Over the past month, we’ve had many inquiries as to whether there are any copies of the VV print issue still available. We’re glad that this relaunch edition — which was distributed to boxes, bookstores, coffee shops, groceries, bodegas, delis, thrift stores, diners, and other locations throughout the city — was such a hit. One observer reported that a bundle left on the counter of a bookstore moved like someone quickly dealing out a deck of cards.
With that in mind, we’re happy to report that readers still have a chance to pick up copies. The Voice boxes that can be found in the permanent kiosks on the East Side, ranging from 41st to 54th Streets between Second and Fifth Avenues, were replenished earlier this week and some unclaimed copies were spotted just today.
Here, direct from the distributor’s Excel sheets, are the locations:
Additionally, sometime on or around Memorial Day, our select group of one dozen stand-alone boxes — black with square blue VILLAGE VOICE labels on the sides — will be replenished for the final time. Below are the locations, first come, first served.
Good hunting, and you’ll see us in print again later this summer. ❖
Throughout the city, it seems like unnecessary waste can be found everywhere. From one-use plastic containers to superfluous packaging on everything from corner fruit stands to Amazon deliveries, trash is accumulating when it really doesn’t need to be.
It may seem hard to live a zero-waste lifestyle, but we’re here to tell you it really isn’t. After the story of Lauren Singer successfully fitting years and years of trash into a single mason jar went viral, we were shown just how possible living sustainably is.
Singer knows a lot about trash, and how to break free from it. Here is her advice on how to achieve a more Earth-friendly lifestyle:
Nearly a decade ago, I realized that there is a difference between talking about sustainability and living sustainably. I studied environmental science in college and discovered that while I was so passionate about combating climate change, my daily decisions were in direct opposition with that. I was still using single-use plastic, buying fast fashion, using toxic cleaning products, eating packaged/processed food and meat, and was actually contributing to the systems I was deeply opposed to, so I decided to make a change.
I stopped using plastic, and ultimately started reducing my waste to align my day-to-day actions with my values for environmental sustainability. I created my blog, Trash is for Tossers, to document my journey reducing my waste almost 10 years ago. I then started my company, Package Free. Our mission is to make the world less trashy—we sell products that are replacements for single-use products or products that are packaged in plastic that you use in your everyday life.
I created Package Free with this exact question in mind: how to make it easier for people to start to lead a zero-waste or lower-waste lifestyle. We have lots of great kits, including our new Earth Day Kit, which come with a variety of items like reusable straws, beeswax food wrap and stainless steel food storage containers so consumers can start with a few key staples and gradually get closer to a zero waste life.
Leading a zero-waste lifestyle is not something you can make happen overnight, but it’s actually not as challenging as you might think.
The first step is to look at your trash and determine where it’s coming from—for me, it was primarily food packaging, product packaging and organic food waste. Then, you can start to make small, everyday swaps to reduce the amount of trash you’re creating. I bring my own jars and bags to the store to fill with bulk or package-free items, buy fruit and vegetables from farmers markets, shop secondhand clothing, compost and make my own products like laundry detergent at home. I totally understand that it might not be realistic for individuals to do all of these things, but every effort you make to reduce your waste does make a positive impact on the environment!
The reaction people have to the idea of living a zero-waste lifestyle is often incredulity.
I think when people hear the phrase “zero-waste lifestyle,” it sounds completely overwhelming because it’s such a broad idea. The average American makes 4.5 pounds of trash per person per day, so the thought of eliminating all of that waste can seem like a lot!
However, once you break it down into smaller pieces – e.g. bring your own bags to the store, avoid packaged products, compost – it’s much more achievable. Before you know it, you’ll be taking out the trash less and creating some great positive environmental impact at the same time!
If you want to remove the mystery and sense of hardship from a zero-waste lifestyle, don’t overthink it! Start small with something easy and approachable, like paying attention to what you’re throwing away and considering what you could’ve swapped to avoid creating that waste in the first place. Once you’ve made one simple change, like bringing bags to the store, you’ll have the confidence to try something else, like using a bamboo toothbrush, or a bigger and more impactful action, like composting.
Composting is a great way to live a zero-waste life. In fact, composting is one of the BEST actions you can take to have a more positive impact on the planet, primarily because it significantly reduces methane emissions that are released when food is thrown into landfills. The average American wastes about one pound of food every day, which adds up to a lot of waste over the course of 365 days. When food is thrown into landfills, it can’t decompose properly and releases greenhouse gases. Long story short: composting is more important now than ever before to decrease our contribution to landfills and to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions wherever possible.
Even though we New Yorkers may not have as much space as those living in other parts of the country, you can definitely still compost in the city! One of my favorite Package Free products is our stainless steel compost bin, which comes with a replaceable Cotton and Activated Charcoal Filter so that your home stays smelling fresh. If you’re not sure where to bring your food scraps, check out GrowNYC, look for private composting pickups (it’s actually not very expensive, especially if you partner with your neighbors, or convince your landlord to do it), or even just google “composting services near me.”
NYC is filled with community gardens, farmer’s markets, volunteer groups, CSA programs and even offers commercial pick-up services with composting bins anyone can use. I’m also a big fan of GrowNYC, a local nonprofit that offers Food Scrap Drop-off sites and textile recycling throughout the city. LES Ecology Center and Build it Green also do incredible work in our community.
Make an effort to simply be aware of the trash you’re creating in your everyday life, and do whatever is easiest for you to reduce it. Once you realize how many simple swaps you can make on a daily basis to reduce the amount of waste you’re creating, it’s much easier to lead an environmentally friendly lifestyle. It’s not something that will happen overnight, but every small change makes a big difference! ❖
March 31, 2021, was a historic day for New Yorkers, when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation to legalize adult-use cannabis. Cuomo sweetened the pot for two groups of people with a lot of crossover: Over the next two years, the state will expunge the records of approximately 150,000 New York residents previously convicted on cannabis charges; it will also address an issue that most cannabis-legal states have done a poor job with—providing social equity to Black and Brown people who’ve been excluded from the industry.
While the majority of states where medicinal or recreational cannabis, or both, are legal have largely ignored this disparity, a handful (California, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, and, now, New York) have created programs to provide a path for people of color to own plant-touching businesses such as a dispensary, a grow facility, or a manufacturer of extracts. Unfortunately, the solution is more complex than states simply promising to prioritize applications from people who’ve disproportionately been affected by the war on drugs.
It’s very expensive to buy into the cannabis business. For example, it costs approximately $1.5 million (plus or minus, depending on the state) to own a dispensary. This covers licensing and application fees, building permits, construction, and enough cash in the bank for future operating costs. Even with social equity programs, and states offsetting some of these costs, most people need investment money.
Cannabis sales in the U.S. are expected to reach $45 billion by 2025, and, as is the case in most industries, wealth is consolidated in just a few hands. In the cannabis industry, many of these people are known as multi-state operators (MSOs). Unless investors are moved to invest in Black and Brown people, even the most well-drafted social equity programs are no match for these large-scale MSOs.
Between January and June 2020, $2.57 billion was raised to fund North American cannabis ventures. Of this amount, 93% ($2.13 billion) went to white people, with the balance ($437 million) split by people of color. Sal Ali owns AgroSelect hemp farm, Dr. Terpz dispensary, and a staffing agency that vets potential employees in the industry. He remembers how difficult it was getting investors to give him the time of day, let alone money.
“In 2015, I went to MJ Bizcon [the Marijuana Business Conference] hoping to find investors. Usually I was the only Brown guy in a sea of white people. I approached one investor with my pitch deck, and he looked at me and laughed. He turned to the white dude next to him. ‘Yeah right, I’m gonna invest in this guy.’ Meanwhile, I talked to many white guy entrepreneurs who told me they secured millions for their projects without even trying.”
Reginald Stanfield, owner of JustinCredible Cultivation, concurs. “I had a realistic model and a proof of concept to capture brand recognition and expand. I was open to all equity investors. I was repeatedly passed over. The only time they look at Black people is to help expand the few who’ve already made it.”
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One investor I interviewed (who preferred anonymity) believes the fault lies with the Black community, not with discrimination. “There aren’t enough minority leaders to serve as examples to up-and-coming minority entrepreneurs. And because most have records, I won’t touch them with a 10-foot pole. I’m here to make money, not waste it on someone with no experience or ethics.”
Such attitudes are precisely why, as a woman of color, I teamed up with two other marginalized people to form 420 Equity Labs, whose mission is to amplify Black voices in cannabis. Sometimes these social equity programs are exploited by predatory investors who seek out less savvy members of BIPOC communities to use as props, so they can line their own pockets. For those who are successful at securing funding and qualifying for a social equity program, their fight is far from over; they still have to market themselves and set up relationships with vendors. Our goal is to use our combined expertise (both in and out of the cannabis industry) to better compete against members of the “good ole boy network,” and win.
Kaisha-Dyan McMillan is co-founder of Let’s Sesh, which provides educational workshops for people new to the cannabis industry. She has examined social equity from multiple angles and believes the problem is more involved. “Along with not having the money needed to enter the industry, Black people are at a disadvantage because many lack information. I’ve interviewed two high-profile social equity participants in the Bay Area, and both told me they initially heard about the social equity program via word of mouth—not through the city or state.”
