Let’s be clear here. We are talking about a specific time period between 1977 – 1984. Some could argue this magical time period of creative expression started a few years before this but I like to focus a brief seven-year period that I believe is, and was, the most important period of creative expression in North America.
As hard as I try, I cannot stop looking back to this period for creative inspiration. Both for my own endeavors but how art can foster community relations. I have been obsessed with this period for just about 20 years when I picked up my first copies of Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party. An obsessive admire of cheap video productions on cable access television and interview shows, this short lived cable access program was everything I wanted to do: combine interviews, live performances and zany sketches into one brief program.
TV Party was the home base for all the scenesters of downtown New York including the aforementioned Glenn O’Brien who wrote for Andy Warhol’s magazine (host of the program), Blondie, Fab Five Freddy, Basquiat, performance artist Klaus Nomi, David Byrne, the list goes on. It was through this program that the seeds for the feature length film Downtown 81 were grown as sort of an extension of the program, focusing on a day in the life of Jean Michel Basquiat and his trials and tribulations as working artist.
There is brief moment in the film when Basquait walks by a mural painted by another graffiti legend, Lee Quinones as Fab Five Freddy looks on. Basquiat then goes into a small club where early hip hop pioneers, DJ Sinbad and MC Kool Kyle are performing. This moment lead me back to Charlie Ahearn’s Wild Style, a movie I admittedly was too young to appreciate upon its release. Wild Style also focuses on a day in the life of Lee Quinones as he traverses the neighborhoods of the South Bronx and the upper crust gallery spaces of downtown Manhattan.
In both films you see in glorious detail the birth of post punk, hip hop, and disco and how they all merged together, creating burgeoning music forms that did not yet have titles. Music wasn’t the only focus though. Performance art shows, appropriation art exhibitions, and small theatre productions were taking place all over the Lower East Side. And thanks to the introduction of portable recording equipment, the birth of independent video and movie production started at this time period. Everyone hung out with everyone: whites, blacks, Spanish, men, women, gay and straight. Everybody was encouraged to try everything: start a band, make a play, draw some art, rap, DJ, or make a film.
The most important part of this period was “space”. Politicians had basically given up on New York and it was free and open area to do whatever you wanted, with some conflicting results of course. We all know the legendary stories of block parties and venues like Max’s Kansas City, CBGB’s Danceteria, Mudd Club and of course the legendary Paradise Garage. But the real stars of the period were the streets themselves. It was entirely possible to perform at any time, in anywhere, and on anything, even if you had to dodge drug peddlers and transit cops. Rent was cheap as hell, but you might have to make sure you escaped literal hell if your apartment wasn’t getting burned down.
For many of you, this isn’t he first time you’ve heard, watched, or read about this period. Tim Lawrence has made a career writing in echastive detail about the artists and musicians, Soul Jazz have printed books and released several music compilations, numerous films and documentaries have been made, even godforsaken Baz Lurhman did a television show, and David Simon is wrapping up The Deuce, Vice did a small piece on TV Party, and I even wrote about this whole damn thing for my master’s thesis just about 10 years ago, thinking I was ahead of the curve.
There is a certain starry eyed mysticism of this period, especially by those who didn’t live there. As I continue to read about this time period I’ve come realize that not only was it a lawless, a place where people really didn’t want to easily get mugged or step on discarded heroin needles. There was no chance for any upward mobility, especially if you were gay or black, or both. We tend to fetishize the artists and their work, especially the ones who went on to great success who were from evreywhere but New York, often from middle class to upper class backgrounds. Even some the artists who continued to live and work in the Lower East Side are glad those days are over, lamenting that it was a real shitty place to live in a real shitty time.
I have, and still am inspired by its possibilities whether real or imagined. Today, every attempt at participating and contributing to a thriving artistic community is met with conflicts that arise through intercultural squabbling, space closures, increased rents, reduced public art funding, and dare I say once again, gentrification of artisan and bespoke everything. Looking back at the time, you see that this is nothing new. It happened back then as well. Everybody wanted what the cool kids had, bought it up and resold it at an inflated value. New York at the time can never happen again, and I no longer look back nostalgically hoping for its revival. But I do think we can look back at the incredible achievements these artists made: a moment of pure artistic expression.
Below is an exhaustive list of some of the more overlooked materials you can explore should you have the time.
All Color News Sampler. Directed by COLAB. Ubuweb. 1978.
Blank City. Directed by Celine Danhier. Lorber Films, 2012. DVD.
Downtown 81. Directed by Edo Bertoglio. Zeitgeist, 2002. DVD.
Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party: Premier Episode, December 18, 1978. Brinkfilms, 2005. DVD.
Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party: The Documentary. Directed by Danny Vinik. Brinkfilms, 2006. DVD.
Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party: The Halloween Show, October 30, 1979. Directed by Amos Poe. Brinkfilms, 2006. DVD.
Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party: The Heavy Metal Show. Directed by Amos Poe. Brinkfilm, 2007. DVD.
Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party: The Sublimely Intolerable Show. Directed by Amos Poe. Brinkfilm, 2007. DVD.
Graffiti-Post Graffiti. Directed by Paul Tschinkel. ART/New York, 1984. DVD.
Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child. Directed by Tamra Davis. Arthouse Films, 2010. DVD.
Llik Your Idols. Dir. Angelique Bosio. Le Chat Qui Fum, 2009. DVD.
New Wave At P.S. 1: The Armory Show of the 80’s. Directed by Paul Tschinkel. ART/New York, 1981. DVD.
Potato Wolf, Colab Compilation. Directed by COLAB. Ubuweb. 1980.
Style Wars. Diected by Tony Silver. Public Art Films, 2004. DVD.
Wild Style. Directed by Charlie Ahearn. Rhino, 2011, DVD.
Abu-Lugod, Janet L. “Money Politics and Protest: The Struggle for the Lower East Side.” Resistance: A Radical Social and Political History of the Lower East Side. Ed. Clayton Patterson. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2007: 79-86.
Ahearn, Charlie. Wild Style: The Sampler. Brooklyn, NY: Powerhouse, 2007.
Arcade, Penny. “Tell All the Scum of Baghdad the Legacy of Jack Smith.” Captured: A Film/Video History of the Lower East Side. Ed. Clayton Patterson. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2005: 15-24.
Ball, Jared. I Mix What I Like: A Mixtape Manifesto. Oakland CA: AKPress, 2011.
Baraka, Amiri. Home: Social Essays. Hopewell, NJ: The Ecco Press, 1966/1998.
Beck, Kirsten. Cultivating the Wasteland: Can Cable Put the Vision Back in TV? New York: American Council for the Arts, 1983.
Bordwell, David and Kristen Thompson. Film Art. An Introduction. 8th Edition. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007.
Boyle, Deirdre. Subject to Change: Guerrilla Television Revisited. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Chalfant, Henry, and James Prigoff. Spraycan Art. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1987.
Chalfant, Henry, and Martha Cooper. Subway Art. New York: Henry Holt and Company Inc, 1984.
Chang, Jeff. Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2005.
–. Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop. New York: Basic Civitas,
Churner, Leah. “Out of the Vast Wasteland.” MovingImageSource. June 18, 2009. Web. 15 Feb. 2011. http://www.movingimagesource.us/articles/out-of-the-vast-wasteland-20090618.
–. “The Poor Soul of Television.” MovingImageSource. June 25, 2009. http://www.movingimagesource.us/articles/the-poor-soul-of-television-20090625.
–. “Un-TV: Public access cable television in Manhattan: an oral history”, MovingImageSource, February 10, 2011. http://www.movingimagesource.us/articles/un-tv-20110210.
Daisies, Grey. “No Wave Cinema.” http://mubi.com/lists/no-wave-cinema.
Dika, Vera. The Moving (Pictures) Generation: The Cinematic Impulse in Downtown New York Art and Film. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
Drohojowska, Hunter. “Drawn into the Vortex.” L.A. Weekly 5, no. 22 (1983).
Ellis, Trey. “The New Black Aesthetic.” Callaloo. 12, no. 1 (1989): 233-243.
–. “ Responses to NBA Critiques.” Callaloo 12, no. 1 (1989): 250-251.
Emmerling, Leonard. Jean-Michel Basquiat 1960-1988: The Explosive Force of the Streets. New York: Taschen, 2011.
Engelman, Ralph. “Origins of Public Access Cable Television.” Journalism Monographs. 123 (1990): 1-47.
Ferguson, Sarah. “The Struggle for Space – 10 Years of Turf Battling on the Lower East Side.” Resistance: A Radical Social and Political History of the Lower East Side. Ed. Clayton Patterson. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2007: 141-165.
Flood, Joe. “Homelessness and the Lower East Side.” Resistance: A Radical Social and Political History of the Lower East Side. Ed. Clayton Patterson. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2007: 55-64.
Fogarty, Mary. ‘What Ever Happened to Breakdancing?’: Transnational B-boy/b-girl Networks, Underground Video Magazines and Imagined Affinities. MA Thesis,Brock University, 2007.
–. “Breaking Expectations: Imagined Affinities in Mediated Youth Cultures.”
Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies (2012) Volume 26, Issue 3:
Fricke, Jim, and Charlie Ahearn. Yes Yes Y’all: The Experience Music Project Oral History of Hip-Hop’s First Decade. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2002.
Fly. “Squatting on the Lower East Side.” Resistance: A Radical Social and Political History of the Lower East Side. Ed. Clayton Patterson. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2007: 213-218.
Forman, Murray. “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn.” American Quarterly 54, (2002): 101-127.
Gastman, Roger, and Caleb Neelon. The History of American Graffiti. New York: Harper Design, 2010.
Geldzahler, Henry. Making It New: Essays, Interviews, and Talks. USA: Turtle Point, 1994.
George, Nelson. Buppies, B-Boys, Baps, and Bohos: Notes on Post-Soul Black Culture. Cambridge: Da Capo, 2001.
Gigliotti, Davidson. “A Brief History of RainDance.” Radical Software (2003). http://www.radicalsoftware.org/e/history.html.
Good, Fred. “The Origins of Loisaida.” Resistance: A Radical Social and Political History of the Lower East Side. Ed. Clayton Patterson. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2007: 21-36.
Goldstein, Richard. “The First Radical Art Show of the 80’s” Village Voice, June 16, 1980.
Hays, Constance L. “ Friends Recall Young Artist With Music and Verse.” New York Times, November 6, 1988.
–. “Jean Basquiat, 27, An Artist of Words and Angular Images.” New York Times, Aug.15, 1988.
Hoban, Phoebe. Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art. New York: Penguin, 1998. Print.
Hoberman, Jim. “No Wavelength: The Para-Punk Underground.” Village Voice, May 1979. http://www.luxonline.org.uk/article/no_wavelength%281%29.html.
Hug, Catherine and Thomas Miefgang. Street and Studio: From Basquiat to Seripop. London: Corner House, 2010.
Hughes, Robert. “Requiem For a Featherweight: The Sad Story of an Artist’s Success.” The New Republic, November 21, 1988.
Huyssen, Andreas. After The Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism.Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.
–. “Mapping The Postmodern.” New German Critique 33, (1984): 5-52.
Jacobs, Del. Interrogating the Image: Movies and the World of Film and Television (New York: University Press of America, 2009).
Jacobson, Harlan. “Charles Ahearn Interviewed by Harlan Jacobson.” Film Comment1983: 64-66.Jaehne, Karen. “Wild Style.” Film Quarterly 37, (1984): 2-5.
Jaffe, Aaron. “Frank Morales.” Resistance: A Radical Social and Political History of the Lower East Side. Ed. Clayton Patterson. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2007. Print: 193-212.
Janet, Sarah. “TV Party Is Stranger Than Night.” Terminal Boredom.
Kapralov, Yuri. “Christodora: The Flight of a Sea Animal.” Resistance: A Radical Social and Political History of the Lower East Side. Ed. Clayton Patterson. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2007: 87-100.
Koponen, Sandra. “The 60’s: Notes on the Underground.” Captured: A Film/Video History of the Lower East Side. Ed. Clayton Patterson. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2005: 113-120.
Lachman, Richard. “Graffiti as Career and Ideology.” American Journal of Sociology 94, (1988): 229-250.
Lawrence, Tim. “Connecting with the Cosmic: Arthur Russell, Rhizomatic Musicianship, and the Downtown Music Scene, 1973-92.” Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies 3, (2007): 1-84.
Linder, Laura R. Public Access Television: America’s Electronic Soapbox. London:Praeger, 1999.
Lipsitz, George. How Racism Takes Place. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011.
Little, David E. “Colab Takes a Piece, History Takes It Back: Collectivity and New York Alternative Spaces.” Art Journal 66, (2007): 60-74.
Macdonald, Nancy. The Graffiti Subculture: Youth, Masculinity, and Identity in London and New York. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.
MacDonald, Scott. “Interview with Beth and Scott B.” October 24, (1983): 3-36.
Marshall, Richard. “Repelling Ghosts.” Jean-Michel Basquiat, edited by Richard Marshall. New York: Whitney Museum, 1993.
Massood, Paula J. Black City Cinema: African-American Urban Experiences in Film. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003.
“Mapping The Hood: The Genealogy of City Space in “Boyz N the Hood” and “Menace II Society.” Cinema Journal 35, no. 2 (1996): 85-97.
“Which Way to the Promised Land?: Spike Lee’s Clockers and the Legacy of the African-American City.” African-American Review 35, no. 2 (2001): 263-279.
Mele, Christopher. “Making Art and Policing Streets.” Resistance: A Radical Social and Political History of the Lower East Side. Ed. Clayton Patterson. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2007: 40-47.
