Crispin Kott and Mike Katz are the co-authors of the Rock and Roll Explorer Guide to New York City, published by Globe Pequot Press this month. This book is a wonderful and often brilliantly written resource for music fanatics or casual fans who may want to learn more about the city’s deeply rich rock history.
Kott’s name should be familiar to longtime (or even short-time) readers of this publication, as he’s been writing for Ulster Publishing for over 15 years. Born in Chicago and raised in New York, he’s called everywhere from San Francisco to Los Angeles to Atlanta home, and graduated from Saugerties High School in 1987. A music enthusiast and failed drummer, he’s written for numerous print and online publications, and has shared with his daughters Madeline and Marguerite a love of reading, writing and record collecting.
Katz was born in Atlanta, came of age in New Orleans, and now, like Kott, makes his home in New York City. Along the way, he has been an obsessive music fan, voracious reader, history buff, bookseller and accomplished photographer.
Their book came out last week and can be found at local bookstores. On Saturday, June 9 at 4:30 p.m., Kott and Katz will be on hand to talk about their work along with Will Hermes, who’s written for Rolling Stone and penned a very good book about music in New York in the 1970s entitled Love Goes to Buildings on Fire. A book signing/rock trivia night is also in the works for next month at Kingston’s Rough Draft bar and bookstore.
Morgan Y. Evans: How did this book get started? Obviously New York City is one of the greatest spots on Earth for rock n roll history and anecdotes.
Mike Katz: New Yorkers take pride in the musical legacy of the city, but do an erratic job of preserving it in a meaningful way. One of the things we sought to do was showcase that great rock ’n’ roll heritage by bringing you to the very spots where the songs were written, and where the legends lived and played. New York is a great walking town, so what better way to do that than present it as an historical travel guide?
Crispin Kott: And that’s where the project really began to snowball. There are neighborhoods in Manhattan in particular, but also in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, where it feels like every five feet there was once a key live venue, or an historic indie recording studio, or a flophouse or juke joint where a legend used to hang out. Joey Ramone sang, “New York City really has it all,”and he was right. I grew up in Saugerties, and the whole of the Hudson Valley is filled with fascinating musical history. Many of the artists in our book about New York City have a connection to the Catskills too. And that added an extra layer for me.
MYE: Have you ever met one of your New York City musical heroes? I have been lucky and met a bunch.
MK: I’ve had the privilege of meeting a few of my New York musical heroes. Got to shake hands with Lou Reed a few years back and thank him for all the great music he gave us. Crispin and I also got to spend some quality time with Lenny Kaye recently. What an amazing, thoughtful guy! We talked about all sorts of music and the labor of love and obsession that produced this book. He’s a legit rock historian himself, so he absolutely got what went into it.
CK: I’ve known Legs McNeil — the legendary punk journalist who co-wrote Please Kill Me, and also wrote our foreword — since I was a teenager, and through him I’ve met plenty of folks from the Bowery punk scene. For this book I had the privilege of interviewing a few more heroes, like Chris Frantz [Talking Heads], Chris Stein [Blondie] and Lee Ranaldo [Sonic Youth]. They were all incredibly generous with their time and memories.
MYE: Pick any part of New York and some cool character emerged from there. How did you decide who and what you would focus on and what to leave out?
MK: From the outset we wanted to produce a book that people could carry around with them and read on the subway or at the lunch counter. It’s essentially a field manual for hitting the streets. We also wanted it to be affordable. That necessitated being as detailed as possible, but concise and organized. It contains nearly a century’s worth of history, so we had to make several tough calls based on relative significance and documentation.
CK: We also didn’t want to editorialize, which actually made it easier to focus on what we either thought was historically significant or at least of interest to lots of different people.
MYE: I think we all develop an architecture in our heads as music fans of places in New York that mean something for us on an individual level. It is just impossible not to. For some it is, say, the Apollo Theater or a great bar or club that may have closed like Wetlands.
CK: By the time I was old enough to see a show at CBGB, both the first and second wave of glory days were over. I look at old ads for that place and marvel that I could have caught Talking Heads and the Ramones on the same night for a couple of bucks, or Patti Smith and Television. And later you’d have groups like Sonic Youth, Bad Brains and Beastie Boys there.
MK: If I had a time machine I’d absolutely love to experience seeing Bob Dylan in his first couple of years in New York at the Gaslight or Gerde’s Folk City when he was still learning his chops and figuring out how to be a songwriter. If I could pick one gig it would be his debut at the Carnegie Chapter Hall in November of 1961.
NYE: Are there bands you like from New York now who you think carry the torch for passion and skill?
CK: Parquet Courts, who I saw play a lunchtime show at Rough Trade in Brooklyn last week, are one of my favorite groups. Beechwood is a trio that’s like a woozier Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, and they’re about to release their second album of 2018. So maybe more prolific than Johnny was. The Shacks are also really great. Rock ’n’ roll is alive and well in New York City.
MYE: What was a breakthrough moment for you with the book where you knew you could pull it off. Do you have an all time New York City anthem? It is hard but for me I truly love the Beastie Boys’ “An Open Letter to NYC,” which samples the Dead Boys and shouts out every borough and people of all races.
MK: Still waiting for that moment! Researching and ultimately writing the dang thing is only the beginning. We have to make sure it resonates, otherwise it’s all for naught. As for a New York anthem, so many great ones, and they represent different aspects of this great city in different times of my life. Some all time faves include Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York,” and Ray Charles’s take on New York’s My Home. I also dig Jay-Z & Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind.” What’s not to love?
CK: All of those are great, and I’d throw in “Rockaway Beach” by the Ramones and “New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down” by LCD Soundsystem.