Thursday, June 04, 2015

'Bout changes 'n' things.

I first saw New York City in December of 1951. I was five years old, and my mother and I came here to embark on the S.S. Washington for a voyage across the Atlantic to join my father, an Air Force officer who had been sent to England for a tour of duty. We were in town for a couple of days before we boarded the ship, staying at the Henry Hudson Hotel on West 57th Street. The hotel was, at that time, used by the government for military personnel and dependents awaiting shipment overseas. It was convenient to the liner docks along the Hudson River; in 1951, almost all transatlantic travel was by sea. Our room faced an air shaft, and spanning the shaft was a steel girder with a flat top and a gently arched underside. I thought it looked very "New York."

We had dinner at Longchamps, where I was given a "Manhattan," which was ginger ale with a splash of grenadine and a maraschino cherry, served in a Martini glass. I felt very sophisticated. Longchamps is long gone.

The high point, in two senses of the word, of my first stay in New York was going to the observatory on the Empire State Building. I looked down and saw the R.M.S. Queen Elizabeth, then the world's largest ocean liner, docked at the Cunard pier on the West Side. Looking to the north and east, I saw the Chrysler Building, with its spiked helmet top, almost at eye level and a good deal taller than anything else in that direction, including the (then) RCA Building in Rockefeller Center.

The photo above shows midtown Manhattan, circa a year ago, as I photographed it with a zoom lens from the Brooklyn Bridge. Much has changed since 1951. Of the large buildings visible in Midtown, only the Chrysler Building remains from that time, and it was being overtopped by 432 Park Avenue, ten blocks further uptown. The overtopping is now complete, and I've expressed my dismal opinion of it here.

As I noted in my post about 432 Park, I'm distressed about the displacement of mostly young, creative, artistic people from what had been their traditional haunts, starting with Greenwich Village, where I used to live, and for which I blame myself, having been one of the yuppies who spelled its doom by enabling landlords to charge higher rents. I've reminisced about the Village, or at least about a particular bar, here; my friend Dave Coles and I have have both mourned it here.

I started this post over a year ago, but got distracted by other things, as well as by my inability to see where it might be going. It's still a work in progress; I'm going to let this be a teaser for some later posts in which I'll try to discuss the issues more extensively and, I hope, intelligently. I have been spurred to thinking about these matters by a couple of pieces by people I like and respect: one is Tim Sommer's "New York City and Taylor Swift (or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Change)"; the other is Francis Morrone's "No, New York City is not Losing its Soul". Both make interesting, provocative points that I will return to in later posts. Morrone, in particualr, points out that I'm giving myself too much credit--or should that be, claiming too much blame?--for the demise of bohemia in the Village. That process, he writes, began long before I arrived.

I've stolen the title for this post from an album by Eric Andersen, a singer whose songs I've long loved.
  
In the clip above, made in 2011, he sings "Violets of Dawn," probably his best-known (and often covered) song, at a venue called "Music on Main" in Woodbridge, New Jersey,  As "Crossbow0106," one of the commenters on the YouTube clip, puts it:
Eric is one of very few artists I've heard that over time has adapted his songs to his voice. His voice now works perfectly with "Violets Of Dawn", a little fragility that resonates with beauty. His "young voice" worked with this song also, but I love that Eric can sing this 50 years on or so and it sounds just amazing. Bravo! 
Maybe Woodbridge, or some place like it, is where you have to go now to get the music characteristic of a Village venue in the 1960s. Or, as Bob Dylan put it, on "Talkin' New York" back in 1961, "So long, New York; howdy East Orange."