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?
From The Stooges to Iggy Pop: 1986 Documentary Charts the Rise of Punk’s Godfather
Jim Power, aka “the Mosaic Man,” Adorns the Lampposts of New York City’s East Village
Nico Sings “Chelsea Girls” in the Famous Chelsea Hotel
Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him at @jdmagness
I’ve never understood the romanticizing of squalor.
To each his own, friend.
King Tuts Wah-Wah Hut !!
That’s funny. I saw Iggy walking around the LES just like he’s doing in this film in 1990, which from the documentary is when he first moved there. I was having lunch with a woman friend who, coincidentally, was a HUGE fan of Iggy’s — but we didn’t chase him down or say anything.
And while I lived in NYC 1984-1990, I spent a fair amount of time in the East Village and some time in the LES. Yeah, there were definitely parts of the neighborhoods that were sketchy, but it was gentrifying pretty quickly even back then.
For those who either didn’t live here, know this area or people and who now live a comfortable existence in another time and place, yes, I can see how this might appear to be squalor. But the film above is just another form of “documenting” the city life also written about in Luc Sante’s LOW LIFE as well as Martin Scorcese’s “Gangs of New York.” This IS the urban immigration experience that repeats itself over and over again throughout our history. By dismissing it and the people who live here, one only shortchanges him or herself.
Leuke film Bram !