NEW YORK IN THE MORNING
"All those things I was going to achieve and all of a sudden I feel like I'm in the last ten yards before the finishing line. And all the time I'm thinking that maybe punk rock was a clandestine enemy rather than a life-saving friend and knowing that's not really true but scared it might be and that at any given moment I could follow Adam Ant down the white rabbit hole."
By George Berger
COPYRIGHT © 2003, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
I love the smell of New York in the morning.
So much so that at 39 years of age, and wondering exactly where my life was heading, I started figuring maybe NYC was the answer. So this column is partly about New York, partly about a mid-life crisis and partly about a competition in my mind about whether New York has more to offer than London.
And it's all partly the fault of 3AM Magazine. Since 3AM started its weblog, I've been reading Tony Fletcher's Jamming website courtesy of a link therein. He hails from my neck of the woods in SE London and though I never met him, a mutual old friend of ours used to photograph Adam & The Ants for Jamming, back when it was a paper fanzine. Now Tony lives in New York and generally, if unintentionally, gives me the impression he's having a far better time there than I am here.
It's not just him though: a previous visit found love at first sight and maybe forever. So granddad takes a trip to New York to decide whether to go live there. And here's how the internal voting is going:
Everybody's been to New York. Everyone who ever watched a TV show or a film knows it intimately -- your physical presence is barely required. Consequently when you walk the streets and avenues of Manhattan, you're constantly surrounded by the surreal feeling you're in a film - the constant clatter of car-horns, the rivers of pedestrians, the noise, the buzz -- you've seen it all before, only never in 3D. You half expect Jennifer Lopez to walk round the corner. Alas, she never does, but I live in hope.
New York is a rock star behemoth amongst cities -- and plenty of songs jump up to remind you from all directions. From old films ("on the avenue, Fifth Avenue") to old rockers ("up to Lexington, 125, feel sick and dirty more dead than alive") to the inevitable cringers that won't leave your head ("Uptown Girl", "An Englishman In New York"). Make your own list, it's easy.
First London / NY comparison is inevitably the tube / subway system: over here in London, mayor Ken Livingstone has brought over NY Subway guru Bob Kiley to sort out our alleged problems. So what did he leave behind in NYC? He left an infinitely safer system, fair play. And you can buy a weekly travelcard (including peak hours) for not much more than a daily equivalent in London. But it's incredibly difficult to navigate and the trains are pitifully irregular compared to London. One-nil. (Er, to London, that is. Guess I'm biased).
Aside: (Do you lot over the pond say 'nil'? Do you know what it means? Answers on a postcard.)
If you're going to New York, forget about Lonely Planet or any other of those travel books that litter the airport bookshops -- all you need is Time Out NY and a half-decent map which you can pick up on most of the tourist leaflets hanging round anywhere.
Perhaps one failing of Time Out, however, is that it allows people to describe themselves a touch too easily in the listings section. Thus in the club section, the delightfully named 'She-Wolves and Slut Puppies' promised 70's glam, bubblegum and punk, as well as being based at a venue called Otto's Shrunken Head. What we got, instead, were some tragically bad grunge-punk outfits straight out of a 1986 Tardis -- not a Bowie record in sight. Or sound (and vision). Oh well.
Far more fun was drinking dry the bars of 2nd Ave down Greenwich Village way, particularly the Thirsty Scholar, which deservedly wins awards for great service -- the UK could learn a thing or two from places like this, and from the way the tipping system works in order to encourage good service.
The Thirsty Scholar also has the foresight to leave a barbecue going early evening which you're free to help yourself to. But it's no use if you're a veggie. Indeed, aside from posho-type restaurants (and there are some good but expensive ones), veggies can expect to eat a lot of crap fast food.
The bars and restaurants are all no-smoking in New York City now, and consequently groups of smokers huddle round outside on the pavement, where a previous law ensures the double-whammy of no-drinking. So, one or the other then, but never both. Can't imagine the British ever having the guts to try it..
I also got to regret seeing The Matrix Reloaded about three days before everyone in the UK. I'd been hoping it would be nearer 6 months of course. I'd also been half-expecting it to be quite good. Oh well.
Spent a long week there with a friend who went off to Coney Island to ride the roller-coaster. Me, I was too busy riding my own personal roller-coaster of emotions, getting drunk one day and lying in bed the next. Up and down. In and out. Very up and very down -- getting older. Love and hate. Slowed-down metabolism. Attempting clarity of thought and spirit through masturbation. Love or waste. Picturing various futures and trying to imagine what they held, then feeling like Christ on the cross.
All those things I was going to achieve and all of a sudden I feel like I'm in the last ten yards before the finishing line. And all the time I'm thinking that maybe punk rock was a clandestine enemy rather than a life-saving friend and knowing that's not really true but scared it might be and that at any given moment I could follow Adam Ant down the white rabbit hole.
I'm late. I'm late. For a very important date. Forty this September.
So, to live and die in New York?
No. One-nil was the final result. It wasn't even as close as the result suggests. That London is presently the greatest city in the world is great timing and especially helpful, but I guess my week in NYC made me grow up a touch and painfully kill off a few subtly painful (NY & self) delusions.
William Blake would have it that if you never change your mind in life, your brain is lazy and you're stupid. And he was kind of right.
But he accepted the torturing of the soul and I refuse to - existential choice -- I'm going home.
George Berger is a freelance writer, with punk rock dna. He has written for Sounds, Melody Maker and Amnesty International among others. He has also written 3 books, with one published thus far: Dance Before the Storm: the Official Story of The Levellers (Virgin Books 1999). George edits abisti. He lives where the mood takes him and funds allow.