Gentrification and Tonic
April 17, 2007 10:35 PM   Subscribe

Tonic closes. At the end of a farewell performance, Marc Ribot and Rebecca Moore refused to leave the stage. They were arrested for trespassing, and hope to bring attention to New York's dwindling number of performance spaces for independent music. Previous discussions.
posted by Benjamin Nushmutt (73 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Hey, I've just been in touch with both Marc and Rebecca about this. It's admirable that they're trying to bring attention to the problem, though it looks like Manhattan is just about finished. Outer boroughs, y'all, outer boroughs.

Or does anyone even use that term anymore?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:44 PM on April 17, 2007

Yeah.... I'm in Manahttan and after 16 years I'm starting to think "they" don't want me here anymore. Everything affordable and remotely worthwhile is being exterminated.
posted by Liquidwolf at 10:50 PM on April 17, 2007

I think anyone who uses a term like "performance space" should be arrested, for molesting the mother tongue.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:53 PM on April 17, 2007

I think anyone who uses a term like "performance space" should be arrested

Perfectly good term, in wide use for many years now. Maybe not in Beaverton, Oregon, but, you know, elsewhere...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:03 PM on April 17, 2007

Ribot is something special. In a class by himself.
posted by vronsky at 11:09 PM on April 17, 2007

Yeah, terrific player. Interesting, inventive, skew-whiff.
posted by Wolof at 11:11 PM on April 17, 2007

You know, Steven, there's a fine line between curmudgeon and philistine. I wouldn't be proud of crossing it.
posted by dhartung at 11:12 PM on April 17, 2007 [4 favorites]

Yeah.... I'm in Manahttan and after 16 years I'm starting to think "they" don't want me here anymore. Everything affordable and remotely worthwhile is being exterminated.

"They" don't want you anywhere else in the country either. I can't figure out where they're all coming from myself.
posted by fshgrl at 11:28 PM on April 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

To return focus to the topic of the post and restore dignity and virtue to the mother tongue.

Be it enacted by the original poster that the phrase "Performance Spaces" shall be stricken from the record, and hereby replaced with "Condominiums".
posted by Benjamin Nushmutt at 11:43 PM on April 17, 2007 [8 favorites]


Funny, I had recently been toying with the idea of moving back to NYC from Chicago. This reminds me that NYC just ain't the same. Here's to Tonic, she made many of us happy many evenings.
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 1:01 AM on April 18, 2007

When I was in high school, Manhattan seemed like this mythical place, you know, East of the Sun where the Great Music came from. I grew up idolizing bands like Sonic Youth and Television and whatnot: all these bands that have since become short hand for the febrile, fertile nature of music in a big city, music that acted as cultural map co-ordinates for New York City --- and the kind of thing that people point to when they talk about the vibrancy of the cities and, nowadays, the kind of precedence people cite when they're trying to tell you that New York is the greatest city on earth.

The last time I was in Manhattan, though, all I could feel was: "Oh, this is a place for rich people." Not that the rich are completely devoid of taste or anything, but you know what I mean: people who either live in condos or else could afford to live in condos but live in apartments and congratulate themselves on the grittiness of their relative squalor. Anyway, this island was basically a playground for them: people who would never even dream of visiting Tokyo but who were afforded the opportunity to drop $300 on a fusion-Japanese dinner and feel like they were true cross-cultural explorers. People who felt like privileged musical expeditionaries because they knew who the Arcade Fire were, people who would put on Benny Bennassi and feel a twinge of pride because they lived 30 minutes away from the birthplace of electro.

In short, No Wave could never have surfaced in the Manhattan of today. If it were to, citizens would be horrified and appalled. They would never listen to the music, let alone celebrate whatever cultural heritage might have been planted there. They would thoroughly ignore it and whatever club acted as its epicenter would quietly go out of business. Perhaps some people might protest its closure. It's okay, though, because nowadays, No Wave would never surface in Manhattan.

But it did. Almost 30 years ago, it actually did. If you can believe it, punk rock took it's shape there too. When CBGB's closed, it just kind of felt like its time had come, that this was a different age. And then Tonic closes, and people are upset but also resigned. How long before the Knitting Factory closes its doors, and how will people react then? At what point do Manhattanites become tourists in their own city's cultural legacy?

There are, to a first approximation, no young people living in Manhattan. I am excluding the prematurely middle-aged traders and investment bankers; there are honestly dwindelingly few unencumbered young people who would make art just for the hell of it. All that remains is a lingering nostalgia for art for the hell of it. Can I say that the city is resting on its laurels without being accused of taking a cheap shot?