McMillan continued, “It’s wonderful to have programs like this, but unless it’s well-publicized, people have no idea whether they qualify, how to apply, etc. Looking at the policy and regulations, the language is complex and hard to understand for most people—I’ve been in this industry for over five years and this year alone I’ve attended two workshops to help me understand the MORE Act [the bill decriminalizing marijuana]. There needs to be more and better education overall.”
If wealth in the industry continues consolidating and shutting out Black and Brown people, it may require some ingenuity and creativity to create change. Mss Oregon and her family own the National Cannabis Diversity Awareness Convention (NCDAC) in Portland, Oregon. “I gave up the idea of owning a dispensary when I tried getting hired and repeatedly had the door slammed in my face,” she says. “The only way I was going to be part of the industry was by creating an ancillary business. The NCDAC connects people in the entertainment and cannabis industries. We’re already planning NCDAC 2024, in Atlanta. We believe that creating a cannabis network is important to industry and societal growth.”
Devin Jones manages Elev8 dispensary in Eugene, Oregon. He and inventory manager Alonzo “Zo” Medley are providing social equity in a small yet sustainable way. As they build their list of extracts and flower suppliers, they prioritize Black- and Brown-owned companies. They started in the summer of 2020, and today 68% of their inventory comes from BIPOC-owned businesses. Of those, 25% are Black-owned. As Zo explains it, “We stock both high-end, expensive weed and high-quality, less expensive weed, so we can help everyone at every socioeconomic level. It may sound simple, however, Devin and I can tell you these relationships take time to cultivate, but the rewards are so sweet.”
So long as large-scale MSOs and investors are disinterested in doing their part to uphold state and local government-enacted social equity programs, as with everything else in life, Black and Brown people are ready, able, and willing to create our own social equity and legacy. ❖
On June 22, the next mayor of New York City will be crowned. Yes, this is a Democratic primary and there will, technically, be a general election, but the days of Mike Bloomberg spending tens of millions to bludgeon Democrats are no more. If you’re a registered Democrat, congrats—you’ll have a say in the city’s future. If not? You’re out of luck.
What to make of this sleepy race, lost in the shuffle of endless Andrew Cuomo scandals and that never-quite-over global pandemic? It’s still wide open. No Democrat has captured a majority of hearts and minds in any single poll. Your consistent leader is Andrew Yang, the former presidential candidate and entrepreneur, who is no longer promising a thousand bucks to everyone—with a municipal budget, he can’t—but who wants to bring a public bank and some other goodies (a geothermal power plant) to the five boroughs.
But the field is starting to gang up on Yang. The No. 2, and the person who could still win it all, is Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a combative former police captain with a knack for soundbites. Rounding out the top tier are a couple of liberals, City Comptroller Scott Stringer and former de Blasio counsel Maya Wiley, who are chasing the MSNBC set and maybe a few socialists.
And then there’s ranked-choice voting. In June, New Yorkers get to rank their top five picks, and if no one hits 50%—don’t worry, they won’t—lower-finishing candidates are automatically eliminated, dispersing their votes to whoever is ahead. The process repeats until a winner emerges. Sound good?
Yang has said he’d make Kathryn Garcia, another candidate who served under de Blasio, as sanitation commissioner, his second choice. Garcia hasn’t returned the favor. A surging left-wing candidate, Dianne Morales, has been courted by Stringer and Wiley for some alliance making—but maybe she leapfrogs them both. Wiley already asked voters to rank Morales No. 2 behind her. Ray McGuire, a millionaire business executive, hopes to spend the field into submission, though he lacks Bloomberg’s world-historical billions. And Shaun Donovan, who ran agencies under Bloomberg and Barack Obama, is counting on being everyone’s second choice.
How to sort through it all? The Voice, in our handy chart below, has you more than covered. Find your best bet for each category. ❖
Ved Parkash, once known as New York City’s worst landlord, a Bronx emperor of evictions who forced out more apartment dwellers in 2019 than any other city property owner, and whose tenants in one building got sick from rat-borne bacteria — one died — is at it again. With Covid-19 and its economic fallout still hammering the Bronx, Parkash is moving to oust more than 10% of his tenants — some 600 families — while at the same time begging for property-tax relief on buildings where families went without heat this winter. Even as the state grapples to ameliorate a Covid-induced real estate crisis, Parkash’s record illustrates that the problems facing poor tenants long predate the pandemic, and will shape whatever version of the city emerges from it.
Ana Javier keeps her apartment immaculate. Her one-bedroom a block south of Fordham Road exudes the aggressive cleanliness of a Dominican grandmother’s home: silk flowers on the polished table, a dark-wood sofa set whose spotlessness suggests it is reserved for very important occasions, diaphanous curtains that keep out the sidewalk. The floors are what you notice first though: light-blond laminate made in imitation of the hardwood flooring that once ran through this six-story 1941 building, where the high ceilings and muralled lobby hint at former grandeur. The murals depict Peter Minuit laying claim to Manhattan Island, NYC’s first real estate transaction—in which someone got screwed. The building on Tiebout Avenue is not a glamorous address these days, but Javier and her neighbors are living their lives. She paid $1,000 for the new floors to replace the boards ruined last year when a pipe burst, spewing filthy water two inches deep throughout her apartment. The senior citizen clutches her shawl around her housedress as she leans over to point to the tops of the baseboards, where the slosh of water reached. She submitted the receipts to the landlord, but Parkash has ignored them.
“I just want him to come and fix the stuff he’s supposed to fix and then leave me alone,” she says. This winter the problem was heat. For 10 days in February there was none in the building. “We were shivering. I’m still shivering,” she says. “I called the landlord crying. I called him directly, but he did nothing.”
In 2016, Parkash topped a list the city public advocate compiles to try to shame the landlords with egregious housing-code violations into making repairs; it’s modeled on the “10 Worst Landlords” articles Village Voice muckraker Jack Newfield pioneered in the 1960s. Parkash made enough repairs to get off the list, but his portfolio still has scores of serious violations, from lead paint to mold, broken doors, roach and rodent infestations, busted window guards, and holes in the walls. In 2019 he evicted 158 families across his 71-building portfolio, more people than any other property owner in the city, according to records analyzed by the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition and data collective JustFix.nyc. Because of state and federal Covid-19 protections, no one has been evicted from a Parkash building—or any other—since March 2020.
But in August, landlords were cleared to bring new cases against tenants who fell behind on rent in 2020, and to petition to resume eviction cases started before the pandemic. Parkash filed 300 petitions in housing court between August and November and another 350 since, 5% of all Bronx cases, according to court records. Actual evictions — the city marshal carting tenant’s stuff onto the sidewalk — have been suspended, but the legal steps leading up to that scenario are moving forward.
Many tenants leave when they get an eviction notice, or sign agreements to pay back rent that they’ll never be able to honor, unaware that in certain NYC zip codes they have the right to a free lawyer. Parkash has more than 100 appearances on the court calendar set for March, April, and May. A third of those tenants are not represented by counsel.
“He’s just lining them up for when the moratorium lifts,” says Caroline Kirk, a data analyst at University Neighborhood Housing Program (UNHP), a nonprofit in the Northwest Bronx that conducts research on affordable housing.
At the same time, Parkash is seeking relief from city taxes. On October 9, he filed 53 motions against the city Tax Commission, arguing that his Bronx portfolio is worth less than it was assessed for. Forty-seven of these buildings were without heat and hot water for stretches this winter — the same buildings where he has begun eviction proceedings against hundreds of tenants. “The guy’s a multimillionaire, why does he need a tax break?” asks Yoselyn Gomez, one of Parkash’s tenants.
“We have complied with all local, state, and federal eviction regulations and housing laws throughout the pandemic,” Anurag Parkash, manager at Parkash Management, and Ved’s son, said in a written statement. “The housing court, not Parkash Management, is slowly restoring cases to the calendar — especially pre-pandemic cases and particularly those where a judgment had been entered.”
But Parkash’s history demonstrates that he makes aggressive use of housing court. “There’s enough reporting on and past organizing in Parkash’s portfolio to know that evictions and minimal building reinvestment have been key parts of his business plan,” says Jacob Udell, research director at UNHP. The state budget adopted on April 7 provides significant aid to tenants who owe back rent; New York tenants owe a total of $1 billion. But beyond avoiding evictions, it’s critical that state and city leaders ensure that landlords who get that rent actually take care of their buildings, Udell explains.
Parkash denies that eviction is part of the company’s business strategy, or that he turns to it easily. Anurag Parkash said in the written statement, “Empty apartments, just as failure to pay rent, have a negative impact on all tenants and the building itself, which is why our efforts, first and foremost, are geared toward compassion and flexibility — working with financially struggling tenants, giving them time to pay, within reason of course.” He argued that some tenants took advantage of Covid protections, “despite having the financial wherewithal to pay rent.”
