by Julian George
The Man Who Loved New York no longer lived in New York but in London. And though the old saw that ‘When it’s three o’clock in New York, it’s still 1938 in London’ no longer applied, the longer he lived in London the more he loved New York.
And not in a sentimental, New York, New York way either (‘If you can make it there, you’re probably a psychopath’), but in the manner that Maupassant loved the night, with passion, the way he loved his country or his mistress, with a love deep, instinctive, unconquerable. (J’aime la nuit avec passion. Je l’aime comme on aime son pays ou sa maîtresse, d’un amour instinctif, profond, invincible.)
The Londoner would of course reply with all the glibness he could muster, that he loved London ‘truly, madly, deeply,’ but he saw that one coming up 6th Av.
But which New York did he love? The sleek, velvety thing of long, roseate cab rides à la Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Edwards’, not Capote’s), of Maris and Mantle and Ring-a-Ding-Ding and The Stork Club and The Copacabana that vanished in a split second in Dallas? The Factory town of Warhol’s blank 16mm gaze, Edie doing her jazz ballet rock ‘n’ roll number to The Velvet Underground, a pill popping, acid dropping party which Valerie Solanas crashed with her scum slaying gun, The World of Henry Orient replaced on the marquee of the art deco encrusted Imperial with an X-rated double bill of Bike Boy and Lonesome Cowboys? The high stepping funky town of the Studio 54/Taxi Driver Seventies that collapsed under the weight of uncollected garbage, empty coke vials and simmering race hatred, never mind the pulsating through the roof sexual charge of I Feel Love? The cold, hard, fast turbocharged moneymaking, bribe-taking machine of the asset stripping Trump Tower eighties that ended in a bonfire of the vanities, fight the power motherfucker? The antiseptic Disney theme park of the zerotolerance.com nineties, a dry hump for the undesired, never sought, pity fuck tourist trade, the City scrubbed suburban clean for Adam Gopnik and his interloping GAP/Oshkosh clad ilk? (For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?) The ghost town that was post-9/11 New York, which he witnessed from afar, a woeful, grieving place, Lady Liberty on her knees, a figure of pity and pathos, the unhappy island awash with the faint strains of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, an isle of joy no more?
He wrote a novel about his city of broken dreams, Naked City, the title homage to his favorite cop show (‘There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them’). Little did he know that the series was based on a pulp story entitled, yes, The Naked City, that was made into a rather listless noir with that stage Irishman of yore, Barry Fitzgerald.
It wouldn’t have mattered anyway; it was too good a title to pass up.
Why not My Lost City? ‘Come back, come back, O glittering and white! …I would never be so happy again’; these sentiments truly applied to him. Or, come to that, why not O City of Broken Dreams? Where have all the good titles gone? But Fitzgerald, (F. Scott) and Cheever (John) were inviolate, sacrosanct, couldn’t be touched or approached; we regard them too highly.
He’d hoped against hope that his New York novel would encompass the sprawling totality of the place, the word made steel and glass, grime and water. He saw himself as a disinterested yet engaged observer of life’s rich pageantry, eyeing from his upper eyrie on the Heights (‘White Harlem’) all points North, South, East, and West. He would train his telescopic lens down upon the world below from his window, at the choreographed chaos of onrushing idling humanity, Busby Berkeley on LSD (‘We’re young and high!’), or, more mundanely, across the way at familiar strangers.
Sometimes, to his shock, he’d discover that those familiar strangers across the way had telescopic lenses trained on him. Where did they get off? The unmitigated cheek of some people, the egregiousness, the brazen brass of it! Whatever became of privacy, of autonomy, of the concept of negative liberty? O tempora o mores! Oy vey and oy gevalt!
‘New York is a place where one can weep on the sidewalk in perfect privacy.’
