A helluva town; a concrete jungle where dreams are made of; Metropolis; Gotham; the Big Apple – New York City is many things. Unfortunately, it’s also the epicenter of the US’s coronavirus pandemic, accounting for nearly 7% of global cases tallied by The New York Times.
It might be a while before you can confirm for yourself whether the neon lights are really bright on Broadway so, instead, you’ll have to occupy a New York state of mind. Travel might be stalled, but your curiosity need not be. Immerse yourself in the beating heart of the city from the safety of your La-Z-Boy with our collection of digital or at-home cultural escapes.
Just as Taxi Driver (1976) offers an unflinching look at the crumbling, bankrupt New York City of the 1970s, Martin Scorsese’s After Hours is its 1980s counterpart, focusing its lens on the SoHo neighborhood – eminently less dangerous, yet still evoking a bygone era in which lofts were occupied by artists seeking cheap rent. Today, it is the most expensive neighborhood in Manhattan.
In a contemporary review of the film for the New York Times, critic J Hoberman praised how Scorsese and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus “captured SoHo’s nocturnal desolation.” He continues, “Along with the movie’s Checker cabs, rotary phones, outsized answering machines and clunky desktop computers, these mean streets have a Pompeian quality, relics of the past.”
After Hours is a dark comedy, focusing on the Homeric journey home for yuppie protagonist Paul Hackett. The dizzying distractions and unintended antics he gets caught up in will be familiar to anyone who has had a wild night in the city that never sleeps.
Gossip is as much a New York institution as punk rock. Please Kill Me (1996) is a book that combines both gossip and punk in an easy-to-read oral history of the movement. It’s composed of interviews from those who were there and is as informative as it is titillating.
New York figures heavily in its pages, as acts such as The Velvet Underground, The New York Dolls and Patti Smith – who called the city home – plant the seeds for the more mainstream success of Blondie, the Ramones, Talking Heads and more. Authors Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain compile incredible, cohesive anecdotes that serve to tell how the Bowery birthed a brand new genre. (Tip: Will Hermes’s book Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever (2011) covers the most important points in Please Kill Me while also tracing the origins of hip-hop, salsa, minimalism and disco back to New York’s 1970s creative boom.)
Choosing one song that encapsulates New York is difficult, but George Gershwin, born in Brooklyn and raised in the Yiddish Theatre District (today’s East Village), understood the rhythm of the city. He referred to it as “our metropolitan madness” to his first biographer Isaac Goldberg. Rhapsody in Blue, which debuted in February 1924, begins with a trilling clarinet meant to mimic the glissando of a trombone. That is to say, this piece is a conscious melding of jazz and classical music.
The melody’s motif is airy and delightful, but between, the rhapsody’s passages oscillate from dream-like string sections to crashing, thundering piano and pounding drums. The calm and the storm are used to great effect in Disney’s Fantasia 2000 (1999) segment that depicts the ups and downs of four city dwellers – a construction worker who moonlights as a jazz drummer, an out-of-work guy seeking employment, a little girl yearning for her parents’ attention and a joyful man whose wife begrudges his joie de vivre – whose lives all intertwine for the better.
Nobody captured the miniature details in a “Manhattan moment” as acutely as poet Frank O’Hara did. In particular, Personal Poem resonates now because it is a picturesque sightseeing tour of life in midtown. Its prosody takes readers on a walk as O’Hara namedrops landmarks such as the Seagram Building to the now defunct, (though legendary) jazz club, Birdland.
Toward the end of the poem, O’Hara shakes hands with his lunch partner – the famous East Village poet LeRoi Jones, AKA Amiri Baraka – and muses, “I wonder if one person out of the 8,000,000 is thinking of me,” a reference to the population of New York City. It’s a natural thought when looking at the swarming crowds on the street.
It’s almost too obvious, yet the manhattan is so easy to make and its absurd origin story is set in New York. The cocktail is traditionally served with rye bourbon (Maker’s Mark works) before dinner. Its recipe only calls for three ingredients – four if you want to get fancy – so it’s a breeze for novice bartenders and alcoholics alike. Two ounces rye, one ounce sweet vermouth and two dashes Angostura bitters is all it takes. Mix in a glass with ice, add a Maraschino cherry as a garnish, and you’ll think you’re at a jazz bar in midtown.
Museums around the world have closed their doors to the public, but have opened them up virtually to Google Arts & Culture. The search engine giant’s arts initiative, launched in 2011, plays host to works from 2,500 leading museums and galleries, including midtown’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Opened in 1929, the MoMA’s collection was the first devoted to modern art and today stands as one of the world’s preeminent institutions. It’s not surprising that the first painting acquired by the fledgling museum was Edward Hopper’s House by the Railroad. Hopper, born in Nyack, spent his whole life in New York and is intrinsically linked to the city.
Highlights of the nearly 200,000 works in the MoMA’s collection include some of the most important pieces of late-19th and 20th century art, including: Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night, Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Henri Matisse’s The Dancer, Jasper Johns’ Flag, Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans and Henri Rousseau’s The Dream. While Google only grants access to a fraction of MoMA’s holdings (129 items) in high quality scans, you can still explore the galleries via street view, which allows you to pan around the hallways. Additionally, the MoMA’s official website is a great resource to learn more about artists with more than 84,000 works online.