This is, of course, and freely admittedly, an outsider's perspective. I have somehow used Manhattan as a short hand for Manhattan-south-of-Harlem. I don't even live in Manhattan, and don't have any insider knowledge as to what's going on there, culturally, except that, from an interested outsider's perspective, it's basically been fuck all for the longest time. I've been there (just) often enough to know that when a cultural institution like Tonic goes under (and what will take its place? Can you even imagine?) and goes unmourned in any real sense then all this business about NYC being the greatest city on earth --- this business that the rest of the continent is raised on, apparently without irony --- well, it falls into question.

But that's okay. There are 4 other burroughs left. And I hear that Williamsburg over in Brooklyn had something going on a couple of years ago. Maybe it might resonate, before the developers and investment bankers move in.

I joke and I jab, but this is a huge question in my own city as well, and I think it just might be a new question in the history of cities: when does art cease to be vital culture for the ages and start to be mere leisure for the newly rich? And where does the closure of Tonic fall along the continuum?

As a New York man says, "New York I love you, but you're freaking me out. There's a tonne of twist, but we're fresh out of shout." And Tonic falls silent, then the city, and then it's no longer a city but just a desirable place to live. You step outside and the streets are quiet and you remember how it used to be just noise, noise, noise. And that's the point of life in a city, why we bother to live in cities at all: not for the elegant silence, but for the glorious din, to be thrilled and shaken by the noise. Today, like yesterday, it just quiets down a bit, and nobody thrills to the silence. Nobody, nobody, remembers that. It's just a void, and all anybody can do is remember how loud it used to be.
posted by Tiresias at 1:46 AM on April 18, 2007 [15 favorites]

When does art cease to be vital culture for the ages and start to be mere leisure for the newly rich?

When I got to talking with an artist friend who does "primitive/innocent" art and can't quite figure out the Thomas Kinkade craze and its attendant money-machine, it occurred to me that this sort of thing works in the reverse order.

First, you get the newly rich suddenly able to afford having a portraitist come depict the paterfamilias or the entire family, and then those portraitists can afford to do lots of other neat stuff, and pretty soon you've got the Dutch Golden Age of art. It's not always filthy-rich folks indulging themselves, though; Currier & Ives lithographs were pretty much art for the middlebrow set here in the States, kinda like Kinkade is now. And now it's museum fodder. Makes me wonder if Kinkade will be there too in 100 more years.

Since we can record music in actual audience-oriented performance spaces or purpose-built studios and play it back ad infinitum, I don't know what kind of dynamic that introduces that differst from "art" as I think of it -- who the hell would've paid to watch Vermeer create? And we're talking about rock 'n' roll, which is supposed to be about rebellion, right? So...start staging impromptu live concerts around town until the cops bust you? No, wait, we're really talking about a hyperinflated real-estate market in a few square miles off the coast of America. Yeah, I guess there's always the Jersey side...
posted by pax digita at 3:19 AM on April 18, 2007

The phrase "performance space" is only marginally worse than the phrase "mother tongue" and at least has no disgusting sexual overtones.
posted by DU at 4:17 AM on April 18, 2007

There is still the Stone.
posted by caddis at 4:19 AM on April 18, 2007

There are, to a first approximation, no young people living in Manhattan.

This is not true, or soon won't be, as the number of kids in Manhattan is increasing. Not that it will help the cultural situation, since 50% of those kids are white and have a family with a median income of $250,000 per year.
posted by bashos_frog at 4:42 AM on April 18, 2007

Welcome to the rest of the country. Here in Austin - the self-proclaimed live music capitol of the world - "avant-garde, creative, and experimental music" has a hard time finding a place to play also. Venues that are welcoming close down or are purchased and have a narrower music focus, etc. (Not to belittle those venues that do offer the occasional experimental music night.)
posted by melt away at 4:47 AM on April 18, 2007

I'm quite amused to see the populist outrage over the pricing-out of a club devoted to free jazz, experimental avant garde improvisation, and other such high-toned things. You'd think they shut down the last beer hall in a factory town.

The demise of Tonic says something about real estate prices in Manhattan. It doesn't mean Tonic was making a brave last stand for the working classes of New York City. I've been there many times, and don't recall seeing too many attendees who looked like maids or janitors or deliverymen.

Egads. You have to cross the river to hear some dude playing aimless, endless atonal riffs on a modified electronic saxophone. Poor little hipsters.
posted by spitbull at 4:49 AM on April 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

"avant-garde, creative, and experimental music" has a hard time finding a place to play also.

If it didn't, it would be "mainstream crap," and no longer cool. Face it, only a few people think that shit is music (I'm one, or used to be, so lay off). Most people think it sounds like robots having sex, without the cool visuals. And that's what makes it "avant garde," in the end. You cannot have your (cool, avant garde, nonmainstream) art and sell it too. Never could. If Tonic stayed in business by having a cover band night or a country and western night, or by hosting mainstream jazz shows for tourists, y'all would be crying "sellout."
posted by spitbull at 5:00 AM on April 18, 2007

And one last thought -- don't all of Tonic's most loyal fans *already* live in Brooklyn, in neighborhoods that, last I checked, were more expensive that Harlem or El Barrio.
posted by spitbull at 5:02 AM on April 18, 2007

I've seen good shows there for $5. Maybe they should've charged more. Or at least raised the price of beer.

