New York Punk & New Wave. Part 1-Velvet Dolls

Black & White-New York City, 1967

When viewed through the prism of vintage TV shows of an earlier time, one might be forgiven for thinking life itself at that time actually being in black and white. Color movies had been around for quite some time of course, but color television only truly started taking off in the 1960’s. It wasn’t until 1972 that sales of color TV sets finally exceeded their  black and white counterparts in the U.S. Which means that although much of how people viewed news, sports and entertainment at that time may have actually been filmed in color, it was still viewed in black and white by the majority of the public. The moon landing, the Cassius Clay vs Sonny Liston fight and The Beatles for example. When we see the footage for any of these things today, we perceive of them actually happening in black and white because that is the only way we know them all these years later in our mind by way of the existing film clips.

Of course the world is very much in color and in the 1960’s with fashion, music and art at the forefront of culture it seemed to be a much more vibrant decade somehow. Often these elements combined to make bold statements about consumerism and the accessibility of art. A move away from the elitist art world and perceptions of how art should be presented to something that was inspired more by commercial art, advertising, and even comic books instead.  Often it was presented with an element of dark humor and irony. In the art world of course this movement became known as Pop Art.   Reacquainting  myself with the history behind it recently, I realized that its attitude was very much a punk one, long before that became a phrase used to describe anything that defied the comfortable norms of the time. A key figure in the movement of course was Andy Warhol who was in the vanguard of producing art across various mediums and did not shy away from experimenting. Love it or hate it, Pop Art definitely pushed buttons.

When the Sex Pistols released Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols in 1977 it was arguably as much of an artistic outlet or statement from their creative force and manager Malcolm McLaren as the other art and fashion he was involved in at the time. But in many ways, the precursor for McLaren’s work with the Sex Pistols was Andy Warhol and the pivotal group he was involved in at the time in New York-The Velvet Underground. Originally formed in 1964, after a few lineup shuffles the band coalesced around Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Moe Tucker with Warhol taking on not the business and logistical side of matters, but the artistic side instead. The Velvet Underground became involved with Warhol’s studio ‘The Factory’, most famously as part of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a mixed media show. German singer Nico joined The Velvet Underground at Warhol’s insistence and appeared on a few tracks on the Velvet’s first album-The Velvet Underground & Nico, famed for its Andy Warhol created album sleeve.

The music The Velvet Underground produced was about as far removed from The Beatles or Rolling Stones as you could get in the mid-1960’s. Their music was mostly hard edged and experimental in nature. There were industrial soundscapes, cacophonous feedback and drone, dark songs about drugs, and perhaps in an effort not to be so completely bleak, some breezier songs mixed in for good measure. But it was in the experimental and darker places that the Velvets clearly roamed. As Geoffrey Stokes put it in ‘Rock Of Ages-The Rolling Stone History Of Rock & Roll-

“Lou Reed never sentimentalized and almost never prettified, and even as Time and Life were discovering how cute and colorful the hippies were, Reed was walking around counting the scabs and scores, listening to the grinding teeth and empty promises of a thousand junkies.”

That quote is rather telling when put in context. In 1967 on the other side of the ocean, the Beatles had released Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It had drug inspired songs too, but the references were subtle and the music was certainly not bleak. The Velvet Underground’s song Heroin however stands in sharp contrast. Some liken the song to an actual heroin trip- a calming feeling before moving into darker and noisier realms of the psyche the further into the heroin laced trip the song moves into. It isn’t pretty, but it seems so real.

New York is the intersection of so many divergent paths of culture, language, food, art, film and music. The music on the album reflected the era it was recorded in certainly, but it also had a healthy dose of  New York as only New Yorkers can understand- Fuck everyone else, fuck the other trends, this is New York we do what we fucking want in other words.  Suffice it to say, with songs like Heroin, The Velvet Underground and in particular Lou Reed arguably became the earliest ingredient in the mixing bowl that later became punk. It was dark and gritty like the city streets. This was not the tourist New York of shimmering lights, nor the wealthy Wall Street New York. This was the back alley view of New York City, strewn with trash, drugs and the uglier side of life.

There is a famous joke about how despite the poor record sales of that first Velvet Underground album, everyone who did buy a copy started their own band.  And one of those bands that were clearly listening were right across town and about to bring some color into the picture…

Color-New York City, 1973

Around the time those color TV sets were finally taking over from their b&w counterparts another band on the New York scene was about to make a mark on influencing the music scene as well. Like The Velvet Underground that mark was not driven by sales but rather by the influence the tracks would have for years to come on the music scene. But most especially for the punk movement, New York Dolls were a pivotal step. By the time of their self-titled debut in 1973, Rock & Roll had witnessed the relatively new jolt of androgyny and glam rock with T Rex, David Bowie and others. The New York Dolls borrowed that look and took the music off into a completely different  (and harder) direction.

