Don't Look Now, But Ape Has Taken Control

When I'm scrolling through the Village Voice Runnin' Scared feed on my reader I usually skip past the "Clip Job" feature — that's the thing where the editors dig up old stories from the Voice archives — but this one about 53rd and Third Avenue caught my eye this morning. It's from 1972, and profiles a hustler named Eddie who turned tricks in the neighborhood:

He came to New York a couple of years ago, started hustling Third and 53rd, met a woman somewhere along the way, and married her. They still live together in a hotel in the East 30s. She works a schlock job during the day while Eddie sleeps off the night. She knows what he's doing, doesn't care, it's his profession.

Eddie hasn't seen sunlight in weeks. At 6 p.m. he gets up, drinks a glass of tomato juice, has a couple of eggs if his wife is around to scramble them, then usually goes to a 42nd Street movie. He liked "Shaft" and "House of Wax." He seldom hustles 42nd. By midnight, he's at Third and 53rd.

And I say "turn tricks" because every time I'm in that neighborhood I always think of the Ramones song "53rd and 3rd", with the Dee Dee lyrics that go something like "53rd and 3rd/Standing on the street/53rd and 3rd/I'm tryin' to turn a trick."

Now you might see a picture of the Lipstick Building on the Northeast corner of 53rd and Third and sooner think of Bernie Madoff than Dee Dee Ramone:

885 Third Avenue (Lipstick Building), Midtown Manhattan

Yes, looking at it today, it's really hard to visualize the area's seedy past. That's just how cities evolve, but still — it's weird. (I'm thinking about it and realizing that the now-iconic Citicorp Building was probably part of a revitalization project during that era, right?)

And where exactly did all the male hustlers go anyway? Is it just that they're on the internet these days? Maybe an updated version of "53rd and 3rd" would read more like this: "Soliciting on Craigslist/On my laptop in my room/Casual encounters/M4M 4 U." Or something. It certainly doesn't have the anti-romance of "53rd and 3rd."

I was just talking about "53rd and 3rd" the other night because we happened to be in that neighborhood visiting some friends. We were at a bar afterward, an establishment about as unseedy as Dee Dee's 1970s world was seedy. At one point I was watching the bar's Twitter feed on a television screen above the door — perhaps you've come across this — you tweet hash tag-[bar whose name I can't remember even though this was just last weekend] and then your message scrolls on the screen. Which also means that there's a new kind of passive-aggressive activity you can participate in that involves tweeting stuff about other people in the bar — it's kind of unnerving. Was I complaining too loudly about someone's buzzkilling slow-tempo jukebox picks? Did that lady behind us hear us talking about them? Yikes. Saturday night pickup scenes are bad enough without enduring semi-anonymous chatter published to the world in real time.

Speaking of things technology destroyed, does anyone make crank calls anymore? Or did Caller ID bring that down? Wikipedia says yes. I expected there to be a piece about the advent of Caller ID inhibiting prank calls, but apparently there isn't. I'm disappointed — maybe this is too obvious? Even for Slate?

The Wikipedia also posits that the difference between a "prank" and a "crank" call revolves around the heightened level of hostility in the latter — another mystery solved! Until now I assumed they were interchangeable, and in fact for years I preferred "crank call," mostly because of the Billy Idol song "Crank Call," which I took to mean that "crank call" was in wider usage. I never looked at the lyrics before. They're incomprehensible:

They want love they want a pantomime
To cut you in two that's a sexual crime
They dig the dirt they deal in
They dig the dirt they feed on

Crank call
Ain't no fun at all

What in God's name is he talking about?

As a kid I used to chew on lyrics like this and think something along the lines of "Wow, adults are so smart and cultured — maybe one day I will also learn to speak a language as complex and evocative as Billy Idol's lyrics." Eventually I realized that some lyrics are just really shitty — like high school poetry set to music.

Here's another verse:

We drop in you in heaven or hell
Ape has taken control
They're breakin' the kids
They're beating the bids
And that is all they feed on

To be fair, maybe it's the Internet lyric industry that screwed these up — my cassette of Rebel Yell is somewhere inaccessible right now (very, very inaccessible) so I can't confirm it.

Never mind, it's on YouTube. Not the best song on the LP, for sure. It plods along in that lazy sort of 1980s midtempo that feels so dated (I think Lady Gaga songs resurrect this goofy midtempo, but that's a topic for another day).

OK, as a point of clarification, here's what I think the actual lyrics are for the verse above:

There's nothing new in heaven or hell
Hate has taken control
They're breakin' the kids
They're beating the bids [?]
And that is all they feed on

OK, doesn't make much more sense, but a little more sense — though I love the idea of "Ape has taken control." Awesome — Google "ape has taken control" and it's all Billy Idol!

It occurs me that if I bring up Billy Idol, I should probably say something nice about him. OK, how about this — I'm reacquainting myself with "(Do Not) Stand In The Shadows" and — wow! — memories of the end of side two of Rebel Yell are flooding back — hey, that's a pretty good song — at least one that some bearded Williamsburg kid might consider covering.

OK, now I'm re-relistening. Sorry to do this, but . . . God, that guitar solo is way too "Rock Me Amadeus." And Billy sounds like he's too self-consciously trying to meld Johnny Rotten and Elvis. And the lyrics . . . yes, there is something great about the way Billy stubbornly refuses to rhyme — it breaks the monotony of the mellifluous vowel sounds you're used to — but sometimes his lines land like a thud. Like this, for example:

Well you know you won't run, you won't hide and you jump like a son of a gun! Ooow!


In here today let me hear you say you're alive and you're living with me. So don't try to hide and don't try to die in the dark of the night. Wooow!


He makes it sound like "in the dark of the night."


Actually, a pattern is emerging — whenever there's a line ending in a non-rhyme Billy always seems to insert one of those pre-Jersey Shore fist pump/sneer/"Wooow" screams that he's famous for. I love it.

Then again, maybe this song is best left unturned:

If you missed it, that blond dude in the Queensrÿche outfit is Billy. And one of the above lines has now been updated to "Well you know I don't run because I don't hide and I fuck like a son of a gun!"

Well, OK then!

That was sure a nice trip down memory lane.

As I was saying, if you Google "prank call" you'll see that there is a cottage industry of websites that will prank your friends for you. The Internet just makes everything better, doesn't it?

Posted: February 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: M+/MR | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,