Down on the Bowery: A Fairytale of New York

Down on the Bowery: A Fairytale of New York

The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl: Fairy Tale of New York

Some people feel that The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York is the best Christmas song ever, and not just one of the best, but a gorgeous song no matter why or how you observe Christmas. Fairytale of New York isn’t exactly the epitome of restraint, with Shane MacGowan and the sadly departed Kirsty MacColl singing all over each other, slurring words and tossing all kinds of insults at each other.

The song starts out tenderly, with MacGowan recounting Christmas Eve spent in a Bowery drunk tank, but also his recent gambling win and dreams for the future. MacColl lets us know, as the tempo picks up, that they met on a Christmas Eve, and after some light banter they really get into it, blaming each other for anything they can get their hands on, MacColl ending with “Happy Christmas your arse / I pray God it’s our last.

But then they sing the chorus again, and a string section that actually sounds like it belongs in a Christmas song begins to take over. And it all feels, in spite of itself, grand and sweeping and even a little touching. They squabble a little more, the same as every Christmas, but they’re losing steam; finally MacColl accuses MacGowan of stealing her dreams when they met. This is a terribly poetic way to depict the deadening of expectations in terrible lives. But MacGowan’s voice turns gentle, even though it’s still rough, and he responds: “I kept them with me babe, I put them with my own, Can’t make it all alone, I’ve built my dreams around you.”

It’s a tough old life, and Fairytale of New York practically oozes with the gritty spirit of urban decay, poverty, alcoholism and general dysfunction. But as the sounds of those strings float off and out of sight, it doesn’t seem to matter. Not to them and not to us, because it’s the day to sigh and give in to our better inclinations and hold each other and admit there’s still something there. Christmas is the arbitrary day of the year that purely through willpower and tradition we’ve turned into the day where we all try just a little bit harder at being better than we thought we could be.

The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl: Fairy Tale of New York

Slide Show: Down on the Bowery

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James Franco’s Sexed-Up Short Film: Walking After Midnight

James Franco’s Sexed-Up Short Film: Walking After Midnight

Walking After Midnight is a dynamic new fashion film directed by James Franco for shoe label Stuart Weitzman, which is being presented in a series of four episodes. This first episode stars model Petra Nemcova, who wears white Swarovski crystal-studded pumps and very little else.

Franco’s storyline for the film was inspired by the 1989 film Mondo New York, which followed a young woman as she encountered bizarre characters in seedy places around the city. Franco’s version is obviously more upscale and aspirational, with Nemcova taking long nighttime walks through Manhattan hot spots like Le Baron, Peels Restaurant, The Hole art gallery and Freeman’s Alley. The soundtrack is Girl in a Coma’s rendition of Patsy Cline’s Walking After Midnight.

The next three episodes will be released on consecutive “Weitzman Wednesdays” throughout October.

James Franco’s Sexed-Up Short Film: Walking After Midnight (Episode 1)

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A Year in New York: A Beautiful Visual Symphony

A Year in New York: A Beautiful Visual Symphony

Photography by: Joseph O. Holmes, NYC

A Year in New York is an enchanting, emotionally moving five-minute documentary short film by videographer Andrew Clancy, accompanied by Irish singer/songwriter James Vincent McMorrow’s beautiful song We Don’t Eat. Sometimes words cannot do justice to life in a big city, as A Year in New York so entrancingly confirms. The film reveals that despite the chaos that surrounds urban life, there is a common thread of excitement and resilient optimism.

A Year in New York presents the viewer with a stream of quintessential New York visual imagery, from the No. 7 train rolling past Silvercup Studios’ iconic film and television complex, to die-hard Rangers fans losing it at Madison Square Garden; from runners and rollerbladers cruising through city parks, to late-night, outdoor summer concerts; from blinking beacons on NYPD police cars, to the sparkling lights of the colossal Rockefeller Christmas Tree, resulting in a stunning homage to the city that never sleeps and to its lucky inhabitants.

A Year in New York: A Beautiful Visual Symphony

Photo-Gallery: A Year in New York

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On the Bowery: A Fairytale of New York

On the Bowery: A Fairytale of New York

The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl: Fairy Tale of New York

Some people feel that The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York is the best Christmas song ever, and not just one of the best, but a gorgeous song no matter why or how you observe Christmas. Fairytale of New York isn’t exactly the epitome of restraint, with Shane MacGowan and the sadly departed Kirsty MacColl singing all over each other, slurring words and tossing all kinds of insults at each other.

