Sunday, January 5, 2020

Then and Now: "You Belong to the City" by Glenn Frey

New York City as it Was and Is

Glenn Frey's "You Belong to the City" video
A scene from Glenn Frey's "You Belong to the City" music video (all screen captures courtesy of MCA Records).

Glenn Frey had a big hit in 1985 with "You Belong to the City." It was a typical mid-80s song that combined soulful sax jazz with a thumping techno beat. Off of the Miami Vice soundtrack album, the song peaked at number 2. It was held out of the top stop only by Starship's "We Built This City." It should have taken the top spot, but I guess showing Abraham Lincoln jumping out of his chair to Boogey was more in tune with the times than long, languid vistas of the Empire State Building. Anyway, it's a great song and I highly recommend it. However, for our purposes, I am going to zoom in on some of the evocative scenes from the video. To set the stage, the music video features Glenn Frey and a mysterious lady in blue who are both out on the town one night and find each other.

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
West 42nd Street looking east from Eighth Avenue in 1985.
In the Frey video, there are several shots of West 42nd Street near Times Square. This imbues a "gritty" feel to the video. One of these shots shows the classic lineup of theater marquees on the north side of the street. It's a very artsy shot, you had to be at just the right angle to show all of the theaters in one shot like that. It probably took some time to compose that shot. Most of the theaters were, shall we say, somewhat seedy in the mid-80s. It was a very distinctive block and there was nothing like it anywhere else.

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
West 42nd Street looking east from 8th Avenue (Google Street View, August 2013).
Today, 42nd Street has been transformed. That happened during the 1990s and was pretty much completed by the early 2000s. Gone are the adult films! Everything is Disneyfied! Isn't that wonderful?

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
The lady in blue finds a place to have a drink or two. Mysteriously, she has switched cabs, from one without a placard to one with a big blue one on the roof. Maybe she stopped somewhere else while Glenn was hoofing it downtown.
A key spot in the video is an unnamed bar where the Frey character meets a lady friend. However, the street address, 478, is shown. And that is our first clue as to its identity.

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
The Glenn Frey character walks by the same bar that the lady went in. Incidentally, to walk from 42nd Street where he first spies the lady in blue down to West Broadway would have taken him the better part of an hour. I've done it, a nice walk, actually. It's a logical destination if you're just wandering downtown aimlessly taking in the sights.
Later, we find out what street that 478 is on when Frey walks by a sign that says "Central Falls" and spots the lady in the blue dress inside. Hey, I can add 1 + 1 and get 478 just like the next guy. Turns out to be 478 West Broadway and the bar's name indeed is "Central Falls." It was just south of Houston Street on the right as you are walking south. A February 8, 1985, dining guide article in the New York Times notes that Central Falls was "A cheerful and trendy restaurant with a generous bar and changing exhibitions by contemporary artists." It was open to 2 a.m. on the weekends, so a good place to go after the shows. These places with the big glass fronts and dinner and dining were a dime a dozen in the 1980s, but there's something to be said for going down to Soho for a drink.

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
478 West Broadway (Google Street View June 2019).
Alas, Central Falls has vanished into history, a victim of rising rents after ten years in business. It closed sometime in the late 1980s. Now, that space has become another gallery along with all the other chic galleries on West Broadway. Maybe still a good place to pick up the ladies, though, who knows. If you're wondering "Why was it named Central Falls, anyway, that doesn't sound very New York City-ish?" like I was, well, I'm your hero because I have the answer! Central Falls was its name because it was run by a guy named Goldstein from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, which just so happens to be next to a city called Central Falls. Why exactly he called it Central Falls and not Pawtucket I cannot say, maybe he actually lived in Central Falls even though he is said to be from Pawtucket. Anyway, everyone automatically knows that Pawtucket is in Rhode Island, but Central Falls could be, you know... anywhere. There's actually a book about Goldstein and his restaurants, "Flash in the Pan: Life and Death of an American Restaurant," by David Blum.

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
"Tin Pan Alley" was an edgy bar on West 49th Street 
There is a brief shot of a canopy that says "Tin Pan Alley." At first, I thought it would be on the real Tin Pan Alley on 28th Street, but was mistaken. Tin Pan Alley Bar was located at 220 West 49th Street in what then was an SRO hotel. The bar was a popular hangout with people in the animators' union and the various seedy businesses in the Times Square area. Let's call a cat a cat, it was patronized by a lot of hookers, strippers (oh, excuse me, "dancers"), and transvestites. The bar was run by a woman named Maggie Smith who was a self-described "social activist." She ran it from 1978-1988 and supposedly had a gangster boyfriend who actually owned the bar and let his ne’er-do-well twin brother "run" it. The bar was staffed by a lot of people who later became famous, such as artist Nan Goldin. It was considered a cool hangout, and customers such as Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth were happy to be seen drinking at the bar. It has been described as an anarchist lesbian punk rock dive bar.

Tin Pan Alley might be somewhere someone artsy would go after having drinks at, well, Central Falls. Well, there or Florent down in the Meatpacking District. In 1985, that is. But, I digress.

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
The site of "Tin Pan Ally" on West 49th Street (Google Street View June 2019).
Tin Pan Alley Bar is long gone. The SRO has become a "luxury boutique hotel" and you may book a room there if you like. I find its name "The Pearl" to be a bit precious given its former occupant. Anyhoo... Tin Pan Alley is gone but not forgotten - it was the inspiration for the fictional Hi-Hat bar in "The Deuce," an HBO show that comprised 25 episodes and ran from September 10, 2017, to October 28, 2019. Whoever picked the locations for the Glenn Frey video certainly knew the edgy places of the time.

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
The lady's abode is pretty easy to identify, as the street number is on the sidewalk now just as it was in 1985.
The number "200" is seen multiple times in the video associated with the lady's address. The distinctive entranceway is a dead giveaway as to the location, too. I mean, you don't get much more unique in Manhattan than having your street number built into the sidewalk. I'd love to know how they pulled that off, someone definitely had... pull.

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
200 West 57th Street, NYC (Google Street View May 2019).
While the entranceway has been modified slightly, 200 West 57th Street looks virtually identical to the way it looked in 1985. I think it looks better with the flags and sconces.

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
200 West 57th Street is on the right (Google Earth).
Anyone who knows New York City knows that West 57th Street is one of the most exclusive areas to live. This is the home of billionaires and celebrities. In some ways, it is posher than either the Upper East Side or the Upper West Side and certainly more exclusive than anything (sniff) downtown. In the 1980s, though, it was not quite as fancy as it has become.

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
West 57th Street and Seventh Avenue in 1985.
The distinctive closing shot looks down 57th Street to the east. The tall building in the center is the iconic Solow Building. Constructed in 1974, it was one of the first non-rectangular skyscrapers in New York City.

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
Looking east from West 57th Street and Seventh Avenue (Google Street View May 2019).
 The Solow building is still there, though it no longer stands out for its height as it did in the 1980s. It has a very recognizable curved side facing the street and remains one of the most attractive buildings in the city.

Glenn Frey You Belong to the City
The Solow Building (Google Street View June 2019).
So, that wraps up our tour of street scenes from the Glenn Frey music video for "You Belong to the City." Thank you for stopping in this edition of "the more things change, the more they stay the same. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did making it!