Marc Spitz's Poseur Remembers a LES That No Longer Exists
At 43, rock writer Marc Spitz acknowledges he's a little young to be publishing a memoir.
He chuckles, conceding that "Yeah, your sixties does seem to be the accepted time to put out a memoir, unless you have some kind of self-helpy angle. Which I definitely don't."
Far from self-help, Poseur unapologetically details Spitz' sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll pursuits in 1990s New York as a struggling writer and addict, and later as a staff writer for Spin, a biographer and a playwright. Even today, in certain circles, Spitz is known as much for being a jerk as he is for his incisive musings on rock and pop culture.
"At a certain point, I was burning bridges just because I could," he says.
But as the Lower East Side stomping grounds of his glory days are rapidly succumbing to gentrification, Spitz says his age has been "adjusted for inflation"—hence the memoir.
"The change is happening so quickly that, culturally speaking, it's like I'm 60. The Lower East Side stopped looking recognizable to me . . . I go down to Ludlow Street and I feel like Old Man River," he says. "And that should happen. That's New York. But when your own Manhattan starts to vanish, you feel compelled to tell the story of what used to be there."
Who says Bob Dylan's New York is more important or valid than Chan Marshall's New York, or even Julian Casablancas's New York?"
Poseur touches on each of those New Yorks, part Gen-X love letter, part snapshot of the final glory days and collapse of the record industry and old media.
In a tone that falls somewhere between Philip Roth and Lena Dunham, Spitz recounts his privileged but culturally stifled upbringing in Far Rockaway, followed by strung-out novel writing at Bennington College in Vermont; all the while, he's driven by desperation to get to New York City and live in "bohemian squalor," which he has decided is a must if he's ever going to make it as a writer.
Spitz eventually realizes that making it as a writer will take more than a prolonged stint at the Chelsea Hotel, which in 1992 doesn't exactly have the "coming home" feel Patti Smith wrote about in the '60s. He spends a good chunk of his twenties downtown, writing novels and screenplays (largely in vain) whilst nursing a heroin habit and tapping into the DJ scene to pay rent ("A DJ was just like a must-have prop in every bar. Anyone could do it.") .
Where American Apparels and sleek eateries line the LES today, Spitz revelled in what he describes as "a Grand Central Station of beautifully naive proto-hipster activity": The grungy Don Hill's, where he accidentally burned Chloe Sevigny with a cigarette, danced with her to Devo, and then got her number; the flamboyant art rock showcases of Squeezebox ("a link to the Warhol promised land"); and the mainstay of Max Fish, the dedicated after-work meet-up spot for Spitz's motley crew of actors, writers, and addicts.
"It was our Mud Club or CBGB. When I think of New York in the '90s, I think of that strip of Houston Street. The music, the art on the walls effortlessly came to articulate what was going on in your head," he says. "You could walk right down to Clinton and get heroin and come back, pick up where you left off. . . . None of it seemed contrived. No one was on any devices. The only device was a fucking pinball machine," he says. "Now it's all served on the plate for you to consume. The light is different; it looks like an Automat now."
As the '90s wore on, Spitz upgraded from starving artist to a quasi-dream job with Spin, blogging for the magazine's newly-minted, oft-mocked online desk.
"They were the cool kids, we were like unwanted stepchildren," he says.
Shy and disgruntled, Spitz began to wonder: What would Lester Bangs do?
He sought the answer with panache in a feather boa and indoor sunglasses, and a drug-emboldened moxie that would eventually lead to a column, cover stories, and nights doing lines with the Strokes' Casablancas.
"I wanted to be as colorful as the people that I was interviewing, and the only way I knew how to do that was act like what I thought my rock-writer heroes from the '70s acted like," he says. "I conveniently forgot the fact that Lester Bangs died at the age of 33."
When Spitz hit 33 five years later, it was 2002 and the Strokes had arrived—"the demarcation line," Spitz calls it—and he was tasked with writing their first American cover story.
"With them, the old limits weren't in place, like you could still be a tough, funny, witty downtown band and still sell a million records," he says, explaining that they redefined what it meant to be downtown band. "You had to be junkies; it was very in vogue to be dirty and scruffy and have a gimmick, because the music generally wasn't good enough on its own. The Strokes are just very watchable."
With the Strokes and their garage-revival brethren, all eyes were on downtown New York, and a cultural sea change swept through it. The LES DJ circuit became increasingly frequented by celebrities and rock stars—"people who didn't need the money to eat," Spitz says, recalling a "turning point" when Madonna and Hilary Duff DJ'd LES dance party MisShapes. "You had to wait outside for like three hours to hear a fucking Kaiser Chiefs song."
Spitz is careful to reign in his inner curmudgeon. By the time he turned 40, he had seven years on his hero, but not much of a plan for his surly persona.
"I realized the party was over. Was it a good party? I guess I kind of wanted to move from it, too," he says. Spitz acknowledges that the generational changing of the guard is part of the city's heartbeat.
So while his LES friends have moved to Brooklyn and kids, he's perfectly content to stay in Manhattan with his two dogs.
"New York is the star here," he says. "I just get to be the voice and the character who travels through it."
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