There are a lot of places that might sound kind of awesome and romantic but are in reality super shitty. The slums of Turkey, a Somali pirate vessel, Kim-Il Sung’s house, the surface of Mars… and 1970s/1980s New York.
“New York seemed so much cooler back in the 70s and 80s,” says a composite of young New Yorkers today, “with the hookers, and the drugs, and the sex shops in Times Square.”
There are still sex shops near Times Square, you might remind them, but they ignore and continue, “Yeah, I wish it was still cool pre-Guliani New York out there, that’d be gritty.”
No. You don’t wish that. You refuse to walk home after 1am and gigglingly call Harlem the ghetto. New York in the 70s and 80s was not a great place to be. Older relatives have thrown the word “hellish” around, and The Warriors paints a pretty clear picture. Supposedly Gangs of New York actually took place in 1982, and its just about flamboyant swingers with a penchant for costume.
The video above is a weird window into real New York in 1987, and despite reluctance to romanticize “old” New York, the video is immediately entrancing, bringing you compelling mediocrity and every-day-atude from a quarter of a century ago. The thing is so incredibly real, just real people spending a day of leisure together, taking the D from Union Square to Coney Island, which is a relic itself, since you can’t pick up the D at Union Square anymore.
That first guy to appear? The antsy one, who couldn’t wait for his friends to get there and had to get on the train? Michael? He’s Michael Musto, columnist at the Village Voice. He appears here at 35, and as a ~3 year veteran of the Voice. His voice is nervous, paranoid, awkward. There’s no way to know what’s going through his mind, but it’s like he’s consciously trying to emulate Bob Dylan. He’s either stoned, maybe tripping, or this is his normal neurotic state of meeting.
“You’re gonna meet him at the first car?” the cameraman asks. The reliable method of meeting people on the subway is eternal, but back then there were no cell phones, meeting up with people was entirely different, entirely trust-based. Flakiness was an entirely different phenomena. Meet me at this location, at this time. You can’t text me with some bullshit excuse. This is what we’re doing. If you don’t come, you stood me up, you’re an asshole.
Even the subway car itself — we get to ride in it first-person — is a wholly new experience even to subway veterans. Look at all that graffiti — inside the car — which is rare today and borders on unimaginable.
The inside of the car and the view out the window are equally engrossing. Watching this subway trip makes one more present and mindful of the surroundings than one might be riding the subway in real life, paying more attention to what’s going on in this decades old video than what’s going on around you in real life on your own MTA journeys. The train seems delightfully scary; if they were on the 2, this could’ve been the same car Bernhard Goetz had been on when he earned admission to the the Badass Society just two years earlier.
When the friend gets on — an Albert Crudo who might be the artist of the painting above if Albert Crudo is as rare a name as it looks — he complains of the rudeness of passerby. Crudo is wearing women’s clothing, and has long hair; the passerby had expressed shock at his gender.
You wonder if Crudo always dressed like that, or if the group is on their way to the annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade. The parade is a likely possibility considering the blonde girl calls the cameraman, “you mermaid, you!” and this thing was shot on a trip to Coney Island in late June.
We never see the cameraman, for all we know he’s dressed in full mermaid regalia, but the steadiness of the camera suggests a distinct lack of fin.
There are no less cliche words to say this: this video opens up a window into 1987 NYC, a real, candid look into the past, with no staged affectations ruining the experience (again, if you want a staged trip to Coney Island in the late 70s, The Warriors is an awesome movie.) There is nothing extraordinary about this clip; friends simply hang out, apply make-up, tell stories, swing from the straps, share photographs and discuss podiatric mutations, but the first-person view and candidness of it all make this a truly great document of recent history.
24 years from now documents of banality from today will be extremely common as we continue to overshare every little bit of our lives. The specialness of candid voyeurism might become depleted. In 2035 seeing through the eyes of another, a quarter century removed from you, may be no longer interesting, as documents of the past grow so numerous and diluted that finding that one unique moment becomes impossible. When every moment is captured, catalogued, and shared, no moment is candidly special.