This past winter, what many Parkash tenants were struggling with was cold. There was no heat or hot water at 825 Gerard Avenue for 15 days in February. At 125 Mt. Hope Place, tenants had no heat or hot water for 19 days in December, including Christmas Day, or for 11 days in February. Another Parkash building, 2842 Grand Concourse, was without heat or hot water for 13 days in January and for 8 days in February. A few blocks south, at 2625 Grand Concourse, the tenants had no heat or hot water for 16 days in January or for all but four days of February.
In a portfolio of old buildings — most of them built before 1940 — maintenance is a constant process, Parkash has said. In the written statement, Anurag Parkash said, “We maintain heat and hot water at the lawfully required temperatures, but when a problem arises in our aging buildings, we work with the appropriate city agencies to efficiently, effectively, and lawfully remedy heating and hot water, as well as lead paint and other complaints or problems when they are brought to our attention.”
Another tenant, Ms. Clare, smiles ironically when asked about life at 3873 Orloff Avenue. She doesn’t give her first name because she’s a survivor of domestic abuse and doesn’t want her former partner to find her, but she has plenty to say about the building. Persistent mold in her poorly ventilated bathroom made her asthmatic daughter sick. She had to take Parkash to court before he would make repairs. This winter there were 46 days without heat. She’s grown accustomed to turning on her kitchen faucet and having nothing happen. “They are always claiming that the boiler is broken so they have to shut off the water to fix it. How many times do you have to fix it?” she asks, cocking her head. “I just think they shut it off in daytime so they save in heat and hot water.” The front doors are always broken, Clare says. Anyone can walk into the building. When it rains, the lobby floods. In the summer, the apartments are full of flies, coming in through the plumbing, she suspects. “He should live in one of his apartments for a year. He really should. Him or his family,” she says, amused at the idea. “The tenants are afraid, but they don’t know their legal rights.”
In 2016, residents at 750 Grand Concourse — where the rat-borne infection sickened people and killed one—gathered tenants from other Parkash buildings to file lawsuits forcing repairs. The Parkash Tenants Association got lots of media coverage, and met with then Public Advocate Letitia James; things got better at 750 Grand Concourse and they won rent freezes, says resident Gomez. But in other buildings, conditions remained poor and it took years to get repairs.
Eighty-two-year-old Bolivian immigrant Jaime Steinberg battled Parkash — and mold — for five years. He helped start a tenants’ association in his building on Tiebout Avenue, and worked with organizers from the Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition and Community Action for Safe Apartments, which works primarily in the Southwest Bronx, while Gomez was organizing her neighbors on the Grand Concourse. But over the years tenants moved out, and others lost heart. “One thing that I noticed since I come here to this country, the American people are very quiet. They accept it. If they raise the rent, if they raise the subway cost, they don’t complain. Maybe they complain for one week and then they forget it. But people need to wake up,” Steinberg says, his emphatic pronunciation equal parts Yiddish and Spanish.
Mold grew dark on the bedroom walls in Steinberg’s apartment, fed by faulty plumbing and a leaky roof. Parkash made repairs again and again, but they never got to the root of the problem. Steinberg thinks the shoddy repairs were harassment for his organizing work. “Every time they came to fix something, they made it worse. They wanted me out,” he says. (Parkash denies this.) Many nights the smell of the mold, and of something fetid and nasty in the broken radiators, was so intense it drove the old man from his apartment. “You can’t sleep with this, the smell. There were nights, so many nights, I slept on the stairs because the smell was so bad,” he says, waving a hand at the staircase leading to the roof. Steinberg sued Parkash, and at the end of March reached a settlement in which the landlord will pay Steinberg a sum and ensure that the apartment is in good condition for a year. (The settlement is not an admission of harassment.) Steinberg says, “This has always been the state of the world: the greed and power. These two things dominate the world. I didn’t go to university, but I learned some things in this life.” It only takes a minute standing in his bedroom to smell the mold. He sleeps in his living room now.
Michelle Lopez looks like a sentry in the vestibule on Tiebout—the buzzer doesn’t work, so she’s waiting for her Amazon package, greeting neighbors with “Love, how’s your mother?” as they come and go. She’s lived in the building for 20 years, raised her sons here, and remembers when the lobby used to be decorated beautifully for Christmas, and when the super made real repairs. “We as a community have to stick together and make things work better, but ourselves, we can only do so much,” she says.
Lopez believes the two weeks without heat in February were the result of slapdash repairs. “He hired Mickey Mouse boiler repair people because he don’t want to pay,” she scoffs. “That’s why we were weeks without hot water. We slept with jackets and extra blankets.” Her son, a sweet-faced young man in his early 20s, moved to upper Manhattan a few years ago. When there was no hot water, she went there to shower. On this day, he’s stopped by the building to check on her. “She’s my princess. Always,” he says. Many people have moved away. “A lot of these people moved out because they couldn’t take the negligence,” Lopez says. “I would love to move, but everywhere else is expensive and I can’t afford it. Everywhere you go these landlords want to take advantage of you.”
Since January, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development has filed five lawsuits against Parkash. At 58 East 190 Street, HPD has been trying since 2019 to get him to follow the lead-paint law. A city lawyer argued that Parkash should pay $60,000 in fines—and prove he’s gotten rid of the lead paint. That case will be back before a judge on May 6. At 835 Walton Avenue, not far from Yankee Stadium, HPD is invoking a $1000-a-day fine against Parkash for failing to provide heat and hot water. HPD records show that tenants complained about heat on seven days each in December, January, and February. A ceiling collapsed on the sixth floor in December, and HPD issued violations for roach and rodent infestations in multiple apartments. After receiving dozens of 311 complaints from 3873 Orloff Avenue—where Clare lives—the city sued Parkash in March, seeking an order “to provide legally adequate heat and hot water to the premises.”
Parkash owns 4,643 apartments. Most of the tenants don’t know each other. Even within buildings, engaged tenants like Lopez, who’ve watched families grow up and know people’s names, are now a rarity. They work too many hours to chat in the hall. And since Covid, you barely see other residents.
But some still have Yoselyn Gomez’s number from when tenants fought back in 2016. This past fall, she started getting calls and texts from people on Gerald Avenue, and from the building on Walton. When tenants got eviction notices, they dialed her number. In early March, more than 40 tenants from several buildings met to develop a plan. It’s the sort of activism that’s happened for generations in the Bronx, from rent strikes organized by leftist Jews in support of Black neighbors in Bronx Park East during the Depression to strategy sessions in Catholic parish halls in Hunts Point in the 1970s and 80s, as fire engines wailed, where people parsed banking regulations and eventually got laws written against redlining.
They are usually meetings led by women—pushy, demanding, working-class women who aren’t expecting luxury, but know they deserve better than this. Instead of a lobby or a church basement, the March meeting took place over Zoom. “Someone has to stop him. Someone has to stand up,” Gomez says. She moved to the Bronx a decade ago, after getting pushed out when Harlem gentrified. Rent on the Grand Concourse ate up $1,600 of the $2,000 she made each month as a customer service worker at a Lowes in Brooklyn, a job she no longer has. “I’m behind on rent. I know I’m on the [eviction] list,” she says. “Where else am I supposed to go? We have nowhere else.” She’s not scared though, she says. “I’m ready.” ❖
The leather-jacketed throng at the Bowery Electric surged toward the low-slung stage, nearly eye-to-eye with the thrumming musicians, the room resounding with raised fists and excited, off-key singalongs of “Baby I’m born to lose” and “I’m living on a Chinese rock.” The stench of spilled beer and sweat hung in the air as beanie-clad punk roustabout Handsome Dick Manitoba leapt into the packed revelers, throwing his arms around audience members as he spewed the MC5’s incendiary “Kick Out the Jams.”
That was then—November 16, 2016—this is now, April 2, 2021, to be precise. Jesse Malin—rock ’n’ roll king of below 14th Street and proprietor of clubs the Bowery Electric, Lola, and Berlin, also performed at that iconic L.A.M.F. (for the Heartbreakers’ Like a Mother F*cker album) tribute gig in 2016, a show celebrating the power of live, dirty, dangerous rock ’n’ roll.
For the past year, rock has been dangerous for another reason—a highly contagious disease that until fairly recently had no vaccine and still has no cure. On this very first night that live music is legally allowed back in New York City’s five boroughs, Malin is on the Bowery Electric stage again, doing his level best to bring music back to the (socially distant, masked) masses.
If being safe means numerous plexiglass room dividers hanging by chains from the ceiling, separating the (brand-new) tables and chairs for the limited-capacity, masked audience (who face higher ticket prices and mandatory drink and food purchases)—and it does—Malin’s on board. It appears the sold-out crowd, presumably at their first live show in more than a year, is down with it as well.
That said, there are music fans and musicians alike who are definitely not ready to congregate en masse, and still others who grouse that real “live” music can’t be constrained and government-mandated.
In any case, on April 2, around 7:30 p.m., Malin and Co. descended the stairs to the stage to the triumphant strains of Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove,” and through song and personal tales about the city and the past year, Malin eased tensions, despite the awkward audience restrictions.
In March 2020, like thousands of other musicians, Malin was on tour. He was in the U.K., promoting his recently released Sunset Kids album, produced with Lucinda Williams and Tom Overby. He had another six months and about 100 shows and festivals ahead of him.