I think Brooklyn is giong to go the same way soon enough. As noted above, rents in some parts (Hello, Red Hook!) are higher than anything north of 125th in Manhattan.

My real advice, though, is come to the Bronx. There are at least 2 empty Irish bars in my neighborhood (this was an Irish neighborhood 15 years ago!); rents here are still low and you can even buy a sub-$100k condo.

Pay no mind to that sewage treatment plant they're building.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 5:35 AM on April 18, 2007

This is sad, but it's just a bit academic, isn't it? The independent music scene has been much more vibrant in bridge and tunnel territory than in Manhattan for at least the past 10 years.
posted by psmealey at 5:35 AM on April 18, 2007

The last time I was in Manhattan, though, all I could feel was: "Oh, this is a place for rich people."

Even Barnes & Noble can't afford it. The continued increase in New York real estate prices, residential and commercial, just amazes me. There seems to be an endless influx of people with lots of money.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 5:55 AM on April 18, 2007

Some asshole wrote: Egads. You have to cross the river to hear some dude playing aimless, endless atonal riffs on a modified electronic saxophone. Poor little hipsters.

No, there are very few places across the river as well. There are not even two dozen live music venues, all small, in Brooklyn, the fourth largest city in the US.

I'm actually a musician, not a hipster nor a rude asshole like you, and what this means to me is that now *every* Manhattan venue I've ever played (but one) has now closed (out of dozens over 20 years). (Full disclosure: they played some of my electronic music in a wine keg in Tonic the first night I opened, I've never actually manipulated an instrument there...)

Tonic did all sorts of things. I'd go there for the Subtonic nights on Fridays, because it was one of the few places left in the city that you could dance in without paying an arm or a leg. Dancing used to be pretty mainstream, you know: still is most places.

The Stone -- have you been there? Nothing wrong with it but it's small, doesn't even have a real PA and actually *is* firmly aimed at avant-garde music, your endless atonal riffs (spits), and as such isn't going to book a lot of acts I'd love to see.

Blaming this on gentrification is incomplete. Blame it on a decade of successive city governments who've done everything they could, legal and otherwise, to fine, harass and suppress live music and dancing, while sucking up to and bending (and even breaking) the law for the developers who are just oh-so-coincidentally their chief campaign contributors. Our Mayor Bloomberg just won a court case, paid for on both sides with our money, successfully claiming that dance is not a form of self-expression, and therefore it's not Constitutionally protected and that Bloomberg has every right to suppress it as undesirable.

"Quality of Life" goons, notoriously corrupt storm troopers with huge powers and no practical mechanism of appeal against their instant, summary judgements, shutter clubs in a heartbeat, not because they are causing impermissible noise, nor garbage, nor violence or underage drinking, nor indeed impermissibly bothering anyone outside the club, but because two people within the club were moving parts of their bodies rhythmically, the working definition they have of "dancing".

If these goons see two or more people nodding their heads, they not only can but will immediately close the club and fine them a typical $500; if the club appeals, it stays shuttered for the length of the appeal, typically six months.

I'd already decided that I was going to start to spend a lot more time away from New York City when saw how much more sympathetic other cities are to live performance and dancing. Having Tonic and TheDanger end on the same night was a clear message.

Hey, spitbull -- what do _you_ do with your spare time? Watch a lot of TV, do you? Ever really loved something and had it taken away from you by the government? Ever had to watch while something you really cared about was systematically destroyed?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:55 AM on April 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Metafilter: robots having sex, without the cool visuals.
posted by piratebowling at 6:08 AM on April 18, 2007

Just once before I die
I want to climb up on a
tenement sky
to dream my lungs out till
I cry
then scatter my ashes thru
the Lower East Side.
posted by four panels at 6:13 AM on April 18, 2007

they played some of my electronic music in a wine keg...

Yup, there's your problem right there.
posted by schoolgirl report at 6:35 AM on April 18, 2007

Metafilter: robots having sex, without the cool visuals.
beep beep beep
___ / boop boop boop
|o o| ___ /
H \|x x|
/'H'\/ \//---
\[=====> [*]
/ \ \ \
|| || / /
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:36 AM on April 18, 2007 [11 favorites]

There are, to a first approximation, no young people living in Manhattan.

