I John Zorn, avant-garde musician.
I thrive on the cultural mix in New York: there‘s no sense of purity here at all. So many different kinds of people are mixed up all together. and that‘s something that’s at the heart of my music. People of our generation have listened to many different forms of music, and in Spillane I put one moment in one kind of music together with one moment in another kind of music, all under this ironic icon of all that‘s most violent and sexist about New York. I try to stay out of politics but you can‘t avoid moments of racial consciousness here - things like Bensonhurst are truly depressing. I mean, when I go to Switzerland or somewhere I feel really uncomfortable, because there it's all so pure. It makes me sick.
I Susan Seidelman, iilm director.
I guess you could say that New York is the main character in all my movies. It‘s an absoulutely unique town — all its diversity. all the different neighbourhoods with their own ethnic ﬂavour. It‘s an overbearing dominating place but I don’t think I could live anywhere else. Coming through NYU has made me feel a part of a film community in New York — it‘s also made it easier for women generally to get somewhere in film. In my work I tend to explore different aspects of New York culture: in Desperately Seeking Susan it was the effect of Madonna-style sexuality on an affluent Jewish community — and in Cookie, you are looking at the kind of girl for whom Madonna was a great heroine. They all say something positive about New York.
I John Butler, choreographer.
I came to New York from Mississippi - being a male dancer in the South was as bad as being a male prostitute. Coming here was like being born again: it was a really fertile time for dance in the Forties and Fifties. when I danced with the Martha Graham Company. But Martha was so dominating. anybody with their
/ / / own imagination didn‘t stay for long. I moved on. choreographing ()rff‘s ‘Carmina Burana‘ as well as Barushnikov‘s first American ballet. I was also very close. at one time. to Andy Warhol — he had a real thing for me and he put 48 portraits of me in his first New York show. Last year I went back to Mississippi. The governor declared a John Butler Day. and gave a banquet. Times change. but none of my family came.
I Philip Glass, composer.
What I find impressive about New York is that a real artists‘ community exists here, across all art forms — theatre, dance, painting as well as music. There is the possibility of genuine interaction going on the whole time: New York is the hub ofa great deal of activity. which is a great spur to creativity. Songs From Liquid Days, a recent record of mine, arose essentially out ofa collaboration with my neighbours: David Byrne, Paul Simon, Suzanne Vega. They were all people with something to give, and I found myselfcomfortable with people who can combine words and music with ease. They have a different way of going about their work — they have their own intense poetic vision undivorced from music. The real impact of New York is to be part of it, to experience it. There‘s no other city like it in North America.
I Leo Castelll, art dealer.
New York is a great metropolis with all the vices and virtues that a great metropolis has. There are few of these in the world, and it means that everything happens here — not just art, but publishing, music. opera.
During the war European artists emigrated here (Duchamp, Leger, Ernst). and through Peggy Guggenheim they met and inﬂuenced young American artists like Pollock and Rothko, who exhibited in my gallery. They found the spirit of European art. and liberated themselves, and themselves became highly original. All artists now come to New York to
become famous. but they leave as soon as they have because life here is too distracting, too diverse — the sound and fury of New York becomes too much. As to the future. who can tell'.’ The most coherent ‘movement‘ here is Neo-Geo— it‘s a cool rational form, but things change so quickly it‘s hard to follow.
I Liz Lecompte, director, WoosterGroup.
It‘s very hard to keep a theatre group together in New York —- because of the domination ofTV and popular entertainment. We want to make ‘modern‘ theatre — neither nostalgic nor literary, but using all the elements that you can see in everyday life. New York is the crossroads for so many things — I get a lot of impulses that clash, grind up against each other here. I enjoy the energy—even violent energy- that exists here. Eclecticism is the common link between artists here — it’s an attempt to come to terms with shifting values, clashing cultural systems, to make something bigger
than the sum of its parts— in effect a point where they all meet. I’d like to transcend the idea of theatre as a separate thing. separate from music, painting and whatever. We try to bring lots ofstyles and forms together— it‘s what being in New York is all about.
I Assotto Saint, gay Haitian poet. Gay life in New York has suffered terribly as a result of AIDS — eleven men in my block alone have died. I am a witness to this tragedy — I feel lucky to be alive and consider it my duty, through my poetry and theatre work to voice the tragedy. Many of us carried on with our lives despite the signs — we were not responsible enough as people. In Britain you have had long enough to be warned. but in New York we have to live with our rage at the government‘s unwillingness to help. I was born in Haiti the same year that Papa Doc siezed power: I live in America because here at least I can vote for my government — something I never have in Haiti. Last year‘s elections were a tragedy: the Tonton Macoute are still unstoppable. and the people are not yet hungry enough for freedom. In New York at least we have freedom.
I Jim Jarmusch, film director
The whole of New York, the whole of America, is made up of people from other cultures. which allows a writer to get all sorts ofdifferent perspectives on this country, and put them together. Isuppose this is responsible for the interest in the outsider in my work - people coming to America to see remnants of whatever the declining American civiisation has to offer. The community in New York is strong— Spike Lee and I have been friends for years, and his brother Cinque plays the bellhop in Mystery Train. When Will says to his truck ‘Come on baby, do the right thing‘, that‘s a specific reference to Spike, to the solidin of New York.
The List 10— 23 November 1989 3