back in the New York groove
here again I find myself living in New York, city of dreams
# of Tracks: 30
Length: 2 hours & change
Themes: a lot of Lou Reed ~ New York in the 1970s ~ classic 90s hip-hop ~ ‘00s rock revivalists ~ poetic/romantic outsider perspectives on the city from Brits like the Rolling Stones, Elbow, and PJ Harvey.
I recently got back to New York City after a pandemic-era exile. I’m not used to it: the pace and the grime, the excitement and impossibility. In anticipation of my return, I collected these songs into a playlist about that New York groove: tired, gross, energized, incredible. Smart but in a cynical, street-smart way, confident but in a manner that’s so on-guard it often leaves you completely beaten down.
Listening to this mix helped me adjust to that particular NYC vibration, even if it hasn’t exactly brought all the moves necessary for survival back into my repertoire: How do you anticipate and avoid patches of dog crap and rat carcasses on the sidewalk? As a pedestrian, driver, and/or public transit rider, how should one interact with the clinically insane people with whom you’ll inevitably cross paths? Which dicey bodegas and overpriced artisanal Brooklyn eateries are to be trusted / avoided / savored? Is it possible to visit Williamsburg without bumping into an aspiring Influencer or a restaurant grooming their food for Instagram? I hope this playlist gives you a taste of all that — the city’s unavoidable shit and shine.
One point of administration: I’ve added a YouTube Music version of the playlist in response to feedback from those of you who don’t have Apple Music or Spotify accounts. I hope it helps make this playlist accessible to a few more people!
Finally: while it’s not a requirement. If you’re really enjoying these playlists (or even the emails), consider subscribing to support this endeavor. $50 a year (or $6 a month) helps keep me motivated to keep the groove going. For the time being, subscribers will also get a postcard from me when I get around to it! D-e-l-u-x-e.
The playlist includes songs such as…
^ Ray Baretto “Acid”
^ Ace Frehley “New York Groove” — note: this live version is by the band Kiss and kind of sucks; the recording on the playlist is from a solo album by their guitarist Ace Frehly and does not
^ DMX “Ruff Ryders Anthem”
^ Liz Phair “Hey Lou” aka the ballad of Lou Reed & Laurie Anderson…with puppets.
While we’re on the subject of New York City music, here are some recent cultural documents covering that topic that I’ve been enjoying over the past few months.
• New York Electronic playlist from Dan Selzer: This concise, 90-minute introduction to the history of New York electronic music takes us on a journey from the Silver Apples in the 1960s to Invisible Conga People who emerged alongside the DFA / LCD Soundsystem scene in the ‘00s. You might quibble with some of playlist curator Dan Selzer’s selections from these artists.1 But it’s not like he’s missing out on their hits. The emphasis here is on on synth and dance-adjacent music from that interesting only-in-New York intersection of the avant-garde, eclectic weirdos, and sounds from the street and other undergrounds. With the exception of the unusual crossover of Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” and maybe Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream”2 there are no such things.
• Laurie Anderson in The New York Times Magazine: ICYMI check out this very recent and 100% killer profile of the genre-jumping musician, artist and life partner of one of this mixtape’s honorees Lou Reed — someone that has already made an appearance in this post in puppet form via the Liz Phair video linked to above. I listened to the podcast/audio version of this article but that means I almost missed out on pictures like this one of her in ascendence in her 1980s prime.
• The Velvet Underground on Apple TV: Last but not least, Todd Haynes’ new film about the Reed’s formative group is excellent. It’s not only a history of the unlikely personalities that formed one of our most notable, influential and tragic odd duck bands; it’s also a visually driven history of pop-avant New York in the 1960s, of Andy Warhol, and the birth of a certain kind of countercultural cool which we’re all still paying for. Highlights? One weird subtext is that for a large period of their existence they were almost more a Boston band than a New York one. Along those lines the commentary by New England original Jonathan Richman is revelatory.
As evidence of how impactful this doc was on me personally, it sent me down at least an hour of unproductive but fascinating Googleholes™🕳️ For example, did you know late-era VU member Doug Yule’s last professional engagement, before an apparent retirement to Southeast Asia (?!?), was as a luthier and violin maker outside of Seattle?3 And did you realize that in the band’s last years they expanded their color palette considerably (and regrettably)?
In the department of leaving the least for last, reengaging with the city has caused a bit of reflection about my own personal relationship with this megalopolis that inevitably spits out all but its most hardened, wouldn’t-make-sense-anywhere-else denizens, be they born-to-it or born-again-into-it peoples.
I’ve been wondering: What were my most New York City years? When did I make it here in such a way it appeared I could make it anywhere? (I’m still not sure this is a good thing or a bad thing! I now know I can thrive in NYC; but I’m no longer sure I could live anywhere else.)
I suspect it was the 365 days period bridging autumn 2010 and 2011. The record label I co-founded Brassland was celebrating a decade of existence. As a paying gig, I was managing director of an esoteric record label purveying something called new music. As an entrepreneur, I started managing a series of once successful, at-the-moment successful and soon-to-be successful musicians. One of them played Madison Square Garden. I was dating a participant in the publishing industry and living on the Lower East Side. I had a Blackberry and knew how to use it. I was constantly eating shit, stressed out, exhausted. (I end this post with some pics from that aforementioned Blackberry that offer a pretty good snapshot of my brain at the time.)
To wrap things up where we started: is it any wonder this playlist inspired by New York includes lots of songs by the all-time king of artful debasement Lou Reed? And a lot of songs that seem redolent of the NYC grime of the 1970s? You can hear that sound both from direct sources like the urbane glam of CHIC and hardcore only-in-New Yorkers such as Neil Diamond and his louche Brooklyn croon; or Arthur Russell and his mumbled post-genre clarity; or Ray Barretto’s pan-Latin fusion as expressed in the Fania salsa collective of which he was an essential participant. But it carries through into the work of latter-day artists who share that classic city-that-never-sleeps vibe, be it the hip-hop of Nas, Jay-Z, and the Beastie Boys, or the indie rock of L’Rain, Interpol, and The National.
Listening to this music it strikes me as a strange but true that the 70s somehow etched the New York of our imaginations and, even stranger, that that period of time is over 50 years ago.
For me, Invisble Conga People’s “Cable Dazed” is an all-timer:
…if you count Bruce Springsteen’s advocacy:
To be clear: Doug Yule’s story is one of several threads that received not-quite-enough coverage as the documentary. I had to Google his whereabout independently. If I had a critique of this film, it’s that it is very much of the ignore-small-facts-to-burnish-the-larger legend variety. A good choice for the broad audience it’s going for? Certainly yes. A source of nagging discomfort for the true geeks among us? Also yes.