Cover of No New York, Brian Eno, 1978
As if the name alone weren’t troubling enough, the fact that No New York is, was and forever shall be a compilation proves equally as troublous. More so than anyone else, it was Brian Eno who committed these four bands to wax. So, yet again, an essay explicitly devoted to what’s essentially his mix tape might be a goof from the get-go. At best, a compilation will always be a subjective singles club — a rounding up solitary songs. At worst, it’s just another solipsistic memento mori. It’s a congenital issue. The compilation, itself, can’t help it. No matter how curated the selections, how thoughtful the sequencing, it will forever be less than the sum of its parts. And as anyone who’s ever given a mix tape (or was gifted a Muxtape) knows, an aggregate does not an album make. No, No New York, you are definitely not an album.
But that’s not a denigration. Per se. What’s so great about an album, anyways? What makes it so freakin’ special? That, too, is a question certainly worth begging. An LP is forever. Sure. Spinning 33.333 times right ‘round the unit circle, its Euclidean uniformity is borderline pathological — a record of the utmost compliance. But as an idée affixed to the Cartesian plane, the long-player’s a folly wont of Molière (especially so for No New York’s cruel theatre of sound.) For the foursome Eno picked to grace its grooves, their collective skronk was the epitome of careening; at any moment, things could not only fall apart, they would be decimated. Obliterated, rent asunder. Scorched from the earth. Entirely. In short, there could be no definitive No Wave album. If No New York was to be at all, it had to exist as a compilation. There was just no other way.
Past tense is perfect tense here because none of the bands actually on No New York survived into adulthood. Furthermore, every single No Wave group, circa 1976 to 1980, was more or less stillborn. It’s a sobering fact. Parts of them had to die to keep on living, and, thankfully, the great ones were long gone before they got old. Of course, the immortality rate for sonic immorality always has been high. To wit, four of No New York’s enfants terribles — bass Contortion George Scott, Jerk drummer Bradley Field, Mars drummer Nancy Arlen and even lead Martian himself, Sumner Crane — are dead. Gone. They tell their no tales no longer. Scott, Field, Arlen, Crane, et al. gave us enough nope, and then they hung themselves with it: out to lunch, out to dry. Out, out dark, depraved spot.
Given the clinical sheen of present-day lower Manhattan, yup, said stain is tempting to fetishize. The heart lusts after what the loins hath had. That’s how hindsight works, after all. Remember, though, that nostalgia was initially catalogued as a disease. It was a malady. First. But foremost, if No Wave’s got a tint at all, it ain’t exactly colored up roses. Its vision is far too jaundiced. Any would-be patina would have to consist one-part gut, two-parts grime. Again, that’s for damn sure. And just as No Wave never liked its name while alive, we shouldn’t come to praise the No New York compilation now. No, that wouldn’t be prudent. If anything, No Wave should be razed. Wholesale. Truthfully, that’s probably what No New York would’ve wanted — four vacant bands, 16 condemned tracks.
Obviously, this cannot be done.