According to this list of “Penalties for Sex Offenses in the United States” published in 1964 by Harry Hay’s pioneering “homophile” rights group, the Mattachine Society, most of us could have been at best fined or at worst arrested and sent away to prison for a very long time had we simply been doing what we take for granted today.
Take Connecticut for example, where sodomy (or “the crime against nature” as it is described here) brought a sentence of 30 years; or in Kentucky, where you could be given a two-five year sentence; or Maine one-ten years; and 20 years in either Massachusetts or Minnesota. The term “sodomy” included:
...a wide variety of “unnatural” sexual activity, with animals or with another person of either sex, both within and outside marriage.
That’s a fairly broad definition, don’t you think?
Fornication in most states brought a fine of between $20-$500 plus three months to six years jail time, or worse in Alaska where you could be fined $300 or given two years in prison. This might explain why so many Americans marry rather than live together—as opposed to Europe. According to US figures 8.1 million unmarried Americans were cohabiting in 2011, compared to 5.9 million (or 11.7%) of the UK population who cohabited in 2102.
If two years jail time didn’t make you twice about sex before marriage, then being caught committing adultery could cost you a minimum of $10 (Rhode Island) up to $500-$1000 and/or six months to one year (Nevada) or five years (Connecticut) or five years/$1000 fine (Maine).
Add to this, your time in jail and/or fine could be doubled for a second conviction—though penalties for women were less being: “$10 to $30 or 1-3 yrs.”
Thankfully, times have changed, but incredibly sodomy laws were not lifted nationally until this millennium, in 2003.
Here’s something you don’t hear every day: Mark Andrews, 51, of Atascadero, CA, who believes he’s a werewolf allegedly shot his neighbor Colleen Barga-Milbury, 52, twice because he was convinced that she was a vampire.
Defense witness Carolyn Murphy, a forensic psychologist said, “(He believes) he transforms into a werewolf,” and “holds the spirit of the wolf.”
The first record of Andrews believing he was a werewolf, she said, dates to 1996, though she suspects he had that same delusion during his first psychotic episode three years earlier.
Murphy said Andrews believed the voice of God commanded him to kill Barga-Milbury, whom he believed was a vampire.
In 2009 Andrew became convinced that another one of his neighbors was a vampire:
Andrews believed a different neighbor was a vampire. Andrews left mounds of dirt and flour on that neighbor’s door and once pounded on the neighbor’s door, calling her a “bitch,” though she didn’t answer.
At his home, according to police reports, police found two lists of names, several marked “hate with death.”
As to why Andrews didn’t kill this particular vampire neighbor “God didn’t tell him to kill her” Murphy said.
Mark Andrews has believed himself to be a werewolf for the past 20 years. During the time of the murder, Andrews was apparently not taking his medication.
Before Steve Strange became known as a club host at Blitz and a New Romantic pop star with Visage, he was in a punk band with Chrissie Hynde called The Moors Murderers. It’s fair to say, there was a tacit understanding with some elements of punk that to cause offense was an acceptable way to achieve notoriety. Having a band called The Moors Murderers was certain to bring considerable opprobrium and cause offense to the Great British public as the band’s name referred to the notorious serial killers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley who had raped and murdered five children in Manchester, England, between 1963 and 1965, burying their bodies on Saddleworth Moor. To this day the body of one victim Keith Bennett has never been recovered.
Brady and Hindley were a dark stain on the colorful psychedelia of the swinging sixties. Their evil deeds had a troubling influence on many writers and artists, perhaps most notably Morrissey who used the brutal killings as material for songs and may have even named his band after the Brady/Hindley associates and in-laws David and Maureen Smith—or as they were called by the press at the time, “the Smiths.”
