From the Archives: New York, Mon Amour (1979)

By Victor Bockris

1) At London’s Gatwick Airport, I went straight to the cafeteria, stationed myself at a deserted corner table, put an opium pellet on my tongue and washed it down with two cups of tepid tea, apparently a catalyst.

On a jammed Laker flight to New York, I managed to read three novels undisturbed by the monster pushing my seat forward, the two monsters in front pushing their seats backward and the Frenchman beside me growing his beard, because airplanes make me feel secure. Soon they’ll have bedrooms again, and since the greatest American fantasy is sky sex, one can almost guarantee the runaway success of airplane bedrooms. They’ll be quite expensive, but that’ll make you want to make more money so you can do it.

Opium facilitates that magic-carpet effect; it completely relaxes your body, and hence your mind, without blurring it. You could function quite efficiently as a lawyer, doctor or bank clerk on opium. At Kennedy, I relaxed during the grueling hour it took to struggle through passport control, and baggage claim, and Customs. The opium cut out any concern. I languidly smoked a cigarette, leaning up against a post, confident that my torn, battered bag, peppered with pellets from a Colt .45 air pistol, would arrive intact. While gazing at the friendly crowd, all undoubtedly as relieved as I was to be back in the USA, I reflected on my escape from London.

The British have always been as cold and insular as their landscape. The only reason they can rock is because they are so pissed off with their sodden little plot in the Atlantic. How small, gray, inauspicious and powerless it is. The blond English youth rattles the bars of his cage before being given the national tranquilizer. Everyone was reading newspapers about sex murders and child pornography. London may be the first deathtrap to go.

The population is splitting the city’s resources at the seams. My memory presents turgid crowds trudging down Oxford Street inhaling stale little cigarettes. After visiting England three times in the last six months, this reporter’s firm conclusion is that the English bite it. Throughout Europe there still exists a distaste for the American way of life, and the English, who distinguish themselves by nothing so much as their colds, have based their reactions to America on an ignorance developed through centuries of insularity. A typical example is their preconceptions about New York, most of which are erroneous.

The first and most important is that it’s very expensive. New York is not a necessarily expensive place to live, but it can be a very expensive place to visit if you have to stay at a hotel and eat in restaurants. The visitor is urged to pry an invitation out of a friend. Otherwise stay at the Chelsea Hotel on 23rd Street.

The second is that it’s terribly dangerous. New York is not particularly dangerous if you know where you are and pay attention to your surroundings. There are more than enough people walking around stoned and drunk to keep the muggers working overtime.

The point about where you stay in New York is that the people of the area tend to have quite an effect on your life. Most of the action in Manhattan happens at night (the best new paper in town is called Night and is just pictures of people dancing by the famous photographer of girls’ legs Anton Perich), and this is why you have to think about where you’re going to hang out. For example, if you live up at 103rd and Broadway, you have to contend with the sex and drug markets up there at 3 A.M.; and living on the Lower East Side is like living in India. On the other hand, if you stay in the West Village or on the Upper East Side, it’s quite safe to move around as long as you aren’t too crazy. All the people I know who’ve been attacked were either too drunk or stoned or careless to be out on the streets alone. But why go anywhere alone anyway, unless you’re going to kill someone?

2) Here is a brief account of the natures of the people dwelling in the major residential sections:

The Upper West Side is noisy and dirty. Fat hairy people fall over in corners, sucking on paper bags, talking to themselves, coughing, spitting and dying. A friend recently moved to the Upper West Side. I said, “No, Linda, don’t go. You are in no condition to go up there.” But she went. Now she calls me up: “How could you ever let me come and live up here! Mandy’s already been assaulted five times! We’re moving. And it’s all your fault, because I had to move up here to get away from you in the first place.”

However, it can’t be all that bad, because a lot of famous people live up there, particularly in the Dakota, where John Lennon has a 17-room apartment.

