There is so much that I didn’t appreciate when I was a kid, things as basic as living in New York City and as specific as my godmother taking me out, every month or so, for an Earthquake sundae at Swensen’s on Second Avenue. Earthquake? That’s nine flavors of ice cream and nine toppings, plus whipped cream and cherry, of course. The bowl was bigger than the one my mother made Caesar salad in.
There was one “in” I had that can still stop cocktail party conversation, 20 years later. Another friend was a writer for Saturday Night Live. Pretty much any time I wanted to I could drop hints and find myself in the SNL studios, after cruising past all the poor saps who had to wait on line down in the lobby. If, say, my favorite band Men at Work was in town, and appearing on the show, well, I didn’t even have to say anything, because the involved parties all knew Men at Work made me swoony. And I had already been given all the relevant M.A.W. schwag that had appeared in the SNL offices. Someone, as they say, had my back.
One show I got to sit next to Darryl Hannah (she was there to see Tom Hanks, post-Splash), another time a secret message (to me!) was artfully inserted into an item on the Weekend Update. Afterwards I’d get to go backstage, literally rub elbows with Sting or Prince or whoever, and go home the most pumped-up pre-teen in the history of the world. And the stupid thing is I never knew how good I had it. Sure, I had an inkling when a bunch of school friends saw me in the audience one weekend and nearly assaulted me the following Monday morning, but by and large I was oblivious.
I’ve figured it out now, now that I’m old and learning how to be grateful for the things people do for me. I remember those moments behind the scenes, hanging out with whichever silly celebrity was my hero of the moment, and the funny thing is, I don’t really remember who any of them were. Yeah, I still like Sting, but the rest are a blur, all those one-hit wonders and handsome actors. What I do remember was my friend’s bemused expression, watching me blush my way down the halls, watching me trying to be cool around the cast, and watching me flip out over the gift of an early 70s SNL satin jacket. What I remember is the generosity of a grown up with countless famous friends bothering to make a place for me, a gauche and uncharming kid, in an exciting world. We should all be so lucky
FROM VOLUME 3 ISSUE 10
57 Great Jones street
I was walking down Great Jones Street the other night, and was amazed to see yet another of my adolescent temples filled with moneychangers (so to speak). The beautiful arch-fronted carriage house that was once the studio and home of Jean-Michel Basquiat is now an upscale Japanese restaurant. I was living around the corner, on the still-skanky Bowery in the early ‘90s, and would walk by the place everyday: its story revealed itself in stages as I passed with various art-oriented friends. We all knew excerpts from the life of Basquiat, had seen him here and there downtown in the years before his death. An early version of our story had him locked up in the building, the prisoner of Mary Boone, everyone’s favorite love-to-hate art dealer. Our little urban myth had her scoring for him, and plying him with drugs to keep him in the studio and producing his cash-cow paintings.
Then I heard that the building belonged to Andy Warhol, that he had perhaps given it to Jean-Michel, in an attempt to buy, or keep, his friendship. In reality Basquiat rented the studio from Warhol beginning in 1983: After chasing Warhol through the streets as an unknown graffiti artist and trying (unsuccessfully) to gain admission to The Factory, moving into the carriage house must have felt like success, like an assurance of acceptance. Through the mid-eighties the two collaborated on a couple of series of paintings; their friendship was for a time intense, with Warhol playing a pseudo-paternal role.
It was after Warhol’s death that Basquiat began his own spiral toward oblivion, sinking deeper and deeper into self-loathing and what he claimed was a 100-bag-a-day heroin habit. He died here at 57 Great Jones in the summer of 1988, was seen by his neighbors being put into an ambulance in the middle of a hot afternoon, and a dumpster filled with his belongings appeared outside not long after.The tragedy of it all was, to me, so profound, that I always imagined the building left as it had been. Sure, the vultures came and stripped the place of art, but the splashes of paint were surely still on the walls and floor, dirty paintbrushes and paint-spattered suits collecting dust in the corners. I always imagined it eventually a Basquiat museum, a fitting downtown space for a downtown artist, scaled not to the his talent, but to the brevity of his career, a small monument to the brief time when the same old shit was the king of the world.
FROM VOLUME 3 ISSUE 09
Oh, NYU, how do I hate you? Let me count the ways… There’s the endless marketing of your third-rate adult education classes, and Mary-Kate and Ashley, who really should have stayed on that other coast. But most despicably, you tore down the Palladium and replaced it with the ugliest institutional residence ever wrought by the hand of man. And then you had the audacity to name said residence the Palladium, just to rub our noses in it.
In the 1980s the Palladium was the apex of the NYC club scene. Opened by Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager after the demise of Studio 54, it outdid 54 in glamour and excitement, a superstore to 54’s boutique.
When I was 14 years old, we’d dress up in our best Betsy Johnson, lie to our parents, and take the 6 train down to 14th Street, steeling ourselves for the style police who guarded the doors. I was lucky enough to be sort-of friends with a niece of Rubell’s, which guaranteed us super-VIP status (what was Uncle Steve thinking?). If said niece was not with us there was our safety net: a senior at our incredibly uptight school was one of the doorpeople. Only 18 herself, blue haired at a time when blue hair really meant something, especially on the Upper East Side, I think she fancied herself a corrupter, or perhaps educator, of the headed-for-preppy (I modeled myself on her for years, from the blue hair to the pointy-toed multi-buckle boots).Inside was the equivalent of three or four clubs — pounding dance floor area, strange multicolored basement; the Michael Todd room upstairs was our spot. There we could camp out surrounded by the Jean-Michel Basquiat murals (our favorite painter, bien sur) and quaff sloe gin fizzes until we were queasy or someone offered us something better. Oh look, there’s Andy! And Jean-Michel! Michael Musto! Allen Ginsburg! It was an Uptown girl’s finishing school for Downtown, and the beginning of my adult life, I suppose. The bathrooms were coed, for chrissakes, and me a 9-year veteran of single sex education. I hardly ever danced, but I sure did learn a lot.