Monday, May 16, 2005

Landmarks, Icons, Heroes and Other Things That Fall

I was talking to a friend of mine over the weekend about how much the East Village has changed and how art and individuality and no money fun have given way to a glut of overpriced apartments, chic restaurants with snooty staffs and a welcome mat thrown out to every progressive fuckstick from every end of the earth who, 5-6 years ago would never have thought of the East Village, much less moved there. It was "too dirty" and it "wasn't safe". His comment was that the difference between the East Village nearly 30 years ago when the nascent Punk scene was taking off and Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring were scrawling on buildings was the rent prices. His point was if you could live on the cheap, then you could afford to make art and music. Well, that's true.

However, you could still live cheaply in the EV even 10 years ago, but that was the point at which things began to shift and a slow chipping away at non-conformist ideals and the buildings and happenings that represented that sensibility began to fade. The advent of Rudy Guiliani, and believe me, I realize what an unpopular statement I'm making when I say this, but his war on crime, his bull in a china shop desire to clean up Times Square, rid the East Village of drugs, drive homesteaders out of buildings they'd occupied for 20 years and more by driving army tanks down 13th Street, succeeded in ripping out the heart and guts of the EV. What was unique about the EV suddenly gave way to a Potamkin Village filled with cookie cutter buildings and chic, trendy bistros. The days of the 2B Art Yard were over. In its place was erected an eye sore of a doorman building with purple and orange trim. Save the Robots, a great little dirty dance club on Avenue B where you could still smoke pot in the basement and sweat to the oldies, was gutted and renovated to a shiny new patina and renamed Guernica - a trendoid haven with a velvet rope, and oddly, the same place outside of which a man was stabbed because he wasn't allowed to smoke.

Regentrification and its resultant skyrocketing rent prices have also succeeded in driving out the characters from the EV. The Bubbleman is gone. This guy used to walk around with a pickle bucket filled with dishwashing detergent and a big, multi-holed bubble wand and walk around waving a cataract of bubbles behind him. Who thinks to do that any more?!? Then there was the fella who used to squat in the doorway of Alcatraz bar (now the pseudo-Southern, of the Coyote Ugly ilk, Doc Hollidays) holding a sign that read "Trying to raise a million dollars for wine research" where the hell is he? And Rodney "It's a bird. It's a plane. It's HOMELESS MAN!", gone too. How 'bout Gene Pool? Does anyone remember Gene Pool? He had an entire suit, fitted head to toe and covered in tin cans. He used to ride around on a unicycle. You could hear him from a mile away, literally. He used to take pictures of himself and make postcards out of them and sell them in the delis and Little Ricky's. Little Ricky's too is gone. The best toy store for adults. A little overpriced but the only place you could find a Cajun in Yer Pocket or a Yes Man doll or an Edvard Munch's Scream Punching Bag. It also had a great photo booth where Iggy Pop was known to wander in and take a pic or two. Susan Sarrandon and Tim Robbins collected the folk art they sold there. Little Ricky's became a Belgian waffle place and is now some Coffee Bean & Leaf wanna be establishment.

All these things to my mind were what made the EV a great place to live. Where you could walk around and be inspired. Where you could live in squalor and still be happy because there was energy, innovation and no money fun.

I hope those days return. I miss 'em. They died.

1 comment:

dasdfs said...

Hey! We could create an "East Village Like It Used to Be" theme park! Maybe get Madame Tussaud's in on the action! With wax figures of all the greats -- and maybe import nice little mid-western college students to be historical re-enactors, just like they have at Williamsburg! (VA, not Brooklyn.) That would be really, really NEAT and I bet Mr. Mayor close-down-the-music-clubs Bloomberg would really dig it1 And I bet Rudy would even come for openning day! We could even have him break a (faux) bat over a Tompkins Park squatter (re-enactor)!