Playground: Growing Up in the New York Underground

playgroundI don’t know when all the nostalgia for old New York began, but since 2000 we’ve had all kind of historical troves come to light. Playground is a book of photos from the city’s nightclubs in the 70’s, but we’re not talking about the competitive glamour of Studio 54. What we have here is the roughness of downtown Manhattan, at a time when it stank of trash, blood, and vomit.

Paul Zone describes himself as a kid from a working class family, who became obsessed with the New York glam-rock scene. In referring to glam-rock, it wasn’t the prissy stuff from England, but the New York Dolls kind of glam rock. Their gimmick of dressing in high heels and outlandish makeup was meant to shock people, just like the hard-driven rhythms of their music. He then describes the shocks people got in his neighborhood when they saw him like that. Don’t forget that Manhattan has always been a hotbed for frivolous, antisocial, and outrageous behavior. That’s why it’s called Gotham.

Zone’s photographs portray the bands of the era, particularly Blondie and New York Dolls, in all their filth. They are, however, a bit lacking when it comes to quality; he doesn’t compose or frame the shots the way Jameel Shabaz did in A Time Before Crack. But he does capture the mood of the time. He was a DJ at CBGB and Max’ Kansas City, so he took the photos pf the bands as a side gig. Come to think of it, a number of rock music photographers got their start by working in bars. They get to know the musicians before they’re famous.

While the book has its good qualities, I would like to have seen more on his later career, and how the city changed in the 1980’s. Max’s Kansas City is gone now, and the area quickly gentrified.

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