What kind of nonsense is this? If you want to exclude all the kids from the two GIANT colleges and the other smaller ones because they don't technically 'pay their own rent' (i'm sure alot of them actually do) you still have a monster influx of young kids dreaming of making it in the city flooding into the LES, East Village, Upper East Side, etc. Maybe my definition of 'young' is different from yours. To me, 'young' is anyone under 25. Shit, anyone under 30 is young to me, but not 'young'.
posted by spicynuts at 6:41 AM on April 18, 2007

Damn you, robocop is bleeding! Why oh why'd you have to prove me wrong?
posted by piratebowling at 6:45 AM on April 18, 2007

How long before the Knitting Factory closes its doors, and how will people react then?

It already did, a long time ago. When the Knitting Factory left Houston street (now Botanika) for its current location in TriBeCa, it lost something important. I remember seeing Yo La Tengo, Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine in the tiny stifling room, always too loud, always unpleasant, but very communal.

The current Knitting Factory is just another big club without much character, maybe just a notch up from the terrible Irving Plaza.

That said, there are still a few places left that are sort of cool (but not great) places to see music, like Pianos and the Mercury Lounge... but the passing of Tonic does represent the end of an era (that as I mentioned had been given last rites some time ago).
posted by psmealey at 6:47 AM on April 18, 2007

The current Knitting Factory is just another big club without much character, maybe just a notch up from the terrible Irving Plaza.

Yes, but it still features tiny stifling rooms. So it's got that going for it.
posted by Remy at 7:00 AM on April 18, 2007

I lived in the Lower East Side back in the 90's. I almost didn't move there at first because it seemed so desolate. Then a year later, a swedish bistro (14$ lingonberry pancakes) opened up on my street: Beginning of the End.

I miss NYC a lot and think regularly about moving back. This totally depressing news puts the big ol' damper on those fantasies.

I loved Tonic. So many great memories and amazing music and familiar faces. And, look, it wasn't just weird experimental music. I remember music that made people dance and smile. Music that would on occasion drive the audience to improvise percussion and join in.
posted by tingting at 7:19 AM on April 18, 2007

The Stone -- have you been there?

Yup. That place plays my kind of music, and frankly it is not endless atonal riffs, although you will hear some of that too.
posted by caddis at 7:24 AM on April 18, 2007

Ok all of you decrying the death of culture in NYC, you can officially STFU now.

Look, I live in lower Manhattan. I've been going to Tonic for years. And you know what? I liked the place and all, but I can totally see why it was shut down. A place like that just doesn't showcase the kind of music that people want to hear. I was only there on one occasion when the house was anywhere near packed - and that was because John Medeski was playing. Any other time I went there, it was at most 1/2 full, and the audience was comprised of men over 35. Yeah, that's right, all you guys are screaming and crying because men over 35 will have to go somewhere else to hear music that - and I say this as a fan of experimental music - was well-nigh unlistenable at times. Ever listen to John Zorn? Ok, that's what you're missing. Whoever you are, chances are that you wouldn't have gone to a show there anyway.

Yes, NYC is an expensive place to live, but there are lots of neighborhoods in the outer-boroughs where young, middle-class and lower-middle-class people can live. Yeah, it ain't Manhattan, but guess what - in your treasured late-70s-early-80s, Manhattan wasn't Manhattan either - it was a dangerous, run-down place where you wouldn't want to bring your family.

So yeah, suck it up and head east on the L line, or kindly STFU and move to St. Louis or Detroit or Philly, where you can get thousands of square feet for pennies on the dollar. Plenty of room for John Zorn to play there.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:37 AM on April 18, 2007

And before everyone jumps down my throat, I will also mention that I'm a musician, and that my band plays regularly in the E. Village, Alphabet City, and the LES. There is no shortage of places to go to see new music in lower Manhattan, nor will there be any time in the near future.

However, it will be hard for boutique places like Tonic, who cater to such a small, select crowd.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:48 AM on April 18, 2007

Metafilter: robots having sex, without with the cool visuals.
posted by Bugg at 7:50 AM on April 18, 2007

after seeing the "cool visuals" I now know why Robocop is bleeding.
posted by Challahtronix at 7:53 AM on April 18, 2007

All due respect, Afroblanco, if you don't want people to jump down your throat, you could perhaps be a bit more judicious with your use of the STFUs.
posted by psmealey at 7:54 AM on April 18, 2007

Ok, I'll admit, my language was a bit inflammatory. But it pisses me off to hear people talking about the death of culture in NYC when myself and my band are an integral part of the *very thriving* culture in NYC.

Here are some great places in lower MH to see shows :

Club Midway
Arlene's Grocery
Cake Shop
The Annex

And these are just a few of the many venues in lower MH that are nowhere near shutting down or going broke.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:02 AM on April 18, 2007

you could perhaps be a bit more judicious with your use of the STFUs.

BULLSHIT! This is the language of the NYC all you wankers keep decrying is dying. If you don't like the in your face way we talk, STFU and stay out.

....said with love as a New Yorker.
posted by spicynuts at 8:21 AM on April 18, 2007

Plenty of room for John Zorn to play there.