Or so he thought. Voicing the disbelief of literally every other musician in the world at the time, Malin says, “I could never in my wildest years ever have imagined that I’d come home and my tour would be done. Or that every venue I’m involved with would be shut at once.”
The numbers on that, just for Malin, were staggering: He laid off somewhere over 200 people from his clubs, and canceled shows for the upcoming weeks … then months, then the rest of the year. “I never looked at how many acts, between all the stages, we had,” he mused. “But when the music plug was pulled and silenced—rightfully so—we found it was something around 90 shows a week.” (Malin says he currently has only about 25% of those people back at work.)
Multiply those numbers across the city, state, and world, and it’s almost too much to comprehend. If you need the stats, Ariel Palitz has them. The senior executive director of the NYC Office of Nightlife, and a longtime club proprietor herself, said on a recent panel that at the start of 2020, New York City’s five boroughs had about “27,000 entertainment and hospitality venues.” This translates to a “$35.1 billion dollar industry, with 300,000 jobs.”
Then came the saddest toll: COVID-19-related deaths in the close-knit NYC rock music community. The Arrows’ Alan Merrill, Stephen B. Antonakos of the Blue Chieftains and New York Loose, esteemed record and concert producer Hal Willner. For starters.
“Then of course, someone close to me, Adam Schlesinger from Fountains of Wayne,” Malin says somberly. Schlesinger was 55, and died almost a year to the day that we’re speaking.
It seems simultaneously like a million years ago and just yesterday.
Live music venues, called “the first to close and the last to open,” are now legally, with myriad restrictions, allowed to open up again, though it’s not an overnight process. The return of live music—congregating in rooms with like-minded fans to pay homage to and experience the artists who help give voice to our souls—can be a sublime experience. And, to the minds of many, a necessary one.
So the question has been, since easily the summer of 2020: When and how could that live music experience be codified again, at venues both small and behemoth? A February 2021 episode of the online “Conversations” series presented by the Recording Academy’s New York Chapter had a panel of music professionals discussing the return of live music in the city. NYC Office of Nightlife’s Palitz stated, “We can no longer wait for the virus, the pandemic, to be over. We have to figure out ways right now to get open for our mental, economic, spiritual health.”
* * *
Over the past year, many people fled New York. Musician Camille Trust had to give up her city apartment, put her things in storage, and decamp to her family home in Florida, a living situation she terms “hilarious.”
Since 2018, Trust and a few friends have run a monthly all-female-led jam session at Brooklyn’s C’Mon Everybody club. Every other month, they would donate half the door earnings to a local charity of their choice.
Now, she says, “Two of four of us are not even in New York at the moment, one of them being me…. You pay to live in New York and New York is not New York,” she adds, of 2020.
Trust, who does wedding gigs and more, says, “I lost all my income. I’m collecting unemployment, I do some commercial jingles and things; I did get a few. But nothing that would sustain me.”
That said, she and others have been creative and productive, even if inspiration often arrives between days of shuffling around in pajamas in a pandemic overwhelm.
“I actually just released a single last week, called ‘Florida,’ Sort of as a love letter to my home state. I’m working on an album that is going to be completely written over Zoom. It’s called New York to Florida and sort of tells about this time.”
Another local musician, multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Jake Pinto, stayed hunkered down in his tiny Brooklyn studio apartment for most of the pandemic, doing livestreams, cooking, learning new ways to record without a live band, and diving into Ableton Live, a digital audio workstation used for studio work as well as live performance. He continues to closely monitor COVID infection rates in New York, and stays double-masked in public.
“I felt lucky relatively speaking,” he says, during a walk in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. “Even before COVID I wasn’t relying on live gigs as my primary source of income. I had, over the course of a few years, found some success as a songwriter, and recently landed a movie trailer for The YeahTones with Position Music—movie trailer money. I wasn’t really in the green yet, but I wasn’t in debt either.”
Pinto planned for 2020 to be his breakout year, the culmination of building skills and contacts. But as advertising budgets dwindled, even these revenue opportunities pretty much ground to a halt. He received unemployment and $1,000 from Music-Cares, but only one of the three stimulus payments. He has no idea why.
Since graduating NYU in 2012, Pinto has been touring and performing around NYC, and even as a 24-year-old was making “an estimated $15,000 to $20,000 a year via music.” He would fund tours with his band, the YeahTones, Airbnb-ing his apartment—back when it was legal—while he was on the road. He had planned to release the first single for his debut solo record in mid-March 2020; after agonizing over whether to debut a new record in the middle of a global pandemic, he went ahead with an independent single campaign, releasing four singles over about six months.
“The second single, ‘Home,’ was my most successful independent release to date. For a natural growth, without any sync components [such as film, TV, or video games], I was happy.” Pinto’s Sad Songs for Happy People LP will be out in the fall, and he’s looking forward to writing rock songs for the YeahTones again, which he found virtually impossible without being able to play with the band and “feed off their energy.”
Live performances and touring are Malin’s lifeblood, though he’s diversified via numerous music and club arenas. All that went away in 2020, and he says that in the past year, he “probably lost 80% of my income. As an artist, none of us really saved for this kind of rainy day. Because I could always go play a show somewhere.”
One saving grace is the newly formed group NIVA (National Independent Venue Association) and its Save Our Stages movement, which have been instrumental in organizing venues nationwide. Malin calls independent venues “the petri dishes for the next Lady Gagas and Duke Ellingtons and Madonnas. New York is already, in my opinion, too corporate and too much into the chains. If we lose the little-guy clubs, the only people going to survive are big companies, the Live Nations and such. For little bands, the way I grew up at CBGB or A7, where you could be off the grid and figure it out—build your audience, build a scene—where someone’s gonna let you get up [onstage], that was great.”
Even in the best of times, the compensation for bands and musicians on the small-venue level is notoriously low, and there’s no standard or union to advocate or offer a united front. As one musician notes, “As a bandleader, your whole life is unpaid hours, which is something sidemen also need to understand.”
Malin notes that the pandemic brought club owners together. “I was on some really wonderful group calls with everybody from the Blue Note to Birdland in Midtown to people on Avenue C like Nublu—a real mix. At City Winery, Michael Dorf is always very knowledgeable, him and Shlomo [Lipetz] there.”
As of April 2, Berlin, Malin’s underground venue at Avenue A and 2nd Street, is open, along with the storied bar Niagara. But with operating costs prohibitively high, it’s not easy to break even, much less make a profit. “I mean, the rents are high, in the $40,000 [per month] range for all these businesses,” he says. “Landlords, commercial leases don’t want to give a break. Sales tax, insurance, the electricity—the rent being a huge one—the liquor license yearly. There are so many [expenses].”
Lola, which used to be Coney Island Baby, and before that, Brownies, is not open at all. “Lola doesn’t have room for a sidewalk café; there’s a bus stop,” Malin says. “We only can operate inside. So we’re really hoping we get some help from the city’s Shuttered Venues Operating Grant. They say you’re qualified by being 70% closed, or 90% closed in some cases. Well, Lola has been 100% closed. We can ease into it now, I guess.”
While 2020 was a roller-coaster of emotions, Pinto still believes that when it comes to his career, “It’ll all work itself out, which is basically how I’ve lived my life so far. I have assets: music, which hopefully will make money. But I lost all the little things that helped keep the ship afloat, a couple nights of doing live sound and things like that helped me not dig into debt.”
Onstage in front of a live audience for the first time in more than a year, Malin looks around the re-jiggered Bowery Electric and observes, “It feels like some kind of hope is happening.” Riding that wave, he has released a new single, “The Way We Used to Roll,” from his upcoming September LP on Little Steven’s Wicked Cool label.
But although Trust will be fully vaccinated by next month, she says, “I think that upon my [return] to New York in May, I will definitely be having some hesitation before entering a live concert venue.
“It’s still a weird thing,” she muses. “It’s like you’re uncovering an old wound. There’s been so much emotion toward gathering in a space together and enjoying music and having a good time. So now how is it possible, on a spiritual level and on a human level, to reconfigure that to just like, ‘Okay, no, we’re good now’?” ❖
As lockdown dragged on and art lovers couldn’t go to galleries or museums, we sent images to friends: Check out this artist’s take on these crazy days; did you see that virtual show? Being an artist can be a tough life, so maybe perspectives skew a bit to, if not always optimism, then at least doggedness. Artists reacted to the past year in myriad ways, but they never stopped capturing the zeitgeist on canvas, paper, and fabric. These are some of the visions I bookmarked on my computer, to always remember this strange and distorting year.
Instead of just one Day of the Dead, 2020 at times felt like 365 of them, so of course the buskers on the subway with James Borges were all skeletons.
And what do we do when claustrophobia becomes the national malaise? We look to break on through to the other side, as in Birdie Hall’s Cracked Egg Girl.
Or, like Patricia Rush, you could escape to the naturally socially distanced beauty of Woodlawn Cemetery, in the Bronx — after all, the inhabitants there are always at least six feet away.
