New York Rock: From the Rise of The Velvet Underground to the Fall of CBGB

New York Rock: From the Rise of The Velvet Underground to the Fall of CBGB

by Steven Blush


$22.49 $24.99 Save 10% Current price is $22.49, Original price is $24.99. You Save 10%.
View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Wednesday, January 23

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250083616
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 10/04/2016
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 690,417
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Besides the bestselling American Hardcore, STEVEN BLUSH is also author of American Hair Metal (Feral House), and .45 Dangerous Minds (Creation). Blush also co-produced the eponymous American Hardcore documentary released by Sony Classics, and was the publisher and primary editor of the award-winning Seconds interview magazine. He also writes for Paper and Interview and music-oriented magazines.

Read an Excerpt

New York Rock

From the Rise of the Velvet Underground to the Fall of CBGB

By Steven Blush

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2016 Steven Blush
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-08362-3





It's hard times in the city Livin' down in New York town

— Bob Dylan, "Hard Times in New York Town"

Everyone knows about the Yankees, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, and King Kong climbing the Empire State Building. They also know about New York rockers like Lou Reed, Deborah Harry, David Johansen, and Joey Ramone.

LOU REED (The Velvet Underground): I need New York City to feed off. Like I run dry and I've got to go out and do things, and build up new people to write about. There's nothing about me especially interesting. All I do is change clothes and hairdos. (1972)

New York inspires great art and music. Talented, energetic, ambitious characters come from near and far in search of a tolerant artistic milieu — to be among the best, to fully express themselves, and hopefully to "make it." Many move to the city chasing a dream that might not even exist.

CHRIS STEIN (Blondie): I lived in New York to be part of something. Our band couldn't have come from anywhere else. The Downtown scene was great, and the city gave us the inspiration. The city didn't start going downhill till somewhat recently. But New York will always be New York. (1999)

New York Rock reflects a New York state of mind. It's an amalgam of styles, yet it's its own unique thing. It manifests as larger than life, yet it's stripped down. It's more than a sound; it's a cacophony of noises, like the streets themselves. Despite endless attempts to categorize or describe New York Rock, it's indescribable — yet you know it when you hear it. New York Rock means rock from Manhattan, mostly Downtown, with a bit of Brooklyn. It's a confluence of harsh urban realities, moody artistic dispositions, self-promotion, and intoxication rituals.

JAMES MURPHY (LCD Soundsystem): New York is the world's greatest city and has been for a long time. Other cities have their moment but none of them come back — like Seattle had its moment. Hurray! But New York's consistently there whether it's the art or writing or music or ideas. It's the most idealized part of America, and to me it's the most ideal part. (2005)

New York Rock is a story of great successes and great failures. It's not a good business model, trying to swim upstream against pop music's flow, as most of these musicians had trouble getting it together personally, professionally, or pharmaceutically. Maybe that's why New York Rock resonates so deeply, and stands the test of time.

LOU REED: Relatively few people make it out of New York. So many people come to New York, competing with each other like crazy. There's only so many clubs, there's only so many venues. It costs more to be here. There's a lot more opportunities to get yourself in trouble here. There are things available — distractions. (2000)


I live in the city, I breathe dirty air I ride trains with b-boys, junkies, queens and squares

— Manitoba's Wild Kingdom, "New York, New York"

NYC is at once the best and worst place in the world, where amazing and awful things happen. It's a harsh terrain, with no sanctuaries. There are untold diversions: people to meet, vices to try. You can't "get away from it all." It is no place for the weakhearted.

WILLY DeVILLE (Mink DeVille): All kinds of things happen in New York, and if you can live under that kind of pressure you can live anywhere. (1977)

DON HILL (club owner): New York's a tough place to survive. It's no amusement park. You gotta earn it; it's not a given. You need a killer instinct, a self-destructive attitude, always living on the edge. No rules here. It has its own state of mind. (2004)

New York musicians face crushing survival issues. The bar for success is high. That "You talkin' to me?"/"Get outta my way!"/"Mind your own business" chutzpah sets the tone. To survive in the city is to pass an acid test of legitimacy. The payback for getting roughed up mentally and physically is a chance to get famous.

