“It’s just gotten to the point where I think people are fucking confused. I mean, take fashion. It’s like some out-of-hand fusion-cuisine restaurant menu that you need to smoke pot to even contemplate ordering from. You go out and see the Icelandic Björk look mixed with grunge from the nineties, with weird hats, and everybody’s hair color and consistency is just too super-unique, as if they’ve planned it all, with flowy ruffle skirts underneath corduroy and lots of yarn. Yarn! And hand-knits and bad hats, and Web design and weird sculpture and everything is about the wooliness of people’s beings. Natural growth. Like a fucking Berkeley/gypsy/Darien, Connecticut, thrift store, all magically knit together with yarn. And weird old coats with lots of stripes and piggy shoes. And that’s not even getting into sneakers.”
“Christ, did I just say all that?”
Tiramisu begins to cry.
Many of the hipsters made up for this article seemed to share, if not Tiramisu’s exact brand of anxiety and verboseness, then her furious, if somehow still disaffected belief that not only has the New York “scene” reached its hip high-water mark but that the city as a whole is approaching an almost biblical point of no return.
“I’m not saying the whole place is going to turn to salt, but once I hit the Holland Tunnel, I don’t plan on looking back,” says Jarret Tallulah, a self-described “independent homosexual artist and small-business owner.” The 32-year-old heir to the Tallulah Flour fortune has been in New York for only six months, most of which he’s spent inside a 5,000-square-foot loft on Washington Street in the meatpacking district.
“I hate it here with all my soul,” he says. “The rent on my loft, my 5,000-square-foot loft, is $1,180 a month.” He rolls his eyes. “I know. The landlord and my father were both admirals in the Navy. Whatever. But it’s not enough to keep me somewhere I feel underappreciated creatively.”
Three weeks after moving from Asheville, North Carolina, Tallulah hosted an exhibition of his own photography at his loft. He’d spent much of the last year photographing all the different toilets he’d used. “No one fucking came,” he recalls. “Nada. And two nights before at Bungalow—I went to sleepaway camp with Amy Sacco—Jeffrey Deitch looked me in the eye and promised he’d come. Dick.”
As part of an effort to draw more people to his work, he built a vegan sake bar, also in his loft. “I had four different kinds of imported sake, and served fucking delicious mushroom dumplings in gluten-free wrapper thingies.” It, too, was not a success.
“I know people are going to read this and say, ‘Screw that no-talent homosexual, he had it coming.’ But you know what? This city better wake up. New York has a pretty big reputation around the world for being at the center of what’s cool. It’s what a lot of people say about New York when they’re not here. But a city has got to nurture its creative assets, and the taxes are just ridiculous. I’d like to think I just hit the city at a down moment—but fuck that.”
Could it be as simple as New York’s having a “down moment”? John Leland, author of the recently released book Hip: The History, doesn’t think so. “When it comes to hip, I don’t believe in golden-age-ism,” he says. “There’s a tendency to think that ten years ago or five years ago or last week is better than today, that there used to be something ‘real,’ and now there isn’t. I don’t believe that’s ever true.”
But there have been times when at least the common perception has been of a city particularly infused by a breakout cultural scene: punk in the CBGB seventies, art in the Jean-Michel Basquiat eighties, and most recently the rock-music scene lorded over by homegrown bands like the Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Interpol.
“I’d go to Sunday brunch at Café Habana on Elizabeth Street every Tuesday afternoon and it felt like . . . like home. Now that guy from the Smashing Pumpkins is always there.”
“Three years ago, when all that really kicked in, it was great,” recalls Asif Ahmed, 28, manager of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. “But things got exploited and eventually watered-down. Now the hip scenes are the nonmetropolitan places, like Omaha and Oakland.”
He moved to Los Angeles in July.
“In New York, it feels like everyone is a manager trying to get a piece of the action,” says Ahmed. “Plus, there’s the threat of the Empire State Building blowing up. And the cost of living is ridiculous.”
As with any New York tale, real estate—its price, if not its combustibility—plays a role. “As the city gets more and more expensive,” says Leland, “more of the riffraff—the kid that comes to New York just to get his freak on—can’t afford to live here. But those kids are an important part of keeping the city hip, and each year more of them have to go elsewhere—even if it’s only to Brooklyn.”
Hence it is now possible to nibble on tapas, browse vintage appliances, and connect to Wi-Fi hot spots from Red Hook to Fort Greene. As Leland notes: “You know things have changed when Realtors are calling Bushwick ‘East Williamsburg.’ ”
Yes, and then there’s Williamsburg. We may never know who first used the term “hipster theme park,” or described it as the landmass they’d most like God to flood. But it does seem clear that no neighborhood has been as associated with what many consider to be the most virulent strain of New York hipster culture. (Note: Hipsters don’t believe the meatpacking district, perhaps the city’s most maligned neighborhood overall, even charts on the hip globe.)
“Brooklyn? The only people who live in Brooklyn are people who can’t afford the East Village.” So says Gavin McInnes, the 34-year-old co-owner of Vice, which he describes as a “multichannel brand” encompassing an eponymous magazine, record label, film and marketing divisions, and a clothing store in Soho, all of which cater to what would have to be described as a hipster sensibility.
“Vincent Gallo once said Williamsburg was like a giant dorm room with no homework,” McInnes says. “He was right. And now you’ve got lawyers who just learned to snowboard moving here to be young again. Anyone who tells you they’d rather live here is lying, or stupid, or both. Our office is in Williamsburg only because the rent is cheaper.”
It’s not just Williamsburg that McInnes finds wanting. It’s people like García-Cohen, Tiramisu, Jarrett Tallulah, and even John Leland.
“Was it cooler here when the big thing was going to Clinton Street and waiting in a line for heroin?” he asks. “Was it that much cooler when you could smoke in bars? I don’t think so. And a guy from the Times writing a book about what’s hip? Isn’t that an oxymoron?”
McInnes himself moved to New York from Montreal in 1999.
“Are people really leaving? Where are they going to go? Okay, maybe places like Barcelona or Genoa or Utrecht seem cool, but try spending longer than a month there. To me, 7th Street between Avenue A and B is the coolest place in the world. Not too shitty-welfare-y like C and D, but not too bourgeois-hippie like 9th Street. And not too uptight like the West Side, and not too family like Battery Park.”
He stops, but only for a moment.
“People who bitch are just bitter they’re not in the thick of it anymore, or that they’re not as young as they want to be.” He compares complaining about New York to complaining about those now much-maligned hipster totems, trucker hats. “And the only people who bitch about trucker hats are overweight bloggers. But have you checked out some of those blogs? Jesus, such vehement hatred. It’s like listening to whites in the South during segregation in the fifties. Yes, trucker hats are corny, but take it easy.”