Merritt, Greg. Celluloid Mavericks: A History of American Independent Filmmaking New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press; 2000.
Miller, Michael H. “Public Access Betrayed! The Museum of the Moving Image Does Robin Byrd.” The New York Observer, (2011). http://www.observer.com/2011/culture/public-access-betrayed.
Monteyne, Kimberly Bercov. “The Sound of the South Bronx: Youth Culture, Genre, and Performance in Charlie Ahearn’s Wild Style.” Youth Culture in Global Cinema. Ed. Timothy Shary and Alexandra Siebel. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006: 87-105.
Hip Hop on Film: Performance Culture, Urban Space, and Genre Transformation in the 1980’s. PhD diss., New York University: 2009.
Moore, Alan W. Art Gangs: Protest and Counterculture in New York City. New York: Autonomedia, 2011.
Moore, Alan and Marc Millar. “The ABCs of ABC and Its Times.” ABCNoRio.
Muchnic, Suzanne. “The Galleries.” Los Angeles Times, March 11, 1983.
Munoz, Joe Esteban. Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the performance of Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.
Negt, Oscar. “Mass Media: Tools of Domination or Instruments of Emancipation? Aspects of the Frankfurt School’s Communication Analysis.” The Myths of Information: Technology and Postindustrial Culture. Ed. K. Woodward. Madison, Wisconsin: Coda Press, 1980: 65-87.
Negt, Oscar, and Alexander Kluge. Public Sphere and Experience: Toward and Analysis of the Bourgeois and Proletarian Public Sphere. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.
New York Noise. London: Soul Jazz Publishing, 2007.
O’Brien, Glenn. New York Beat: Jean-Michel Basquiat in Downtown 81. Tokyo: Petit Grand Publishing, 2001.
Poynton, Jerome. “Baroque on the Lower East Side: Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures and Telephone Messages from Ed Marshall.” Captured: A Film/Video History of the Lower East Side. Ed. Clayton Patterson. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2005: 25-28.
Powerhouse Magazine. That 70’s Show: New York City in the 1970’s. Brooklyn. NY:Daniel Power, 2007.
Reynolds, Simon. Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984. London: Penguin, 2005.
Robinson, Walter. “Collaborative Projects and Rule C.” 98bowery, (1982).
Rodrigues, Laurie A. “SAMO as an Escape Clause: Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Engagement with a Commodified American Africanism.” Journal of American Studies 45, (2011): 227-243.
Rose, Tricia. Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University, 1994.
Sachs Aaron. The hip-hopsploitation film cycle: representing, articulating, and appropriating hip-hop culture. PhD diss., University of Iowa, 2009.
Schwarz, Benjamin. “Gentrification and Its Discontents: Manhattan was never what wethink it was.” The Atlantic, June 2010. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/06/gentrification-and-its-discontents/308092/?lang=en_us&output=json
Sherman, Sharon R. “Bombin’, Breakin’, and Gettin’ down: The Folk and Popular Cultureof Hip-Hop.” Western Folklore 43, (1984): 287-293.
Sholle, David. “Access Through Activism: Extending the Ideas of Negt and Kluge to American Alternative Practices.” Social Theory and Practice 21, no. 1 (1995): 21-35.
Siegle, Robert. Suburban Ambush: Downtown Writing and the Fiction of Insurgency. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.
Silberman, Marc. “Politics of Representation: Brecht and the Media.” Theatre Journal 39 (1987): 448-460.
Smith, Harris. “No New Cinema: Punk and No Wave Underground Film 1976-1984.” http://web.archive.org/web/20071008064931/http://www.remodernist.com/NoNewCinema.html.
Smith, Roberta. “Basquiat: Man For His Decade.” New York Times, Oct. 23, 1992.
Snyder, Gregory J. Graffiti Lives: Beyond the Tag in New York’s Urban Underground. New York: New York University Press, 2009.
Stewart, Jesse. “Real to Reel: Filmic Constructions of Hip Hop Cultures and Hip Hop Identities.” Interdisciplinary Humanities 26, (2009): 49-67.
West, Cornell. “The New Cultural Politics of Difference.” Out There: Marginalizationand Contemporary Cultures. Ed. Russell Ferguson, Martha Gever, Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Cornel West. Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 1992: 19-36.
Taylor, Marvin J. “Playing the Field.” The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene 1974-1984. Ed. Marvin J. Taylor. UK: Princeton University Press, 2006: 17-39.
Whitehead, Jessie L. “Graffiti: The Use Of the Familiar.” Art Education 57, (2004): 25-32.
“Wildstyle”, Entry on Wikipedia, available online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wildstyle