The Upper East Side is where all the wealthiest people have their pieds-à-terre, from Jackie O. through Halston to Truman and Andy and Mick, and it’s easy to see why, because they have a lot of very nice accoutrements. The streets are clean, the area is heavily patrolled, the shops and buildings are exquisite. It feels like being up on a hill.

There are lots of places to go in the area, and all the best hotels are nearby. This is definitely the place, but since it’s so expensive a majority of the population is over 50, creating a slightly daffy atmosphere.

Greenwich Village. There is an East and a West Village. The West Village, where your reporter has one of numerous apartments at his disposal, must have the highest ratio of homosexuals in the world. This is basically gaydom. The battle over censorship has been won and so forth. It’s a very pleasant, completely peaceful area. I have never witnessed, heard of, or felt, any threat of violence. There are many attractive restaurants and stores. Everyone walks around hand in hand.

The East Village is inhabited by punks of all ages. They have always maintained that the East Village, also known as the Lower East Side, is the hip place to be, but a series of drug deaths, rapes and robberies in the late ’50s and early ’70s drove many tenants away. Now, however, with the emergence of punk on the rock scene, a lot of activity has been generated on the Lower East Side. Many people live down there, including Joey (“It sucks!”) Ramone, William Burroughs (who says he finds the people talking to themselves and dying in the street a useful contrast to his somewhat idyllic place in Colorado), Allen Ginsberg and Richard Hell, who wrote “Blank Generation” in a kitchen overlooking the BoWery.

Soho/Boho/Nolio. The so-called “Soho” area has become famous over the last five years as a kind of extension of the Greenwich Village all-artists-have-to-Iive-in-the-same-place-so-there-can-be-a-scene mentality. Soho is basically a series of warehouses turned into loft spaces in which people live and work. Central Soho is a pleasant and expensive place. It broadens out in myriad directions, being so far downtown that it can’t be interrupted until Wall Street, and some lower Soho locations are quite dangerous. The streets are empty, poorly lit and hardly patrolled. Some maniacs live down there, and they come out at night.

Generally speaking, if you see someone lying on the street bleeding or not bleeding, vomiting or not vomiting, if you see someone staggering down the street on their last legs with eyes closed, if you see someone holding a heated debate with themselves while head banging, don’t do anything. These are leftovers from Ramones hits. They won’t hurt you if you don’t approach them.

3) The best places to go are parties. The fastest blood is connected by a never-ending flow of business parties, and everyone is always on the lookout for new people. Get invited to as many as you can. This could be difficult, but not impossible, if you don’t know any people. It probably isn’t hard to crash that big loft party downtown tonight. At most big parties the host only knows 25 percent of the guests, so you can always say, “1 came with Joan … DeMcnille. Barbara Braden?” A little cocaine will take care of any problem if the host should attempt to eject you. But really one of the best things about New York is everybody always wants to meet somebody new.

Suddenly, you’re staying with me overnight, as a houseguest, in my apartment in the West Village. There are two bedrooms. I let you have one of them to do whatever you want in because they’re far away from each other and there’s a separate bathroom.

You are extremely lucky. Tonight I have an invitation to go to Richard Avedon’s party at the Metropolitan Museum. The invitation, like all good invitations, admits two. It says black tie, so you have to get dressed up. You don’t have anything to wear?

Quick, run down to Manic Panic, that store on St. Marks Place that sells all those punk clothes. Punks always look like jewels, so if you get something there, you’ll be okay. You could go to Trash and Vaudeville or Revenge; they all have lots of stuff for not so much money. That’s on the Lower East Side, and since it’s a picturesque and sunny day, you can walk.

4) Me: So you went and got a great outfit for $25, and what else happened?

You: I forget.

Me: You ran into William Burroughs on the street, didn’t you?

You: That’s right.

Me: And he was with a guy who you know from Kansas who’s his secretary now, that big Negro.

You: He is not a Negro, he’s a Swede.

Me: I thought he was from Kansas.

You: That’s where all the Swedes went.

Me: Why aren’t the stars in the sky tonight?

You: Because they’re all on the ground.

Me: Well, we got in at… what time was it?

