get lost! music history icons in nyc

12 June 2013

during my trip to new york, i made it a definite priority to visit sites that are central in music history. well, at least my kind of music history - i don't know if there are others who would geek out over carnegie hall the same amount they would at cbgb... if there are, we'd certainly be friends. 

wandering the streets of alphabet city brought a million song lyrics to mind - everywhere i looked, i saw something that i was already familiar with through my friends billy joel, the ramones, vampire weekend, jay-z and others. in fact, i found myself in front of 560 state street on the way to afropunkfest, and i had to gave ol' shawn carter a nod. let me introduce you to four musical meccas in new york that i absolutely had to visit.

stained glass - carnegie hall - 7th avenue

carnegie hall

although it was under construction and closed when i visited, it was nothing short of surreal to stand on the sidewalk in front of carnegie hall. the venue opened its doors in may of 1891 with a performance by tchaikovsky, and from then on has continued to provide a stage for many of the most celebrated musicians of our time. although it has consistently showcased classical music since it's inception, it became a hot spot for early jazz - duke, ella, billie, benny, louis, count, dizzy, miles.... just a few of the many giants who were celebrated on the carnegie stage. 

one of my favourite records of all time is a copy of the glenn miller orchestra's carnegie hall performance in 1939 - i found it for two dollars in a bargain bin, and that seventy-five year old swing gives me goosebumps every time. listen here.

radio city music hall - 8th avenue

radio city music hall

built in the middle of the great depression, radio city music hall was designed to be 'a palace for the people', as a symbol of optimism and hope. it soon became a prime location for film premieres (such as breakfast at tiffany's, to kill a mockingbird and the lion king), and a top venue for musical performances as well as awards shows like the grammy's and the mtv music video awards.

cbgb & omfug

the facade and interior of the former CBGBs, now john varvatos - bowery avenue

ohhhh cbgb. this was easily one of the highlights of my entire trip to new york. CBGB & OMFUG is one of the most vital venues in punk rock history. it's where the ramones got their start - they played at cbgb 74 times in the year they formed (which was, coincidentally, 1974). blondie and the talking heads were regulars. by the 1980s, it had evolved into a hardcore punk venue, and many of my most-loved bands made music within the walls of 315 bowery - the specials, rancid, social distortion, and the slackers, to name a few. you can read the cbgb history in a nutshell here, or check out cbgb's website here.

even on the quest for designer menswear, one can't ignore the history of this former punk-rock mecca - 315 bowery avenue

cbgb closed its doors in 2006, with a final performance by patti smith, who was a crucial part of the club's scene in its early days. the space was later rented by menswear designer john varvatos, and remains a retail store to this day. when varvatos transformed the space, he set out to 'do justice' to the spirit and legacy of cbgb. personally, i thought he did an incredible job.

varvatos left the graffiti, stickers and gig posters of cbgb as a backdrop to his clothing store

i can hardly describe the way i felt, my eyes examining faded, peeling billstickers that adorned the rough walls, my feet passing over the same ground where so much history was made. there was an unmistakeable ambience, rich with character and passion and spirit. it was like a punk-rock pilgrimage, and it is now one of my most cherished memories.

the tiny details in an irreplaceable corner of music history... 

broadway: the phantom of the opera

in a journal given to me by my dear friend rachel, i have an incomplete and unofficial list of things i want to do in my lifetime. while in nyc, i completed my first item on the list - go to a musical on broadway! i've had my heart set on seeing the phantom of the opera since my parents brought me home a souvenir program from when they saw it in 1992(ish), so getting to see it live for the first time, on broadway, in the very theatre where it has been performed non-stop since it first opened in 1988, was an incredibly special time for me - i would even go so far as to call it a dream come true.

crowds wait outside the unopened doors of the majestic theatre - west 44 street, off broadway

like many other places in new york, on broadway the tourist path is well-worn. when i first stepped into the majestic, i was herded with the masses through the lobby, and directed to my seat by a woman who may as well have been slinging hot dogs from a stand on the corner, the way she was yelling at us all. by the time the lights dimmed for the first act, i was starting to worry that my hopes were too high, and the entire production would be just another gaudy tourist attraction, overpriced, and a bit worse for wear.

much to my delight, from the first chord struck on the organ in the opening scene to the final curtain fall, the performance was impeccable. the ethereal smoke-and-candelabra boat scene was everything i had hoped it would be...i'm not going to lie - i was either covered in goosebumps or dissolving into tears at any given point in the show. was my inner musical theatre geek appeased? a thousand times yes.

inside the majestic theatre

check out my other adventures in nyc here and here. what music history icons are you dying to visit - in nyc or elsewhere??

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