7 Days in New York City, Part Three: Central Park …

Continuing my run of photos from my New York City trip, October 17-24, 2015.

I spent part of one day in NYC in Central Park, roaming through the southern-most region, from around the Plaza Hotel and Columbus Circle, on opposing east/west sides, and up to about 72nd Street in the Park itself. I love Central Park. That someone or many someones) had the foresight to put aside this land for posterity is amazing, especially keeping it intact in this day and age, with soaring real estate rates and almost no land left in Manhattan.

My favorite part of the park is The Mall, a long stretch of trees that canopy over a walkway with benches, most (if not all) dedicated to someone (or many someones … see next to last photo, below). I was about a week or two too early to see the Park at its fall peak. The trees seem to change color later and later each year, probably another victim of climate change. Regardless, there were a few early “bloomers” (or whatever the reverse of bloomers are) that were colorful enough to make up for the stragglers. Click on the photos to see them larger on your screen.

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7 Days in New York City, Part Two: The High Line …

Continuing my run of photos from my New York City trip, October 17-24, 2015.

One of my favorite spots in New York City is the High Line, the old abandoned elevated railway track that has been re-purposed into a park and walkway along the lower west side of Manhattan. I think I’ve visited now at least 5 or 6 times. It’s slowly expanding northward from 14th Street, extending now to almost 30th. It’s a great place to just walk or sit and people-watch. Here’s a dozen photos from my latest visit on Thursday, Oct. 22. Click on the photos to see them larger on your screen.

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Movie Review: All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records …

I jumped at the chance to see the new documentary All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records, while I was in New York City last week. At that point, it was one of only two movie theaters in the country showing the film (it is now starting to open “wide,” as they say in the “industry,” quotes added solely for snarkiness). It’s a wonderful film, perfectly capturing the go-go years of this incredible chain of record/video/book stores that are sadly missed in all of the major markets that they once dominated.

I first discovered Tower Records (originally Tower Record Mart in its Sacramento, CA formative years) in New York City, at both 4th Avenue and Broadway and the Lincoln Center store, the latter of which Woody Allen immortalized in Hannah and Her Sisters. They talk about the 4th Ave. store in the documentary. It started as a desire to do a classical music store, and they figured New York was the perfect place for it. But when they looked at the store it was in an incredibly rundown neighborhood, so bad that there was  a dead dog lying in the gutter in front of the storefront. Within three years, Tower Records had an amazing effect on that area, taking it from slum to viable neighborhood.

AllThingsMustPass_PosterThat’s just one of the many stories in this incredible documentary (currently clocking at 100% on the TomatoMeter with critics at RottenTomatoes.com), which is directed by Colin Hanks (yes, THAT Colin Hanks, actor and son of Tom, who grew up in Sacramento). The film wisely uses many of the chain’s former employees for interviews, including the boss himself, Russ Solomon, who comes across—even at the age of 90—as the coolest boss in the world. All of them are wonderful, particularly Heidi Cotler and Mark Viducich, who both rose from clerks to management, as did most of the people interviewed. There are also interviews with music personalities such as Bruce Springsteen, David Geffen, Dave Grohl (who worked in the Washington DC Tower), and Elton John, who shopped religiously every Tuesday he was in LA at the Sunset Strip Tower Records, buying 3 or 4 copies of each album (one for each of his houses). Like a lot of us, Elton was heartbroken to see Tower go away. Springsteen has one of the best quotes in the film: “Everyone in a record store is a little bit your friend for 20 minutes or so.” That shared experience is something you can’t get downloading music from iTunes.

The documentary follows a chronological arc from the very beginnings of Tower, selling used jukebox 45 RPM records (singles) in Solomon’s dad’s drugstore to the bitter end when banks liquidated the stores. And it’s all there, warts and all, with honest appraisals of Tower’s fate and downfall by those ex-employees, including Russ Solomon and his son. A perfect storm of circumstances caused Tower Records demise, including overextending themselves—both financially and with new stores—the CD and MP3 revolutions, and Napster. The documentary is warm, sad, poignant, and yes … I cried.

TowerRecordsLogoMy Tower Records experience includes the above-mentioned NYC flagship stores, plus regular visits to the San Diego-area stores once I moved here in 1998. There was the Sports Arena store—originally two stores (video and records), which combined into one shortly after I started shopping there. There was also one in La Jolla, where there was a separate Classical music and video section. I loved those stores, and spent many a Friday evening at one of them. They had amazing magazine sections, and had the trademark Tower standby of great art (created in-house at the stores) to promote music and videos. I also dearly remember the Tower magazine, Pulse, which sadly was one of the first things to go once the banks got involved. I wish I hung onto some copies of that.

One thing I do have is an old Tower Records plastic bag, the classic red type on a yellow background design, which they discuss in the documentary. A friend of Russ Solomon’s designed the font (referred to as a “letter” by Russ in the film), and said they’d steal the Shell Oil Company’s color scheme. In doing so, they created both an iconic typeface and logo.

NoMusicTower Records still exists in Japan, which was once part of the Tower worldwide empire, but was spun off into a separate business entity. There are 85 stores in Japan, making it almost worthwhile to reconsider my aversion to travel across the Pacific. I’d love to shop in a Tower Records again, even if I can’t understand a word they’re singing.