Maybe for you, Max…
Since there was so much to say, so much he’d seen and thought and experienced, the individual, the collective, the face in the crowd, he’d limit himself to episodes—escapades! At the Palisades!—of 50 words apiece, no more and, aside from one or two exceptions, no less; that he could manage; for writing New York was tantamount to governing New York, a gargantuan task, too much for any one man, too much Johnson tout suite—which was why New York was best run by committee: Tammany Hall, The Five Families, The Links. (‘They’re side by side, they’re glorified, where the underworld can meet the elite….’)
Which begged the hypothetical question: Shouldn’t New York have seceded from the Union at some point, made its own way in the world? Like, God Forbid, Singapore? (‘Disneyland with the death penalty.’) Lord knows how many people, detractors and well-wishers alike, have at one time or another pleaded in the name of Gog and Magog for Gotham to go (FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD); and he could’ve counted himself in either camp, at one time or another.
Look at it this way: If the rest of the country looked upon New York as if they were all left wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers, who was he to disagree? Who’s to say they’re wrong? (Who’s to say they’re right? Morons. Losers.)
(Take a bow, Allen Stewart K., you’ve earned it no matter what the naysayers say.)
(Actually, until the turn of the last century New York meant Manhattan, the other boroughs being separate municipalities, such as Brooklyn, which was a city; but then Manhattan, true to its rapacious, robber baron nature, incorporated its neighbors, swallowed them whole, like Prussia or Pantagruel or Amazon (the retailer, not the rainforest; would that the latter was making out as well as the former).
What he pictured was something along the timeless sun bleached lines of a Greek City State (Athens for sure, not Sparta), the ideal—or the historical reality of that made ideal—as some worthy constituents would naturally object to the reintroduction of slavery and the consignment of women and non-property owning white males to second and third class status, or, this he could not abide, the spectacle of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides (Eumenides?), or their latter day stand-ins rather, duking it out for the brass monkey in some rigged playwriting competition. A little dignity, eh fellas?
But what did The Man Who Loved New York go and do but perform a Jimmy Carter with his elbow and catch the wrong key on his laptop, thus deleting an imperishable masterpiece, one for the ages, the NYC book definitive, a volume with which, should ever Gotham City be wiped off the face of the earth by killer haemorrhoids or gnawed to the quick by a swarm of giant mechanical mice, it could be reconstructed brick by mob laid brick, beam by rusty beam.
Just as ‘you don’t hit with your face’, you don’t save with your elbow unless you’re tending goal for the Broadway Blues, and even then it’s a well-padded elbow. Seriously, one step at a time, if you please…
These disorderly and disordered notes totally out of order, the flotsam and jetsam of that fateful man versus machine melee, are all that remain. Enjoy.
Yes Prince Myshkin what can we do for you WHAT’S THE FREQUENCY KENNETH good morning Mr. and Mrs. America welcome to the voice of insurrection from border to border and coast to coast he’s the most and all the ships at sea including that boat that’s leaving soon for New York let’s go to press New York New York the city so nice they named it twice Jabberwocky svoloch once upon a time there was an engineer clap your hands here comes Charley Mohawk this guy who drove poor Charlie down the line how do I get to Carnegie Hall Jabberwocky practice practice practice we sincerely hope you enjoy Salt Peanuts BIRD LIVES Gettys I’m going to send you to Sing Sing Sing Sing Gettys Sing Sing I’m walkin’ here I’m walkin’ here I have this evil inside of me and I stopped breathing my yiddishe mama too many teardrops for one heart mama you just gotta buy this iron from me here’s your money it is never right to play ragtime fast if you knew Susie like I know Susie you’d steer clear Jabberwocky svoloch you should only get cancer I hope you get cancer I don’t know where I’m going where are we going Walt Whitman to the Heights and Frankfurt on the Hudson WHAT’S THE FREQUENCY KENNETH I’ll never be the same dear Brutus the fault is not in our stars but in ourselves this guy in the big straw hat and mohair suit is on television she was all over