Farewell to Rent
by NeciVelez, Sun Sep 07, 2008 at 03:01:57 AM EDT
As foreclosures proliferate, as food prices soar, as we sit at the kitchen table strategizing and robbing Peter to pay Paul, the refrain of the theme song from Rent - "how we're gonna pay...how we're gonna pay...last years rent" runs through my head.
Today is the last day of Rent on Broadway.
I have my own memories of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the neighborhood captured by Jonathan Larson who died before seeing his play shine on Broadway.
The Loisaida of my memories no longer exists.
I lived on the Lower East Side, in a variety of different apartments from 1970 until 1990.
I lived in a 5 room 6 story walk-up on 10th street between B & C for $150.00 a month, in a "squat" on 9th street (no rent), and in a basement pad on 6th street that is now home to an Indian restaurant. It was around the corner from the Jazzboat on Ave A where I bartended and listened to great jazz as I served Tanqueray and tonic to Dexter Gordon, or brandy to Roy Haynes.
I had a tiny two room apartment with a bathtub in the kitchen, toilet down the hall on third street and Bowery, across the street from a huge homeless shelter and around the corner from CBGB's, home of punk music, and now also closed. The rent was $85.00 a month. The same apartment is now $1,500.
I worked in the Dom, with the Lou Reed & the Velvet Underground as the house band, and at the Electric Circus above it which rocked to the sounds of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. It later became a center for recovering addicts and alcoholics, with 12 step meetings available 24 hours a day.
The East Village was an amalgam of ethnic Ukrainians, orthodox Jews, and Puerto Ricans, hippies, punk-rockers and Hells Angels on 3rd street. Home to artists and conmen, dancers and dope dealers.
As Rent closes, I bid a fond farewell to the play and to the neighborhood that inspired it, a neighborhood that has died, like many of its former residents.
So many of my friends and neighbors died. Died from GRID, died from AIDS, died on the Bowery in flop-houses from too much booze. Died homeless. Died from over-doses.
We knew the neighborhood it was going when the first GAP opened up on St. Marks place. As NYU bought up tenements, and evicted the residents in its drive to expand student housing, the neighborhood invasion of yuppies began, and gentrification displaced those too poor to fight back.
Where do the poor go? Harlem is gentrifying, as is the south Bronx, Williamsburg, and Bedford Stuyvesant. With poor families doubled and tripled up, harsh new rules in public housing, are we now creating Bantustans - driving the poor to the suburbs, as suburbanites move back into the cities?
Rent. What do you do if you have 3 kids? Where do you find a three bedroom apartment in NYC for under 2,000 a month? You don't, unless you have the luck of having been there under rent control. I'm meandering I know. I meant to write a brief diary mourning the passing of a show that captured a moment in time in the lives of young people fighting to survive a plague, in a neighborhood which both fostered addictions, yet embraced difference. A place where you could safely be gay, or black or brown, be an artist, or a vendor of ices.
So I bid Rent a bittersweet farewell, and say goodbye to my memories of Loisaida.
As headlines shout out the failures of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac and home foreclosures increase, let us not forget that there are still millions of American's who don't own homes, who are trying to figure out how to pay the rent.
(cross-posted at DailyKos)
Seasons of Love/La Vie Bohème from RENT (1996 Tonys)