Joanna Beall Westermann died in 1997, but I could not get enough of wandering through Venus Over Manhattan’s virtual exhibition this past January. The world was going mad around then, but her phantasmagoric landscapes were an escape I allowed myself over and over again.
Madness? Did somebody mention our former president? When I came across Gerald Collings’s scabrous rendition of Donald Trump, I first burst out laughing and then, as I delved into the nooks and crannies of his hallucinogenic colors, I thought, This is the perfect portrait for the future Trump library.
Cheryl Gross’s masks captured the surreal drudgery of having to wrap our faces every time we went out into the world. On her website, she echoed something every one of us said at some point: “Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought we would be living in a sci-fi film.”
David Kramer took us on a tropical vacation instead, but his sentiment chimed with what most of us were feeling.
It was a year when many of us took to reading The Plague, by Camus, or maybe the Decameron, wallowing in tales of previous pestilences.
As Edgar Allan Poe put it at the end of one of his short stories, “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”
Well, as persevering artists demonstrated this past year, not this time. ❖
[Correction: In the print edition we misspelled Edgar Allan Poe’s name. The Voice regrets adding to the vast tranches of misinformation on the internet.]
Hello. Back in September 2017, I announced on these pages that we were closing up shop on the Village Voice print edition. It was a shame, I told our then owner, because the Voice had been calling BS on Donald Trump since the late ’70s—our historical insights might’ve helped the nation better understand the 45th president’s grifter instincts.
Well, it turns out that, like Joe Biden, we just needed a few years off—and at 66 years old, we’re still a decade younger than the 46th commander in chief. Besides, we never completely left—we’ve been showcasing highlights from the Voice archives on our website all along, and will continue doing so.
But print? In 2021?
Sure—why not? This is New York, a town where few pleasures are sweeter than sitting in a café or on a park bench with a cup of king-hell coffee and a sheaf of prose that sets the mind to musing—and also rubs off on your fingers.
In January of 1955, before this paper even existed, one of its most prominent future contributors wrote a letter to a one-year-old men’s magazine: “As a writer, I peruse some fifty odd magazines each month and Playboy is one of the finest. I read every single story. [Signed] Fred W. McDarrah, NY, NY.”
Even then, Playboy—that pioneering arbiter of all things sybaritic—had a penchant for pulling the pipe out of its editorial “we” mouth to deliver a bit of snark: “Didn’t know there were that many odd magazines being published, Fred.” But what neither slick publication nor hopeful writer knew then was that a sui generis newspaper was coalescing from the free spirits of Greenwich Village. This new tabloid would certainly have its odd aspects, but it would ultimately be more like another great American creation: jazz. There might not be a lot of profit in this new venture, but it was going to be adventurous, original, soaring—when not guttural—and the province of highly dedicated, skilled, innovative, and provocative practitioners. Three World War II vets bankrolled it—novelist Norman Mailer, psychotherapist Ed Fancher, and a struggling writer named Dan Wolf, who divined the zeitgeist of the Eisenhower years in a phrase that still resonates today: “The vulgarities of McCarthyism had withered the possibilities of a true dialogue between people.”
Indeed, the Voice would begin a dialogue with America that has never abated. Typically pugnacious, Mailer’s byline first appeared in 1956, in “QUICKLY—a column for slow readers.” A writer at the New York Daily News drolly responded, “In his new column in the Village Voice, Norman Mailer calls Hemingway a ‘windy’ writer. Mailer’s first novel was almost 700 pages.”
Chicago-based Playboy couldn’t get enough of what it termed, in the late 1950s, “the unofficial organ of Greenwich Village,” noting with approval that it was read by “the beatnik set.” And although he wasn’t yet on the masthead, by early 1960 McDarrah was placing ads in the Voice for his venture capitalizing on the county’s alternating fascination with and revulsion at a nascent counterculture:His “Rent Genuine Beatniks” service promised “Badly Groomed But Brilliant” raconteurs of either sex.
McDarrah would eventually appear on the masthead in 1962, as “Staff Photographer.” Over the decades, it would become more accurate to say, “world-famous photographer.”
But there was someone unknown on that first masthead who was destined for fame: Nell Blaine, listed as “Art and Production.” Blaine began a mutually beneficial tradition at the paper: artists of all stripes doing paste-up as their day job. It was Blaine who designed the elegant logo gracing the first issue, one that appeared on newsstands across the city (and eventually around the world) every week until a more modern, sans-serif logo replaced it in 1969. Blaine was a committed artist, and in 1959 she traveled to Greece to paint, where she contracted polio on the island of Mykonos. After months in an iron lung and years of recuperation, she taught herself to paint with her left hand, creating dynamic canvases that are now in the Met, the Whitney, and other major museums.
Digging into numerous newspaper archives from before 1955 reveals no hits on the search term “Village Voice.” But later in the decade, its alliterative moniker, if not its ethos, could be found in America’s heartland. In 1957, a Sioux Falls, South Dakota, daily reported that a local trailer park had its own newspaper, The Village Voice.By 1966, a women’s club’s newsletter in Cincinnati had also taken up the name. Where was a slick New York copyright lawyer when you needed one? In the 1960s and ’70s, singing groups also took notice, such as the “Village Voices,” 12 students from Utah State University who were “ready to share their bright, springy style with the soldiers stationed around the Caribbean.”
“Bright” and “springy” were perhaps not the first notions that leapt to the minds of Voice readers back in its hometown. A cocktail, though…. In 1963, Esquire magazine came up with “All the News That’s Fit to Drink,” imagining potables for newspapers ranging from the Chicago Sun-Times to the Atlanta Constitution. For the Voice, they envisioned “a Martini with gin and dry vermouth, but make it seven to one. Add a dash of Scotch. Chill, drink, then put out several more editions.”
Once the Sixties shifted into high gear, the Voice was known as much by its readership as by its writers. In 1965, photographer Bob Adelman followed Andy Warhol around town, snapping the Pop maestro buying a Voice from an overflowing newsstand and later reading it on the fire escape of his Silver Factory. (When we printed the photo as a spread in the February 22, 2012, issue, we got the date wrong in the caption. Warhol was actually reading the June 24, 1965, edition of the paper.)
Conservative commentator William F. Buckley was also keeping an eye on his ideological opposite. In one of his syndicated columns, from February 1968, he quipped, “The Village Voice is a little New York journal which energetically does its iconoclastic push-ups….” He went on to dismiss it as “the critic did Thomas Hardy, commenting that his work was the village atheist talking to the village idiot.” And yet Buckley, who began publishing his own National Review a month after that inaugural Voice in 1955, couldn’t resist expounding on a Jack Newfield essay in the Voice that took a deep dive into the political calculations of Robert F. Kennedy, speculating on whether RFK, certainly one of Buckley’s last choices, would be able to ride the rising youth vote into the White House in November. Or would a Voice endorsement instead land Kennedy in the “Freak House”?
No one can ever know, since a few months later Bobby Kennedy, along with Martin Luther King Jr., was fresh in his grave, and the Voice printed a McDarrah photo of RFK that captured the pathos of a nation losing its way.
That same year, four chums in director Sidney Lumet’s Bye Bye Braverman set out to attend the Brooklyn funeral of a writer friend. They circle Sheridan Square in a red Volkswagen Bug, twice passing the huge sign, mimicking Blaine’s logo, for the Voice’s offices. The quartet squabbles among themselves, gets lost, and ends up attending the wrong funeral. Lumet, who grew up on the Lower East Side, was a fan of his local paper, featuring it in a number of his films. Was this a metaphor for the well-known infighting among Voice writers?
A few years later, John Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote an expletive-not-deleted missive to the editor in answer to a letter published in the Voice a week earlier, in which a reader dismissed Yoko as a “semi-failed and rather incompetent ‘avant-garde’ artist who married a man rich enough to afford her expensive filming equipment.”
Over the next month, letters appeared in the paper by turns decrying and defending the star couple, and the contretemps spilled onto a Dick Cavett episode in September 1971. An audience member queried guests John and Yoko: “You wrote a letter to the Voice in defense of Yoko as an artist … It was a rather strong letter, and I wondered if you’ve regretted it since, especially in the light of the strong reaction that it has provoked.”
John leapt to his wife’s defense again: “I don’t mind if a few fat liberals got excited about my letter.… One of the replies to the letter I wrote was, ‘It’s nice to see how well John and Yoko take to criticism.’ The letter wasn’t criticism.… He’s never seen her work, read her books, or seen any of our films.… I’m not an intellectual. I’m not articulate. I’m working class, and I use few words. I use the words that the people around me used when I was a child. I talk like that. So if somebody’s going to say a lot of [deleted by broadcasters], I’ll say a lot of [deleted]. It’s as simple as that.” [Applause.]
A year later, the blaxploitation hit Superfly employed a copy of the Voice to more pragmatic ends. During the stylish montage sequence of drug dealers processing and then delivering their wares to their ever-higher clients—set to Curtis Mayfield’s bopping “Pusherman”—one dealer, striding up the subway steps, uses a folded Village Voice to conceal his key of cocaine from prying eyes. Sharp viewers might’ve spied one cover subject—that happiest of hookers, Xaviera Hollander.