ALAN VEGA (Suicide): New York can space you out. But I can spot trouble a mile away, even spaced out, and I know how to deal with it because I know the speed. (1989)

CHRIS HARLOT (Harlots of 42nd Street): The speed of the city has a lot to do with it. People move faster here, where things are bigger and better. You're not in a laid-back mood — New York style is not laid back — there's no time, everyone's too busy, always something to do. To slow down, you move to Florida. (2011)

The city breeds powerful personalities: hard-charging, tough and cynical, with plenty of "attitude." New Yorkers have a reputation for being on top of their game. They think quick and talk fast. The city serves as a stage for the angry, alienated, and discontented.

BOB GRUEN (photographer): The New York Rock attitude is just New York attitude. There's this confidence, an aggressive determination to succeed, and this cynical seen-everything, done-everything, "show me what you can do" attitude. A New York Rock band has a cocky attitude. There's a certain coolness that goes back to the '50s rockers in Brooklyn. You're not in awe of the world, the world's in awe of you. But when you live here it's not a pose — you gotta be tough to walk down the street. (2004)

THEO KOGAN (Lunachicks): One of the many great things about New York is people here are sarcastic, we have attitude, we're realistic, and we deal with people every day on top of each other on the subway or on the streets. People here are very honest — and angry. The New York attitude comes through in the music. (2004)

LENNY KAYE (Patti Smith Group): Here's my word for it: "spunk." It's like, "We may not listen to what you tell us, but if it's a good idea, we might borrow it." I believe the flow of blood's a little faster here. It's just a fast city and your metabolism has to keep up with it. That's why you should live here and work here. (2004)

JOHN CALE (The Velvet Underground): Here's how I'd define it: "Stubborn as hell, designed to lose, yet somehow wins." (2004)


We are from the Lower East Side We don't give a damn if we live or die

— David Peel & The Lower East Side, "Lower East Side"

New York Rock history isn't the minutiae of musicians' lives, or at what club who saw whom. It's a real estate tale of funky 'hoods where creative types drawn by cheap rent and a sense of identity create and immerse themselves in a subculture, and later get edged out by gentrification. In the '60s, the combination of creative types within the urban squalor of the Lower East Side made a rock scene with a distinct sound, style, and spirit.

KEMBRA PFAHLER (The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black): In 1979 and 1980 people like me who had dyed-black hair, who were young punk rockers, we were a minority in the Lower East Side. A lot of people got killed and overdosed. You were getting picked on a lot for your appearance. (2006)

CYNTHIA SLEY (Bush Tetras): People didn't like us moving in. We were the minority. We looked very different. The attitude fed the fire. We were fearless, which kept you safe. It was extremely tough down there. (2004)

Downtown musicians lived, loved, learned, drank, drugged, and jammed within walking distance of other unconventional artists, poets, authors, and actors. "Alphabet City," the no-man's-land between Avenues A and D, nurtured '70s–'80s rock subculture.

IVAN JULIAN (Voidoids): People who moved there felt like it was their last refuge to be creative and to be who they were. This was the one place you could write and play — the environment was immediate and urgent, which reflected in the music. (2004)

JIM THIRLWELL (Foetus): When I first came here in 1983, it was steeped in a kind of urban decay, which I found very beautiful. There was a high amount of energy, a lot of character as well. And it was so centralized. Lydia Lunch and I had an apartment on Twelfth between A and B and that was when Alphabet City was still Alphabet City. You didn't go east of Avenue A at that point, unless you wanted to score drugs. (2004)

WALTER STEDING (artist/musician): I never wanted to play outside of New York or outside of Manhattan or outside of the Lower East Side. Going to Hurrah on like 60th Street was as far as I'd go. (2011)

Downtown subculture was protected by moats. But instead of alligators, it was crime keeping away jocks, yuppies, normal people, and other interlopers. Eventually, the crime subsided and the real estate developers did their magic, and the 'hood became livable. New York could've gone either way at the end of the twentieth century. But the fin de siècle real estate boom forever transformed the city's styles and attitudes. The freaks lost the turf war. Many rolled with the changes; others pined for "the good old days."