And he would STILL only draw a half full room of men over 35. Maybe if he was playing with his Naked City band you'd get some younger peeps.
posted by spicynuts at 8:24 AM on April 18, 2007

Afroblanco will be replacing Marc Ribot on the next Tom Waits record.
posted by liam at 8:38 AM on April 18, 2007

This makes me sad. Not, by the way, for what it says about larger trends in New York, but because I loved Tonic--probably to the tune of 40 or 50 shows over the years. I just saw a gorgeous Bill Frisell show a few weeks ago. I'll miss it terribly.

I'll still take our music scene over just about anyone else's, gentrification warts and all.

::prays for more bluegrass::
posted by kosem at 9:46 AM on April 18, 2007

How much does culture in the "outer burroughs" (sorry, I'm not familiar with NYC) depend on car travel? From my perspective on the other coast, I see a positive relationship between density (e.g., you can walk, take the subway, or a cab without too much hassle or $) and the vitality of urban culture.
posted by treepour at 10:06 AM on April 18, 2007

Club Midway
Arlene's Grocery
Cake Shop
The Annex

All fine places to go I'm sure (I haven't been to Midway or Annex), but none of these have the international pull that Tonic had.
posted by hellbient at 10:11 AM on April 18, 2007

treepour: Not much at all. There are definitely places I frequent in Queens (and a couple in BK) that would be much more convenient to access by car. By and large, though, if you want to get to a cultural event in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and even Staten Island, you hop on the Subway and occasionally the bus.
posted by kosem at 10:48 AM on April 18, 2007

I'm sorry, I wasn't at all trying to diss the Stone. I like that kind of music but it's a small space devoted to experimental performance and won't take the place of Tonic and the other missing spaces.

And regarding AfroBianco's STFU, I'm not a big fan of the sort of music you seem to think Tonic was running. I used to go there on Friday nights to dance, not for free jazz. I remember particularly shows like Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Melted Men.

The other spaces that AfroBianco mentions are fine, but they show very normal bands indeed.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:49 AM on April 18, 2007

My understanding is that if you want unbridled culture and noisey-avant-garde music, Montreal is the place to go these days.

Not really my thing. I find most current "noise music" to be wanky and 9-times-out-of-10 more about "social currency" than the desire to create art, but hey different strokes and all that.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:36 AM on April 18, 2007

Y'know years ago I used to whine and moan to anyone who might listen that the music scene in North Texas needed more attention both globally and locally. There were a lot of talented people who deserved to be seen and heard, and the general concensus I got from people in places like New York and California was that Texas didn't matter.

Oh really? Maybe you should just Cowboy up.

Occasionally Austin gets double-takes from north of the Mason-Dixon, but that's mostly when you northerners want Texas to sound like your interpretation of what Texas should sound like. We're more than twang down here, not that you'd notice.

I've seen twangless folk artists and heavy metal badasses and all kinds of great powerful talents grace the little 'performance spaces' available from Greenville to Deep Ellum here in Dallas. Awesome, talented people who deserved attention too.

With the possible exception of Jenny Bruce, I could care less if the NYC music scene dries up and blows away. In the history of American music, for every one talented musician that's made it out of Texas, there's dozens of artists from the east coast who got a chance to strut their stuff beyond a regional level.

Maybe if a couple hundred other venues on the east coast dried up, the playing field would level out, although it's too late for most of the players I supported back in the 1990s. They rolled out of those performance spaces like tumbleweeds and will never be heard. At least the artists from The Tonic had their shot.

The Tonic's gone. Wah Wah Wah. Good riddance as far as I'm concerned.
posted by ZachsMind at 11:59 AM on April 18, 2007

Austin has one of the most vibrant music scenes in the country to be sure, but it is just petty to take delight in someone else's loss.
posted by caddis at 12:04 PM on April 18, 2007

Turnabout is fair play, Caddis.
posted by ZachsMind at 12:05 PM on April 18, 2007

you still sound petty
posted by caddis at 12:09 PM on April 18, 2007

ZachsMind: Whence the hate? I have room in my heart for the music in Texas and the music in New York. Less cool music in New York is less cool music everywhere.

At least the artists from The Tonic had their shot.

What on Earth does this mean? Tonic wasn't some launchpad for struggling New York avantgarders to stake their claim to fame. Nobody got their big break at Tonic in the way you seem to suggest.

Learn something, please, before you come in and piss all over the place. Especially here, when the grave you're dancing on is the wrong one.
posted by kosem at 12:16 PM on April 18, 2007

But that's okay. There are 4 other burroughs left. And I hear that Williamsburg over in Brooklyn had something going on a couple of years ago. Maybe it might resonate, before the developers and investment bankers move in.

Too late.