The song starts out tenderly, with MacGowan recounting Christmas Eve spent in a Bowery drunk tank, but also his recent gambling win and dreams for the future.  MacColl lets us know, as the tempo picks up, that they met on a Christmas Eve, and after some light banter they really get into it, blaming each other for anything they can get their hands on, MacColl ending with “Happy Christmas your arse / I pray God it’s our last.

But then they sing the chorus again, and a string section that actually sounds like it belongs in a Christmas song begins to take over.  And it all feels, in spite of itself, grand and sweeping and even a little touching.  They squabble a little more, the same as every Christmas, but they’re losing steam; finally MacColl accuses MacGowan of stealing her dreams when they met.  This is a terribly poetic way to depict the deadening of expectations in terrible lives.  But MacGowan’s voice turns gentle, even though it’s still rough, and he responds:  “I kept them with me babe, I put them with my own, Can’t make it all alone, I’ve built my dreams around you.”

It’s a tough old life, and Fairytale of New York practically oozes with the gritty spirit of urban decay, poverty, alcoholism and general dysfunction.  But as the sounds of those strings float off and out of sight, it doesn’t seem to matter.  Not to them and not to us, because it’s the day to sigh and give in to our better inclinations and hold each other and admit there’s still something there.   Christmas is the arbitrary day of the year that purely through willpower and tradition we’ve turned into the day where we all try just a little bit harder at being better than we thought we could be.

The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl: Fairy Tale of New York

Slide Show: On the Bowery

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Photo of the Day: Look on the Sunny Side

Photo of the Day: Look on the Sunny Side

Photography by:  Joseph O. Holmes, NYC

June Carter Cash: Keep On The Sunny Side

June Carter and Johnny Cash: Keep On The Sunny Side

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Photo of the Day: Still Homeless After All These Years

Photo of the Day: Still Homeless After All These Years

Photography by:  Glenn Losack, M.D.

A Documentary Short Film: Homelessness in America

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In the Shadows of the Bowery: The Old Bow’ry Fades Away

In the Shadows of the Bowery: The Old Bow’ry Fades Away

When you open the door to a small hotel at 104-106 on the Bowery, you’ll be entering what used to be called the Stevenson Hotel.  A tiny cubicle in the Stevenson was for decades the home to a Greek immigrant named George Skoularikos, perhaps best known for staunchly taking a years-long stand against moving, by eviction or otherwise.  It’s a building that’s been renovated, reconfigured and turned upside down over the generations, always to meet the financial ambitions of the owner of the moment.  Planted like a mature oak tree along an old Indian footpath that became the Bowery, it provides somber testimony to the essential truth of Manhattan: that change is the only constant.

The building dates back at least to the early 1850s, when the Bowery was a swaggering commercial strip of butchers, clothiers and entertainment venues, with territorial gangs that frequently fought one another.  The area used to be home to sometimes rowdy music halls, as well as a series of ethnic theaters.  But the theaters, music halls and small museums built to lure the tourist trade all gradually faded away from the Bowery.

In their place, the Bowery increasingly became the place for men with nowhere else to go, thousands and thousands of them, from war veterans to failed grandiose would-be architects of a new universe.  Large numbers of  the lost souls sought comfort from their dismal feelings of personal defeat in the deadening effects of alcohol and, later, drugs. These abject cast-offs from society found cheap beds, chicken-wire cubicles and brotherhood in the flophouses that masqueraded as hotels.

And the flophouses remained a mainstay of the Bowery for decades, even as wholesale restaurant suppliers and lighting-fixture stores moved onto the street.  However, beginning in the late 1970′s many of the flophouses began to disappear, as the ever-encroaching spread of gentrification claimed loft space and constructed a number of sparkling residential buildings for wealthier residents.

Now, the raucous sounds of a boulevard shadowed by a cinder-showering elevated train track and peopled by swaggering sailors, working-class laborers, fresh immigrants and predatory con men have grown increasingly faint.  In the new urban morning light, the boisterous old sounds have become ghosts receding into the walls.  A new day has dawned on the Bowery.

In the Shadows of the Bowery: The Old Bow’ry Fades Away

Music by Casey Neil/Stevenson Hotel:

Interested readers can learn more about the history of the Bowery, as viewed through a wonderful, colorful narrative about the old Stevenson Hotel in The New York Times here.

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