At Madison Square Garden, 1992
Queen Latifah, A Tribe Called Quest, Kid 'N Play, Heavy D, and Naughty By Nature opened (Will Smith, then still the Fresh Prince, was sick), which, in retrospect, makes it all sound warm, fuzzy, a ready-for-Oprah crew. But back then, only six days after Puffy's nightmare at City College (nine people stomped to death), with Dr. Dre's The Chronic about to come from out west to kill Old School, the vibe was tense. Dinkins had said that if things went nuts, that would be it for hip-hop, he'd send the troops in. Public Enemy wasn't cowed. They came out with flashing police lights, doing "Shut 'Em Down," then slashed through anthems "Fight the Power," "Black Steel," and "Don't Believe the Hype" as hard as Tyson's left hook to Mitch Green's honker (Iron Mike was wearing a "Don't Believe the Hype" jacket at the time) in front of Dapper Dan's all-night leather emporium on 1-2-5. Chuck D, the man who rhymed "school of hard knocks" with "they drink Clorox," said "not to do nothing to bring down what should not be brought down," because the music was revolution enough. And on that night at the cusp of Giuliani time, it was.
At 54th Street and Sixth Avenue, 1943-1974
From the Chinese zither player in the Canal Street station to the Hendrix imitator outside the old Runway 69, street musicians make up the city's biggest collective gig. But none beat Moondog, though he rarely played a note in public. Born Louis T. Hardin, he silently manned his midtown post for 30 years, dressed in Viking gear, complete with helmet and spear. Blinded at 16, he employed "deep listening" of "city noises" to compose eclectic works like the Moondog Symphony (the theme for Alan Freed's rock-and-roll show) and "All Is Loneliness," recorded by Janis Joplin. When he vanished in 1974, passersby thought he'd died, but he'd just moved to Europe, where -- still occasionally wearing his helmet -- he was revered as a postmodernist master until his death in 1999.
Maskarave, Halloween 1992, 1993
If he was Christian, vegan, or really related to Herman Melville, who knew and who cared? He'd made "Go" and "Thousand" (as in 1,000 beats per minute), but he was still this little alien space case with a shaved head. One more latter-disco figure. Except now it was Halloween, and those little plastic backpacks were bouncing, and rooms were swirling, and it clicked. Was it the silver vests and the liquid sky, or had the paradigm actually shifted under everyone's feet? In 1992, at Sound Factory, he played records in between Soul Slinger, Jason Jinx, and hard breathing in the chill-out room. Next year he was onstage, another kind of cold and perfect strange, after Aphex Twin. Now he's a gospel singer, but those were the days.
At CBGB August 16, 1974
Dee Dee was raging about who took his bass; he just set it down on the stage and someone fucking took it. A few moments later, it was found, string-side down in a pool of vomit behind the bar. "Okay," Dee Dee said, wiping off the strings, "let's go." And, 1-2-3-4, they went, just in the nick of time -- a good thing because it was an emergency. Punk, the antidote for the dregs of wimpy hippie rock and the horror of disco, had to be invented that night on the Bowery, and the Ramones -- manic Dee Dee; Joey, the storky object of desire; scowling Johnny; and Tommy, the drummer, all in from Forest Hills in F-train leather -- were the only ones who were going to invent it. Anyone blotto in that railroad flat of a bar in those early evenings, hearing "I don't wanna walk around with you / I don't wanna walk around with you / So why you wanna walk around with me?" knew this ear-bleed haiku was all anyone needed to know about high school, or anything else, for that matter. Short, hard, complete -- this was what you got at CBGB's those nights. Even better was to see them on the Lower East Side streets, like Zeitgeist shock troops in one of John Holmstrom's Punk Magazine cartoons, or walking to the gig from Arturo Vega's house on 2nd Street, or Johnny thumbing through wrestling rags at the Gem Spa. 'Cause they were the landscape -- ours, all ours.
Murray The K
At Brooklyn Fox, 1961
At the Loft, 1973
Murray (the K stood for Kaufman) was the city's most public D.J. He did his "Swinging Soirée" show from 7 to 11 p.m. on 1010 WINS back when the station was all Brill Building (and payola) all the time. He spoke his own personal pig Latin, Meyezurray, watched submarine races, had his mother credited for titling "Splish Splash," ate a lot of pastrami, and claimed to be the fifth Beatle. Panama-hatted and in continental pants, he fronted at the Flatbush Avenue Fox (now a Con Ed office) with New York post-do-woppers like Little Anthony & the Imperials, Dion, and the great Jackie Wilson, who lived in Murray's Runyonesque Broadway building and once got shot in the lobby.
David Mancuso, a different D.J. for a different time, was a more shadowy presence. Guiding spirit of the Loft, the first great New York party disco, Mancuso, the segue master in a hidden booth, was a myth at his own club. You'd enter the unmarked doorway at the corner of Bleecker and Broadway, dance alongside every kind of humanity, and never know who or what had hit you. "David's like the Lone Ranger," said one blitzed reveler. "He sends the bass through your heart, and then he's gone again."