The luxury condos are sprouting like mushrooms all over W'burg. I live the adjacent neighborhood, Greenpoint, and we just got a Starbucks. This despite the fact that we have half a dozen good locally owned coffee shops... or maybe not despite, but because. Starbucks saw a market they could swoop in and steal.

I love New York, but the relentless and accelerating gentrification of the city is depressing.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 12:38 PM on April 18, 2007

Hey, spitbull -- what do _you_ do with your spare time? Watch a lot of TV, do you? Ever really loved something and had it taken away from you by the government? Ever had to watch while something you really cared about was systematically destroyed?

Well, gee, lupus, so you do know my name isn't "some asshole?"

And fuck you too. I was a professional musician -- that's right, made my full time living at it -- for the first half of my adult life.

"The government" didn't take Tonic away from you. Tonic presented music with a limited audience and went out of business, like thousands of other music clubs before it, and in the future.

Asshole. Look in the fucking mirror. Me, I'll be busy watching TV and dissing avant garde music, which is mostly played by people without the chops to play music people want to hear.
posted by spitbull at 1:02 PM on April 18, 2007

And let me add that I was an active performer of avant-garde and experimental music in the 1980s, before I changed my mind about the value of making people happy with my art.
posted by spitbull at 1:16 PM on April 18, 2007

And that I'm a New Yorker, and have been to Tonic more times than I can remember. It could be charming, or it could be awful, like any club. I'm just much more chagrined by the problems that really matter in this city, including over-gentrification, and don't see standing up against the demise of a very elitist music scene (even if that were the implication of Tonic's demise) as a compelling political cause. The loft scene is gone too. Music keeps getting made in Manhattan.
posted by spitbull at 1:20 PM on April 18, 2007

from the story:
In an interview that morning Mr. Ribot said the purpose of the demonstration was not to save Tonic, but to expose the need for city financing for experimental music. “New music serves as research and development for a much larger music scene,” he said. “It has a cultural and economic weight beyond its immediate audience.”
i never thought of it this way. more mainstream forms of music regularly take ideas and techniques from the avant garde. why avant garde music seems to be drying up in nyc, though, can't be fully blamed on condos.
posted by ism at 1:21 PM on April 18, 2007

Good lord. Do any of these people, you know, tour? That's what those of us who live in stickville who want to make a shot at performing do. If anything, the collapse of a "cultural mecca" opens up opportunities both locally and beyond.

Nobody has yet suggested that these very same musical scenes perhaps fuel the very gentrification that bury them. I believe that the reverse may be true as well. Nothing like an orderly "closed by five" neighborhood mentality that breeds empty and naturally more dangerous streets in the evening...
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:30 PM on April 18, 2007

Oh no!!

posted by mykescipark at 3:04 PM on April 18, 2007

Hey, spitbull. "The government," and specifically the Quality of Life Taskforce, most certainly DID take Tonic away from us. With over a third of their revenue taken away overnight when their basement was closed by the city, Tonic was forced to close down. It was very clear that they'd been looking for a mechanism to kill it -- they'd tried for a long time in various different ways.

This is quite similar to the Cooler -- at a certain point, the city decided they wanted to close it, and within 6 months it was closed. The Cooler was also a harsh closing: it was profitable, comfortable, had good acts, but when they were being padlocked on average once a week for dancing violations and paying tens of thousands of dollars in fines every quarter for the same thing, they weren't going to survive.

I decided you were "some asshole" from this statement: Egads. You have to cross the river to hear some dude playing aimless, endless atonal riffs on a modified electronic saxophone. Poor little hipsters. which certainly seems to be a big "fuck you" from you to us. It's inconceivable to me that an ex-musician would mock music lovers for mourning a favorite, lost venue; you've done nothing to indicate that you are a decent, compassionate person; my characterization of you still stands.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:58 PM on April 18, 2007

Yeah, well put, lupus_yonderboy. The spite and vitriol expressed by spitbull (pretty appropriate user name, there buddy!) spicynuts and Zach'sMind is so harsh, and so misdirected.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:35 PM on April 18, 2007

Actually, sorry spicynuts, I shouldn't have included you in that last comment.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:35 PM on April 18, 2007

Lupus, you poor little hipster. My characterization of you still stands, too.

And one last time, I'm not fucking denying anyone the right to mourn Tonic. I'm saying it's stupid to see it as a sign of Manhattan's decline and fall or to raise a populist flag in defense of something so fundamentally elitist as the NYC experimental music scene.

