New York's Alright (If You Like Saxophones)


Buried within Matt Harvey's long, slightly rambling New York Press feature, "The East Village Isn't What It Used to Be…And It Never Was," is an interesting little fight between lefty music critic Robert Christgau and fellow East Village resident Phil Hartman, the owner of the Two Boots pizza chain and the Two Boots Pioneer movie theater, which recently closed its doors. Hartman is an old punk rocker upset that the neighborhood has gone yuppie. Christgau agrees, but takes a shot at Hartman in the process:

"Mythology of the old East Village? Phil Hartman, the guy that owns Two Boots?" Robert Christgau, "Dean of Rock Critics," growls at me over the phone as if I just told him Kiss was the greatest band ever.


"What a load of horseshit," Christgau says. "I'm not putting him down. I like the theater, and it's all fine with me, but he's not protecting anything." I've touched a raw nerve in the old curmudgeon-who maintains a "militant anti-nostalgia" stance-and he presses on. "That kind of bohemian territoriality is always nonsense. People who lived in the Village in the'20s were actually nostalgic about the Village of the pre-World War I period. Look it up."

That's a good point. For every dozen partisians of late 1970s CBGB's, for instance, you'll find more than a few of us who argue that CB's saw its greatest days in the late '80s. Either way, it's nostalgia for a romanticized past. But for all the sense that Christgau made, he promptly ruined it with this:

"No, I'm much more interested in real estate than I am in this mythology shit." He wants the mom-and-pop stores back, the newspaper and coffee in its blue Greco container. "The economy, absolutely," he says. Believing the crash might help bring things around, he adds, "But Marx is my man, and that's what I believe."

Talk about "a load of horseshit." Here's a guy who has spent his career writing about pop music—an art form that particularly thrives in market-friendly societies—apparently hoping that an economic catastrophe will make New York a better place to live. Maybe he should talk to Cuban jazz legend Paquito D'Rivera, who explained to that he had to leave Communist Cuba in order to pursue his dream of being a musician:

NEXT: Free Speech for Clunky Writers!

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  1. New York’s Alright (If You Like Saxophones)

    Bonus points for the Fear reference.

  2. Max’s Kansas City > CBGBs

  3. We tend to feel nostalgic about the places we inhabited when we were young an energetic. That holds especially true for our young adulthoods. I have found memories of the rat holes I lived in during college.

    Things, places, weren’t better back in the day, our perception were. Being young, healthy, free, creative and in love made everything around us seem bright.

  4. Fuck Christmas

  5. New York’s Alright if you like Tuberculosis.

  6. “Marx is my man, and that’s what I believe.”

    Never mind that. Have you heard about how the South is filled with bigots upholding outdated ideologies?

  7. Christgau is the absolute worst and his continued relevance is testament to the utter joke that is pop music criticism.

  8. Having owned and listened to both Television records since the 1970s until now I will say they are not “punk rock” at all.I’ve heard live recordings by them that were close but they were never a punk band.

  9. Funny how marxists these days have all this phony reverence for mom-and-pop stores, when it was the small business owners that were declared “Kulacks” and starved to death by the Soviets (I can hear Christgau and his ilk whimpering: “Stalin doesn’t count!”).
    Sonic Youth had a song called: “I Killed Christgau with My Big Fucking Dick.” Now THERE’S your title for this article.

  10. There are no Marxists anymore. Marxism is a dead ideology. Marxism is about as relevant as Nazism, a few violent assholes like Marxism but they are too anti-social to have any mainstream relevance.

    The real danger is and always have been the folks who just want the government to “do more” without having any real concept of politics or ideology. Those are the folks who are happy to bring us to totalitarianism is easy to digest small bites, and haven’t thought ahead about consequences.

  11. The left has always been wrong about their memory of the past:
    In the 50’s everyone was in a repressed, conservative nuclear family.
    60’s – everyone was protesting.
    70’s – doing drugs.
    80’s – making money.

    Their “nostalgia” for the past is from a Marxist history book.

  12. I’m nostalgic for the future.

  13. You know what I like about the East Village? I keep getting older, but it keeps staying the same. Except its the opposite. And I’m not getting younger. And I don’t like the East Village.

  14. “He wants the mom-and-pop stores back, the newspaper and coffee in its blue Greco container. “The economy, absolutely,” he says. Believing the crash might help bring things around…”

    If the economy thing doesn’t work out, maybe he should just hire somebody to mug him.

  15. As an East Village resident, I can say (for the most part): Amen to that. Yeah, it’s regrettable that we’re losing some of the old places, because they’re part of what make the neighborhood what it is. I’m sorry that the neighborhood isn’t more affordable. But you know why it was affordable 25 years ago? Because it was a fucking terrible neighborhood in a lot of ways! It was poor and dirty and crime-ridden! You know those pictures you see of favelas in Brazil? That’s basically what Tompkins Square Park looked like 25 years ago. And if anybody feels nostalgic for the old days, I can still show you where you can find homeless guys vomiting on the street or punk kids begging for money.

  16. Isn’t the East Village in Brooklyn now? I thought that the Village had been taken over by a bunch of overstuffed “Master of the Universe” types back in the ’90s.

  17. good song reference, fear is great.
    the east village is my favorite place in NYC. sucks now, no CBGBs, hell the continental doesn’t even have shows anymore. but from what I’ve heard the old East Village was just fucking violent and run down, if that is what he misses well, tough shit. though the rent was cheaper that was good.

  18. What’s amusing and ironic is that it’s the bohemian types themselves who are the first step in the neighborhood gentrification they so claim to despise.

    And yes, Fear was/is great, I agree.

  19. ChrisO: Nah, the Wall Street types never really came to the East Village – too low-rent, too bohemian for them. And even Brooklyn isn’t Brooklyn anymore. Williamsburg went from being the new East Village to being the new West Village in about five minutes flat. Bohemians are expanding into Bushwick now (“East Williamsburg”, my ass).

  20. Fear — Man, I miss those guys, and the original-format Night Flight program on the USA Network, which first brought them to my attention via the late Peter Ivers’ “New Wave Theatre” segment (something I also miss).

    “New York’s Alright” was the first Fear number I ever heard on NWT. Good times.

    Just like the late 60s and early 70s were a golden time for music, the early 80s were golden years for video-and-music. In both eras, we who were there had the sense that something big was about to break. And today???

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