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Saturday, December 7, 2013

The 80's, or I'll take you to a restaurant that's got glass tables, so you can watch yourself while you are eating

The 80's. The decade, not the age group Part 1

In 1980 my brother Patrick and I were obsessed with bands out of England, as punk, kicking and screaming lost steam, we followed the Clash, the Specials, the Beat, Madness, Selecter, Reggae.

Our dad had died in 1977 and without realising it the only person on this planet to which I felt I had to live up to was gone. Sorry ma, but that's the way it was.
Suddenly I was free, young and open-minded and was living in Fort Lee NJ with the woman that I already knew was the love of my life and who would become my wife early the next year in Kingston Jamaica.
My new-found freedom was evident in several ways if anyone had cared to look: I'd cut my hair short into a flattop, I was clean-shaven, my dress had drastically changed -  the cowboy boots had gone- so too had sneakers mostly, replaced by dress shoes and work boots. Calvin Klein jeans were banished in favour of a return to the classics namely Levis 501 shrink-to-fits which very conveniently were sold at The Gap where I worked up until 1981 (for $19.95) and then only in NY and SF as only the urban gay communities had kept 501's alive during the dark fashion night of the disco onslaught. I had a second-hand army jacket covered in badges from the afore-mentioned bands as well as Jamaican musical influences (note: NOT the Wailers).
The changes were largely intuitive and retroactive as I had grown up wearing similar stiff blue jeans Wranglers or Levis with turn ups, plus hand-me-downs from my older brothers or my dad 's yellow wind breaker.My haircut was from the 50's / 60's, the musical influences were also from an older time too. Eddie Cochran, James Brown, STAX, Buddy Holly, Studio One, yeah mon, rhythm come forward.  I was re-discovering my mod youth and still young enough to pull it off a second time.

FAST FORWARD to 1983, 1981 & 1982 were spent in Kingston Jamaica and that story is for another time gentle reader.

Bam! 1983 Back in NY, working in schlock shop ad agencies ( Sleepy's mattresses, Crazy Eddies, B&H Cameras, The Wiz...) taking classes at School of Visual Arts with Antoinette as she was freelancing at type-shops and department store ad departments, saving what cash we could for the baby that was suddenly coming.
Ronnie fucking Raygun was still in office sadly surviving Hinckley's bullet to return and accelerate the country's slide down the greasy Bat-Pole into the abyss in which we find ourselves 30 years later.  His smug evil female counterpart Thatcher presided securely over the UK.

Guys like me wanted to look good but we couldn't afford tailors or the posh men's shops, besides they were all selling over-tailored, padded shoulders double breasted stuff with lapels you could land jets on. Orrrr they were all pastel coloured Don Johnson wanna-be's still wearing Capezios etc....

We shopped in the East Village at Trash & Vaudeville, 99X for our Doc Martens and Loakes and at another shoe store across the street on St Marks Place. I found really nicely made Italian lace up shoes on West 8th Street at reasonable prices, but for for just about everything else there were the thrift shops on lower Broadway and Spring Street in Soho like Canal Jeans and Hollywood Legend.
For dress-shirts the button-down classic cotton Oxford shirts I shopped at Macy's or B. Altmans. Their store brands were nicely priced and the quality of the US made shirts was miles better than the Fred Perry or Ben Sherman dress-shirts.

Altman's on 5th Avenue was possibly my favourite department store. The polished wood floors, the understated classy layout of its departments, not to mention the Italian Renaissance style exterior designed by Trowbridge & Livingston the firm that did the Bankers Trust Bldg and the Hayden Planetarium all added to the pleasure of shopping there.

As one can see it was all a mix of the old and the new. We were cut off from the money and the political power at least during the day but at night time New York (or London) was ours. We might have been hungry, and 'self-medicating' with whatever we could lay our hands on, but we had energy, there was just a buzz, a vibe, a current that was felt as you stepped out onto the street. Yes the night was ours because we could stay up all night to take it, and while our lives existed in small clearly defined areas mostly on the geographic fringes, our influence was being felt in ever widening circles and digging away relentlessly at the center.  Of course like the anti-war movement and the hippies it would all get co-opted eventually and the the same dickheads we hated just took our shit and sold it on main street. This happened because there was no organised political bonds between our splintered groups of punks, mods, hippies, rockers, skinheads New Romantics etc... Everyone would protest the closing of a neighbourhood green space or the ousting of squatters but when the cops moved in and cracked heads the outcry was fierce for a week and then the real estate investors did what they wanted in the first place.

At night you could see groups of people walking, skulking, shuffling, leaping - their clothes proclaimed their tribal affiliations and if you had no dosh, no readies, no play money this is what you did, you met up with yer pals, yer mates, yer crew and walked around the city and smoked cigarettes.  Many just captured a park Bench in Tompkins Square Park that wasn't already been commandeered by one of the legions of homeless (or Jean Michel Basquiat) and watched the parade pass by.
So for a while there was an art scene that fed off the music scenes, that in turn fed the fashion scenes and for a while it existed apart where it would thrive. What we wore when on our own anyway, what we went to see in galleries, or hear in nightclubs was unlike anything that was being worn/seen/heard uptown.

To be continued....