Steve Strange’s involvement with punk came when he saw the Sex Pistols perform at the Castle Cinema in Caerphilly, Wales, in December 1976. The gig changed the teenager’s life and he became friends with the band’s bass player Glen Matlock. Strange was then known by his real name Steven John Harrington, and inspired by the Pistols he started booking punk bands to play gigs at his home town. He then moved to London and became part of the revenue of punks that orbited around Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s shop SEX on the King’s Road. Here he met the iconic Soo Catwoman, who first suggested forming a punk band called The Moors Murderers. As Soo later recalled:
“The Moors Murderers thing was a big joke to be honest. I was joking about getting a band together called the Moors Murderers and doing sleazy love songs, I had no idea he [Steve Strange] would actually go out and do it. …”
Strange certainly ran with the idea and approached Chrissie Hynde telling her about the band and singing her the song “Free Hindley.”
They say it started in 64
Myra Hindley was nothing more
Than a woman who fell for a man
Why shouldn’t she be free
Brady was her lover
Who told her what to do
Psychopathic killer-nothing new
Free Hindley Free
What she did was for love
The torture scenes the boys and girls
Hindley knew but couldn’t say
She was trapped by her love
What mother in her right mind
Would allow a girl at the age of nine
Be out on her own
Don’t blame Hindley
Brady was her lover
Who told her what to do
Psychopathic killer-nothing new
Why shouldn’t she be free?
Free Hindley Free
Strange claimed to be part of a band called the Moors Murderers in order to do a photo shoot for German magazine Bravo. Catwoman says she was also present but left the shoot. Steve Strange may have played a gig with The Photons under the Moors Murderers monicker supporting The Slits at an NSPCC benefit concert at Ari Up’s school in Holland Park circa Christmas 1977.
At The Slits gig was musician and producer Dave Goodman, who had worked with the Pistols and Eater:
There was a support band who I assumed were friends of the Slits. They had this singer dressed in black leather calling himself ‘Steve Strange’. I also remember at least one female musician, who turned out to be Chrissie Hynde. They had a certain ‘first gig’ quality about them, their sound being somewhat chaotic and the lyrics virtually unintelligible.
I couldn’t believe it when they announced themselves as ‘The Moors Murderers’. It really was controversial. I had lived through that gruesome event and the darkness it brought to my childhood still felt gloomy. To protect me, my mum would remove any ‘Moors Murderers’ tabloid sensationalism from the papers, after first reading it herself.
After the show Steve Strange came up to me at the mixing desk and confirmed the band’s name. I’d heard right - it was as I thought. We got talking. It turned out that they had this song called ‘Free Hindley’. They had just performed it, but I hadn’t noticed. He had my interest - what was his motive behind it? Steve explained. He felt that it was hypocritical of the government to automatically consider other child murderers for parole after a certain length of time, while ignoring Hindley. Being a high profile case, I believe he felt they were just pandering to public demand. We also discussed change and to what level people can achieve it.
Strange told Goodman that he wanted to record a single “Free Hindley,” but Goodman suggested “two main things to Steve”:
1. To show he is not condoning murderers he should create a balance. Why not record the Ten Commandments to music for the B-side? You know, get out of it in the studio and really get into it man! He liked the idea.
2. Talk to Lord Longford, he’s been visiting Hindley in prison and is campaigning for her release. He liked that idea as well.
Strange arranged a hasty press shoot where the members of The Moors Murderers kept their anonymity by covering their heads with pillow cases. According to Goodman three of the group in the photo are “Strange, Chrissie Hynde and Nick Holmes (Eater’s roadie who is believed to have played guitar on ‘Free Hindley’).” The fourth maybe Mal Hart, who played bass on the track.
Understandably, a band associating itself with the country’s most reviled child killers soon saw them damned by the press. On January 8th, 1978, the Sunday Mirror published an article on The Moors Murderers asking “Why Must They Be So Cruel?”
As Strange was mainly unknown, The Moors Murderers was labeled as Chrissie Hynde’s band, much to her chagrin, as she became the focus of the media’s ire.
In mid-January Sounds music paper ran an article on The Moors Murderers—now apparently three members, again with their heads covered though this time with black bin bags. The band played the Sounds journalist four of their tracks “Free Hindley,” “Caviar and Chips,” “Mary Bell” (about the child murderess) and “The Streets of the East End.”
According to Andrew Gallix, following the Sounds “showcase”
...the band played the Roxy on 13 January 1978, supporting Open Sore. Steve Strange was on vocals (calling himself Steve Brady) and Hynde was on guitar. Bob Kylie (Open Sore): “They were terrible! Absolutely dreadful!” On 28 January 1978, Strange told Sounds that he had left the band.