DAVID JOHANSEN (New York Dolls): The East Village was the template of that worldwide urban renewal gentrification craze. It's probably the first place where artists moved in and made the place attractive, and then the gentry moved in. We've been all around the world and we see it happening everywhere. (2006)

NICK MARDEN (The Stimulators): It's like sending in the missionaries first to see how few get killed and can be righteous with the neighbors. Then you bring in the rest of the abusive immigrants. The art world has always been like that. A weird artist will move in and tolerate the abuse in order to have the space to create, and their friends move in and it becomes an artistic community. Then like what happened in SoHo, the landlords started interjecting white people and others who disrespect the community. (2011)

DIANE DI PRIMA (artist): Bit by bit, all the life of Downtown is being turned off. The coffeehouses have had to fight to keep going. The License Bureau has lessened the numbers of Off Broadway theaters. Screenings of experimental films — which were flourishing and just developed a large audience — have stopped altogether. The Living Theater has been seized, and the New York Poets Theatre has been effectively stopped. Painters and sculptors are again facing the possibility of losing their loft situation. ... New York is in many ways over. (1964)


I try to reason why But end up getting high

— The Dictators, "Stay"

Creative types have a buzz in their brains causing varying degrees of mental illness and chemical reliance. Most "cool" New York scenesters took drugs, and for many, it got the better of them. Others indulged in drugs, and it helped.

LOU REED (The Velvet Underground): I take drugs just because in the twentieth century in a technological age living in the city there are certain drugs you have to take just to keep yourself normal like a caveman. Just to bring yourself up or down, but to attain equilibrium, you need to take certain drugs. They don't getcha high even, they just getcha normal. (1973)

BILL BRONSON (The Spitters/Swans): It comes down to shortcuts. If you want to get somewhere in terms of spiritual or musical enlightenment, I don't think it's bad to use drugs to get there. (1994)

New York beckons as a land of excess, an inebriation vortex where the drugs find you. There is no escape from the 24/7 lifestyle, with many ODs, freak-outs, and funerals. Psychoactive trends reached their zenith in the City That Never Sleeps. All these psychic intensities played into New York Rock. Musical styles, rehearsal spaces, practice times, sleeping hours, living arrangements, friends, and lovers all tied into intoxication rituals.

HANDSOME DICK MANITOBA (The Dictators): The drug environment in the '70s was plentiful, an open supermarket. My first favorite drugs were pills, they were easy to pop, you didn't need to get drunk, and you didn't get sick. Seconals, Tuinals, real 714 Quaaludes were available. I dabbled in coke, but then I found heroin, and loved it. It was a love affair, even though I threw my guts up for eight hours the first time I did it. (2003)

In drugs, there's everything else, then there's heroin. Downtown sounds, from jazz and blues to punk and no wave, capture the spirit of smack. The jagged, drawn-out whirr, pained groans, and droning stupor embody the drug experience. Heroin is as much a part of New York Rock as CBGB or black leather jackets. The VU's "Heroin," in the great bluesman tradition, detailed scoring and getting high. The drug had long been musicians' dirty secret, so the frankness was audacious.

KEMBRA PFAHLER (The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black): I do feel drugs have a parallel existence to the music and art created. In the late '70s and early '80s there was an infiltration of heroin. Bands were making loud, viscous, and sloppy but intelligent music. That was the spirit of the times. Whether or not you were on heroin, it played into the sound and subject matter. (2006)

SONNY VINCENT (Testors): Heroin had both a positive and negative effect on the New York scene. I've seen Johnny Thunders play sets more energetic and passionate while fully whacked on heroin than other people who were straight as a judge. But of course it did wreck some of the momentum of some of the artists and their output. The drug does have an alluring "pull" to say the least. Just the fact that you bring it up makes me feel these feelings. ... Actually I'd like to shoot some right now! (2011)

The big daddy of all intoxicants entranced generations of enthusiasts with its own lore and allure. New York looms as a heroin hub, where dope makes sense. For some, it offered escape from urban strain and pain. To those who could handle it, heroin offered transcendence and artistic liberation.

