New York Calling

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

With Rudy running for President and Hilly Kristal dead, the timing couldn’t be better for New York Calling: From Blackout to Bloomberg. This fascinating, enlightening and sometimes irritating collection of essays pokes through the rubble of the past three decades and asks: What is the Apple without its worms—without its grifters, goombahs, B-boys, bohos and bums? Beginning in 1977—with the Bronx burning and Times Square a septic tank of despair—the book endeavors to trace the path to today’s squeegee-free, Disney boomtown.

The writers, assembled by historian Marshall Berman and journalist Brian Berger, give us vibrant glimpses of New York jazz at its avant-garde peak and a testimonial of life as a graffiti artist. Some essays can be overly nostalgic (and more-hardcore-than-thou) about the punk-rock salad days, heroin and muggings. Catherine B. Schmitz’s “Sex Before” is a self-glorifying tour through her “drug- and youth-fed lack of inhibition.” Yawn. (Read instead Robert Atkins’s sexier and poignant personal history of the city’s gay culture, “From Stonewall to Ground Zero.”)

Hopeful essays on the outer boroughs celebrate the multitudes that weren’t at CBGB—and give us a taste of their cooking. Adding a hefty dollop of gravitas, Leonard Levitt breaks down the blue wall in a tour through the corridors of NYPD power. And Tom Robbins dissects the lack of minority empowerment at City Hall. Both essays take Giuliani, the man who would be president, and Mayor Mike, the man who might himself someday run, to task. The city is safer (and more Realtor-friendly) today. But at what cost?

New York Calling contributors read Wed 26.

Edited by Marshall Berman and Brian Berger. Reaktion Books, $25.