In occasional issues ranging from September 1973 through February 1975, artist Adrian Piper bought ad space in the Voice as a component of her “Mythic Being” project, in which she asked, in part, “What would happen if there was a being who had exactly my history, only a completely different visual appearance to the rest of society?” Seventeen tearsheets from the Voice have found their way into the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, yellowed newsprint capturing an art world in constant flux.
In 1975, Sidney Lumet again turned to the Voice for inspiration, this time not to get exterior shots of the offices but as background fodder for Dog Day Afternoon, which was based on a real-life event. As investigative journalist Arthur Bell wrote in the August 30, 1972, issue of the Voice, he had received a message the week before that “a couple of homosexuals are holding up a bank in Brooklyn and they’re holding people hostages.” He wrote that he tracked down the Chase branch’s phone number, and called: “‘Hello, this is Arthur Bell from The Village Voice. Can you tell me what’s happening?’ The voice at the other end replied, ‘Arthur, am I glad it’s you. This is Littlejohn.’ ‘Littlejohn, what the hell are you doing down there?’ ‘I’m one of the robbers.’ ‘Jesus Christ!’” Bell knew the perp from meetings of the Gay Activists Alliance and, a dogged reporter, he covered all the angles: Was it a heist to pay for a sex change operation for John “Littlejohn Basso” Wojtowicz’s lover, or just a standard-issue mob heist? Bell chose the mob angle, pinning it on the Gambino crime family. Lumet, though, knew which would make for a better screenplay.
In the spring of 1976, the Voice made headlines across the nation when we published the Pike Papers, an exposé of “dangerous government adventures.” Leaked by journalist Daniel Schorr, the disclosures recalled the battle between the federal government and whistle-blowers during the Pentagon Papers controversy a few years earlier. Needless to say, the Voice did not endear itself to the powers that be.
Two years later, it seemed that Lou Reed was no happier with the Voice than ex-president Gerald Ford had been. On his Take No Prisoners live album, the acerbic rocker launched into a rant about the Consumer Guide feature: “Critics—what does Robert Christgau do in bed? You know, is he a toe fucker? Man … Christgau’s like an anal retentive. Nice little boxes. B+. Can you imagine workin’ for a fucking year and you got a B+ [for Street Hassle] from an asshole in the Village Voice?” [Audience cheering and applause]
Shortly thereafter, Christgau rated Prisoners— “essentially a comedy album”—a C+, and graciously thanked Lou “for pronouncing my name right.”
Perhaps channeling Reed’s sardonicism, the Voice was voted #67 in a “BOTTOM 100” readers’ poll in the June 1979 issue of Punk magazine. For the record, “Disco” topped that particular chart.
Also that year, the Voice was there firstest with the mostest to cover the scion of an outer-borough real-estate-empire family who already had a rep for shady dealings and mendacious boasting.
In 1981, the Voice was again in national news, this time for coming in second—but then, first—for the Pulitzer Prize. Papers across the country initially reported on the Washington Post winning for a feature on an 8-year-old heroin addict—a tale that turned out to be fabricated. Once informed, the Pulitzer committee awarded the prize to Teresa Carpenter, for her compelling story on the life and death of Playmate and budding actress Dorothy Stratten. (In 1983, Bob Fosse adapted Carpenter’s feature for his movie Star 80.)
Lumet was back on the Voice beat again with his 1982 Deathtrap. Christopher Reeve, looking to avoid the typecasting that doomed an earlier actor too closely identified with Superman, plays a conniving, murderous wannabe playwright who tells his lover, portrayed by Michael Caine, that it is basically greed, lust, duplicitousness, and power that make life—and Broadway plays—go around: “Come on, don’t be such an old Nellie. I mean just look around you, Jesus Christ, you don’t have to read Hustler, you know, just read, uh, Village Voice.”
Such cynicism was simpatico with Reagan’s dominance of a decade that would prove a forerunner of our current “own the libs” moment. In 1983, Bloom County cartoonist Berke Breathed sent Milo and his grandfather, The Major, out to hunt liberals: “Whadya use for bait?” “A back issue of the Village Voice.” In the last panel they carry away their bound quarry, who pleads, “Couldn’t I just read the ‘Feiffer’ cartoon?”
In that same year’s iconic film The Big Chill, Jeff Goldblum sports a Voice T-shirt as he despairs over a journalistic profession he feels cares most about sensationalism, dieting recommendations, and self-promotion: “Don’t knock rationalization—where would we be without it? I don’t know anyone that doesn’t get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They’re more important than sex.”
Of course by the ’80s, many people were saying that the Voice was losing influence (as others had already said in the ’60s and ’70s). But U2 frontman Bono was having none of it. In 1987, as he accepted the Album of the Year Grammy for The Joshua Tree, the singer intoned, “Soul music, that’s what U2 wanted to make,” adding that without soul, performers “like Bruce Springsteen would be nothing more than a great storyteller, but he’s much more than that. Without it, U2 would probably be getting better reviews in the Village Voice. [Audience laughter] That’s a joke. Sometimes they don’t understand.”
Sashaying into the ’90s, Madonna was causing outrage with her metal-bound Sex book. Gossip columnist Michael Musto was a Madonna fan, and decided to go full monty for the sincerest form of flattery.
A year later, Esquire magazine tapped Musto to demystify “the strange circumstances that catapult mere non-achieving humans into overweening celebrities.” The Voice veteran put it succinctly, “Standing naked in public is probably the easiest way to become famous.”
And there was Playboy again, in its Baseball preview special, singling out the Voice for the Best Headline award, one which assessed both local teams’ chances in 1992: THEY’RE HERE, THEY SUCK, GET USED TO IT. (The Mets ended that benighted year 70–92, and, like the Yanks at 76–86, landed fifth in their division.)
The ’90s was just another decade that the Voice had plenty of detractors. Even Mystery Science Theater 3000 took a shot at the paper, when the crew deconstructed the 1964 Ann-Margaret vehicle, Kitten With a Whip. As the camera pans across newspapers scattered over a suburban front lawn, Crow T. Robot quips, “Ah, nobody reads the Voice anymore.”
Seinfeld, too, was questioning the Voice’s point of view. In one episode, the gang separately attends a screening of Rochelle, Rochelle (a recurring joke in the series, an unseen movie reminiscent of the soft-core porn flick Emmanuelle), each not knowing the other is there until they hear each other groaning about the movie, with Elaine summing it up—“Does this movie stink or what?”—and Jerry concluding, “Let’s get outta here.” The voiceover for the trailer before the movie had declaimed, “The Village Voice called the film a masterpiece.”
Not everyone, however, felt the Voice was off the mark. In 1994, Quentin Tarantino, still basking in Pulp Fiction’s win at Cannes, told Charlie Rose that, contrary to press speculation, his youthful job at a video store had not been his “… film school. It was kind of—a closer equivalent would be—it was like my Village Voice. And I got to be J. Hoberman. I got to be Andrew Sarris at the store … putting films in people’s hands and arguing my points of why this movie was good or why that movie was bad.”
Another behemoth of pop culture, Sex and the City, was one TV series that couldn’t avoid its hometown paper. In a 1998 episode, “Three’s a Crowd,” Carrie opens a red Voice box and pulls out a paper while the voiceover intones, “But the bigger question remained, if Charlotte was actually considering a threesome, who wasn’t? The Village Voice had more ads looking for threesomes than it did for small rat-infested studios running for $1,000 a month. But who actually answered these ads?”
The Aughts brought The Devil Wears Prada, in which Anne Hathaway’s character shucks fashion world sophistry in favor of resolute journalism at a downtown paper. As the Wall Street Journal put it in their review, “Andy wants to write about serious things, and she is dressed for success—but success as a journalist at, say, the Village Voice; her sensible shoes, skirt and sweater bespeak her cluelessness about haute couture.”
When Julie Delpy directed and starred in 2 Days in New York, her search for accurate locations brought the film crew to the Voice’s offices, which were then at 36 Cooper Square. As the paper’s review of the movie points out, Delpy and her co-star, Chris Rock, “meet cute in the offices of the Village Voice.” Despite the onscreen love, Nick Pinkerton’s coverage pulled no punches in assessing Delpy’s attempt to evoke life’s innate messiness: “If life is a jumble, that doesn’t mean art necessarily should be.”
In 2017, Zoey, on Blackish, is wondering if she should go to NYU; her father tries to discourage her from leaving L.A. with a homemade snowball, warning, “They throw snowballs at your face. If this was Brooklyn it would have been tires.” However, little sis Diane (a precocious fan of SATC), pumps for the big Apple: “There’s a magic in New York. Like, walking out of your building in a strappy Manolo, hailing a cab, covering your hair from the rain with the Village Voice.”
Well, 2017 hadn’t exactly been magical for the Voice. In fact, WBAI’s Peter Bochan included the paper in the obit section of his annual aural mashup, Short Cuts. Halfway through, we hear Lenny Bruce telling an audience, “This is a newspaper I’m reading. It’s brilliant. It’s called the Village Voice, and it has a very brilliant editorial staff, plus some very erudite contributors. Let’s see, we’ve got Nat Hentoff.…” You can just picture the legendary comic turning the pages of one of those early Voice editions.
