New York Daily Photo Analytics

Friday, April 24, 2009

Catch a Wave

In the years I have lived in New York, I have witnessed a myriad of trends and fads. With many of these, it seemed there was no end in sight and that it would become a permanent part of the city's cultural landscape. And then as quickly as it came, it was gone - in some cases almost completely, in others, varying degrees of vestiges remain.
There was disco fever. I had a friend who took dance lessons with his wife at the very disco in Brooklyn (2001 Odyssey) where John Travolta performed in Saturday Night Fever. Disco roller skating became a popular spinoff with skating circles in the parks (still one in Central Park). For a time, small roller skating clubs opened - skating was done ad nauseum in a circle to DJ music.
During the same period, enormous boomboxes were toted and seen in the parks and streets. One of the few benefactors was Duracell - most of these required 8 D-cell batteries and only lasted some part of one day. Supporting your machine became tantamount to a drug habit.
There was the break dancing phenomenon with many youths spinning on all parts of their bodies including their heads on makeshift stages - cardboard on the sidewalks.
And then there were those "exclusive" clubs like Studio 54 and the Mudd Club with lines of patrons hoping they were special enough to be chosen for admission by arrogant, power-wielding bouncers. Ironically, in many of these, the throngs on the street were more interesting than the scene in the clubs themselves.
Even crime appeared trendlike. Graffiti on subway trains became a virtual icon for New York - witness movies like The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and The French Connection. Heroin users graced the parks. Broken car windows for radio theft were daily occurrences.
Puzzling was the rapid rise and fall of gelaterias. Many of these small shops were beautifully put together only to be dismantled in a short time. Most of the remaining shops (like Café Dante) were there before the trend and after the dust settled.
The man in the photo is reminiscent of the rise of Andean street musicians in the late 1980s. The streets on weekends (and subway system) found many small troupes playing Andean folk music - mostly from Ecuador and Peru, with panpipes, flutes and strings. 
One of the recent complaints worldwide about street musicians is the use of backing tapes and amplification systems, allowing a solo performer to play with recorded backup. Apart from the typically excessive volume is the rather "muzak" or schmaltzy character of the overall result. But the advantages to the musician are many - no need to organize a group or split tips, becoming a one-man band.
Other trends did become part of mainstream culture like skateboarding and the migration to "new" neighborhoods.
Every corner of the planet has its trends, fads and cultural movements and many of these become global. But in New York City, with the chutzpah of the people, the large numbers of adopters and the tolerance of the residents, these things take on a larger dimension and are frequently exported. 
Living here is like playing in the ocean - sometimes I get caught in a wave, other times I just let it pass me by, waiting for the next one ...


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Velvet Eden said...

A very interesting post, Brian! I have followed your blog for a while... And this is my first comment. Just want to say GREAT photos and commentaries! It actually took me about a whole month to go through the archives but I admit, it was well worth it!

It's amazing how you reminisce on the past trends and fads because NYC is moving so fast and it's a here-today-gone-tomorrow kinda lifestyle where change is prevalent. I'm sure it's the same for fast paced cities throughout the world.

Keep up the excellent work! Have a good weekend!

-A Smile from Singapore,