Is New York over?
Well, that New York is. The 1920’s crushed into the 1930’s, and the 1990’s crumbled into … this.
The New York that was drunk on its own identity–the New York of Friends, Seinfeld and Sex and the City–was marketed to a nation that became so besotted with it that it trampled here and ate us alive. Right up to the Republican National Convention, with the astonishing picture of Barbara and Jenna Bush standing at Madison Square Garden chiding their grandmother and a hall full of alien delegates for not understanding Sex and the City.
That was the snapshot of the final retail state of 90’s New York. Even the Bushes had bought it. Ritzy restaurants, fuck-me shoes, Mr. Big–even as the publishing guy on whom Mr. Big was based had the real New York idea of getting the hell up to Vermont to reinvent himself.
Why? Rebirth and reinvention.
Which is what this issue is all about: New York’s unceasing ability to reconfigure itself and find its creative soul, even as its heavy old bulk falls away. It’s about new, cocky philosophers who think they can put on the robes and mortar boards of the old Partisan Review crowd; about the publishing industry, bereft of the old-fashioned Maxwell Perkins big editors, resorting to outsourcing; about the new white-collar man, replacing the old sidewalk serendipiter with internalized voyages, with computer games on his video screen; about a once-massive ad agency, the greatest name on Madison Avenue, replacing its own dead weight with ambitious imports; about high-fashion footwear designed here, brought back on racks to be resold in Manhattan as Midwestern discounted product; about magazines, built for a nation that wants to look, not read, percolating with glossy, cheap guile; about how music never fails to find a new voice here; about once-cool neighborhoods going through the classic cycle of discovery, coronation, cliché, prestige and non-affordability.
Just as in the 1980’s, when we had beloved urban auteurs like Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Norman Mailer, Fran Lebowitz, we are breaking in a new set. They are coming up from sidewalk cracks and through high-speed cables. As usual, there are new mutant species. The city’s artists, writers and filmmakers have the same cycle they always have: Initially barred from the power structure, they hunker, searching the wild imagings and broad talent that has escaped their elders. In his new autobiography, Bob Dylan explains how he could have come nowhere but here, to Greenwich Village, to become himself, with his lovers, his music friends, his clubs and his poetry. In some ways, little has changed in the dark and fertile heart of this city that drives its new citizens to madness and rebirth. Will one of them become Dylan or inhabit the supercharged darkness that made our beloved Jimmy Breslin–who just hung it up this year–a daily poet? Probably not. Reading isn’t what it used to be. But lookit those blogs! Murray Kempton and Dwight Macdonald would be proud.
We are reborn, but also recyclers. Look at Rudy, his blazing star doused by his former driver. He’s doing the New York thing–pretending it didn’t happen and moving on. Donald Trump doesn’t do so well in real estate, so he makes a TV show. Seinfeld goes off the air, it goes in a box and makes millions on Amazon and Tower Video! The big boys are still lighting the way, showing the punks how to do it.
New York, city of rebirth, reinvigoration and redemption. Also retail.
That’s our baby!