Hard Rock did exist during that time already of course. But what top hard rock bands of that era like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath offered was music that was loud and hard, but still bound by the blues scale typically. So on the one side you had bands like Led Zeppelin rocking hard with lengthy guitar and drum solos and songs that clocked in on average at 5 or 6 minutes long tailor made for FM radio stations. On the other side you had New York Dolls who rocked as hard, but eschewed lengthy solos in favor of a tight crunchy guitar attack and the sneering lead vocals of David Johansen. Speaking of David Johansen, I did see him perform as his alter ego Buster Poindexter once…do I get punk rock points for that?

Because New York Dolls were not on my musical radar for much of my life I never made these sorts of connections between the hard rock bands in the Black Sabbath vein and what the Dolls were doing. In 1973 though the Dolls album definitely received attention, though early on it was not always positive. Some critics derided them as untalented and not serious about the music. Others sensed something special going on and praised the new direction their music pointed towards. Though the Dolls themselves were certainly not aiming to be a punk band, what comes through on the speakers is what made it such a clear punk influence. My favorite example (and favorite track on the album) is Personality Crisis. Absolutely filthy sounding guitars, thumping piano, and screaming…what’s not to like about it!

What the darker sounds such as Heroin on the Velvet Underground’s album and the entire New York Dolls album show is the first steps in that lineage of NY Punk. With the Velvet’s a music born partly out of the broader art movements of the day combined with an experimentation of sound led to crucial songs such as ‘Heroin’. Just six years later, the New York Dolls burst forth bringing a more basic sound more rooted in the origins of rock and roll but minus the pretension. It was loud. It was sneering. And it was so New York. The photos I used here represent the motion, movement and life at the time in a city that was gritty and edgy. An emergence from black and white to color. From art house to drug house. From conformist to hedonist.   Just a short time later a couple of guys in Queens were able to take the next leap forward.

Coming soon-Part 2-The Heart Of The Movement.

Heroin-Written By Lou Reed

Personality Crisis-Written By David Johansen & Johnny Thunders

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New York Punk & New Wave-An Introduction

An Introduction-

Punk Rock was born in 1975 and died in 1978. Or was it born in 1973 and died in 1979? No no, it was definitely born in 1976 and died in 1977. The answer, like many things in life, depends on who you ask. It is either still very much alive and kicking in 2019, or has been diluted from its origins and heights past the point of recognition. My own experience with punk has been very limited for much of my life in all honesty. The Sex Pistols emergence went unnoticed. I was only 9 when Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols came out after all!

The first punk band I properly knew was The Clash, though the first couple of songs I heard-Should I Stay Or Should I Go Now and Rock The Casbah came from what die hard punks thought was an attempt by the band to sellout. After all those two songs became acceptable to play on ‘classic rock’ radio stations slotted right next to the types of bloated, over sized pretentious rock that fueled the punk movement in the first place. Great though those two songs are (and they are of course) they are stylistically and musically different compared to what The Clash had done on earlier pure punk tracks such as London’s Burning or White Riot.

Around that time, say 1983 or thereabouts, I was probably more familiar with some of the second (or ‘new’) wave bands that were hitting the air waves and that more recent invention-MTV. There were a whole flock of new bands making very different sounding music compared to the more straightforward rock and roll I was accustomed to.  Though I did not understand the roots of the music, new wave was the most popular and direct movement to come out of punk. Musically quite different, but as I started doing research for this post I realized where there were definite similarities.

Some hard core punks might disagree that bands like The Slits or The Ramones had anything whatsoever to do with Human League or Talking Heads, but as author Simon Reynolds points out in his book ‘Rip It Up and Start Again (Postpunk 1978-1984), what made the two forms related was a shared disdain or any sort of reverence for much of the music that came before. They also shared some aesthetic similarities that as I have dug into researching this project I feel are still in place today in all sorts of music as a result. Punk may have started out as pure attitude, but it is appropriate to say that it gradually became a movement, and one that has had a lasting effect not just on music, but on art, fashion, sexuality and culture as well.

It is so much of a movement in fact that I realized that short of writing a book of my own on the subject matter that I needed to narrow the focus for this series. In the history of punk arguably the two most critical cities the music flourished and grew in were London and New York. Of course there was punk and new wave all over from San Francisco to Leeds, Dayton to Paris.  The pivotal innovations may have come from elsewhere but were fed through the filter of the larger music scenes in cities like New York and London.  And since I live in New York I decided that was an obvious area to focus on.

