Downtown Pop Underground

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NEW YORK CITY AND THE LITERARY PUNKS, RENEGADE ARTISTS, DIY FILMMAKERS, MAD PLAYWRIGHTS, AND ROCK ’N’ ROLL GLITTER QUEENS WHO REVOLUTIONIZED CULTURE

By Kembrew McLeod

The 1960s to early ’70s was a pivotal time for American culture, and New York City was ground zero for seismic shifts in music, theater, art, and filmmaking. The Downtown Pop Underground takes a kaleidoscopic tour of Manhattan during this era and shows how deeply interconnected all the alternative worlds and personalities were that flourished in the basement theaters, dive bars, concert halls, and dingy tenements within one square mile of each other. Author Kembrew McLeod links the artists, writers, and performers who created change, and while some of them didn’t become everyday names, others, like Patti Smith, Andy Warhol, and Debbie Harry, did become icons. Ambitious in scope and scale, the book is fueled by the actual voices of many of the key characters who broke down the entrenched divisions between high and low, gay and straight, and art and commerce—and changed the cultural landscape of not just the city but the world.

The 1960s to early ’70s was a pivotal time for American culture, and New York City was ground zero for seismic shifts in music, theater, art, and filmmaking. The Downtown Pop Underground takes a kaleidoscopic tour of Manhattan during this era and shows how deeply interconnected all the alternative worlds and personalities were that flourished in the basement theaters, dive bars, concert halls, and dingy tenements within one square mile of each other. Author Kembrew McLeod links the artists, writers, and performers who created change, and while some of them didn’t become everyday names, others, like Patti Smith, Andy Warhol, and Debbie Harry, did become icons. Ambitious in scope and scale, the book is fueled by the actual voices of many of the key characters who broke down the entrenched divisions between high and low, gay and straight, and art and commerce—and changed the cultural landscape of not just the city but the world.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kembrew McLeod is an award-winning author of several books whose writing has been featured in the New York TimesLos Angeles TimesWashington PostVillage Voice, Rolling StoneSlate, and Salon. A professor of communication studies at the University of Iowa, he is the recipient of a NEH Public Scholar fellowship to support this book.

PRAISE

"McLeod's deft and generous book tells of a constellation of avant-garde squatters, divas, and dissidents who reinvented the world—a story which comes to seem more improbable the more meticulously he records it. Through a panoply of witnessing voices, he channels a recent past so familiar we risk taking it for granted."—author of The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem
"Downtown New York in the latter half of twentieth century was so much more than aWarhol print and a CBGB-OMFUG T-shirt. McLeod tracked down more than 100denizens of that freaky bohemian milieu to tell the stories most people don'tknow.The Downtown Pop Undergroundbreathes new fire into a familiar history and is amust-read for anyone who wants to know how American bohemia reallyhappened."—critic, NPR Music, Ann Powers
"The Downtown Pop Undergroundhonors those who were at the forefront of amovement that transformed our understandings ofsexuality and artistic freedom."—Lily Tomlin
"I love this book. It's filled with insight about a very important group of artists making blueprints for the avant-garde. They were so far ahead of the mainstream curve that they created new shapes out of the curve, revealing cracks in the yoke of custom and convention. McLeod has done us all a favor by focusing on the lives of these fabulous futurists and oddball observers who looked at life and showed us that reality is absurdity dressed in a three-piece suit."—author of The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, Jane Wagner
"Kembrew McLeod manages a Herculean task: mapping the vast spider web of intersecting trajectories in pre-careerist downtown New York. He makes it plain how much of the action occurred in theater, and how much of the culture we owe to gay men and women."—author of Low Life and The Other Paris, Luc Sante