Whether “Free Hindley” was ever released as a single is debatable, but it was available on cassette as David Goodman recalls:
I remember hearing an acetate of the two recordings ‘Free Hindley’ and ‘The Ten Commandments’, possibly played to me by Nick Holmes the drummer. Not long after that, I saw an ad in the back of Melody Maker or NME for the sale of some ‘Moors Murderers’ acetates and cassettes @ £10 each I believe. I seem to remember Malcolm McLaren bringing that ad to my attention. Anyway, I didn’t buy one, I’d heard it once and that was enough.
Years later, when entering a record store in San Francisco, I saw a sign offering thousands of dollars for one. That was the only time I wished I’d grabbed one when I had the chance.
Chrissie Hynde went on to form the Pretenders in 1978, while Steve Strange eventually achieved success with electronic band Visage.
Below Chrissie Hynde talks about her involvement with The Moors Murderers.
I have heard—on very good account—that David Bowie is meant to be a total eBay addict and that having a conversation with him might often see his attention divided between what you’re saying and him furiously bidding on something. Apparently eBay is a great way for the thin white duke to discover all of the various ways people made money off him during his long career, that he was never previously aware of. If I were him, I’d do the exact same thing!
Well, an unusual Bowie item is currently on offer on eBay with four days to go, and although the price has dropped 25%—or $5000—it’s still got a starting bid of twenty grand. Perhaps Bowie himself is the only one who could afford this, but what a weird little memento it is: an original vintage photograph taken precisely at the moment when undercover cops in Rochester, NY slapped the cuffs on when Bowie and Iggy Pop were arrested for someone else smoking pot in Bowie’s hotel room in 1976.
The story is told in greater detail in this post I put together previously of the local news reporting of the Bowie bust.
For offer, a very rare photograph. Fresh from a prominent estate in Upstate NY. Never offered on the market until now. Vintage, Old, Original, Antique, NOT a Reproduction - Guaranteed !! This photos came from a man who was present when Bowie and Pop were arrested in Rochester, NY, March 25, 1976. Most people have seen the famous mug shot. But this is a “behind the scenes” photo taken with undercover officers. Officer on left putting the cuffs on Bowie. Kodak paper. In excellent condition. Please see photo for details. If you collect 20th century American Rock history, Americana crime photography, pop culture, etc. this is a treasure you will not see again! Add this to your image or paper / ephemera collection.
Worth mentioning is that the Rocester mugshot was not taken when Bowie was processed at the station that night, but rather when he showed up for his court date, hence the change of clothes.
If you look carefully at the credits for DEVO’s 1982 album Oh, No! It’s DEVO, you will spot a name that doesn’t ordinarily pop up in the DEVO universe or even the music world generally. The name is John Hinckley, Jr., and he is best known to the world as the man who tried to kill President Ronald Reagan in 1981, in a batshit-crazy attempt to win the amorous affections of Jodie Foster, then still a teenager. Hinckley was strongly influenced by The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and, far more pertinently, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, in which Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle considers assassinating a U.S. Senator named Palantine but then opts to murder the pimp who has rights over a teen prostitute portrayed by the selfsame Jodie Foster.
When Foster enrolled in Yale University, Hinckley moved all the way from Texas to New Haven, just so he could be near her. He engaged in a lot of creepy, stalker behavior that if you saw it in a movie, you’d think it was overdone, enrolling in the same writing class as her, leaving all kinds of poems and messages for her, and calling her repeatedly. Eventually he would squeeze off six rounds outside the Hilton Hotel in Washington, wounding two Secret Service agents and Reagan’s press secretary as well as (via a ricochet) the president himself.