It’s a bit of serendipity that local radio fixture Bochan found a clip of Bruce to bid the Voice farewell, since, over the past few years, actor Luke Kirby has been nigh-resurrecting the outlaw comedian on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Fans of the wildly successful Amazon comedy/drama/occasional Busby-Berkley-like phantasmagoria are probably aware that Abe Weissman, father of rising stand-up star Mrs. Maisel, will have a new job in Season 4. His upcoming gig was foreshadowed late in Season 3 when, after a midlife crisis has driven him from academia to search for his youthful activist roots, he writes a freelance article for The New York Times and later discovers that his daughter is supplementing her comedy income by doing commercials, rehearsing one for right-wing, anti-Semitic demagogue Phyllis Schafly. Midge has no idea who Schafly is—“It’s a paycheck.” Abe sighs, and responds, “If you’re going to have a voice, you better be careful what that voice says.”
Fast-forward to the season finale: In one scene, Abe, strolling through the theater district, is pelted with tomatoes by the irate subject of his Times piece. Back home, still in his splattered suit, Abe tells his wife, Rose, how thrilled he was at the reaction—“My words incited theater people—people who make a living sitting down. It incited them to get up and commit an act of physical violence…. The written word—it’s going to change the world.”
Indeed, in the season’s penultimate scene, Abe gets a phone call in a house full of family: “Hello? Yeah from where? The village what? I can’t hear you—I live in a lunatic asylum.” Cut to the foyer, where Midge is preparing to leave for a European tour. Abe strides in as if across cloud nine: “That was someone from the Village Voice.” Rose: “What?” Abe: “It’s a newspaper.” Rose: “We don’t need a subscription.” Abe: “They were not selling subscriptions! They want me to be their theater critic!”
For the Maisel bunch, it’s 1960—they don’t know the triumphs and tragedies yet to come.
For us, it’s 2021, and although Donald Trump has been demoted from POTUS to poster boy for white supremacy, he and his most extreme followers remain a clear and present danger to democracy. And I still have faith in the Voice to fight on the side of our better angels. In fact, I never lost it, and although my education in Catholicism has come mostly through art history studies, I know from proofing decades of Voice Bulletin Board pages that St. Jude can bring the heavy intercession just when you need it most. So in that “last” issue, back in 2017, I bought a classified ad similar to so many I’d seen over the years:
The wording lets you know that I just knew the paper would have a second act.
Words are things, like ink / falling like dew on rhymes / making thousands, even millions think.
My freestyle paraphrase of Don Juan, Canto III, by 19th-century rapper George Gordon Byron, aka Lord Byron, these words contain the seeds of every protest verse ever sung or uttered since. To the canon of heart-stoppers like Reverend Charles Tindley’s “We Shall Overcome,” Dylan’s “Masters of War,” and Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” we can now add another anthem: the Spanish-language rap and reggaeton number “Patria y Vida.” Translated as “Homeland and Life,” the song’s viral catchiness and free-speech message has little uniformed men around the world quaking in their black lace-up boots.
Written and performed by an all-star lineup of Cuban rappers Yotuel Romero, Gente de Zona, Descemer Bueno, El Funky, and Maykel “El Osorbo” Castillo, “Homeland and Life” flips the script on late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s morbid mantra “Patria o Muerte”—in yanqui English, “homeland or death.” Instead of merely rejecting the 1960s Cold War-era slogan, the song turns its necrophilic message on its head, while blasting the desperate economic, human rights, and free-speech situation on the island. Directed by Cuban filmmaker Asiel Babastro, the video has spread to Cuba’s remotest hamlets—aided by hand-distributed flash drives and a recent expansion of nationwide internet coverage—and racked up more than 4.8 million views to date on YouTube.
“Homeland and Life” brings together artists from the U.S., Spain, and Cuba for the first time. Bueno, a Miami resident, is a Grammy winner; ditto for Romero, a Spanish resident and member of the platinum-selling group Orishas. El Osorbo, notably, lives in Havana, along with Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the leader of the artist-activist coalition the San Isidro Movement, a civic group on the front lines of protest against Cuba’s 349 Decree (another prominent free-speech group, 27N, is led by Tania Bruguera, New York’s Office of Immigrant Affairs first artist-in-residence). Under the draconian decree, “all artists, including collectives, musicians and performers, are prohibited from operating in public or private spaces without prior approval by the Ministry of Culture,” and must refrain from activities the government might find “obscene,” “vulgar,” or “harmful to ethical and cultural values.”
Otero Alcántara, the young Black face of a protest movement that has gone global, makes a cameo in one scene in the video, holding a Cuban flag behind El Osorbo and El Funky. Photographer Anyel Troya secretly filmed all three in Havana, then sent the material to Babastro in Miami. The director combined their footage with takes of the other singers while adding documentary clips from recent artist protests. Were Babastro to remake the video, he might feature recent footage of Otero Alcántara and El Osorbo leading an inspired impromptu street rendition of “Homeland and Life” while evading police.
Images of El Osorbo pumping his fist in the air, handcuffs dangling from one wrist, have gone viral—this after hundreds of friends and neighbors intervened to help him avoid arrest on April 6. The lyrics to the new Spanish-language scorcher have hit the streets and are making millions inside and outside Cuba think: “No more lies! My people demand freedom. No more doctrines! / Let us no longer shout ‘Homeland or Death’ but ‘Homeland and Life.’ ” An anthem is born. ❖
Just over one in three hundred New York City residents died of COVID-19. In a city of approximately 8 million, around seven times more people died than in China, population 1.4 billion. Wealthier people caught the virus first, as it was carried in by world travelers (early in the pandemic, COVID-19 was called “the rich man’s disease”). At the start of the spread, “New York was the primary gateway for the rest of the country,” said Nathan Grubaugh, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health, and most of those leaving the city were people with the resources to do so. Additionally, before lockdown, tourists from all over the country were still packing attractions and taking the virus home with them.
More people died here than in any other U.S. city: mothers and fathers and grandparents, all manner of people who loved and were loved, died alone and gasping for breath in hospitals defunded over many years by the disgraced “Love Gov,” our very own Andrew Cuomo.
Their bodies were carried onto ice trucks. Sirens rang out like nightmares in the daytime.
Schools closed, child abuse went up, more people died from drug overdoses—ex-addicts raised the nearly dead like the saints of old, administering Narcan on public sidewalks.
Restaurants closed and undocumented workers were thrown into dire poverty without resources; city rats lost their usual food source of restaurant trash, grew hungry and brazen, and fought out in the open on Park Avenue.
To talk of reopening as some politicians do, as some insurance advertisements do, in sentimental tones, with eyes full of stagey hope, is a little mendacious. We need a period of mourning in the Sioux fashion, with all of the city gathering each week in order to outdo each other’s grief, wailing louder and louder until we reach a pitch commensurate with this bitter, broken year.
That the city seems to be leaping into motion is nonetheless a cause of irresistible happiness. One cannot help but feel joy at getting a haircut again, joy at people playing craps on Sugar Hill, at drag shows resuming, at children running through schoolyards.
Tension between the need to remember and the desire for freedom characterized many of the interviews I conducted with New Yorkers throughout the city, about the pandemic and the reopening. The following interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Amanda Musmacher and her boyfriend, Akir Stuart, sat hand in hand on a bench in Washington Square Park, playing the soundtrack to Twin Peaks on a portable speaker. Amanda had plucked yellow tulips from the lawn, tucking one behind her ear and the other behind Akir’s. It was Akir’s birthday.
Akir: It feels like the city is going back to normal.
Amanda: And that’s not a good thing.
Akir: It’s really scary that we’re going back to normal. Fair warning, we’re young, I’m at NYU, and we’re, you know, youth super leftists. And it was just, like, heart-wrenching to go from four years of Trump presidency to the trial of Derek Chauvin to … it’s just like we’ve never taken a time to step back and analyze how we run the country. Like what does it mean for us to go back to normal? And yeah, I don’t know, I kinda got disillusioned with some of the politics from 2020.
Amanda: We’re constantly being told to raise awareness, raise awareness. That’s all we’re told to do. Now we’re all hyper-aware, but we’re stuck. We need better healthcare, we need housing to be a human right, we need food and shelter and like, plain decency for people. I think it’s just too far gone at this point. I think Biden is a pretty moderate candidate, but after all we’ve seen it’s like, how is anything in this world supposed to be moderate?
Akir: I know this is the idealistic young person thing to say, but we really need radical change. The earth is deteriorating at a rapid pace.
Kotaro Irishio: “Here there is more respect for artists.”
Kotaro Irishio, stage name Osaka Vagabond, moved to New York from Japan because he didn’t have to pay to perform in venues. He said, “Here there is more respect for artists.
“When all the venues closed down I really didn’t have the opportunity to perform. I used to have an open mic event in Chinatown, called Yosemic, at the Silk Road Cafe. It closed. I lost many gigs. I lost money. My drummer lost his granddad to COVID.
“My friends—one is a painter and one is a dancer—started performing here [in Washington Square Park], and I was like, can I join you guys? And they said, “Oh, welcome!” So I started performing here. I didn’t perform like this before the pandemic.
