Blast from the Past

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Henry Chalfant’s Golden Age ‘Graf Writers’ Speak

Henry Chalfant, "Mad PJ" 1980 (Image courtesy of Eric Firestone Gallery)

Henry Chalfant, “Mad PJ” 1980 (Image courtesy of Eric Firestone Gallery)

Long before Gordon Gekko’s bimbo cousin was inaugurated in January (no doubt aided by doing the best impression of Ronald Reagan he could muster), trend pieces had picked up a scent that hinted which way the wind was blowing. It had notes of burnt hair and overcooked mini vegetables on the nose, followed by white wine spritzer, and finished with a robust whiff of Misty Slim Lights and the lingering, chemically after-stank of cheap knockoff perfumes like “If you like Giorgio you’ll love PRIMO!” Then, the elections made it official: the ’80s are back, baby.

It might have smelled delicious, but the Decade of Greed wasn’t exactly a superbly excellent time for everyone involved. But for all the negi vibes–magnified in New York City by an extreme wealth gap– the ’80s produced some truly inspiring art, and the best of it came from a thriving, vibrant underground. During this time, graffiti reached its “golden age,” as a recent photography exhibition, Henry Chalfant: 1980, reminded us, and it wasn’t long before graf became a worldwide cultural phenomenon.

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Howl’Ya Honor Ginsberg? By Going to This Beat Poetry Fest

Police cadets reading "Howl" (Photo: Gordon Ball, courtesy of Howl!)

Police cadets reading “Howl” (Photo: Gordon Ball, courtesy of Howl!)

If Allen Ginsberg were still croaking around today, he would’ve just celebrated his 90th birthday. I can see it now– the old man and his expansive beard, its gnarls wafting gently at the rims of coke-bottle glasses. He’d invariably be rocking sandals (whatever to the people locking eye-to-fungi) while boy servants fan him with palm leaves, gently though, so he can still roll those double-sized fatty spliff-spliffs from pages ripped out of On the Road and intermittently flash people from underneath his dashiki. Inevitably, James Franco would be VJing a Howl ft. Grimes remix and everything, everything would be lost.

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From the Allen Street Boys to Satan’s Sinners, Street Gangs of the Lower East Side

Clayton Patterson's new book with Jose "Cochise" Quiles, cover photo by Clayton Patterson (Image: Nicole Disser)

Clayton Patterson’s new book with Jose “Cochise” Quiles, cover photo by Clayton Patterson (Image: Nicole Disser)

Last week, Elliot Caldwell was fatally shot outside of Campos Plaza, the NYCHA public housing project where he’d grown up. An EV Grieve commenter noted that the 23-year-old had been arrested in 2013 when the Manhattan DA busted alleged members of the Money Boyz, a coke-dealing gang based out of the East Village housing project. DNAinfo wrote that a woman claiming to be Caldwell’s aunt told reporters: “He was a great father. He changed his life for his son. He just got caught up in a bad situation.”

The NYPD told B+B that the suspect in Caldwell’s shooting is described as a “black male wearing a red hoodie,” who “fled from the scene on foot.” So far there have been no arrests, and police say the investigation is ongoing.

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Where Did Lead Belly Sleep Last Night? A New Plaque at His Old Home Will Tell You

Actor Guy Davis (right) helps commemorate Lead Belly's East Village plaque with a rendition of "Goodnight Irene" (Photo: Nicole Disser)

Actor Guy Davis (right) helps commemorate Lead Belly’s East Village plaque with a rendition of “Goodnight Irene” (Photo: Nicole Disser)

“‘No Lead Belly, No Beatles,'” Grammy-winning singer Tom Chapin said, quoting George Harrison outside of the building at 414 East 10th Street. There were murmurs of approval from the crowd that, despite the freezing cold, gathered out front of this Alphabet City building today to celebrate the unveiling of a commemorative plaque that now hangs on the one-time home of the great folk and blues musician. Through stories and song, musicians, longtime fans, and historians honored Lead Belly on his birthday outside the singer’s old apartment. (That’s right, today wasn’t just David Bowie Day.)

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Remember When Punk Magazine Made the East Village the Center of the Universe?

Punk magazine celebrates its 40th anniversary at Howl! Arts in the East Village (Photo: Nicole Disser)

Punk magazine celebrates its 40th anniversary at Howl! Arts in the East Village (Photo: Nicole Disser)

In 1976, a comic artist named John Holmstrom begot Punk magazine as an excuse to stalk his favorite bands from the downtown scene, and look cool in the process. Needless to say, Holmstrom succeeded (beyond what he ever imagined) in permanently etching the East Village into the throbbing heart of the punk movement, and visualizing an R. Crumb-like vision of the scenes running through Max’s Kansas City and CBGB. Soak up the 40th-anniversary exhibition that opened last week at Howl! Happening and Punk’s lasting influence becomes sharply real.

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‘I Started to Fall Backwards’: My Faint Recollection of Opening For David Bowie

The author Phoebe Legere (Photo by Valentine Judge)

The author Phoebe Legere (Photo by Valentine Judge)

Singer, composer, performance artist and multi-instrumentalist Phoebe Legere has continually broken new musical ground since her New Wave band Monad formed in 1980. In 2006 Legere founded the New York Underground Museum, an interactive website that presents the work of both renowned and emerging artists. It was Legere’s eclectic talents that earned her an incredible opportunity.