JOHNNY THUNDERS (The Heartbreakers): I take smack because I enjoy it. I enjoy all it makes me feel. I don't do it to be in with the in crowd or shit like that. I do it because I enjoy it. If I didn't enjoy it I'd never do it, and if it interfered with my music I'd never do it. I can rock out with it. I can rock out without it. It doesn't affect my performance at all. (1980)

MIKE DOUGHTY (Soul Coughing): When I later became addicted to booze I woke up with the shakes, and I'd drink a beer before I brushed my teeth, and then try and stay a little bit drunk, but not super drunk, all day. That was when I said to myself that the game was done. (2012)


I don't have to prove That I am creative!

— Talking Heads, "Artists Only"

You can't discuss New York Rock without discussing the characters creating it. Offbeat artists with art-school training built New York Rock — very different from clichéd images of four L.A. dudes rockin' out in a garage. Music made by aspiring painters, poets, actors, filmmakers, and designers makes for a distinct product.

MOBY (DJ): New York Rock is the cross-pollination of rock and art. Talking Heads are a perfect example: they all went to RISDI and were all artists. That element introduced an air of erudition to the New York scene. (2004)

DON HILL (club owner): There's an artistic pretense here that you don't get anywhere else. You're never gonna play Lincoln Center if you're from Nebraska, but New York bands get to do that. New York band members have abilities to conduct symphonies and do soundtracks. You really only get that in New York. Dimensions here are much deeper. We are cultural snobs in New York. Bands here read books. (2005)

JEFFREY LOHN (Theoretical Girls): There were a lot of artists involved. That was what was unique about it. Some of the bands that were around at the time were "arty." That's the best word to describe it. They were not just commercial pop kinds of people; they were connected to the art world in some way. They were more philosophical, idea-oriented people. We were just making a more creative, noncommercial kind of music, more experimental, connected to ideas. Not slick. (2002)

JIM JARMUSCH (filmmaker): I feel more comfortable around musicians and I've met a lot of people through music. I used to hang out at Max's and CBs. A lot of the reason I even make films started from New York music culture in the late '70s. That scene gave me the courage to express myself in film without having to be a virtuoso. (1996)

THURSTON MOORE (Sonic Youth): Filmmakers like Richard Kern and Jim Jarmusch, people who are the same age as us, could've easily been switched around. It just happened that they're filmmakers and we're musicians. (1987)

RICHARD HELL (The Voidoids): Also, I think it was a moment in cultural history when it occurred to kids who liked to read and liked to write that they could also form bands. I don't think it's because there's much in common with rock and roll and poetry, except that the kids who also ended up writing had seen the power of physical music and how it could be combined with all the possibilities of writing, too. Anyway, it's boring. (2006)


Excerpted from New York Rock by Steven Blush. Copyright © 2016 Steven Blush. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents



















70s ROCK






















A selection from the over 150 bands that are featured in NEW YORK ROCK

Beastie Boys




Fun Lovin’ Criminals

Harlots of 42nd Street

Honeymoon Killers

John Lennon


LCD Soundsystem

Love Pirates

Luscious Jackson


Mick Jagger


New York Dolls

Patti Smith

Pussy Galore

Rat At Rat R

Scissor Ssiters

Sonic Youth



Talking Heads

The Clash

The Coventry

The Dictators

The Fever

The Fuzztones

The Heartbreakers

The Hold Steady

The Holy Modal Rounders

The Miamis

The Mooney Suzuki

The Ramones

The Velvet Underground

Theoretical Girls

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Young & Fabulous

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

New York Rock: From the Rise of The Velvet Underground to the Fall of CBGB 1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is so badly riddled with errors, it should be classified as a work of fiction.