Music Row once stood right on Times Square, on the block of 48th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.
From the 1930s through 2018, the area was home to eclectic shops like Sam Ash, who sold instruments and other musical accessories to the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. Heard about them?
There was nothing like it in New York City or anywhere else in the world.
These days, however, I refer to that sad stretch of asphalt with the inexplicable smell of mildew as Chipotle Way or Scaffolding Street, depending on which side I enter from.
But an opportunistic, notoriously cheesy conglomerate would have you believe the legendary Music Row is back and thriving. That greedy builders haven’t dumped some of the last vestiges of Midtown’s distinctive neighborhood character in favor of bong shops and espresso bars. This Ringo Starr could buy new drumsticks any day now.
That would be the new Hard Rock Hotel, the newest outpost of the memorabilia and kitsch brand that, surprisingly, still exists. It joins Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Resort, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., and David and Buster’s as businesses that have me thinking, “Maybe Mayor Adams should try to bring back the XXX theaters and crack dealers!”
Yet somehow, hard rock is the biggest slap in the face of all these schlock factories for shamelessly stealing from the rubble it stands on. One of the three theaters it houses is even called “The Venue at Music Row”. Oh please.
Inside, the Hard Rock is a little more elegant than its cosmopolitan brethren of lodging and chicken-finger-filled cafes. I searched and searched for one of ZZ Top’s beards pinned to a wall, but I didn’t find even a stubble.
Then I gingerly stumbled upon the Rock Shop downstairs, where you can’t buy guitars made by masters who have honed their art for decades, but you can take home a Hard Rock-branded sequined bomber jacket for $150. And for those of you who really like the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, grab a croissant in the well-lit attached bakery.
Why not go harder, man? Upstairs in your room you can do RockOm yoga or have a Fender guitar delivered so you can play bad while filming Instagram videos – with headphones. Party on, losers!
As I walked up the stairs to the bar and restaurant, I began to see the typical trinkets, but they made me more nauseous than in Florida or Las Vegas. Unlike Orlando, New York is already a museum of music history without having to resort to such corporate tricks.
Behind a pane of glass was a love letter that Frank Sinatra sent to his then-wife Mia Farrow. Pretty. But why not head down to one of the CEO’s favorite New York hangouts instead, just a few blocks away? The Russian samovar on 52nd Street was once called Jilly’s Canteen, where Sinatra spent many nights. The upstairs bar was left as is — not demolished and merchandised from a 446-room hotel.
Then there were Lady Gaga’s silver boots, which she wore to the 2018 Grammy Awards. The little monsters are probably already planning to steal them. Instead of getting arrested, head to the Bitter End in the West Village, where Gaga performed when her name was Stefani Germanotta.
John Lennon’s 1971 handwritten lyrics to “New York City” are a sweet find. Even more moving, and still terrifying to this day, is the exhibit in front of the Dakota, where the Beatle lived and was murdered by Mark David Chapman.
Every block in this city has such a story. I just found out that I walk past Bob Dylan’s first NYC apartment (161 West 4th Street) every day and had no idea. But, oh, hard rock has one of its guitars, so why bother venturing behind the neon lights of Midtown with its soothing Krispy Kreme and brutally burned meat on a bun?
Times Square quickly turns into Epcot with crime or Las Vegas without a miniaturized St. Mark’s Square. It’s a travesty.
Here’s the cold, hard rock truth: The Crossroads of the World should cling to more things that are proud, distinctive, and unmistakably New York. And fuck the rest.