And yes, I'm a musician. I'm sorry I'm not the right sort of musician to appreciate whining over a club closing down, given the elitism and snobbery of the experimental music scene, but that wasn't my point. When they closed most of the salsa clubs in New York after the cocaine money dried up in the 90s, hundreds of musicians were affected, and thousands of dancers and patrons. Anyway, any professional musician with any experience could tell you clubs and scenes come and go. No one gave any musician or music style the right to exist and thrive. It's a free market. In any case, avant-garde and experimental music are *subsidized* to an extraordinary extent by the state and elite private institutions (NEA, NEH, academia, technology research, foundation grants, tax-esempt status). It's not like John Zorn -- even -- sells many records. Or draws many fans to his gigs. Why does the City of New York owe Tonic anything?
posted by spitbull at 7:57 PM on April 18, 2007

I have been holding off from discussing this for fear that I would be accused of editorializing and that I would get taken to teh metatalks and OMG this is my first post and I don't want to mess up.

To be clear: I don't have anti-gentrification axe to grind (Why, some of my best friends are upwardly mobile!), nor do I have a chip on my shoulder about how awful mainstream music is, and how the only pure music is unlistenable jagged noise poops.

But I'm concerned. For me, the major issue is this: a healthy culture will include participation in the arts, and a healthy art culture will include outlets for experimentation, places for trying new things. The jokey post title and snarky comments aside, I do think that it's entirely possible to have financial growth, urban expansion/revitalization, and an innovative, thriving arts scene at the same time. Living trends change, jobs move, and rents rise and fall--that's inevitable. And I know that experimental art isn't exactly profitable, and that institutions that emphasize pushing the envelope tend to have trouble staying in business (Black Mountain College for example), but still, they play an important role in society. It's kinda like the role of the trickster in mythology, or the shaman/seer, or some other source of wisdom and annoyance.

I am fortunate enough to live in a small city that has multiple venues that will host weird music. In terms of art culture, I think of other cities as stops on trade routes, not enemy nation states (your favorite local music scene sucks, etc.). Anyways, rivalries are rather inconsequential here, the fact remains that New York has long been the central hub for this kind of music. And if a musician as esteemed and accomplished as Marc Ribot feels that Tonic's closing signifies the eviction of an entire music scene, and he feels so strongly about it that he is willing to get arrested; well, then there is a problem.

I'm not a New Yorker, and I couldn't give two shits about scenseters trying to out-scene each other or New Yorkers trying to out-newyork each other, but I have come to depend on New York to be the largest breeding ground for people that want to terrorize the audience with their musical avant-dickery. It's not about whether unlistenable music has merit (it does), or whether people appropriate and water down everything good from the underground (it happens a lot, but this? Popular cultural trends can't really go near this stuff. Some things just cannot be appropriated. It's not like some trendy Manhattanite Mom is going to head to the gym for a Fennesize workout while pushing her child in a Lil' Merzbaby Shreiking Stroller. Although that would be awesome. But I digress.). Without innovation, without play, without people experimenting and cross-pollenating and trying out all kinds of crazy sounds, music would probably be boring. Life would be boring. I doubt that anyone here thinks that every atonal headache of a song from a downtown music nerd's repertoire is a work of genius. But people who seek to push past existing musical boundaries can come up with some pretty amazing things. Like that one guy who was all "Fuck it, for this symphony, I'm going to use an orchestra AND a chorus". Or that other guy who was like "Okay, I'm going to play an uptempo version of the blues and actually encourage my guitar to feed back. And then I'm gonna play the Star Spangled Banner."

Spitbull, you are correct--clubs close, scenes come and go. Things end, life is short, the world is transitory. That doesn't mean that we should be indifferent to loss. Acknowledging loss is a way to affirm the value of the missing thing, and to meditate on what life is going to be like without it. And you would probably be pretty peeved if a major venue that catered to (insert your favorite genre here) closed and some people told you goodbye and good riddance. But I think you have a much, much bigger problem on your hands, and you probably haven't anticipated it. If the clubs that support experimental music keep closing, then there are going to be a large number of unbearably pretentious music snobs that are turned out on the streets. If they are not quarantined, then the city is in grave danger; they travel in packs, they are ravenous for music, and they will stop at nothing to hear it. They will break into the music halls and the jazz clubs and the discotheques, so beware my friend, for the next gig may be your own...
posted by Benjamin Nushmutt at 9:54 PM on April 18, 2007 [3 favorites]

spitbull: I was a professional musician...

lupus_yonderboy: It's inconceivable to me that an ex-musician would mock music lovers for mourning a favorite, lost venue.

I'd just like to share an observation I've made over the years, that very few groups of people love music less than professional musicians do.

The closing of Tonic is today's iteration of the same crushing defeat that's been befalling non-mainstream artists forever and will continue to do so until we are swallowed by the sun. Moore and Ribot's civil disobedience is today's iteration of the non-mainstream artist's vocational devotion, which tomorrow will be iterated by by someone carving out a place to perform some-goddamn-where. For these people, music isn't just an opportunity to participate in a free market.

And just so everyone's clear, lots of folks who played at tonic have way more chops than anyone needs to play music that people want to hear.

