I picked this compact book up right after seeing the Andy Warhol exhibition at the Tate in October, and read it on the train home. It was a perfect digestif following the exhibition, adding even more colour and context to what I’d just seen. I’ve never been to New York and I wasn’t alive in the 1970s, but reading this somehow made me nostalgic for both the city and the decade.
Acker’s prose is both dreamlike and visceral, interlaced with black-and-white photographs scattered through the book. I felt like I was peering into 1979 New York City through a slightly smudged camera lens. The first page opens with: ‘SEXUAL DESIRE IS THE GREATEST THING IN THE WORLD’. It’s an attention-grabbing start, followed by a wonderfully candid first chapter ‘The Whores In Jail At Night.’ The chapter is dialogue alone, eavesdropping on the sex workers’ incredibly blunt conversation. Later on there is a detailed description of an old woman’s vagina: ‘Old women just cause they’re old and no man’ll fuck them don’t stop wanting sex.’
More than simply a passive gaze at New York’s underground, the book is political too. New York City is a pithole, says Acker. The United States government rains down anti-rent control laws and refuses the city Federal funds. A far cry from today, it describes an NYC abandoned by the rich and inhabited by those with a lower income. The only constant is the artists, who were there then and are there now.
I enjoyed this book massively. I’ve seen some criticism of its short length, and disappointment that it isn’t a meatier dive into 1979 NYC. Although I would have happily read many pages more, I think the length is perfect considering its style. The book is a snapshot, full of frozen in time dialogue and streams of consciousness. It gives you an unvarnished glimpse of the city and entices you to find out more.