From an interview with WIll Hermes, author of Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever:
Q. One thing that, for me, was really striking about [the early 1970s] was that everything was happening underground, as you were saying, but also in the context of a total decline in living standards in New York City, economic decline, the city going bankrupt, the theme you keep going back to of buildings burning down for the insurance money, crime everywhere. What’s the relationship between this pretty grim atmosphere and the explosion of creative, wonderful music at the same time – is there even a connection?
Will Hermes: In some ways it’s a perfect storm of things. Part of the result of the economic collapse of the city during those years was cheap rent, and cheap rent in former manufacturing districts which meant loft spaces that were large enough to rehearse in and for lots of people to live in for very little rent. That was certainly one factor. I think another factor was that the ‘60s had happened, because while people sometimes look at punk or disco or whatever as being complete breaks with the ‘60s, I try to make the point in the book that these movements were direct offshoots of the ‘60s. The first disco parties that David Mancuso and Nicky Siano threw in the early to mid ‘70s were largely fueled by LSD, they were very specifically about peace, love, tolerance, equality. There were mixed crowds, gay, straight, black, white, which was very much coming out of a ‘60s aesthetic sensibility and ideology, although it evolved from there. Punk rock too – Patti Smith and Television, Tom Verlaine, talked about their indebtedness to ‘60s artists whether it be the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, or the Stones, who Patti and Lenny Kaye were championing and sort of bowing down to. Television were huge fans of Coltrane and Albert Ayler and even the Grateful Dead – Tom Verlaine has mentioned that he knew some songs, particularly “Dark Star,” and was very intrigued by that even though he wasn’t a fan of some of their other stuff.
So yes, I think it was part low rent, part the creative ferment of the ‘60s still fermenting, and the other factor is probably just New York – New York is always a magnet for talent and people coming from all over the world to get up on the New York City stage and make an impression, so I think that’s a constant theme of the city.