On preview: Benjamin Nushmutt for president!!
posted by Eothele at 9:58 PM on April 18, 2007

Eothele, Benjamin Nushmutt, lupus_yonderboy, you're making me happy to be a part of MetaFilter. I refrained from making too many comments in this thread cause I feel a little too close to this subject. I know most of those downtown music scene folks pretty well and have worked with many of them over the years. So I mostly laid out of this thread. Fortunately for me, you three (and some others, too!) have said many of the things that I would've said, and it's gratifying to see that there are people who can think beyond the 'it either thrives in the free market or it deserves to die' mentality that we've heard in some of the comments here. Needless to say, that's a philosophy which is very popular with most arch-conservatives.

So you people with your 'STFU' and your 'quit crying and move to Detroit' and your 'the place deserves to die cause it's not packed out every night', well, hopefully you've at least learned a little something here. If not, I'd suggest re-reading some of your own comments and contrast them with those thoughtful comments by the three people mentioned above. You might just get a little lesson in careful thought and reasoned analysis of a problem. And who knows? Perhaps next time you won't bust outta the gates with your knees jerking and your fists swinging, which is an especially foolish and lunkheaded thing to do when you don't really know what you're even swinging at.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:53 PM on April 18, 2007

I feel like I'm being unfairly demonized here. I wasn't saying that it's wrong to mourn the loss of Tonic. I just got annoyed by all the people who were all like, "the sky is falling" because one music venue with limited appeal was shutting its doors.

In general, I'm just really tired about hearing people bitch about gentrification. It seems like a lot of them want the 'cool neighborhood' without putting in the work that it takes to make a neighborhood cool. That neighborhood where Tonic used to stand? For nearly 400 years, it was one of the worst parts of the city. The LES was never even a remotely fashionable place until about 30 years ago. There's lots of available space in BK/QS/BX neighborhoods that very closely resemble what the LES used to be like. Finally, many cities (most American cities, really) don't have a "gentrification problem." They have much bigger problems - like my hometown of St. Louis, which has been hemorrhaging people since the 50s, and has the highest crime rate in the country. They would KILL to have a "gentrification problem."

So yes, I stand by my STFUs.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:34 AM on April 19, 2007

The LES was never even a remotely fashionable place until about 30 years ago.

I don't entirely disagree with you, Afroblanco.

I think a lot of what people complain about when they complain about gentrification can be captured in the old George Carlin saw: "how can you differentiate yourself when even the squares have long hair and earrings nowadays?" People kind of miss being young, edgy, and hooking up with their like-minded friends in neighborhoods where Joe Preppie and Sorority Susie were to afraid to venture. It's self-centered, and perhaps a bit shallow, but it is a form of self-identification that is nevertheless powerful.

I thought it was funny that people came out of the woodowork last year when CBGBs was closing down, when the reality was that CBGBs had become a frat boy vomit bar in the last 15 years, and NO ONE with serious aspirations as musicians was playing there any more.

But in all seriousness, I do think a lot of the effects of gentrification is criminal. That the old Polish couple upstairs from the bar on avenue B is being pushed out by their landlord and are no longer able to afford an apartment within 15 miles of where they'd been living for the past 40 years. This is bad, it's heartless and unfair and for the most part, with proper and compassionate planning, it's not entirely necessary. Having said that, music will always find a home where there is an audience to support it, but the poor old Arceszewski's might not.

Btw, I spent a couple of years in St. Louis in the Uncle Tupelo days. It's a beautiful city architecturally that is completely deserted. It's a damn shame nothing has taken root there in all this time.
posted by psmealey at 7:49 AM on April 19, 2007

spitbull- I was a professional musician -- that's right, made my full time living at it -- for the first half of my adult life. ... given the elitism and snobbery of the experimental music scene

Sounds like the bitter tirade of someone who couldn't make the cut.
posted by caddis at 8:37 AM on April 19, 2007

heh... "fennesize."
posted by ism at 11:30 AM on April 19, 2007

"first they came for the [avant garde music venues], and i said nothing..."
posted by ism at 11:32 AM on April 19, 2007

I was a professional musician

This is something of a meaningless designation.

I have had points in my life, too, where my sole source of income was from playing music, but I'd hesitate to call myself a "professional musician" thinking that would lend additional weight and credibility to my opinions here.

Furthermore, is a guy who makes a buck or two playing weddings and bar mitvahs really on the same career track as a guy trying to get a label deal for his emo band, a session player featured on a half-dozen Steely Dan records, or the first violinist at the Philharmonic? And really do any of these people have more to say about the state of experimental music in NYC than John Zorn or Thurston Moore? Yes, and no. It really doesn't matter.

At the end of the day, on Metafilter, it doesn't matter if you're Pat Metheny, Buddy Guy, the ghost of Jimi Hendrix or Zubin Mehta, your favorite musical genre still sucks.
posted by psmealey at 11:42 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

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