Boho Boohoo

MTV Rides a Downtown Train

It was certainly over by 1990, the year Downtown's Prynoski moved here from Trenton, New Jersey, to attend the School of Visual Arts. I think the East Village actually died during the Tompkins Square riot of '88. A week after what was basically a turf war over gentrification, I remember going back to the park to report on a planned all-day lovefest that would supposedly heal the wounds. But after hours of talking to homeless people, skinheads, old yippies, and other tribes that would never really connect, I felt that the war had simply been lost, that whatever the East Village had once meant was now over.

Art history is constantly rewritten to suit the prevailing theories, but the notion of bohemia never has been revised. It's so 19th century, so very romantic— this notion of a place where someone goes to be poor but pure, to lead the liberated life and sacrifice for art. That whole La Bohème scenario has a great popular appeal— as in its latest incarnation, Rent. It's the ever-popular lore of the "starving artist," a cycle of stories inspiring deeds that will inspire still more stories. Arthur Rimbaud leaves Charleville, wanders beneath the stars in torn clothes, sleeps in a Paris doorway, gets arrested and sent home as a vagrant. Kerouac hits the road with Neal, rhapsodizes over diner food, converses with bums. Then young John Lennon sits in the art school pub with Stu Sutcliffe, discussing Kerouac. Again and again the story unfolds: he's a rebel. And he never was. Understood.

In Downtown the romanticism is gone, yet it hasn't been replaced by anything but the occasional style war. This is what ultimately makes it both so familiar and so depressing.

It takes an East Village: Rimbaud's MTV?
courtesy of MTV
It takes an East Village: Rimbaud's MTV?

Downtown airs on Tuesdays at 10:30 on MTV.

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