So what this series will look into is both the history and places, the art and the fashion of both punk and new wave in New York. I wanted to explore the lineage of the music which began with the art school sensibilities of The Velvet Underground in the late 1960’s straight through to the harder sounds of The New York Dolls, the pivotal contributions of Patti Smith and Blondie, to the 1234 count in of the Ramones, and the sophisticated yet funky sounds of Talking Heads and so much more in between. I wanted to find what remains. Not just the physical memories like the site of CBGB’s or Max’s Kansas City, but also what remains of the spirit of the music, and everything else we deem to be ‘punk’. So join me over the next few weeks as I dive into New York Punk.

Photograph By Robert P Doyle

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2018 In Photos-Part 2

As promised, following on from last weeks post of my favorite photos I have taken this year, here are some more. These were taken in many of the same places. One thing I tried focusing on this year is stepping outside of my comfort zone and experimenting with my photography more. Case in point is the taxi cab light streak photo. I actually stood on that corner for awhile, making subtle changes to the settings until I found one that I was happy with. I can’t wait to have some time (and good weather) in 2019 to get started taking more photos for all of you again. For now, enjoy these. Make sure you click on them to see them large as they are supposed to be seen. And as always, any likes and shares are always appreciated.

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2018 In Photos-Part 1

As part of my year end roundup last week I shared my favorite posts of 2018.This week I give you Part 1 of my favorite photographs I have taken this year. Some of them have worked their way into posts, but some might be new to you. Remember to give me a follow on my Facebook page and Instagram (links below) to see even more photos. This year is probably more focused on NY area locations, but there are a few taken in Paris as well. As every year goes by I feel more comfortable with the photography choices I make. There are less that I delete, less that I edit, more that I am comfortable with the second my eye looks into the viewer and my finger finds the shutter release. Which makes me feel good about where I am with my photos. Make sure you click on the photos to see them full size the way they are meant to be seen!

Part 2 next week!

50 Things@50-#22

Number 22-Visit The Neue Gallery In Manhattan

I knew when I made this list that a lot of them were going to be seasonal. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to a few of the outdoors one before the cold weather settled in so I will focus instead on the ones I can do now through the remainder of fall and winter.  As several of them are more locally based, I hope to make a real dent in the list. I was therefore happy to cross Number 22 off the list.

Sometime back, I saw a documentary series on Netflix about the ‘business’of stolen artwork, particularly by the Nazis in World War II. One episode featured the story of Gustav Klimt’s ‘Portrait Of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Now I studied a bit of art history in college, and I enjoy going to art museums wherever I happen to find myself. There are an awful lot of artists, and even more great works of art out there, and I’m honestly not sure if I ever was aware of this painting before seeing the documentary. If I had seen it in an art book before I failed to notice its splendor. Once the camera panned in and out of view looking at the ornate details of the work I was mesmerized.

Klimt relied heavily on gold and silver leaf for the painting. Broad swaths of gold and smaller decorative motifs give it the feeling of a Byzantine work of art. As the documentary continued, I was surprised to find that it was actually housed in a museum in New York City. I made a mental note that one day I had to see it in person. So finally this past Sunday, I made my way up to Fifth Avenue and 86th Street (part of what is known as Museum Mile) to visit a new museum for me-The Neue Gallery.

Actually in terms of museums, the Neue Gallery is still quite young, having been established in 2001 and dedicated to twentieth century art from Germany and Austria. It sits within what was formerly the William Starr Miller House. As I get older I seem to find myself appreciating the smaller museums more and more. The big museums like the Metropolitan Museum Of Art have something for everyone of course, but I find myself overwhelmed and over saturated at times by the scale of it all. So smaller museums such as the Neue, dedicated to a specific type of art or era appeal to me now.

On Sunday I started meandering through the galleries. I remember going to the Louvre once and watching the mass procession to see the Mona Lisa ignoring everything else nearby. So I decided that I wanted to stumble upon Portrait Of Adele Bloch-Bauer I organically. To turn a corner and realize it was in front of me. When I did it was more magical than I could have imagined. The gold was just so much more vibrant than the pages of a book or a TV show could possibly show. There was a seat directly behind the painting and I sat for a few moments scanning every detail of the work. Even when I got up and began exploring the other paintings in the gallery, I kept glancing at it. Almost as if it was saying-you can’t look away. It is I feel one of the special paintings in all of the art world.

So special in fact that its legend seems to be growing more by the year. There are books and other documentaries and last night I watched ‘Woman In Gold,’ a 2015 film with Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds about the true story of Maria Altmann’s (Adele Bloch-Bauer’s niece) efforts to return ownership of it and several other Klimt paintings back to the Bloch-Bauer estate. Those efforts eventually led to the painting being purchased and now permanently housed in the Neue Gallery.