him like a cheap suit he was all over her like a rash what do you get a man who has everything penicillin Jabberwocky svoloch behind his black rimmed glasses was the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat you don’t say BIRD LIVES cat’s in the bag bag’s in the river just checking oh oh dog Biscuit and when he is happy he doesn’t get snappy let that be a lesson to you nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row let’s go to press which is it Mr. Moose how am I doin’ have you ever lived in the suburbs it’s sterile it’s nothing it’s wasting your life no more bullshit oops it’s your time remember to vote early and vote often WHAT’S THE FREQUENCY KENNETH a knife a fork a bottle and a cork that’s the way we spell New York he used to be a big shot big play on 776 today you don’t say show’s over nothing to see here people got a superstition to play it every Fourth of July the old Liberty number never hits nothing personal it’s just business to live outside the law you must be honest is that a fact here’s your money God bless Goddamn look up in the sky it’s a bird it’s a plane it’s yo mama shmuck that was Albert Anastasia Superman turns out to be flash in the pan WHAT’S THE FREQUENCY KENNETH I’ll take a Manhattan like hell you will let me get you out of that wet coat and into a dry martini cigarette holder which wigs me Jabberwocky svoloch put those dancing feet in an envelope and mail them to me and I’ll send you a card from Puerto Rico my heart’s devotion that’s it baby when you’ve got it flaunt it who loves ya baby not me oh no not today BIRD LIVES I used to wait for my man way up in Harlem lush life at a table for two there were four of us me your big feet and you BIRD LIVES take the A train groove it right here to the Apollo I dreamt about a reefer five feet long my grandma pushes tea blow this gage here’s your money I ain’t no millionaire they won’t give me a puff ain’t that a shame tis mind if I smoke I don’t care if you burn and smoke too many cigarettes and love you so much how much this much mucho mucho amor we didn’t land on Plymouth Rock my brothers and sisters Plymouth Rock landed on us I could write a book WHAT’S THE FREQUENCY KENNETH wise men fish here 47th Street and Catfish Row is that a fact I’d like to help you out which way did you come in it’s good to see you it means you’re not behind my back wise guy Prometheus teacher in every art brought the fire that hath proved to mortals a means to mighty ends it’s all Greek to me BIRD LIVES I won’t say ours was a tough school but we had our own coroner when you’re a Jet you’re a jerk all the way from your first sworn curse to your last lying day our gang is called the broken glass kids we’ll cut you just play it cool like nothing happened I have a friend Shirley that’s bigger than you drift you talk too much you never shut up better get rid of that accent speak no evil soothsayer guess the magic number say the secret word I asked first hey who stole your lunch money don’t let school get in the way of your education ask not what your country can do for you it can do nothing nothing at all here’s your head what’s your hurry when I find myself in a position like this I ask myself what would General Motors do and then I do the opposite WHAT’S THE FREQUENCY KENNETH hey Resh stop talkin’ or I call Fischer my neighborhood is so rough when I bought a waterbed I found a guy at the bottom of it Jabberwocky svoloch my neighborhood is so rough there are signs everywhere saying drive fast the life you save may be your own WHAT’S THE FREQUENCY KENNETH Bell Telephone doesn’t need your dime a little old man was hit by a car in the Garment District and while waiting for an ambulance the policeman tucked a pillow under his chin and asked are you comfortable the little old man says I make a nice living if that was one of your father’s jokes what are you one of your mother’s the world is a wedding a marriage made in hell I haven’t eaten in two days force yourself my psychiatrist told me I was crazy and I said I want a second opinion he said OK you’re ugly too Jabberwocky svoloch if it’s yellow let it mellow if it’s brown let it down he’s a real pain in the neck of course some people have a lower opinion of him you are what you eat what are we having tonight rump roast hello I must be going we’re the aristocrats we’ve got the best bad service in town boom-boom every one a Maserati don’t be so modest you’re not that great who’s got the last laugh now if you’re funny James I’m a pretzel WHAT’S THE FREQUENCY KENNETH Oklahoma where the neon signs so pretty come sweeping