I moved to New York City in 2000, and to the Lower East Side in 2002. To my dismay, the gritty downtown New York I’d loved from afar since childhood—represented by films like The Warriors, bands like Sonic Youth, and graffiti artists like Zephyr—was nearly at an end. CBGB’s was staggering toward its final years; local venue Brownies, right across the street, closed during my tenure, then re-opened as another bar, the live bands replaced by a jukebox; the few remaining artists from the old days holed up in their apartments, surly and forgotten; and rumors of Whole Foods and glass & steel condos proved true in the coming years. It was sad.
But oh, to be there in the 80s and early 90s, when flowers of dirty punk art grew from the needle-strewn Tompkins Square Park and the decaying squatters paradises along Avenue A. Of course I’m romanticizing a time of high crime, poverty, and low expectations, a time many native New Yorkers do not remember fondly (then again, it seems, just as many do). There are many, many documents of the old East Village mean streets—too many to properly list in this short post. But I can imagine no better tour guide to pre-millennial NYC than Iggy Pop.
In the short film above, watch him show Dutch filmmaker Bram van Splunteren around Alphabet City. Granted this is 1993. Things weren’t nearly as hairy as they were a few years prior (a fact Iggy points out right away), but it’s still a world away from the Lower East Side of today. Pop traipses through the neighborhood, pointing out favorite landmarks and pieces of graffiti. No stranger to urban decay, the Detroit native seems right at home. This being New York, Pop can stroll around without being molested (or mostly even recognized). All in all it’s a pretty leisurely tour of the 90s Lower East Side on a bright and sunny day with the guy who more-or-less invented punk. What more could you want?