It is a fact of life that some people love you and others might hate you. You don’t need a college education to know that. You probably want everyone to like you, but that just doesn’t happen. I think I’m a sweetheart, but there are people that gnarl their teeth as they glare my way. I hope I have earned their lofty disrespect. Not everyone values folk. Whether it’s a question of taste or organic brain syndrome, diverse points of view do exist. We are not all cookie cutter people and the general public is more likely to plunk down ten bucks for a bad motion picture than for a great live acoustic act. There are strangers that would rush into a burning building to save someone they never met, just as there are fair weather friends who wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire. Others have a subtle, more sinister agenda. So goes the music scene in The Big Apple where a really nice club closed. Some loved it…obviously, others didn’t. The Bottom Line in New York City had a thirty-year run. I tip my hat to Allan Pepper and Stanley Snadowski, co-owners who founded the club in 1974. They must be commended for three sunny decades basking in the yellow glow of the Tower Records sign amid the urban campus of New York University. The Bottom Line presented stars and up and comers. Near Bleecker and Mac Dougal in the West Village, it stood as a 400-seat monument to my kind of music. It continued to stand when so many nearby clubs closed. Folk City and The Speakeasy, among the last themselves, were outlasted by The Bottom Line. Now it too sports a padlock. I think it gave us hope, false or otherwise, that there might be a successful business model for folk music.
I’ve seen a lot of venues come and go. Heck, now that I think of it, I’ve closed some of them! So – why should it matter, the padlocking of just one more place to listen to music? A few steps from TBL, Washington Square Park and Arch are landmarks of the campus of NYU. The Arch was erected in 1889 to celebrate the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration. That stately edifice is symbolic as well of the folk revival, as the place where many of our most cherished urban artists sat and strummed and swapped new songs back before we knew any of their soon to be familiar names. Is this the last gasp of the great folk scare? Has the revival finally gone – beyond reviving? Allan Pepper said that in the wake of 9/11 business fell off and in two years, about $185,000 in back rent was owed to the landlord…none other than NYU. I have learned two rules of apartment renting; don’t store my tube of toothpaste next to the Preparation H in a dark closet, and keep my checkbook near the monthly rent bill. We have to pay our rent. I rather doubt that my landlord would allow me to rack up nearly $185,000 in debt for back rent. (Hmm, that would let me stay in my apartment for the next 20 years – think he’ll notice?). And the new NYU lease came with a pretty steep raise as well. So, while NYU appears to have showed some restraint, it had an ulterior business plan for the club…which we learn will become classrooms. Classrooms? – we sure could use more of them! God, I hope they don’t cut up frogs there in biology labs or let those NYU film students make more movies about teenage angst and the dark brooding city.
It just seems to me that NYU students are loosing a greater classroom – one of diverse musical arts. The club provided students and the rest of the community with something very special. Now, crunch these numbers. Sure, $185,000 is a pretty formidable sum, but consider this: the annual tuition tab for just one of NYU’s 15,584 undergraduates comes to $28,496. (Add about $11,000 for room and board if you really want to make your parents sick). So the $185,000 debt amassed by the club’s owners equates to the collective annual tuition of merely six and a half NYU undergraduates. Think the school will miss that? It certainly can’t be about the money. Multiply that annual tuition fee times each of the over 15,584 undergraduates and you’ll get a figure that is staggering. For the cost of the undergraduate tuition of just a few of NYU’s own students, the other 15,577.5 of them have lost a unique educational resource that six and a half could have funded. Seems a bit out of line. Most other institutions of higher learning would be proud to have a music center like that on campus. If I owned a college, Roger Deitz University, I would subsidize such a program to maintain as a centerpiece of my school. Pity what the students of the next three decades will be missing. I have looked into the future and see a lonely coed of the class of 2034 sitting in silence in the old Bottom Line building cutting up frogs. Do you think there might be somewhere else she could do that? This better be one hell of a frog – her annual tuition bill ought to run somewhat above a quarter of a million dollars. Shame on NYU.