So I definitely recommend a visit to the Neue Gallery to see this little gem of a museum, but most of all to see the Portrait Of Adele Bloch-Bauer. You will not regret it! https://www.neuegalerie.org/

Photo of Neue Gallery By Robert P. Doyle

Photo of Portrait Of Adele Bloch-Bauer- Public Domain/Wikipedia

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Where Do We Go From Here?

 

Every once in awhile you find yourself propelled into a musical universe that didn’t exist for you just moments before. But just a few notes in you get it. You get the vibe. You sense where the music is going, feel familiar with the songs even though it is actually new to your ears. Right away you get a feeling as a listener you are witnessing something you want to nurture and support, however small the contribution might be. These are exactly the feelings I had last month when I came across a new band to my ears-Jules & The Jinks.

I was at a favorite local spot in my neighborhood, a big open space barbecue smokehouse joint that has music on the weekends. It was the last night of my week long 50th birthday celebrations and I wanted to close it out with some good barbecue food and some more live music. Now I have seen bands at this place before, and I have heard some decent stuff, but (no slight intended) most of the music there has been pretty standard Saturday night bar music. Fun at the time, but not necessarily memorable afterwords.  And as I saw the band setting the gear up, I had a similar feeling. But then the music started off tight and funky. And then…the voice, oh that voice of lead singer Julissa Lopez came booming out. And it was then that I knew that this was a new happy addition to my musical universe.

Within just a few notes I was held spellbound by both the music and Julissa’s vocals and stage presence, not to mention a lot of hair! They wound up playing three sets, and I stayed for all of them. I could tell that they were also playing all original material, though a cover of Led Zeppelin’s Ramble On was totally bad ass. More impressive was the fact that the songs ran the range from soulful ballads, to hard driving rockers, propelled by a band well versed in the music. A friend who joined me part of the way through made a comment that you could hear the band down the block, probably no surprise.

A few days later I bought the band’s self-titled EP on Itunes and started checking out some videos on YouTube. One song they had played that night stood out in particular to me-Where Do We Go From Here.  Not only because Julissa really belted it out with great accompaniment by the band, but it also resonated with me for more personal reasons. In the few weeks I have been listening to it, these words-‘Where Do We Go From Here’ really gave me pause. Yes it is a common phrase, but I really thought about it in different contexts. When you really think it is a very powerful question.

First I really love what the group did here with this video. Visually it looks terrific, but it also drives home a serious point. That is one way of thinking about where do we go from here as a society. How we discard, destroy, and demolish with little thought to the future. Is ‘progress’ really worth it if we bulldoze every thing both literally and metaphorically that lies in its path? As I watched the video a few times I drew a parallel of sorts to what I have always wanted to do on this blog. To ask the questions without truly having the answers, letting the visual of the photo speak for the song, or maybe letting the song become clearer with the visual.  I don’t know where we go from here in that regard but I do know we need to keep asking ourselves the questions.

Second the song made me question my own life the way the special songs do. Some of you know what has been happening to me personally the last few months. I don’t want to recount that here, suffice it to say it has me spending a lot of time thinking. And it is not simplistic on my part to say that the driving question throughout this process has been-what next? When I heard Jules & The Jinks the question quickly changed to where do I go from here? What do I want to do? What makes me happy? Where do I want to live that makes me happy? And on and on like that. Right now I do not have the answers…but I have the question. And questions are good things…

Please spend some time listening to the music of Jules & The Jinks wherever you get your music. Big news for them is that just a few days ago, they were crowned winners of the coveted Battle Of The Bands slot for the AfroPunk Festival. They are a band on the rise, and just like with Jackie Venson another artist I wrote about not long ago, I want you to remember where you heard it first!

Where Do We Go From Here-Written By Julissa Lopez and Erik Rosenberg

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Storms

 

Storms-New York City

One thing I have noticed about my photography, or photography in general is that it sometimes grabs you in different ways at different times. Even as the taker of the photograph that happens to me. Case in point is this photograph shown above. I took it a few weeks ago on a rather warm Saturday evening. I decided I was a little restless and decided to head out for a long walk and a few drinks and dinner at the end of it. When I left our apartment, it was bright and sunny out. The Kwanzan Cherry trees were just starting to bloom and as they are my favorite of the flowering cherries, I found a cluster of them and took some photos along the way.

Not long after however, I noticed that the sky was looking a little ominous. Not quite ready to pour down, but you could tell it was coming at some point. Which is ironic since instead of high-tailing it to the nearest drinking and eating establishment, I instead went down to Long Island City here in Queens, out to a particular pier that has some stunning Manhattan views. I wanted to go because it is slightly north of the usual perspective I take this view from. Photography is all about subtle changes after all. I walked down a long empty street to the end. Continue reading “Storms”