Brisk overview of New York City’s rock ’n’ roll tradition, from doo-wop to hard core, mirroring the city’s transformations.
Former Seconds magazine publisher Blush (American Hair Metal, 2006, etc.) intuitively understands the rock scene’s perpetual mechanics. His interviews with many key figures provide the core of this survey, in which he argues, “New York rock musicians and scenesters deserve way more credit than they’ve received.” After discussing precedents like Tin Pan Alley songwriting, the author focuses on the cultural foment and urban decay of the 1970s. Moving beyond the era’s punk explosion, Blush explores broader tales of musical innovation and competition against the scary backdrop of pre–Rudolph Giuliani NYC: “Noise rock achieved monumentality because of New York’s monumentality—in this case, of something great gone to hell.” Later, as neighborhoods gentrified and alternative rock took off, local bands tried to stand out; Blush asserts, “ ‘East Village Biker Rock’ was different from the same era’s Sunset Strip glam metal.” Yet many interviewees agree that the city’s creative vitality has been quashed, and in the 1990s, as one indie rocker notes, “everything got expensive.” Blush concurs, explaining how “The Jewish Lower East Side became the alt-rock LES.” The book is structured in support of this narrative, with chapters grouped by genre (e.g. “Glitter Rock,” “No Wave”) and then divided into “The Rise,” “The Scene,” “The Music,” and “The Fall.” In each, the author focuses on some representational acts and then briefly describes others that never moved beyond their scenes. Blush ably controls his sprawling narrative but depends too much on fragmentary quotes from scene personalities, which become repetitive, offering variations of one hard-core skinhead’s recollection: “Back then it was so true, so street.” Blush himself also falls into generic maxims—e.g. “The ’90s were a tough time for rock music, and here were twentysomethings having sexy fun amid a decidedly no-fun era.”
A comprehensive yet pat and sometimes patchy tome that conveys a vicarious understanding of a gritty musical era.