You: I forget. I didnt look. Were you drunk again?

Me: No, not really.

You: Then why were you running down the street being chased by that girl in the black dress with the…

Me: No, I was just running away from her, because she started to say mean things about someone I like and I didn’t want to hear it. I couldn’t stand it. Did you enjoy the party? Who did you see there?

You: Oh, Linda McCartney. Um… Buck Henry.

Me: Buck Henry! Who was he with?

You: He’s been hanging around with Al Goldstein over at Death magazine.

Me: How come?

You: Search me.

Me: I don’t want to. So who else did you see?

You: Er… Carole Bouquet.

Me: Who’s she?

You: She was in that Buñuel film, That Obscure Object of Desire.

Me: How do you pronounce it?

You: I don’t know. She was also in that movie with Richard Hell about being a punk rock star, and then he’s her guru or something and they move to the Upper East Side.

Me: I thought he married Suki Love.

You: That was Ulli Lommel, the German guy who made the film. He married Suki Love, and they’re making a film right now called Cocaine Cowboys, starring Jack Palance and Tom Sullivan. It was a great party, I really liked it.

Me: What was great about it? Say something. Just talk about it, tell everybody.

You: Well, I liked it because it was the sort of beginning of the New York season, and a lot of people—I think 5,000 people—came, or something, and you had to wait 25 minutes just to get in, which was sort of great, because everyone was in evening clothes and rich and stuff like that, but they still had to stand outside, just like any jerk. Like us.

Me: Yeah, like us. We didn’t mind.

You: It was fun because all those people were so upset.

Me: Did Linda McCartney have to wait outside?

You: No, because she went to the dinner with Richard Avedon before the party.

Me: Was Andy there?

You: No, he went to see A Wedding instead.

Me: He went to see A Wedding! Who was he with?

You: Just a couple of beautiful girls, and they lost their limousine. But anyway, I also liked the party because you could stroll around the halls of the museum drinking and keep bumping into somebody. I noticed that A and B are back together.

Me: Again. I know. I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t believe it. And what was… he has a mustache now and she’s got a scar.

You: Well, scars are nice sometimes. It depends where they are. But anyway, did anyone have any drugs?

Me: Only C. C always has drugs.

You: So did you take some?

Me: Yes, and then D grabbed me and dragged me behind the door where they keep the brooms, and I thought, “God, this is so great, this is so great, sex in a broom closet at the Metropolitan Museum during a party for Richard Avedon!”

5) The United Nations is located on First Avenue between 42nd and 46th streets. I went there in a taxi. The U.N. is very nice because when you get there suddenly you are in a big international atmosphere, and there’s even a lawn. It is good to smoke a joint on the way over in the back of the cab with a breeze blowing in off the river as you go up First Avenue passing a heliport at 34th Street. You’re beginning to see the streets in the daytime, with all their charming mystery, weirdness and variety.

The U.N. is free. For nothing you can go and feel important listening seriously to the speeches by the mad representatives of various countries. It is all nonsense, but it is very tasteful. They were discussing South Africa when I dropped in and taking hours to tell the detailed bio of Steve Biko. One thing I noticed was that although the men looked nothing more than ordinary, most of the women were very attractive. It’s great to go there, because all the speeches are in foreign languages and you have to have an earplug so you can get a translation. If I was the translator, I know I would break in and say, “This sucks… ”

For $2 you can take a one-hour tour of the U.N. I don’t know about this bit. I was going to do it, but suddenly a woman screamed out, “The next tour will be in French only!” and I had to split. I couldn’t wait for a bunch of despicable frogs to walk around while I cooled my heels. I had places to go, things to do, people to see. This is New York! You can’t suddenly have a bunch of frogs rushing in, taking your time in Manhattan. Just tell them you haven’t got that much time. They’ll respect you and treat you better. It’s like when you take a phone call, a lot of the time they answer it with a record, the premise being that you will sit idly by listening until they’re ready to talk to you. Hang up and tell them in no uncertain terms that whenever you hear machines you always hang up.

