A Welshman in New York
If you are like me, the thought of seeing someone elses holiday snaps fills you with dread. I would rather stick pins in my eyes than see your photos of the diving holiday in Sharm El-Sheikh, or you back packing round Columbia. So you may want to stop reading now, as I bring you in true Alan Whicker style, my recent visit to New York and my attempt to cover as many of the Big Apples punk rock land marks as time (and the wife) would allow.
I have left out the well known and frankly interesting areas (such as Grand Central Station, Empire State Building, Ground Zero, China Town, Brooklyn Bridge etc) and concentrated on the obscure places only 50-something, middle aged punks find exciting. So read on at your peril.
We arrived late Friday night, and were up bright and early the next morning to visit the Top of the Rockefeller Centre. Having done the obligatory touristy thing for the day it was off to the first of the punk rock landmarks I wanted to take in - the Chelsea Hotel, where Sid Vicious cemented his place in infamy by (allegedly) stabbing girlfriend Nancy Spungen. It is not in a particular nice area even now with drunks and half wits in abundance on the sidewalk. I can imagine in Sid & Nancy's days it was a place not to go after dark. I made the mistake of wearing a Never Mind the Bollocks T shirt, so thus rather giving away my intentions to the hotel staff. I managed to get into the lobby with no problem, to see a man that had more than a passing resemblance to Bob Dylan (although I don't think it was actually him) sitting in an armchair. However when I tried to use the elevator to locate room 101 (the site of the dirty deed) I was unceremoniously stopped in my tracks. I took a few pictures and tried to imagine Nancy's body being taken out on a stretcher, closely followed by Sid in handcuffs. I then posed outside next to the plaques immortalising Dylan Thomas (who also died there) and Arthur C Clarke (who wrote 2001 A Space Odyssey there) and beat a hasty retreat back to the safer confines of Broadway.
As an aside, we then returned to Time Square to have a meal at TGI Fridays. Unfortunately this was about 50/75 yards away from the Marriott Hotel where the Taliban had placed a car bomb! We were totally ignorant of what was going on when the police started clearing the square as the waiter said that it was for a fire. Eventually we were eating looking out over a deserted Time Square and thinking it must be more than a fire, especially when plain clothed FBI agents turned up. It was at that point that they must have realised we were still in the restaurant and a fat copper came in and ordered us out NOW! The good thing was that we didn't pay for the meal ($68 worth) and then hung around watching the TV stations arriving and interviewing passers by. It was only when we got back to the hotel that we found out what really went on and realised if the bomb had gone off we would have been shredded by the huge glass window we were sitting next to. Perhaps Sid Vicious was my guardian angel that night (although Im pretty sure he has horns and a pitch fork now).
The next day we went to Central Park to visit the John Lennon memorial Strawberry Fields, which turned out to be....er literally a field. Very underwhelming Im afraid. There was another part that had a mosaic with the words "Imagine", and was surrounded by buskers strumming Yesterday and, rather predictably, Imagine. I offered one of them a dollar to do Yellow Submarine but he didnt see the funny side. I walked over to the Dakota Buildings to take a look where the fatal shots were fired whilst listening to Motown Junk by the Manic Street Preachers on my I Pod (" I laughed when Lennon got shot").
We had arranged to see Echo & the Bunnymen in the evening at the Filmore. Having been built in 1860 it was a stalwart of punk/new wave in the 1970s. As befits the arty neighbourhood everybody in the audience was achingly cool (except me obviously) and prices were not what I am usually charged in my local boozer. A Budweiser and bottle of water cost $13 (just under £10!). The band wore shades even though there was little appreciable lighting in the venue or on stage, and Ian McCulloch had on a raincoat. I know I should back British industry but he looked a bit of a tool and I was rather hoping that in the gloom he would misjudge the room at the edge of the stage and fall into the pit. Matters werent helped as I nearly punched a bloke who made a sarcastic comment as I wouldn't let his girlfriend barge past me to get to the front. My wife gave me grief for my behaviour and I think I set back Anglo/American relations by at least a decade. As the band didnt dain to come on until 10.30, we had to leave before the end as the Subway closed at midnight and we were afraid of getting lost and ending up in Harlem. It has been 28 years since I last saw the Bunnymen and I think it will probably be a similar time before I go to see them again (I will then be 78 years old and/or dead).