According to Rolling Stone, DEVO got in touch with Hinckley and acquired one of his demented love poems to Foster and adapted it into a song called “I Desire.” Here are some representative lyrics:
I pledge allegiance to the fact
That you’re wise to walk away
For nothing is more dangerous
Than desire when it’s wrong
Don’t let me torment you
Don’t let me bring you down
Don’t ever let me hurt you
Don’t let me fail because
I desire your attention
I desire your perfect love
I desire nothing more
The stunt not only annoyed Warner Bros., who learned that they would be obliged to send Hinckley royalty payments for the song, but also, according to Rolling Stone, won DEVO the official attentions of the Federal Bureau of Investigation:
As Mark Mothersbaugh recalled, “[Hinckley] let us take a poem that he had written, and we used it for the lyrics and turned it into a love song. It was not the best career move you could make. We had the FBI calling up and threatening us.”
In November of 1982, Hinckley wrote a letter to the “Morning Zoo” crew of KZEW, a Dallas radio station, in which he professes his love for “New Wave music” (hey, me too!) and requests that the station play “I Desire” a total of “58 times each day.” Here’s the full quote:
I like New Wave music, especially Devo, since I co-wrote a song on their new album. The song is called “I Desire” and I want you to play it 58 times each day.
In the letter Hinckley also writes, “I used to listen to the song ‘Heroes’ by David Bowie when I was stalking Carter and Reagan. It got me in a strange mood. ... In March and April of 1980, I hung out at Peaches Record Store on Fitzhugh.” Peaches, which used to be on the intersection of Cole and Fitzhugh in northern Dallas, has, alas, bitten the dust.
Below, listen to “I Desire,” the only new wave ditty ever co-written by a presidential assassin:
James Ellroy. Often writes. In. One. Word. Sentences. Sometimes two. It’s a style he developed when editing his novel White Jazz—the final volume of his famous (first) L.A. Quartet. He thought the manuscript too long—the action held back by unnecessary descriptive passages—so he slashed whole paragraphs and sentences to one-word blasts. The result was powerful, explosive, relentless—like being punched by a champion heavyweight, or poked in the chest by a speed freak keeping your attention focussed on his latest conspiracy theory.
Ellroy is the greatest living historical novelist/crime writer—historical novelist is how he describes himself—writing rich, complex novels—filled with multiple plot lines and characters—all held together, with Tolstoyan skill, in a single narrative.
Ellroy as a child pictured next to his mother in news report of her slaying.
If the past is a foreign country then Ellroy is a pioneer of that territory. He maps out America’s hidden criminal history—a dark foreboding underworld—which he situates between the twin poles of his personal obsession: the unsolved murder of his mother in 1958 and the slaying of Elizabeth Short, the “Black Dahlia,” whose tortured, brutalized and severed body was discovered in January 1947.
LA Times report on the ‘Black Dahlia’ murder, 1947.
These two murders underscore much of Ellroy’s life and fiction. He was just a ten-year-old kid when his mother was murdered by person or persons unknown. The trauma of this act led Ellroy into a world of petty crime, drug addiction and prison. He daydreamed and plotted and ran movies in his head where he saved a fantasy amalgam of his mother and Elizabeth Short from torturous demise. He knew his life was in free-fall—he was on a one-way ticket to the morgue. After a near fatal incident—a lung infection caused by his drug and alcohol addiction—Ellroy saved himself by writing crime fiction.
Last year, Ellroy published Perfidia—the first volume of his second L.A. Quartet—which follows (in real time) factual public and fictional private deeds across Los Angeles in the days around Pearl Harbor. Perfidia documents the racism and brutality of the cops and everyday Angelenos as Japanese-Americans are rounded-up and dumped in internment camps. It is a remarkable book, an adrenaline charged assault on America’s secret history and is arguably the best book he has written.
In 1994, Nicola Black made an astounding documentary on Ellroy called White Jazz that followed his quest to find his mother’s killer. If that had been available I’d have posted it here. Instead here is James Ellroy’s Feast of Death a BBC documentary form 2001 that covers similar ground but with the added bonus of a round table discussion on the Black Dahlia killing held in the Pacific Dining Car restaurant between Ellroy and a bunch of ex-cops and interested parties—including a briefly glimpsed Nick Nolte.
Everyone agrees that the changes that occurred in Times Square during the early 1990s were emblematic for the city, regardless of what you make of it. For tourists and the local suburbanites, cleaning up Times Square was a prerequisite to visit. For many Manhattanites, the signs portended a neutered, sterile city geared to the wealthy and lacking all noteworthy spark or grit. The best treatment of the changes in Times Square is most likely Samuel Delany’s 1999 meditation Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, a book that my friend Lawrence Daniel Caswell has urged me to read but I haven’t gotten around to yet. (Do check out Caswell’s account, told in comix format, of the meaning of Delany’s book as applied to Cleveland, courtesy of that city’s Scene alt-weekly a couple weeks ago.)
Those who are old enough will remember the enchantingly seedy—and dangerous—Time Square of the Mayor Koch years (ahem, that’s the 1980s in case you didn’t know). I barely caught the tail end of it, starting to hang out in Manhattan in a serious way in 1988, when I was a teenager. But college and travels abroad intervened, and by the time I came back for another look, it was 1995 and Times Square was very, very different. (The vast majority of the shuttering of the smut shops and sex cinemas took place in a matter of months—with movie marquees that had once advertised Cannibal Holocaust and Inside Sekaturned over to artist Jenny Holzer for her brand of signature sloganeering. It was not a long drawn-out process.)
Doin’ Time in Times Square, which we found courtesy of Gothamist, is an artful montage of footage that movie director Charlie Ahearn took from his apartment building on 43rd Street. This footage was shot between 1981 and 1983, the exact period during which Ahearn was working on the groundbreaking hip-hop classic Wild Style featuring Fab Five Freddy, Lady Pink, the Rock Steady Crew, and so on. In between the surreptitiously recorded scenes of religious freaks, cops, and a handful of epic, er, disagreements of a physical nature, Ahearn throws in some moments from inside the apartment as his family members celebrate birthdays and the like. A godforsaken New Year’s Eve gets its due as well, no worries.
In 2007 the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Department of Corrections, and the Attorney General’s Office worked with the Florida Association of Crime Stoppers to forge a new way to solve some of the state’s unsolved cases. It’s a regular deck of cards in which the face of each card features a photograph and some factual information about an unsolved homicide or missing persons case. In July 2007, 100,000 decks of cold case playing cards (two decks highlighting 104 unsolved cases) were distributed to inmates in the Florida’s prisons. Two cases, the murder of James Foote and the murder of Ingrid Lugo, were solved as a result.
Connecticut and Indiana have also taken up this idea, and produced decks of cards with homicide victims (sometimes missing persons) on them. We found a few images of the cards to show you. A friend of mine gave me a deck of the Connecticut set at a party recently, where they made quite the impression. They’re a little bit reminiscent of the “Iraqi Most-Wanted” playing cards that coalition forces distributed after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
That great American blues/folk artist Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter was born on January 20, 1888 (or 1889), making today the 127th (or 126th) anniversary of his birth. He’s known today for popularizing songs like “Goodnight Irene,” “Midnight Special,” and “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” as American folk and, eventually, rock ‘n’ roll standards, but in his day, Lead Belly was widely renowned for having been in jail. A lot. Thrice, in fact—once on a weapons charge, once for killing a man, and a third time for trying to kill a man.
Remarkably, Lead Belly literally sang his way out of prison! His second stint was cut short by a pardon issued after Lead Belly wrote a song honoring the then-Governor of Texas Pat Morris Neff, and he repeated the stunt during his third hitch, in Louisiana (though as he may have been eligible for a good-behavior release anyway, it’s disputed whether it was really the song that did the job). It was while he was serving that third sentence that Lead Belly was recorded in performance by the famous father-son team of folklorists John and Alan Lomax, which of course is how we know him today. From an essay by Smithsonian Folkways archivist Jeff Place, which will appear in the forthcoming 5-disc retrospective Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection, and which we’ve edited for length:
Angola was one of the worst prisons in the South; it was probably as close to slavery as any person could come in 1930. Lead Belly became known around the prison for his singing and guitar playing. This was the situation when John Lomax wrote the prison warden L.A. Jones about visiting on behalf of the Library of Congress to record prison songs.
John Lomax and his young son Alan were traveling and recording African American folk songs in prisons in the South. They were hoping to find older African American vernacular music not “contaminated” by the popular blues and jazz of the present day, and they felt long-term prisoners who had been isolated from society might just be the answer. Fresh from recording some of Lead Belly’s fellow prisoners at Sugarland on July 5, 1933, they arrived at Angola on July 16. Lead Belly was suggested to them as a good singer to record, and they realized they had really made a “find.”
The Lomaxes made 12 recordings. Lead Belly saw an opportunity in this situation for himself and “wondered if a pardon song” might work again. Unlike Neff, Louisiana governor O.K. Allen did not tour prisons, so Lead Belly didn’t have access to him. When the Lomaxes returned the following July to record 15 more songs, he had a special one prepared, “Governor O.K. Allen.” He asked if John Lomax would deliver a recording of the song to Allen’s office. Lead Belly had previously written asking for a pardon as well. It is not known whether Allen listened to the song, but Lead Belly was officially granted a pardon on July 25, 1934. Again, the state maintained it was purely on the basis of “good time.”
Lead Belly’s meeting with the Lomaxes was re-enacted for a short newsreel film that, luckily, survives. Here it is, featuring Lead Belly and John Lomax woodenly playing themselves, with a darkened garage standing in for a prison yard. It’s kind of ridiculous, and to a viewer today it’s full of embarrassing values dissonance (loads of “yassuh” racism, unsurprisingly) but on the other hand, it’s motion footage of Lead Belly performing “Goodnight Irene!”
After his third release, in 1934, Lead Belly made a go of a singing career, abetted by the Lomaxes, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, and tantalizingly lurid newspaper descriptions like “Murderous Minstrel,” “Virtuoso of Knife and Guitar,” “Two-Time Dixie Murderer Sings Way to Freedom,” and by far my favorite for its sheer over-the-top sensationalism, “Sweet Singer of the Swamplands Here to do a Few Tunes Between Homicides.” Lead Belly fell out with Lomax in 1935, but his career continued, and in 1948, he would make his final recordings. Again from Jeff Place:
During the 1940s, Lead Belly met two individuals who would become important to his final years of life, Frederic Ramsey Jr. (1915–95) and Charles Edward Smith (1904– 70). Both men were record collectors and jazz scholars and had recently jointly published a book, Jazzmen (1939). They were interested in researching early African American music from the South to search for the roots of jazz. Lead Belly’s repertoire was a perfect resource in this quest. Ramsey felt that Lead Belly’s repertoire had been under-recorded and wanted to get as much of it as he could on tape.
Ramsey got to know Lead Belly socially after the war. “Lead Belly used to come up and visit, and people would come and visit, and we would really throw parties, and you couldn’t stop that guy from performing. I mean, he did it, you could have paid him nothing, he’d come there and have a good time and he would play”. One night Huddie and Martha were invited to the Ramseys for dinner, and Ramsey showed Lead Belly the new machine. Ramsey had hung drapes in his apartment to simulate the sound dampening in a recording studio. Lead Belly wanted to try it out, although he had not brought his guitar, not planning on playing. Ramsey had only a cheap microphone. With Martha’s occasional help he recorded 34 songs that night. Better yet, the tape deck allowed the recording of the introductions and the stories behind the songs. There would be three evening sessions (with the guitar at the other two, along with much better RCA mics borrowed from Moe Asch), and more planned. Lead Belly left for a European tour before additional sessions could be arranged. “Anyway, I think we had maybe three or four gatherings, and I could be wrong about this, it certainly wasn’t all done in one evening, but he used to come and once he… he was a guy who got really comfortable, once he got started, he wouldn’t stop.”
That many of these last recordings were recorded unaccompanied was sadly prophetic. Lead Belly would soon be exhibiting the symptoms of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), which robbed him of his ability to play before took his life near the end of 1949.
The aforementioned Folkways set, Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection, is the most comprehensive career-spanning retrospective of his work yet, and is scheduled for release on February 24th, 2015. Packaged in a 140 page 12x12” book, it features over 100 songs on five discs, 16 of which have never been released. One of those unreleased songs comes from that guitar-less session at Frederic Ramsey’s apartment. It’s called “Everytime I Go Out,” an original composition that doesn’t appear to have ever been recorded in any other form. We at Dangerous Minds are thrilled to be able to debut it for you today.