There’s also a really good dining room called the Delegates’ Dining Room where you can go and pretend you’re delegates, or trick your new girl friend, or something.

I didn’t know what to do next, so I went and had lunch at this restaurant called Mortimer’s on 75th and Lexington with Catherine Guinness, who works in magazines here, and she told me that more of the really elegant fashion mags were coming to Manhattan from Europe with a lot of money, because they really believe that people want to be more elegant, as Diane Von Furstenberg and Halston have proved. And then I went to the Stock Exchange, about which I apparently wrote: “One of the best things is the New York Stock Exchange, 20 Broad Street, way downtown. It’s pretty hard to figure out what’s going on here, but everyone is running around making or losing money, basically. The relative informality of the whole operation is a little unsettling. It looks like a vast betting shop, and 25 1/2 million Americans own stock. The most striking thing about my visit was how bad the women in the area looked. I think all that counting gets to them.

6) There’s no point in going to all the great in places in New York before you meet some people, some New Yorkers being New Yorkers around their local watering holes. You could go to CBGB if you like rock ’n’ roll. There’s always a lot of people there, and you can talk to them, pretty much. I mean, they’re nice people and you can be very straightforward and say, “I come from X and I just got here and where should I go?” If you choose the wrong person and he’s catatonic, don’t get put off, just ask the next person. If you go to CBGB, be sure to take a cab and to get into a cab as soon as you leave, because it is on the Bowery and sometimes the people down there get quite irate late at night and rush up to hit you or piss on you, an unnerving experience and not funny when it happens when there’s no one else around, no cops and so forth. But basically CBGB is a lot of fun, and lots of kids are standing around outside banging their heads against the wall.

If you think you can get in, go to Studio 54. There is a lot of ambivalent feeling about Studio 54, but as anthropologist Peter Beard says, “You’ve got to think of it as an animals’ watering hole—it’s the number-one water hole in the universe. There’s the anthropology corner, where you find the greeting behavior, displacement behavior; the bisexual bathroom hallway; the subterranean hardcore; and the theater balcony.” For other meeting places, look in the newspapers. About all the Village Voice and the Soho Weekly News are good for is their listings. Papers worth buying for information are Interview, Punk and Night.

Going out at night in New York, use cabs. If you can afford to do it, rent a limousine for one night’s entertainment, because it’s worth seeing Manhattan from that perspective. Also the limousine drivers can be very friendly. They’ll smoke a joint and take you up to Harlem in the middle of winter to look at the hundreds of junkies shuffling on the corners, and past the Apollo theater, or crawl around Hudson Street gay-barhopping, or cruise the streets for pickups. Just like in the movies.

After a while, New York becomes a movie set. Did we already use that quote? But it’s so good we can use it again. Why aren’t the stars in the sky? Because they’re on the streets. I mean, it’s amazing how many talented and wonderful people are wandering around, and you see them all the time. I bumped into Lou Reed only yesterday. He was looking for a new apartment. “Victor, meet the Moose,” he said. I turned around and there was this guy seven feet tall and broad with it.

Everybody thinks that New Yorkers think New York is the center of the world, and they’re always saying how New York thinks it’s such a big cheese. But that’s really not true. New Yorkers know that America is a great expansive country, fascinating, completely different all over, and they want to see Santa Fe and Minneapolis, Tampa, Fort Worth. No one in New York ever says anything bad about America or tries to put down Arizona. But, boy, you just wait till you get out to Colorado or San Francisco, and even the hotel clerk and the bellboy are congratulating you. “You made it out. You got away from Death City!” “That town of gangsters!” “Boy are you lucky!” And they shake your hand and insist you stay a while. Personally, I can never wait to get back to Manhattan.

You don’t get a good look at Manhattan when you fly in on a jet, because the airport is in Queens. Meanwhile, the secret of Manhattan is to see it from the air, because Manhattan is a city that grows upward. So, the first thing to do in Manhattan is get higher than the city.

