Another month and little activity on the blog front. Excuses? – a long and exhausting trip to the US on the latest documentary project. Five states in seven days: New York, Massachussetts, North Carolina, Illinois and Maryland. Phew. Then off to Texas and San Francisco ten days after that.
I landed in New York the other week, jet-lagged, and checked into my fairly crappy midtown hotel thinking only of one thing – a refreshing, cold Sam Adams and a grilled chicken sandwich at my favourite old style Manhattan bar, McHale’s on West 46th street. I’ve spent many, many nights propping up the bar in McHale’s and it has a real history for me – among other things, it was a welcoming warm hideout during the blizzards of April 1993, it was the last place I ever saw my friend Sandy before she died suddenly a few weeks later, it was an unofficial crew mess room during a long period of shooting in the late ‘90s, and (without sounding too WarBalls about it) it was my refuge on the night of September 11th 2001, a place I could feel comfortable and kind of ‘at home’ among all the other shocked and bewildered folks trying to take in what had happened that day. If I could be said to have had such a thing as a 'local' in the city, this was it.
But I was shocked to find that McHale’s is no more – another victim of the constant changes (‘improvement’ I think they call it) in Manhattan. Destroyed some time in the last couple of years, and being replaced by a luxury apartment tower. The Mexican bar Monte Tecla, a near neighbour and home of my favourite margaritas in the city, went a few years before that. And as I wandered around the bright shopping precinct that is the new Times Square I also discovered that the Howard Johnsons, a Times Square landmark, has been sacrificed to the developers too.
Now, the food at Howard Johnsons was never anything to shout about, but to me it was a remnant of an old New York City that was part of the place’s magnetic appeal. A reminder of the magic that New York symbolised to me as a kid. Naughty, haughty, bawdy, sporty. 42nd Street to a tee. Strikes me it was one of the last outposts of the old world before Times Square was reimagined as Giulliani Plaza. And I'll miss it.
I’ve been going to New York pretty much constantly for nearly 20 years now, and I’ve grown to know the place like a sort of second home. But every fresh visit brings some kind of shock at how much things change, how the place is becoming ever more prettified and gentrified, how (for example) living in the East Village is beyond most people’s grasp and the young folks who made it what it was only hang on through rent controlled apartments. It’s a feeling that seems to pervade one of the best records I’ve heard all year, LCD Soundsystem’s magnificent Sound of Silver, whose songs seem to capture the ennui of contemporary NY life. “New York I love you, but you’re bringing me down,” James Murphy sings at its close, “like a rat in a cage...”
I’ll drink to that. If they don’t close down all the decent bars first.
More US musings to come in the next few days – promise.