Anyone raised on MAD Magazine in the 1970s and 1980s has taken in enough “New York City is a dingy, dangerous hellhole” gags to last a lifetime. The NYC Scouting blog described it very well a few years back:
“I really came to be enchanted by [New York City] through the pages of MAD, in which it was depicted as a place of extremes. The subway was a place to get killed. Times Square was a primal circus, while Fifth Ave was full of elitist ultra-rich snobs. Greenwich Village was home to wackos, hippies, and wannabe bohemians, while a jog in Central Park was less a workout and more a way of escaping the mugger chasing you.”
It’s interesting that “Scout” (a.k.a. Nick Carr) was so enchanted by this depiction; I suspect for most people the incessant talk of muggers and gridlock and rats and cockroaches was a horrible turnoff. A classic of the “I Hate NY” genre was the 1970 Neil Simon movie The Out-of-Towners, an annoying one-note cinematic experience in which Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis play visitors from “Twin Oaks, Ohio” who can’t travel the space of a block without 18 terrible things happening to them. Quite a few years later, around the time of Bernhard Goetz, there was the astonishing “Runaway” episode of The Facts of Life in which Tootie couldn’t spend a half-hour in midtown without having her coat and wallet stolen and becoming the target of a pimp’s malign scheme. Either way, the problems and dangers were overstated in 1970, 1975, 1983—it’s always overstated.
Some classic humor about the New York experience from MAD Magazine
If New York was suffering from a negative image, it’s possible they had nobody to blame for it but themselves, at least judging from this astounding PR campaign from 1975 that Gothamist spotted on Reddit. ““WELCOME TO FEAR CITY” trumpeted the cover, “A Survival Guide for Visitors to the City of New York.” Just in case you had missed the point, the designers put a big, scary skull on the cover.
At the time, New York was suffering a budget crisis so serious that the city actually was facing bankruptcy, which obviously affected the funds the city had available to pay, for instance, law enforcement personnel. I’m legally required to quote here the legendary headline the New York Daily News ran on October 30, 1975, after President Gerald Ford stated that he would veto any bailout funds for New York: “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD.”
Already in the second paragraph of the pamphlet you can see some serious scaremongering going on, and it’s not difficult to see the actual purpose behind the pamphlet:
“Mayor Beame is going to discharge substantial numbers of firefighters and law enforcement officers of all kinds. By the time you read this, the number of public safety personnel available to protect residents and visitors may already have been still further reduced. Under those circumstances, the best advice we can give you is this: Until things change, stay away from New York City if you possibly can.”
Nice city you got here. Would be a shame if anything were to happen to it…..
This pamphlet was cooked up by the, ahem, “Council for Public Safety,” which was practically synonymous with the police, firefighters and other unions. One can see in it a chilling reminder of the controversies in which the NY Police Department is currently embroiled, defiantly dissing the new liberal mayor, Bill de Blasio. After the shocking death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner at the hands of the police and the all-too-predictable non-indictment of its perpetrators, the excesses of the police have become a topic of discussion all over the nation, and the NYPD is right at the center of that debate. The police must always justify its existence (or the perks it receives for dangerous work), and will always, entirely paradoxically, point to the high crime that it is ostensibly supposed to prevent as a scary image of a world without the police. Just a few days ago the NYPD was engaging in a stealth “strike while getting paid” in which they refused to issue tickets and the number of arrests plummeted.
But the really scary thing is—New York City (or at least Manhattan) in 2015 is tremendously affluent—Millionaire Island—and the crime rate, however you want to measure it, is sharply down from the 1970s peak. But in the intransigence of the NYPD, who have dissed de Blasio (elected by 73% of NYC’s citizenry) in two consecutive NYPD funerals, you can see the implicit claim, over and over and over again, that without us, without the NYPD, the residents of New York face an urban jungle of chaos and crime. The 1970s may have seen an unfortunate high point in New York’s crime and squalor, but ultimately, there’s no such thing as a city too safe for the police not to make that claim.