Monday was the only day it rained (every other day was 80 degrees plus), so I was able to take it easy and recover from jet lag/ my hangover/my wife's moaning about my behaviour.
Tuesday saw a 3 hour boat ride up the Hudson and a walk over to Grand Central Station. I did detour to 321 West 44th Street that was the old site of The Record Plant where the Clash recorded "Give Em Enough Rope". It is now offices and people gave me odd looks when I stood in the doorway having my picture taken and pointing at the number above the entrance.
On the same route we went to the Iroquois Hotel, where the Clash stayed when recording the LP, but more famously where James Dean had lived. The reception was markedly warmer than the Chelsea Hotel and the doorman just allowed me to wander around, even offering lemon tea for nothing. I had my picture taken in the library where no doubt James Dean read his scripts and no one seemed to mind the eccentric Limey in the Rancid T shirt and combat trousers. We also visited Wall Street and the Dow immediately plummeted 1000 points while we were there.
I had agreed to see a musical on Broadway to placate her indoors and we agreed that Billy Elliott would be OK. I lined up at TXTS, the cut price booth on Times Square, and after about 30 minutes got to the front. When asking for said tickets I was told a) they would be $140 (this was half price mind!) and b) they only had 2 left, but not together. Under the pressure of having to give an immediate answer with a crowd of impatient Yanks breathing down my neck, I blurted out "American Idiot" and before I knew it I had 2 tickets (together) for the Green Day musical. My wife tried not to show her disappointment and I tried to hide my shock at a) having paid $130 (if that is f*cking half price what kind of person could afford to purchase them at full price) and b) thinking that it did not seem ethical that a punk band should have a show on Broadway. However having said that I thoroughly enjoyed it, after overcoming the first few minutes muttering under my breath about stage school kids pretending to be punks. There is very little talking and the story is told with tracks from the American Idiot and 21 Century Breakdown albums.
Thankfully the Mrs liked it as well and on the way out
you are encouraged to graffiti the walls with a message. If I ever go
to see Mama Mia I shall continue the trend and write Bollocks in 6 foot
letters when exiting.
Friday we went to the Chinese quarter. After letting the wife off the lead for a few hours we were supposed to take a Rock n Roll walking tour but no one turned up. This left us to find the old site of CBGB's on our own, which was a bit daunting as the Bowery is still like going for a wander in Beirut. I bent down to do up my shoe lace, and put down my Coke, only for some passing tramp to pick it up. As he had no teeth and smelt of sh*t I didn't bother asking for it back. We couldn't find the ex-home of US punk, but having accosted a passing student it turned out now to be a John Varvatos clothes shop. None of the clothes had price tags, so I guessed they were expensive and had to own up to the manager that I couldn't afford anything and was only here to see the bits that remained of CBGB's. Rather than calling the cops, he gave me a guided tour. They have one wall completely retained of the original club, full of moth eared flyers for long gone gigs. It was brilliant to think of Johnny, Joey and Dee-Dee up on stage belting out Rockaway Beach or Carbona Not Glue, or perhaps seeing the goddess Debby Harry at the bar. This beat hands-down seeing the Statue of Liberty (how sad am I!)
As our time drew to a close it was across town to have my picture taken under the street sign for 52 & Broadway as made famous in Olympia Wa by Rancid (Hangin' on the corner of 52nd and Broadway, cars passin' by but none of them seem to be goin' my way) and then attempt to find the site of Bonds International Casino. This was where the Clash played a residency in May and June 1981. Initially it was for a run of 8 gigs, but due to the gigs being oversold and the heavy handedness of the NY fire department they actually played 17 concerts and in so doing cracked America.
Unfortunately it closed and was turned into a Virgin Mega store, which
itself has now shut. Rather disappointingly there is no Blue Plaque
for Messrs Strummer, Jones, Simonon & Headon anywhere. Shame on
We returned home Saturday, having been delayed 4 hours by volcanic ash, absolutely knackered and severely in the red. However as the Government bailed out the High Street banks I see no reason why they can't chuck a couple of grand into my account!