Tompkins Square Park

Tompkins Square Park

E 10th St, New York, NY 10009

Tompkins Square Park hosted its fair share of unrest, but it was also a place for neighborhood families. During the day, kids played on swings while adults read on benches, all while the sounds of an outdoor concert or protest rally reverberated in the background (it was at Tompkins Square where the New York chapter of the radical Young Lords Organization announced itself to the world on July 26, 1969).


An Influx of Sleaze on the Lower East Side


The Holy Modal Rounders’ Peter Stampfel remembered the neighborhood surrounding Tompkins Square Park as being relatively safe in the early 1960s (with “relatively” being the operating word). “A lot of speed freaks had a bad reputation for running around stealing and being sociopathic and that sort of thing,” he said, “which was partially true. Things started getting a little dicier in 1962, which was the year a lot of runaway kids hit the Village, so then the Forty-Second Street sleaze started hanging around the set. But when the Summer of Love bullshit happened, it really went downhill. The counterculture suddenly became something everyone was aware of. Around 1967, the flower people were being touted far and wide in the mass media, so every ex-con semi-sociopathic creep in the country was like, ‘Teenage girls who fuck, take drugs, let’s go!’ So there was a huge influx of sleaze.” Richard Hell, who arrived in the Lower East Side in late 1966, recalled, “When I got over there, hippiedom was peaking, while at the same time it was collapsing, where ripeness turns to rot. There were head shops everywhere, and barefoot kids with flowers in their hair who were panhandling and were tripping. But then every few months there would be a headline story about a Lower East Side crash pad where somebody had overdone it and put out everyone’s eyes with an icepick, taking ‘flower power’ a little too far.”

From Chapter 14 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore

Silver Apples Land Some Odd Gigs


In an unlikely turn of events, New York City mayor John Lindsay took a liking to Silver Apples and invited them to perform in Union Square, Tompkins Square, and other city parks. (“He just loved our stuff,” a mystified Simeon Coxe said. “I don’t know why.”) The mayor dubbed their droning, minimalist music “The Sound of New York,” and even commissioned Silver Apples to provide a live soundtrack for the Apollo 11 moon landing on June 20, 1969. They performed in Central Park while video projections showed the lunar module touching down on the surface of the moon. Silver Apples signed to a major label that had no idea how to market them, so the duo wound up on the oddest assortment of live bills. “They hooked us up with Jethro Tull, MC5, Procol Harum, Blue Cheer, 1910 Fruitgum Company, T. Rex, Tiny Tim,” Coxe said, “the whole spectrum.” Play-House of the Ridiculous director John Vaccaro recalled, “We used to see the Silver Apples at Max’s all the time. God, the sounds they made were just fantastic.” Simeon Coxe said that the Play-House people would always come to their Monday night res­idency, take acid, and watch the group play. “After a while,” he said, “John asked if we would be interested in doing an insane musical—right up our alley! What a beautiful but bizarre bunch of folks.” The musical was Cock-Strong, starring Ruby Lynn Reyner, and it ran in early 1969 at La MaMa.

From Chapter 18 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore

The Scene at St. Mark’s Place and Tompkins Square Park


St. Mark’s Place was a street that functioned as a major pedestrian thoroughfare to the West Village (it turns into Eighth Street after crossing Third Avenue). The print shop that published the Realist was near Sheridan Square, and Paul Krassner regularly walked there from his loft on Avenue A. “It was just a great feeling to walk along St. Mark’s Place,” he said, “and then Eighth Street to Sheridan Square to deliver stuff to the printer—going back and forth. There was a lot of smoking of marijuana on the streets. It was just a very friendly atmosphere and people would walk along and smile.” Krassner also used to watch the Fugs perform free concerts at the shell stage in Tompkins Square Park, where St. Mark’s Place terminated to the east. Future punk singer Joey Ramone and his younger brother Mickey Leigh (then known as Jeffrey and Mitchel Lee Hyman) occasionally came from Queens to hang out. Off-Off-Broadway performer Agosto Machado would take acid trips with people in that park, where he sometimes slept. “Suburban kids—or ‘weekend hippies,’ that was the new term—populated the area after Bill Graham opened Fillmore East,” Machado said. “That’s when the media and suburban people came and overwhelmed the East Village and Tompkins Square Park. They would say, ‘You are so free. You can live your life the way you want but we can’t.’ They were already branded and enslaved by the ideals of their family, and yet they could admire us, the homeless, who didn’t have anything, because we could do what we want. They thought our struggles were glamorous.”

From Chapter 19 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore