“When the lights went out, the disruption was a testament to just how much was going on in New York City at night. At Ceasar’s Retreat in midtown, porn star Annie Sprinkle was in the middle of a blow-job-for-hire. At CBGBs, The Shirts were on a bill with the Romantics; Hilly cancelled the show, so guitarist Artie Lamonica and bassist Bob Rapiocco hung around and drank his beer by candlelight. The cast of Beatlemania led a singalong with acoustic guitars up at the Winter Garden in Times Square; a harpist for the Canadian Ballet plucked out the notes to “Dancing In The Dark” up at the Met. On the side blocks off Christopher Street, naked men in workboots fucked against parked cars.”
“[Donna Summer] was known as a disco diva. But you could just as rightly call her an r&b, pop, or experimental-music singer. I write about what was arguably her greatest recording in Love Goes To Buildings On Fire:
On May 13, 1977, Casablanca released Donna Summer’s I Remember Yesterday. A concept album about musical evolution, it ends with a song that is ostensibly the future: “I Feel Love.” She cooed, “Love To Love You Baby” style, over a chugging track made up entirely of synth beats and arpeggiated chord washes, a yin to Kraftwerk’s yang. New York DJs loved it instantly. As unprecedented as “Trans Europe Express,” it became just as essential, an electronic dance music template. Blondie covered it live, faithfully, with Chris Stein adding Santana-style guitar licks. In Berlin, Brian Eno rushed into the studio where he and David Bowie were working on Heroes with a fresh copy of the record, raving that it would change the sound of club music “for the next 15 years” (Eno was fond of grand statements). One can imagine the record spinning while the two Philip Glass fans listened to its hypnotic repetitions, the sonic possibilities blooming in their minds like flowers in a stop-motion film.
Above, she performs ‘I Feel Love’ on The Midnight Special television show in 1977. RIP.”
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.
Will Hermes, author of Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever, is damn near the perfect writer for Largehearted Boy’s Book Notes; his list is all over the music map.
For instance, this is Hermes on the New York Dolls classic “Trash”:
In all its incoherent, hook-barbed groping, this was proto-punk’s greatest pop moment: the short-sharp-shock tune-whoosh of ‘50s pop-rock and the glammy brutishness of Nuggets-style ‘60s garage acts. Its greatness might not have saved them even if it hadn’t fallen on deaf ears, commercially speaking. But it inspired the birth of punk on both sides of the Atlantic simultaneously. And they’ve yet to make it into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of fame? What the fuck?
(His description of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians is even better.)