks, agonies, lonely rides home, and everything in between took place with 120 bpm’s of soothing grooves in the background, until the night ended or the next misadventure began. Somewhere, I had aspirations of manning the 1 and 2’s but that never happened and a short-lived stint on WRVU in Nashville was as close as I ever came to running the show myself.

Marquee - Chelsea

Marquee – Chelsea

“Oh, it was real good. Maybe even better than the Halal Guys on 6 & 53.”

“They’re out all night, right?”

“Well, I see them there late on weekends but on Monday night, I got there around 2:50. Grabbed my chicken and lamb, sat down in the cab to eat because it rained and when I got out to throw the container away, they were gone.”

“But that’s a busy spot.”

“Not on Monday. Marquee wasn’t open. Neither was Greenhouse, The Box, or any other club in Manhattan for that matter. That’s why I ate there when I did.”

“Tunnel and Twilo used to be right on that black.”

“Not anymore. Now it’s the Hotel Americano and the McKittrick there.”

Nightlife drives so much of our business. Not just taking people to and from the clubs but seeing what’s open, what’s closed, and what areas of town are “it” among the nightcrawlers. Wanna find out what ‘hoods are jumping and desirable? See where the impresario’s are plunking down their hard-earned money into a place that will probably have a shelf life of 5-10 years. New York is littered with the shells of venues that would write books if they could talk but are no longer relevant to the 20something looking to impress a date. Chelsea had the Roxy, Splash, and the Sound Factory but one by one, they closed as the scene moved further west. Tunnel and Twilo were huge a few years later and soon, Bungalow 8 and it’s fusion of celebrity, food, drink, and decor set the scene for the Lavo’s and Standard’s of today. Now, the Meatpacking District holds sway when it comes to where New Yorkers spend their hard-earned money, but that statement alone is an indicator of how much the scene has changed in recent years.

Back in the day, dance clubs were much more inclusive. All walks of life came out in their Monday, Saturday, or Sunday best to party until the wee hours of the morning. Although house is widely known to have started in Chicago, it was in New York that it took off. Around the same time, people sampling James Brown, Motown and Stax records up in the Bronx were sowing the seeds for the shoots that later blossomed into rap and ultimately, hip-hop All that was needed was a good set of Technic 1200’s, a stack vinyl, headphones, a mixer, and a venue.

And music was never the same after that.

New York *had* to be the place where it took off because it’s where everyone came together – not just through Ellis Island, but in basements, warehouses, converted roller rinks,  theaters, and in the case of the Empire Roller Skating Center, a former garage used by the Brooklyn Dodgers. The first dance craze that swept America in 50 years had a brilliant, brief flash in the late 1970’s but once Disco has it’s last dance, the movements that were still bubbling up during it’s heyday came to the surface and left their mark on the following decades.

Rap had it’s MC’s and house had it’s DJ’s and for the first time, *they* were the stars of the show. Other forms of music had a singer, a band, or a singer with a band in the background, playing standards and favorites for the audience. Once everything went electronic, the rules changed. Diana Ross could be mixed with Abba, followed by Blondie or Maceo Parker and people going out loved moving their asses off to it. Just as all history is revisionist, all music that came along only made the mixes better, the nights richer, and the samples that much deeper. No one knew what was next but everyone knew that a skilled mixmaster at the helm could put it all together.

Former Studio 54 Locale - Theater District

Former Studio 54 Locale – Theater District

No doubt that the good ones did, including Frankie Knuckles. One of my biggest regrets in life was that I never got dressed to the 9’s (or 8’s) and went out on a Saturday night to hear someone like him work his magic. Slowly but surely, the clubs that were made famous by him and the other DJ’s that I grew up with closed one by one. The most tragic tale of all was that of the Palladium on 14 St. Opened in 1927 as a concert hall, it was renovated by none other than Studio 54’s Steven Rubell and Ian Schrager in the ’80’s. After it re-opened, it was featured prominently on Club MTV and boasted a now-outdated set of monitors that could show videos in various arrays and patterns. While successful in it’s second incarnation, it was bought by NYU, torn down, and replaced with…

…Palladium Hall, which is a dorm now inhabited by students who have no idea why it’s called that or what used to sit on that site.

Palladium Hall - Union Square

Palladium Hall – Union Square

More importantly, many of those students are now living off of their parents credit cards and giving this cabdriver plenty of headaches when he has to haul them around New York in the wee hours of the weekend.

Everyone will point to Giuliani for cracking down on the club scene in the waning years of his mayoralty but had he not done that, most of them would still not be up and running today. Like malls, roller rinks, and bowling alleys, the clubs that were patronized by the masses is now a relic of America’s Past. Too many people would rather plug into something on a weekend night than go out to hobnob with strangers. Those that do go out do not dress outlandishly anymore or have killer dance moves. Rather, they come equipped with a different form of currency for nightlife.

The black card.

I hear it referenced all the time on the job and it’s usually a giveaway that the person who has it is a douche bag. VIP rooms and bottle service are only recent phenomenon that has made clubbing, like so many other aspects of New York life in the 21 century, a haven for the well-to-do. Every year, the bouncers get bigger, the vehicles that people drive to and from the venues get nicer, and the price of admission and bottles goes higher and higher. I hear big numbers being dropped all the time and one of the craziest stories I’ve overheard in my Taxi involved someone who wandered onto the wrong floor of a new and popular hotel where many flock to get their groove on. Two huge guys guarded the room as someone behind them was counting a massive stack of $100’s, as the wayward imbiber quietly closed the door and went back to where the action was.

All of that aside, what has changed in New York was the movement away from the DJ or the MC. Iphones, playlists, the internet, and electronic mixing have all combined to make the art of in-house music production easier now and with that ease has come a complete lack of cohesion on the part of many who have been entrusted to provide a soundtrack for a given night. I don’t care for celebrity playlists and none of them can take a Top 40 hit and remix it by speeding it up, sampling a beat behind it, or extending it for an additional 3 or 4 minutes. House and early hip-hop emphasized dancing, partying, and a come-as-you-are mentality that made everyone a part of the action. Now, it’s about the scene, snapping selfies, telling everyone that you were there, and moving on to the next “it” establishment, only to repeat the process all over again. Former Village Voice writer Michael Musto explained it perfectly when he stated that “The time is over. Things changed.” when referring to the demise of the club scene in New York when he was growing up but it took a lot of changes in locales, music, economics, and conventional wisdom to put the final nails into the coffin.

Sure, the current club-hopping among the uber-wealthy is good for my line of work but it makes for lousy venues and the lack of true mixmasters today means that I can’t find what I love on the radio anymore. No one’s going to look back fondly when Avenue or 1OAK closes down and everyone has to be spotted at the next hot spot that’s even more lavish, exclusive, and expensive.

Like so much else today, the romance has been sucked out of nightlife and New York is certainly worse off for it.