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The Week David Bowie Met Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Andy Warhol: An Inside Look

Tony Zanetta and David Bowie, August 22, 1974 at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, during the Young American sessions. (Photo: Dagmar) after that  all-night session.

Tony Zanetta and David Bowie, August 22, 1974 at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, during the Young American sessions. (Photo: Dagmar)
after that all-night session.

In the early 1970s, New York actor Tony Zanetta performed in underground theater in plays by Andy Warhol, Jackie Curtis and Wayne/Jayne County. His portrayal of Warhol in the play “Pork” would have him meet David Bowie in London. When Bowie visited New York in 1971, Zanetta guided him through the town’s nightlife. He soon became part of Bowie’s inner circle as tour manager of the Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs tours and helped run Bowie’s MainMan management organization. Zanetta had not seen Bowie in over 40 years when he learned of his death this week. Below, Zanetta recalls the exciting time when Bowie arrived in New York an unknown who would soon become a superstar.

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The Man Who Fell to Earth: David Bowie’s Formative Years in ’70s New York

Mourners laid flowers and outside David Bowie's apartment on Lafayette Street (Kavitha Surana)

Mourners laid flowers and outside David Bowie’s apartment on Lafayette Street (Kavitha Surana)

By now you’re well aware that David Bowie has died, just days after his 69th birthday and the release of his 25th studio album. During the wee hours of January 10, it was announced that the beloved glam-rock icon who embraced androgyny and far-out, endlessly influential aesthetics “died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18 month battle with cancer.”

After finding fame in his hometown of London and absconding to the U.S. in 1974, Bowie moved amongst New York’s downtown crowd, popping up at places like Andy Warhol’s Factory and Max’s Kansas City, before relocating to Los Angeles. We consulted a number of publications — one of them yet to be published — that offered an eye into Bowie’s life in early-’70s NYC.
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Share Your Own (or Grandma’s) Greenpoint Story with this Brooklyn Archival Project

Our Streets Our Stories Community Scanning (Photo by Kavitha Surana)

Our Streets Our Stories Community Scanning (Photo by Kavitha Surana)

Tadusz Chabrowski hands were shaking as he rifled through a pile of photos, looking for his favorite. “Oh here!” he said, pulling out a photo of himself standing in his eyeglasses shop. “When I was young– 100 years younger!” he laughed. His shop, Family Optical, once located at 120 Norman Avenue in Greenpoint, has been closed for 16 years, and yet his memories of the place are still as vivid as ever. 

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‘Poopoo Everywhere!’ Listen to Prank Calls Patton Oswalt Made With Brian Posehn in Their Early Days

Brian Posehn in Uncle Nick.

Brian Posehn in Uncle Nick.

Way before Patton Oswalt was hosting awards ceremonies at Cipriani, he was a budding comic making prank calls with his San Francisco roommate Brian Posehn. I know this because, back when I was collecting bootlegs in the mid-’90s, I came on a cassette trader who had something called The Speed Round: “Friends of mine challenge each other on who can make someone hang up the phone faster. Very offensive.”

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In Ridgewood-Bushwick, the Last of the Rooftop Pigeon Whisperers

 Paul Wohlfarth keeps more than 250 pigeons in his rooftop coop (Photo by Daniel Hoffman)

Paul Wohlfarth keeps more than 250 pigeons in his rooftop coop (Photo by Daniel Hoffman)

To get to his rooftop, Paul Wohlfarth passes by a gigantic stag’s head hanging in the hallway, climbs a wobbly ladder and slips through a narrow opening. The 64-year-old has been repeating these gymnastics for the past six decades. On top of his building is a fenced coop, housing more than 250 pigeons in different compartments. Wohlfarth, a roofer by profession, can recognize any of his birds in a flash. “That one with the blue band is a tippler,” he says. “It’s got a short beak, a wide eye. If you didn’t know, you’d think it’s a street pigeon. But there are a million breeds.”

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Alone At Last : Slip Into a Booth and Prepare to Be Seduced

(Film still via "Alone at Last", Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong)

(Film still via “Alone at Last”, Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong)

“At that time in New York things were really wild,” Emily Armstrong recalled of the ’70s punk scene. She and her partner, Pat Ivers, are old school East Village types– they truly lived the Downtown era, and lucky for us they documented over 100 shows at CBGBs, filming bands like DNA and unbelievable moments like Iggy Pop covering Frank Sinatra for their weekly TV show, Nightclubbing. After NYU’s Fales Library acquired their archive for the Downtown Collection, thousands of the duo’s film reels were digitized and, for a time, were part of a weekly column at B+B.

Alone at Last emerged out of that archival effort and now, after more than 30 years since the artists last saw them, the 1981 black-and-white vignettes featuring 52 people who were prompted to seduce the viewer, will be shown at Howl! Happening. The video series captures the last breath of the freewheeling ’70s Downtown scene right before AIDS hit. “People who have seen it feel that it’s a very interesting depiction of that culture, that moment, because it was truly a moment. Soon after it was shot, people realized what AIDS was. So having a lot of sex for pleasure was completely redefined: having a lot of open sex was suicide. Things really changed, really fast.”

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