Interview: Brian Tochterman on the “Summer of Hell”

Where the dying city is most critical, however, is how New York is becoming a victim of its own success. Hyper-gentrification and the polarization of wealth within the landscape, particularly in respect to housing, make it extremely difficult for long-term residents to find housing upon displacement or shifting rents, not to mention to allow space for the intrepid migrants with a dream who reinvigorate the city and keep it fresh, as E.B. White wrote seventy years ago. Everyday it seems—highlighted in the work of local bloggers like Jeremiah Moss—there are stories about some neighborhood institution vanishing due to exorbitant rent increases, which in the long-term will destroy opportunities for independent small business development. This was where I see fears about the dying city, and, from my personal perspective, it’s a very convincing argument. Continue Reading Interview: Brian Tochterman on the “Summer of Hell”

Brian L. Tochterman: Birth of a Vigilante

As I argue in The Dying City this was a fantasy universe with critical consequences for the real world. Normalizing the vigilante was one key contingency of Spillane’s bestselling writing. Hammer was by no means the first, he’s preceded in time and succeeded in fame by Batman among others, but he did demonstrate that the vigilante no longer had to hide behind a mask or escape into a cave. He could operate in public, carry a private detective’s shield and a licensed gun and kill suspected criminals because “I like to shoot those dirty bastards.” In my book I connect Hammer with his filmic counterparts in 1970s New York, in particular Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) of Death Wish, and their unfortunate 1980s analogues like Bernard Goetz, the so-called subway vigilante, or the teenage terrorists of Howard Beach, Queens. Continue Reading Brian L. Tochterman: Birth of a Vigilante

Brian L. Tochterman: A Telling Inscription

In New York City’s larger bookstores, like the Strand (“home to 18 miles of books”) near Union Square, there’s always a table devoted to the eight million stories from the naked city’s past. It’s where you go to grab a copy of Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, Joseph Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel, Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities, Colson Whitehead’s The Colossus of New York, Luc Sante’s Low Life, or Weegee’s The Naked City. And there’s always a stack of E. B. White’s Here is New York, typically the 1999 edition featuring a young White on the cover and an introduction by his stepson Roger Angell. The slim book with a little over sixty pages offers a tiny window onto New York City in the summer 1948, but its observations, gleaned from White’s active participation in city life, seem to endure among transients and recent arrivals. Continue Reading Brian L. Tochterman: A Telling Inscription

Brian Tochterman: Mailer for Mayor of the 51st State

Norman Mailer and Jimmy Breslin are part of a sometimes roving band of supporting characters that populate The Dying City. Mailer plays the role of the contrarian provocateur who challenges the dying city narrative, whether it’s holding up the risky brotherhood of New York City’s various youth gangs as an antidote to the “national disease” of boredom within the pages of Dissent or publishing a large format book on the cultural significance of the 1970s’ most otherwise reviled contemporary art form, spray-paint writing. Breslin, the longtime voice of New York within the pages of various dailies, is perhaps most famously known outside of the city as the epistolary confidant of David Berkowitz, a.k.a. Son of Sam, who addressed a cryptic letter to Breslin, then at the Daily News, during his 1977 killing spree. He also co-authored The Lonely Crimes, “or the crimes you don’t hear about,” series from October 1965 that is examined in my book. Continue Reading Brian Tochterman: Mailer for Mayor of the 51st State