St. Marks Is Dead: The Many Lives of America's Hippest Street: The Many Lives of America's Hippest Street
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A vibrant narrative history of three hallowed Manhattan blocks—the epicenter of American cool.
St. Marks Place in New York City has spawned countless artistic and political movements. Here Frank O’Hara caroused, Emma Goldman plotted, and the Velvet Underground wailed. But every generation of miscreant denizens believes that their era, and no other, marked the street’s apex. This idiosyncratic work of reportage tells the many layered history of the street—from its beginnings as Colonial Dutch Director-General Peter Stuyvesant’s pear orchard to today’s hipster playground—organized around those pivotal moments when critics declared “St. Marks is dead.”
In a narrative enriched by hundreds of interviews and dozens of rare images, St. Marks native Ada Calhoun profiles iconic characters from W. H. Auden to Abbie Hoffman, from Keith Haring to the Beastie Boys, among many others. She argues that St. Marks has variously been an elite address, an immigrants’ haven, a mafia warzone, a hippie paradise, and a backdrop to the film Kids—but it has always been a place that outsiders call home.
were vermin in the seats. Nicer was the Loews Commodore (later the Fillmore East), where patrons watched twenty-five-cent second-run movies like King Kong. Al Jolson even performed there. Feinblatt and his family waited in line for hours. “We sat down in the orchestra,” Feinblatt recalls. “Al Jolson came out. I said, in too loud a voice, ‘But he’s not black!’ People around me laughed. I didn’t know why they were laughing. To me, Al Jolson was a black man. I didn’t know about blackface.” The
Italian babushkas gathered, and their querulous men who’d glare at us from the benches,” she wrote in her memoir, How I Became Hettie Jones. From the old ladies she bought vegetables, scarves, and socks. “I liked the quick park exchange, that moment where old and new took equal offense and I could measure our cultural strengths, our freedom against their overdressed babies and angry toddlers, all those longing teenage eyes lured by our sexy lives.” LeRoi Jones was born Everett Leroy Jones in
at two in the morning.” Once I was at a Dead show, and after about two hours, [British singer-songwriter] Dave Mason came on, and I got on the phone to my mom. “Dave Mason showed up!” I told her. She didn’t know who Dave Mason was. “When are you going to be home?” she asked. “Late,” I said. “But I’m with six guys. We’ll all take the train together. Please don’t worry.” She was an unbelievably classic neurotic Jewish mother worrier. The revolutionary lighting designer Joshua White describes the
this one?’” Black Mask would evolve into a group called Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers (also known, simply, as “The Motherfuckers”), named after a line in the Baraka poem “Black People!” The group handed out flyers on St. Marks Place—or, as they called it, “St. Marx,” an homage to Emma Goldman’s and Leon Trotsky’s Hail Marx Place. According to Paul Krassner, “The Lower East Side Motherfuckers were an anarchist group who wore black until they got influenced by the hippies and started wearing
The neighborhood became, according to the next morning’s New York Times, “something of a war zone.” The poet Allen Ginsberg told the Times reporter: “The police panicked and were beating up bystanders who had done nothing wrong and were just observing.” He said six officers hit a houseguest of his with clubs. Some police officers had taped over their name badges. Businesses along Avenue A locked their doors. Nine people were arrested. At least fifty people, including thirteen officers, were