On the eve of the release of New York Stories, 3 triptych of short films about the fabled city, Andrew Pulver takes his own trip down those non-stOp streets and interviews some of the fast talkers who live there. Overleaf, The List peels back the
Put me down anywhere in New York. and I‘ll tell you where I am . . . New York. The signs? Great shining glass blocks. like pagan temples of inconceivable size; beggars and homeless people everywhere (not just on the subway); long. long streets that seem to travel for ever until they disappear. mystically. into the depths of Harlem or the Boroughs; a raucous mass of people. all hurrying God knows where, in their infinite variety. all quacking in their nasal Noo Yoik twang; the hellish landscape at dusk. as the
style of New York cinema.
eerie glow of the street mixes with the effluvium from the subway vents . . . You can't help but feel as if you’re living in a film.
In a sense. New York has succumbed to its owm mythology. Kenneth Clarke talked ofthe heroism of its modernity — this monstrous. overweening hulk that stood completely for 20th-century extremity. in its capacity to absorb effortlessly the worst human excesses. This was true for over half the century: the Empire State and the Chrysler Buildings held their Art
Deco pinheads proudly over the economic powerhouse of America. filled with Europeans determined to be rid ofthe political decadence back home. It all went wrong in the 1970s as the repression of the black community exploded in the Black Panthers, while the city trembled on the brink of bankruptcy and paranoia. Reagan‘s cuts in Federal programs forced thousands on to the streets, and there is little prospect of any improvement. The great. classic moments of New York aestheticism are well in the past. from Jackson Pollock to Andy Warhol. and creativity is exhausted by relentless gentrification and the increasingly self-conscious artistic posturing.
At the same time. though. New York demands extraordinary subtlety: it is a delicate blend of a thousand cultures and contexts. the meeting-ground for peoples that is a genuinely sophisticated phenomenon. New Yorkers. rich ones. must be the most callous people on the planet. in their gross political inertia; at the same time the city’s domestic struggles are incredibly gripping. immediately engaging. Koch was dumped the week I was there - the excitement was palpable in the air. on the street; equally noticeable is the effect of Spike Lee‘s Do The Right Thing. its political and social commitment unmarred by any sentimental sanitization.
New York is a city that breeds obsession. New York Stories. by three of New York‘s once-supreme artists, stands testament to the power that it. uniquely. exerts. Other towns just don‘t match up to New York’s all-embracing. all-devouring grasp. Two Italians and a Jew can tell their stories of the same town without a hint ofconflict. a threat ofdiscord. Other people‘s stories of the city reveal the same kind of kaleidoscopic fragmentation that underpins the New York sense ofcommunity. The people I spoke to come from all corners of New York‘s artworld. and from further — the American RCP. cab driver. high powered politico. Their stories are all New York’s stories. . .just dothe right thing. (Andrew Pulver)
I George Schad, cab driver.
New York is a nut-house. I was born and raised in Queens and I tell you New York is getting worse every day. Driving here is terrible. The traffic is terrible. Look at the bridge there. they built a tunnel to stop congestion and now the traffic is twice as bad GET OUTTA THE WAY MORON Look at that. these dumb out-of—towners BACK OFF SCUMBAG they park all over the place and the cops. they don't enforce. Will you look there. he stops in the road to go to the bank. I don’t know. I‘ll jack it in soon. Let‘s try Third there might be less traffic. You from Germany? Oh. Scotland. Will you look at that moron over there (. . . and so on)
I Joey Johnson, revolutionary communist. ilagburner.
Our main project in New York at the moment is to fight Bush‘s fascist flag amendment. This fall. the government is going to put in place a very repressive piece of legislation. designed to make it illegal to burn or ‘desecrate‘ the US ﬂag. — it’s trying to dictate the terms ofpolitical dissent. Bush’s drug ‘war‘ is a fascist joke too. Black people in New York have 50% unemployment. infant mortality like somewhere in the Third World. the worst ghettos and housing conditions. and the government are talking about the fucken drugs ‘menacc‘. I mean. Oliver North brings them in himself. There are a lot of people on the bottom ofsociety — in Harlem. in the South Bronx — who are completely impoverished.
I John Coonrod, a director of Hunger Project. famine reliet organisation. Our ambitions are huge — and to change the world we need to be in New York. The basic aim ofour Hunger Project is to change the persistence of hunger throughout the world. Technically. humanity has everything that is needed to feed everyone. yet 750 million people were ‘hungry‘ this year. We are in New York because it is the capital of the known world and we co-ordinate our activities with the UN — here we can be be right in the flow of international affairs. We want to cause breakthroughs in political leadership in Africa at the highest level. to effect the policy changes that are needed. It may be unpopular. but we think it is the only way forward.
g; _. ' 2The List