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Rock, Rap and Other Music in NYC in the 1980s

Ellen Levitt

Posted on June 20, 2021 02:09

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The Museum of the City of New York has an interesting exhibition about music in the 1980s in NYC. It also overlooked some important trends.

We hadn't been to the Museum of the City of New York in a few years, so when my friend Sherryl suggested we visit on a Saturday afternoon, we were game. I was particularly interested in an exhibition called "New York, New Music: 1980-1986."

As soon as we got to the third floor exhibition space, I was rolling in nostalgia. The show features a variety of artifacts about this era, including photographs, concert fliers, clothing, newspapers and magazines of the time, and a few guitars. There were a few video screens.

The show looked at various genres of music: punk rock, experimental music, salsa, hip-hop and rap, jazz and more. But there was a glaring omission, in my opinion: nothing about heavy metal music and clubs of that time. And there was plenty of loud rock 'n roll in NYC during 1980-1986. 

When I realized this oversight, I mentioned it to one of my daughters. Immediately another museum goer rolled her eyes. Snobbery. I snapped at this person and called her a snob.

Let me step back and describe things I liked about this show: copies of long-gone music magazine such as NY Rocker, which I used to read occasionally. A flier for a Beastie Boys concert at a long-shuttered East Village nightclub. (I went to Murrow HS in Brooklyn with Adam Yauch of the Beasties.) A season playbill of the Central Park Music Festival for 1980  (I attended one of those shows.) A Keith Haring designed t-shirt (I once watched him drawing with chalk on a space in a subway station.) 

There were photographs of many musicians: salsa stars Celia Cruz and Hector Lavoe; experimental musician John Zorn; various hip-hop musicians such as Roxanne Shante and DJ Kool Herc, a primary pioneer of hip-hop; rockers such as Joan Jett. There were videos of songs from that time, including RUN DMC. There was a lot of fun and interesting material here.

But no heavy metal. And I know that many people look down on metal, they think it's not sophisticated, or "it all sounds the same," but it doesn't. There were NYC bands from the 1980s that could have been featured such as Carnivore, Anthrax, Nuclear Assault, Cro-Mags. These thrash metal bands had big followings within NYC. There were clubs like L'Amour ("the Rock Capital of Brooklyn") and L'Amour East in Queens; Zappa's in Brooklyn that featured hard rock, punk and other genres of rock; and others. 

I went to Twitter and the museum's account, and complained about this; maybe they will add in something pertinent to the exhibition because I mentioned it (maybe they should consult with ME about this.) 

I realize that hard rock, heavy metal and related genres are not everyone's favorite styles of music. But when a museum makes such an obvious omission in an exhibit, a fan cannot help but wonder if this was done on purpose. That's revisionism, and wrong. They should take my advice.

Ellen Levitt

Posted on June 20, 2021 02:09

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