Flying is an elegant sport, and you could benefit from doing it more, anyway. The first thing to do in Manhattan is jump in a cab and tell the driver, “The heliport at 34th Street and East River Drive.” Anytime between 9:30 A.M. and 4:30 P.M. a four-seater helicopter will take you up. It is a good eye-opener. You see big blue swimming poois and big green tennis courts on top of high-rise apartment buildings. You note the very different looks of the different sections of Manhattan: an incredible array of architectural forms in the variety of buildings on the Upper East Side; the bombed-out look of the Lower East Side. You fly directly past the tops of skyscrapers. As the chopper cuts across the East River to touch down on the island’s edge, the buildings rapidly move up at you and develop into their frames just like in famous pictures. You see the whole island through a kaleidoscope as the planes of the buildings tilt. It’s a quite different view, and the seven minute ride is more than a bargain for $9 (minimum of two people).

There is also a boat (the Circle Line at 43rd Street and 12th Avenue) that goes around the whole island while a loudspeaker tells what you’re passing. It takes two and one-half hours and costs $6. I slept through the first half of the trip, but there were two good parts: when you go around the top of the island, it’s pretty fucked up; and, when you sail past the Upper West Side, the line of apartment buildings along the edge of the island looks like the forbidding wall of a giant medieval fortress. Manhattan is a fortress. As you walk along the streets you will feel as if you are “inside” the city. It even has a moat.

As soon as you get off the boat, head east toward 34th Street until you come to the Empire State Building, which is at Fifth Avenue. Take an elevator to the 86th floor ($1.70) and go out on the observation deck, where visibility runs up to 25 miles on a clear day. The observation deck faces north, south, west and east. Take a good look in all four directions and you will get a pretty firm hold on the layout, which will be useful when you think you’re lost.

7) Another lens to look at New York through is provided by the lobbies, bars, restaurants and—if you can make it—rooms of our most elegant hotels. Start at the Carlyle, tea between four and four-thirty in the afternoon. This is where the Kennedys stay. Warren Beatty has a home on the top floor so he can be three blocks away from Diane Keaton. You can’t stay there together unless you’re married.

The Pierre and the Sherry-Netherland, situated next to each other between 59th and 61st Streets, are the two major hotels for the major celebrities. Their majestic towers rise like sentinels of elegance over Central park, and as you look up at them from the avenue, you know that on any given day Mick Jagger, Francis Ford Coppola, David Bowie or Max Von Sydow may be gazing down upon you.

Go to the Sherry-Netherland for an evening cocktail and make use of their telephone-at-the-table service to call somebody up and impress them by having them call you back. Try and sit in the lobby of the Pierre for as long as you can some mid-week afternoon, just to see who’s floating through. The rich look different because they keep different hours and can afford invisible makeup. If you look like you’re waiting for someone seriously (carrying a tape recorder, for example), no one will bother you.

Across the street from the Pierre you will see the Plaza, which you may remember, as you stand gazing at it, used to be the home of Eloise, a very sophisticated girl who lived there on her own and liked it very much. Unfortunately, Eloise has long flown the coop, and the Plaza has recently been computerized. And word has come out that even the music of the violinist in the Palm Court Lounge has been bowdlerized. Go instead to the St. Regis, hidden in the shadows of 55th Street just off Fifth Avenue. This is where Salvador Dali lives in the winter. And I met Sissy Spacek there once. She was standing in a green velvet lounge wearing a green velvet dress…

Manhattan is 12 1/2 miles long and 2 1/2 miles wide at its widest point, covering an area of 23 square miles. It has what a clerk at the census bureau described as “an incredible population density of 66,923 people per square mile.” A square mile—consider stuffing 66,923 people in it. 1,416,700 people live in Manhattan, but the population is gradually decreasing. The per capita income is $6,307. An interesting figure. The island is connected by 19 bridges, four tunnels and 11 subway lines to the mainland.

High Times Magazine, February 1979

Read the full issue here.

The post From the Archives: New York, Mon Amour (1979) appeared first on High Times.


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