Five versions of New York City

This is off topic, but it’s something that is near and dear to my heart. So,what the hell?  Back in the day, many of us in the hinterlands dreamed of moving to NYC. It was a romantized vision, but a true one. We had this idea we could leave it all behind and not so much re-invent ourselves, but become a part of what was NEW YORK CITY!  These days people come to NYC wanting to bring the crap they grew up with here, and they have won.

Luckily for me, I caught the tail end of that NYC I came to live in and be a part of. The Sinatra song, New York, New York which is a classic and cliched, was written in 1979 for Scorese’s film. But the song, music by John Kander, and lyrics by Fred Ebb, really summed it up nicely.

Back in 2009, when I had my Examiner column,  I wrote that NYC was as dead as the Dodo.

The dodo lived on the island of Mauritius, free of natural predators.  Then European sailors came, bringing with them rats, pigs and other predators.  Within 50 years the dodo was extinct.  New York City is fast becoming like the dodo.  Real estate predators, like the rats and pigs of Mauritius are destroying the history of New York faster than the predators decimated the Dodo.  Huge, grotesque, expensive monstrosities are replacing the physical memories and neighborhoods of New York.  National chains are replacing the neighborhood joints.

It’s been said that New York reinvents itself every 20 years.  I’ve found this to be true, but it used to be that New York reinvented itself within the context of itself.  It is now changing in the context of the rest of the country.  It is ceasing to be an original.  It’s becoming a suburb.

In that vein, here are some songs from the different eras of New York.

Manhattan: Richard Rodgers and the words by Lorenz Hart for the 1925 revue “Garrick Gaieties”


New York, New York from  On the Town music by Leonard Bernstein. Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green

Lovin’ Spoonful: The 1960s and some images of some other places.

Now we have our Al Kooper from the early 70s, less happy.

It gets depressing with Lou Reed in the 80’s, but’s still New York


We have no 1990’s, or 2000’s culture. We no longer have any NYC culture. Due to the Giuliani and Bloomberg decades, NYC will never be the heart of new culture and individualism. It will be and is, the culture of money. And that is sad.

2 thoughts on “Five versions of New York City”

  1. This has always been one huge mystery to me. I have grown up seeing all kinds of movies extolling “New York!” like it’s something marvellous and amazing. And yet, to me it just looks like a bunch of oversized buildings with no trees and too many people. And mind you, I grew up in Los Angeles, which isn’t exactly the hicks.

    So what is the “culture” that makes NY amazing? What is it that stopped existing in the 1990’s? Food? Theatre? Close-knit neighborhoods? Is there a New York cuisine? Or is it just the fact there is so much variety in a small space? How did Giuliani kill whatever it was?

    I can say I live in the boonies now, and a lot of “individualism” happens here because of low rents. You can get a fair sized piece of land or a building for not too much, and try something out. We have farmer’s markets and open-mike evenings. That kind of goes away as rents go up, which is one reason I left the city. I think in NY there were times when artists could rent an old warehouse or whatever for the sake of “art” and that was a big boost to those neighborhoods? And those “ghetto” areas where the rents were low so the speakeasies flourished?

    1. It’s hard to explain. You either get it or you don’t and that’s not a slight. Most of the cultural movements of the 20th Century came out of NYC. The cultural contributions that NYC has contributed to the world are numerous. Jazz and tap dancing. Tin Pan Alley. Broadway theater. Art movements like the New York School which spawned such artists as Pollack and de Kooning. Writers flourished and fed off the energy of New York. People like Mailer and E.B. White were New York writers.

      The Harlem Renaissance celebrated Black culture and brought improvisational jazz and black literature to the world at large.

      The second half of the 20th Century brought us the Beats, the folk music revival and Punk music. The Brill Building was the heart of pop music in the 1950s and 60s. Luminaries such as Boyce and Hart, Neil Diamond, Goffin and King, Leiber and Stoller, Neil Sedaka, Bacharach and David and Phil Spector composed endless hits in that building.

      Steinbeck lived in NYC and left in disgust. Yet he returned decades later and died here. Here’s what he wrote when he left: “But there is one thing about it—once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no place else is good enough. All of everything is concentrated here, population, theater, art, writing, publishing, importing, business, murder, mugging, luxury, poverty. It is all of everything. It goes all right. It is tireless and its air is charged with energy.”

      Here’s what I wrote in 2009 when I was an NYC Examiner columnist:

      In 1948, E.B. White wrote what many consider a love letter to New York. In “Here is New York,” White wrote there were three different New York cities. The first was the native, the second was the commuter. The third one was “…the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these trembling cities the greatest is the last–the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements.” It was this third type of New Yorker whom White called “settlers” and wrote that they were the ones who brought the City its “passion.”

      The city itself as the “goal.” That is what drew me and hundreds of thousands of others We all came for different reasons, but our goal was the same, to be ingrained in New York. Our goal was to be New Yorkers; to be a part of a neighborhood, not just live in one. We recognized that when we walked the streets, we were walking through history. Today that ethos is almost as extinct as the dodo. It seems the new arrivals could be happy anywhere; that New York is just another big city with a rep, with which they have no emotional ties.

      White wrote that the city “carries on its lapel the unexpungeable odor of the long past, so that no matter where you sit in New York you feel the vibrations of great times and tall deeds, of queer people and events and undertakings.”

      Do I romanticize NYC? You bet and I was lucky to be able to live here during the final days of the New York that I dreamed of living in. I miss the NYC I lived in and I miss the NYC I never lived in.

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