“There are different types of joy and excitement in the street. Here I can see people smiling, different facial expressions.
“Once, when I was playing on a rainy day, a guy who was collecting cans stopped to watch me for 10 minutes, in the rain, and gave me a wrinkly bill, a five-dollar bill. He told me, “Buy new guitar strings.” I know how much those cans are worth.
“I don’t know how to describe it, but I had emotions that I had never felt. It gave me so much courage. I had more passion.
“Even when the venues reopen, I’ll still perform in the street.”
An English teacher at a Harlem highschool reflected on reopening, having just seen his students for the first time a week ago. He wished to remain anonymous.
“For education, reopening is not a return. It’s basically like a natural disaster occurred. For us, reopening is like the crew that comes in to repair right after that disaster. The people who had to care for downtown after Sandy, that’s like what we have to do with children.
“Whole families became dis-regulated. It wasn’t just that the kids were going to bed at 4 a.m. and waking up at 4 p.m., it was like the whole family was going to bed at 4 a.m. and waking up at 4 p.m. People were terrified and traumatized and they heard the sirens all the time, their relatives dying, and they try to numb it with TV, and maybe they’re drinking a little bit, and everyone stays up watching TV and you don’t want to ever close your eyes because of the horrible things that start to float in front of them when they’re closed.
“So many kids who did so well in person just disappeared, fell off.
“Teaching kids in a classroom, it’s just so different … I was trying to explain what teaching is to my therapist.
“And I was like—imagine that you had all of your patients in one room and had to do therapy with each one of them at the same time. But you have to get them all there, and do therapy with every one of them, and then you have to teach them Capoeira [laughs].
“But I love it. It’s so much fun. It’s so much fun. It’s like really the most fun. There’s so much life in a school. My days are so filled with life. I missed it so much.”
Cheila Rochez and her business partner, Adela Díaz, got hit hard when their combination salon and tax service closed for four months. But as customers come back, they already have plans to expand their unique business model to another location.
Cheila: When we reopened, we did lots of promotions for customers, and made everything safe for them. We wear masks. We take a few customers at a time. They are starting to come back. But it’s hard. We didn’t get no help from the government.
Adela: They still don’t help! I do taxes in the back of the shop, and my business really fell off. I know they was giving out loans for the businesses. The people that really needed it didn’t get it and the people that didn’t need it did. They probably lied a little on their applications [laughs].
Cheila: The big shops was getting the help, but barbershops, beauty salons, braiding shops, we wasn’t getting no loans.
What’s the good thing about us is we are the only shop in the Bronx dedicated to dreadlocks. They have more in Brooklyn, in Manhattan, but not the Bronx. So almost everybody in the Bronx comes here.
Little by little, our customers are coming back. I do their hair, and then I tell them to go back to do their taxes.
I think it’s gonna go good. We’re ready, we all ready for it. We’re trying to open a second shop, Dreadlocks by Cheila and Taxes by Adela.
Ira Salom began his career at Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center on Randall’s Island, and later became the chief medical officer at a hospital on the Rosebud Sioux reservation in South Dakota. Now he visits homebound patients throughout New York City.
“I’ve been working more because of COVID. At one point, I was working seven days a week, 12 hours a day, every day of the week, all over the city. But it’s a fascinating job.
“There was one day when the first visit was with a 90-year-old woman in a fifth-floor walk-up in Chinatown. The building was built before 1900. The hallways are two-and-a-half-feet wide, there’s five people in one room, the grease on the walls is 80 years old. At the end of the day, the last patient—I’m not exaggerating—had a penthouse on Park Avenue South, with a German maid. It looked like Nick and Nora Charles’s place from The Thin Man!
“You see quadriplegics, people who have no other visitors. I’m sometimes the only one they see —they’re so grateful. There’s a lady who after I see her always says, come in, come in, have tea, have biscuits.
“So reopening means something else to homebound people. The window they see the city through is different from yours and mine. They only have a few points of contact. You know the story of the blind men and the elephant, one feels the leg, one feels the trunk. They see the world through different … peepholes. Through TV, through family, if they have any left, through the radio, through home health aides. The view from a walk-up in the Bronx is different from a penthouse.”
Apratim Sahay, senior policy manager at the Green New Deal Network, advises cities on environmental and health policy. He followed the pandemic closely, in dialogue with scientists around the world.
“You know that famous New Yorker magazine cover—there’s the city, and then everything else is terra incognita. That’s New York’s mental image. It sees itself as the city of the world.
“But the very things that make it unique and powerful and rich and hyper-connected are the same things that led toward the pandemic spreading very rapidly. New York will get maybe 500 flights from Europe, 100 flights from Asia, daily. There was a very brief window of time to act and we didn’t.
“The numbers I remember are: If we were active, shut down world travel, tested and traced two weeks earlier, we might have had 90% fewer deaths. That’s fucking Cuomo and de Blasio, but obviously not just them.
“I was very struck by the reporting in The New York Times when the U.S. death count hit 100,000 people. Names of the dead were listed, how old they were, a line about them, and the newspaper ran on and on.
“For the half-a-million deaths mark, the front page was just a series of dots. It was the famous Stalin line: ‘One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.’
“This crazy collective experience shouldn’t just be happening on, you know, the pages of a newspaper—it should be a physical place, a memorial for people to mourn together.
“The city is recovering, of course, and I think we’re going to see huge outbursts of energy everywhere—social, economic, and erotic energy, parties on every corner, sex with strangers in bars, everything. But that same energy might cause this experience to vanish from memory.
“New York can’t just be living high off the rewards of being the center of the world. We have to use our resources, our researchers, everything that makes it special and beautiful and a place we all want to live—we have to use it responsibly.”
Enid Caballero and Mabel Rosario are pediatric dental assistants at Bellevue Hospital. They worked throughout the pandemic on emergency cases.
Enid: During the pandemic, we saw just the worst cases, like very little kids, a five-year-old who doesn’t understand why he’s in pain. But it was scary. We didn’t know what was going on. Even for a simple exam, a simple X-ray, we found
COVID could be transmitted.
Mabel: It was spooky, too. It was so empty. It didn’t look like New York. It looked like one of them towns….
Enid: It looked like a ghost town. Half the people that work here are clerical, and they worked at home. You wouldn’t see people in the hallway. We all had to stay in our rooms, not see our colleagues.
Mabel: I was so anxious one day I couldn’t sleep at all—just up in my bed till
5 a.m., a full 24 hours without sleeping. I couldn’t go to work. Everything was changing so fast, the cases were going up so fast, the rules were changing constantly, the bodies on top of bodies.
Enid: We had a lot of trucks back there. A lot.
But they did stuff to make us feel better. We had free televisits. Me and Mabel would listen to relaxing music, like meditation music. They would ask us in the mornings, “How are you doing?”
And they would play music all day from the loudspeakers. When somebody got
COVID and was able to go home, they played “New York,” by Alicia Keys. So if you heard that, that was a relief, it gave you some hope. They would play it over the whole hospital.
Mabel: The other one was if someone survived and went off the ventilator, they would play this other song, what was it?
Enid and Mabel together: “Don’t Stop Believing”!
Enid: When they were taken off the ventilators they would play that. But you would never know if someone passed, they didn’t play music to that.
Now things are going back to normal. Morale has gone way up. The vaccinations, the testing. At first it was crazy but now everything is moving smoothly.
Just the fact that most people are back now, that patients are COVID-tested, and everybody has to wear masks 24/7. Just seeing everybody back. The park is open, the back is open. We can sit outside. Life is better.
Bootsie Lefaris is a drag queen who has performed regularly in New York City for 16 years. She said she expected a “drag renaissance” in the coming months.
“I had so many shows—solo shows, choreographed bar shows, singing shows. I went from eight shows to absolutely zero. I went from all of that to, you know, being confined to the apartment.
“It was hard because you have drag family, you have relationships with your co-workers. You know, it’s like, ‘Girl, can you help me zip up this outfit?’ Or, ‘Where did you get that hair? Can you help me with this mix?’ We lost some drag queens, some security guards, people who worked the bars.
“But I think this chance to just reset as a human population, to be forced to be by yourself, it can be a good thing. I believe we’re coming into a drag renaissance. I feel like it’s gonna be a complete rebirth.
“I added so much more love to the show. There’s some shows where I was being a sassy drag queen. I didn’t totally drop that, but I just started saying, ‘Y’all are so beautiful. I see so many beautiful faces, I’m so thankful to all of you.’ Spreading love instead of judgment.
“Just last week at Playhouse Bar, I was with one of my guests, Vinnie Gaga. Her father and her two sisters came to the show, just to support her. And she introduced me to her dad and I was like, ‘Hey daddy,’ and he was like, ‘No, I’m actually her daddy.’
“We all started laughing and laughing. Just seeing the support, that to me was totally beautiful.” ❖
[Correction: In the print edition, both Ira Salom’s and Apratim Sahay’s names were spelled incorrectly. The Voice regrets the errors. Additionally, Mr. Sahay felt his estimate of the number of international flights coming into New York was too high, and the text here reflects the change.]