Fun City

When I think of New York City, from about 1965 until, say, 1980, it is always mid-summer. Of course there were surely brisk autumns and snow and probably some beautiful springs but in my mind heat shimmers from the pavement, the news hisses from a tinny transistor somewhere nearby and the hydrants are always open. “New York is a Summer Festival” as the slogan used to say.

Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn't it a pity
Doesn't seem to be a shadow in the city (Lovin' Spoonful, 1966)

Before anyone thought to
heart New York, it was, officially, "Fun City." Blackouts, strikes, graffiti, potholes (does anyone think about “potholes” anymore?) — but no irony. Fun City was the New York of John Lindsay. Young, handsome, WASPy, Lindsay was the Kennedy of City Hall from 1966 til 1973.

Most images here are from Tenth Street, by Bill Binzen, a wonderful random find of mine. The book is a small 6 x 7" photographic record of the life of a street from river to river. I don't know much about
Binzen but I like his style. Published in 1968, Tenth Street illustrates the early stages of that New York. Here's an almost-foreign Tompkins Square Park, in Binzen's words:

[people] relax on grass, on benches, on dirt. They bring their dogs, all sizes and shapes, cats, rabbits, snakes, lizards. Kids romp, fight, tease, swing, spray each other from the drinking fountains, toss dirt in the air. The dirt settles on chess players who never know the difference. Dr. Spock spoke there, the Grateful Dead played there. People talk with their hands...Tight bottoms, no bras. Big bottoms, iron bras. Music: drums, flutes, bongos, sticks knocking on beer cans, sticks on benches, sticks on coke (sic) bottles, bang, bang, bang Kids pile on seesaws, slides jungle gyms, each other. There are friendly drunks, nasty drunks, drunk drunks. Pigeons, squirrels, beards, Hippies, Yippies, beads, incense, grass, yogi. The Good Humor man going around and around. Benches, benches. Old People sitting, standing. MENS, WOMENS. Firecrackers. Handouts. Bikes. Chalk drawings... And under the chess tables at the end of a long day, matches, papers, butts, broken bottles, Vietnam leaflets, junk galore, all to be swept up...
Binzen mentions the "hot summer night" sound of boys clanking on garbage cans with sticks as they make their way down the street. There are no metal garbage cans anymore. There are no boys with sticks anymore either-- that I've seen.
The image at top is called "Avenue A." I find the juxtaposition of eras particularly interesting: the pompadoured West Side Story-ish teen in his windbreaker is a pre-Assassination (whichever) holdout. He's living in a Frankie Avalon, Beatles at Shea Stadium New York. The Easy Rider chopper hippies are (anticipate really) pure Manson Family and Altamont.
Looking at images of the late 60s-- crowd scenes in the subways for instance-- one can almost see the the social tectonic plates shifting. Men in hats, guys in ponchos, older ladies with white gloves, women in bell bottoms...

The third image, "Tompkins Park," is an Arbus-ian study in tension.

The fifth image down, "Third Avenue," notice the William F. Buckley for (Fuhrer!) Mayor posters. That was news to me.

The last image, "Between First and Avenue A" just kills me-- the crazy kids these days!

Also shown are a couple images (second, fourth) by Klaus Lehnartz from New York, a German publication from 1969, more coffee table souvenir than photo essay.
And now I'm off to Iceland for a week.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Our loss, Iceland's gain. Come back, please!


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