Click here to see the trailer for All Things Must Pass. For more on the film, check out their amazing Twitter feed at https://twitter.com/TowerRecordsDoc, which includes photos and memorabilia from this past weekend’s Tower Records employee reunion in Sacramento, CA.

7 Days in New York City: Part One …

I spent seven (count ’em, 7) wonderful days in New York City from Saturday, October 17 through Saturday, October 24. With perfect fall-like weather most days (read: cool and breezy), I had my best trip to NYC ever, and I’ve been going there for almost 45 years now. The city constantly amazes me and every corner turned was a photo snapped. I’m not sure how this will work, but here’s a selection of my favorite photos from this past week (I took over 500), so you can see the city as I saw it. All photos were taken with an iPhone 6; some judicious filtering may have been done. More photos are coming soon, including a few from the High Line and my long, rambling walk through Central Park on a perfect fall day. Click on the photos to see them larger on your screen.

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New York, New York …

Some of my favorite photos that I took in New York City over the past decade or so, including that early-blooming (or dying) tree in Central Park and the ubiquitous Nathan’s French fries fork.

I have been thinking a lot lately about New York City, mainly because I’m going there in a few days for the longest amount of time I’ve ever spent in the city (a full week), but also because the greatest city in the world is never far from my mind.

There was a time, in my later teens and early twenties, when I thought I could live there, but those days are long gone. Now, almost in my dotage (I jest, but only partially so), I look at NYC as a fond vacation spot, but a city in which only the young or very rich can live. It’s too loud, too frenetic, too busy and expensive for me, but I love it for a short burst of time. There is no other city like it.

I first went to NYC almost 45 years ago, in 1971. I went for a comics convention with my brother, and although there was a giant con there just this past weekend, I prefer to visit the city now without any work-related encumbrances (although I still love visiting comic book shops there). When I first went to the city, it was for only one day, and my brother and I spent that entire day inside the convention, the 1971 New York Comic Arts Conference at the Statler Hilton Hotel (which is now the Hotel Pennsylvania). We stepped out to grab something quick to eat on our way to the Port Authority Bus Terminal and our bus home, and that was it. But the con-going became a regular Fourth of July tradition for us, at least for the next few years.

And as I grew older, the city itself started calling me, and I ventured out and about into it. I saw things in the ‘70s that I will never forget, many of them, thankfully, that don’t exist anymore. I still remember the seared-in image of a young girl laying in a doorway on Eighth Avenue, beautiful and quiet, filthy dirty and strung out on something … she may have even been dead for all I know. I remember the places on 42nd Street I shouldn’t have gone to but went anyway. One memory: Being in a place near 42nd and Eighth (which shall remain nameless) and hearing someone yell, “He’s got a gun!” That’s probably the quickest I’ve ever moved.

Eventually I started going to New York just for New York, because there was nothing like it. I would fly up for a weekend from Pittsburgh on People Express, a budget airline that made you feel that being a cow led to the slaughterhouse train was a preferable travel experience. I fell in love with the lights and energy, the bookstores and museums, the theaters—movies and plays—and so much more. A lot of what I loved is gone, particularly bookstores (Coliseum Books at the corner of 57th and Broadway, Doubleday Books opposite Trump Tower, Rizolli Books in two different locations, but now in a third—and from what I hear somewhat diminished—new place … yes, all bookstores. That’s how I roll.). Over those 45 years since I first visited the city, I think I’ve been there close to 40 times. Since the mid-90s, I’ve pretty much gone every year, even in 2001, after that horrible event that changed the city—and the rest of us—forever.

There are still simple pleasures for me there. A long walk through Central Park. Bryant Park, a lovely little oasis in the middle of midtown. A Nathan’s hot dog and krinkle-cut fries, with the ubiquitous red pitchfork poking out of each serving. And the bookstores … new favorites have replaced old missing ones. I’m a huge fan of The Strand, which I discovered later in my trips there. McNally Jackson. Posman Books, which sadly closed in Grand Central, but is still part of the amazing food place, Chelsea Market, down next to the High Line … and, of course, the High Line itself, an incredible re-purposing of an abandoned elevated rail line, still evolving and growing. The constant presence of Forbidden Planet, in one form or another over the years and its current form, its best incarnation yet, as one of the great comic book stores in the city.

I live in a city seemingly without seasons, so I especially love fall in NYC, even though the leaves are slow to change these days (another side effect of climate change, I suppose). There is one early bird changer in Central Park, which I always stumble upon each year (see photo at the top of this post), and I’m grateful for its beauty and fiery appearance. And one of my favorite things to do in any city is to find a coffee shop or a small restaurant and just sit by the window and people watch. New York offers more than ample opportunities to do that one simple—and cheap—thing.

I’ll be in New York next week, as I type this, and I look forward to cool temperatures, early sunsets, and wearing an actual jacket for at least a little while, but especially for being transported to a different world, one filled with culture, energy, lights, and—for lack of a better word—power. I love my little laid-back life here in Southern California, but once a year, every year, I need that energy boost that only a city like New York can provide. I’ll never be too old for that feeling.

Follow my Instagram account next week for new photos from my 2015 trip to New York City!