To be fair, I missed the Punk scene in NYC. In fact I was barely walking around when it was raging at Max’s Kansas City and CBGBs. But I did catch its morph into Hardcore in the early 80s, when I was still too young to be downtown without adult supervision- but I was indeed – and am glad for it.
Recently I took a walk down memory lane that landed me squarely in the Twilight Zone.
My journey started out awesome enough at an intimate interview with the eternally fabulous Tish and Snooky from Manic Panic; where New York Natives re-introduced old friends and made new ones as we engaged with two incredible women who, once upon a time had vision, no experience, courage and never turned back.
Manic Panic on St. Marks was a refuge for me as a kid. Trash & Vaudeville was already too much to bare and the other boutiques in the area catering to the Punk Rock aesthetic were all run by crooks and nefarious assholes and would all disappear one by one. But Manic Panic was the real deal; raw, cool, stocked with weird and eclectic wares and always filled with freaks like me.
In the mid 1980s St. Marks was still besought with empty store fronts, methadone maintenance clinics, freak shows and derelicts. The skid row crowd just happened to be dotted with fabulously dyed hair, pierced faces and lots of leather left over from the late 70s Punk scene and growing legions of Dr. Martens boots, braces and freshly shaved heads from the Hardcore scene getting ready for its second iteration by that point.
It was an oasis of alternative possibilities for a brooding little Upper East Side tween like me. I am so grateful to Snooky and Tish for making that world possible for me early on; dangerous as it might have been.
As I went into the evening with my warm and fuzzy memories of a time in my life and a time in the city long gone, I found myself in Soho trekking through the madness of Spring Street to the Dr. Martens boutique. I was in the market for birthday boots and decided to go to the source. There, in the poshest of neighborhoods, life-size black and white posters of Skinheads, of the Clash and Madness washed over me as I perused the shelves filled with all manner of Dr. Martens; neon, with spikes, patent leather, vegan, and then of course the classics, made in the UK for $230 a pop.
Bemused and slightly confused post- purchase, I headed east on on Spring pondering the folly of fashion and its many iterations of style. And as I thought of the hours I spent polishing my Dr. Martens as a kid to get them to have that certain patina that I could now purchase for an extra $100… before I could say “Oi!” I stumbled upon Ben Sherman just down the block. Deep in my thoughts of yesteryear, I couldn’t resist a pass through.
After all, Ben Sherman along with Fred Perry were the clothiers of choice for Skinheads from NYC to London back in the day. Now in its umteenth iteration, the once underground tailor to street thugs and football hooligans sold its wears to the well-healed.
In a complete haze of memories and amusement the night lurched forward and I pushed east. The streets were packed with residents and tourists alike, the new Lower East Side jumped with the pulse of money and fashion where it had once with violence and poverty. Few neighborhoods have changed more and kept so little of the character that came before and yet, there I was confronted with the styles I knew so well, now teasing the eyes of new generations of consumers for whom it all means something totally different.
Before the night ended and the Twilight Zone released me back in to my reality, Rubirosa beckoned the hungry and did not disappoint. Still early enough to avoid the crowds to come, I enjoyed my food and wine while running through the strange events of the day- listening to a bizarre mix of the Clash and Danzig alongside big band swing and the Pretenders; as if it were all one and the same moment in music- interchangeably not Katy Perry. What was this I thought? All of the sites and sounds and aesthetics that spoke so loudly to me as a kid now spoke so differently to me, from new contexts devoid of their original meaning, saying something else that I could not decipher.
Was it all just consumerism? Was all that music and passion and creativity just run through the meat grinder of mainstream “culture” to be spit out as an empty copy of what came before.
The hard-rock aesthetic has crept steadily into the mainstream over the years. Today everyone from Alexander McQueen to John Varvados push the Punk aesthetic while the likes of Dr Martens and Ben Sherman play on the nostalgia of a long gone indie scene that has new meaning to a wealthy urban market – perhaps looking for a little more freedom than their boardrooms and conference tables allow.
I don’t know what to make of it. But I am happy I caught it all the first time ’round.
Featured Image Courtesy of Q. Sakamaki Photography