down the plain onto the street where you live downtown on the wild side of Broadway remember me to Herald Square the truth is marching on Goya oh boyo you can’t trust ‘em better take an axe and bust ‘em The Union Forever who’d have thunk it her characters swim in a cold lava of anality WHAT’S THE FREQUENCY KENNETH if I were a bell I’d go dindin dondon don’t do it it’s not too late to change your minds doc my brother’s crazy he thinks he’s a chicken well why don’t you have him committed I would but I need the eggs Te Deum walk this way suckers if I could walk that way I wouldn’t need aftershave Te Deum I’ve never been lucky the day my ship came in I was at the airport Te Deum I asked my wife on a scale of 1 to 10 how do I rate as a lover and she says you know I’m no good at fractions Te Deum Napoleons Napoleons get yer Napoleons I would prefer not to them that’s got shall have them that’s not shall lose it is written that if the rich could hire other people to die for them the poor could make a wonderful living how does it feel to be a wrong number you might spend the rest of your life trying to remember what you shouldn’t have said BIRD LIVES when I was a kid my parents moved a lot but I always found them Te Deum let’s go to press no life has ever been lived that was not a failure in the eyes of whoever lived it same as it ever was WHAT’S THE FREQUENCY KENNETH you buy a bag of peanuts in this town you get a song written about you if you knew Susie like I know Susie you’d know Susie’s got the clap but I’ll bet a month hasn’t gone by since that I haven’t thought of that girl WHAT’S THE FREQUENCY KENNETH what of those thousands of men who year after year go on quietly and unassumingly producing garbage I think that for me personally at any rate I think that a pushy philosopher is always a drag if a double negative is a positive then surely a double positive is a negative yeah yeah Jabberwocky svoloch nothing good will come of it only remorse hatred scandal and two children whose characters are monstrous it’s not what you are but what you don’t become that hurts the only cure for a real hangover is death same as it ever was then I was drunk for many years and then I died is that a fact happiness isn’t something you experience it’s something you remember my trouble is Miss Lowry that I feel like midnight and I don’t know what the morning will be a boy has never wept nor dashed a thousand kin WHAT’S THE FREQUENCY KENNETH take me to the river and drown me in dreams of you slipping downstream hoping I don’t come up the flesh is strong but the will is weak river of life river of death high water everywhere bobbing grey near Bowling Green HTENNEK YCNEUQERF EHT S’TAHW do the shang-a-lang the tragedy wasn’t that Stanford White died but that I lived you tell me the story of your life and maybe I can suggest a happy ending a tragedy with a happy ending I like I like it I’ve heard a lot of stories in my time they went along with the sound of a tinny piano playing in the parlor downstairs mind if I smoke I don’t care if you burn same as it ever was what this town needs is an enema make it plain horse walks into a bar and bartender asks why the long face and the question is who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb Ed Norton close but no cigar no bells no whistles no balloons there’s no tomorrow dust be my destiny it’s positively Kierkegaardian WHAT’S THE FREQUENCY KENNETH here’s to the ladies who lunch here’s to the children of our parents God bless Goddamn here’s to failure why thank you tops in his chosen field here’s to what to toast I love toast we find the defendants incredibly guilty did somebody call me a schnorrer you can call me anything you like just don’t call me late for chow nolo contendere ah Nola I knew her well little Spanish girl no nolo contendere means no fight no contest that’s Nola alright you bet your life I love this dirty town.
I love this dirty town…
Well, not everyone. I’m not naming names. You know who you are. Morons. Losers.
Saving with your elbow. What a knucklehead.
The Producers, Mel Brooks
The Boy From New York City, Manhattan Transfer
Good & Plenty—Not the best New York candy; that would be Choward’s Violet
Clap Your Hands (Here Comes Charley), Billy Rose
After Hours, The King of Comedy, Martin Scorsese
Sing Sing Sing, Benny Goodman
High Water Everywhere, Charley Patton
Citizen Kane, Orson Welles
Midnight Cowboy, John Schlesinger
Steps, The Day Lady Died, Frank O’Hara
My Yiddishe Mama, Al Jolson—I have in mind Billie Holiday’s spine-tingling performance at a private party out in Hollywood.
96 Teardrops, Garland Jeffreys
Ragtime, Billy Bathgate, EL Doctorow
If You Knew Susie (Like I Know Susie), Eddie Cantor
I’m Waiting for The Man, Heroin, Walk on the Wild Side, Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground
A Supermarket in California, Allen Ginsberg
Burr, Gore Vidal
Henny Youngman—Grew up in my mother’s family’s hood, Bay Ridge, as did Jackie Gleason. How about them apples?
Albert Anastasia—‘I’ve booked you in at the Park Sheraton, boss, 9AM sharp’
Animal Crackers, Duck Soup, The Marx Brothers
In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, The World Is a Wedding, Delmore Schwartz
The Sweet Smell of Success, Alexander McKendrick
Force of Evil, Abe Polonsky
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X and Alex Hailey
Malcolm X, Spike Lee
You Talk Too Much, Run-DMC
The Magic Number, De La Soul
Little Johnny Jewel, Television
Take The A-Train, Lush Life, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn
The Harlem Shuffle, Bob & Earl
The Reefer Song, Your Feets Too Big, Ain’t Misbehaving, Fats Waller
Ain’t That a Shame, Fats Domino
Norman Mailer—Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the malest of them all?
The Ladies Who Lunch, Stephen Sondheim
West Side Story, Leonard Bernstein
Yankee Doodle Dandy, Casablanca, Michael Curtiz
You Bet Your Life, Groucho Marx
Take Me to The River, Once in a Lifetime, Talking Heads
Oklahoma, Rodgers & Hammerstein
Pal Joey, Rodgers & Hart
The Killing, Stanley Kubrick
Speak No Evil, Soothsayer, Wayne Shorter
Bob’s Burgers—If I had a daughter I’d want her to be just like Louise ‘You get outta here, you hear me, never look back, you are dead to us’ Belcher.
Annie Hall, Manhattan, Woody Allen
Nichols & May
The Odd Couple, Neil Simon—Who wouldn’t want to live on W.72nd Street?
Downtown, Petula Clark
The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show
F. Scott Fitzgerald
James Thurber, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, that old Algonquin gang
Holiday, Philip Barry
Julius Caesar, Shakespeare—‘Infamy, infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!’
The Roaring Twenties, Raoul Walsh
It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding), Bob Dylan
All in the Family, Norman Lear
Bartleby the Scrivener, Herman Melville
The Three Stooges
Gilbert Gottfried, teller of the best and bluest version of the joke, ‘The Aristocrats’
George M. Cohan
The New Yorker, alas
Scarlet Street, Fritz Lang
God Bless the Child, Billie Holiday
Edie Sedgwick—‘Under the boardwalk, we’ll be having fun!’
Edie, the Glimmer Twins, George Plimpton & Jean Stein
I Feel Love, Donna Summer—It’s summertime!
42nd Street, Busby Berkeley—Ginger Rogers sporting a monocle!
Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York—Luc Sante/Lucy Sante
Stalag 17, Billy Wilder
Fight the Power, Public Enemy
Porgy & Bess, Shall We Dance, George Gershwin—But of course
Oscar Levant—Dear Oscar…
One way or another, Julian George’s writing has appeared in McSweeney’s, Panoplyzine, Ambit, Classical Music, The Journal of Music, Film Comment, Cineaste, The London Magazine, Salon, Art Review and Opera News. He gives Zoom talks on jazz for the Carers Network (UK) and is working on a novel.
SLAG GLASS CITY · Volume 8 · February 2022
Photographs by Berenice Abbott, from Changing New York: “Waterfront, South Street, Manhattan” and “Seventh Avenue looking south from 35th Street, Manhattan.”
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