american institute of architects' guide  to   new  york  city

                       fourth edition (2000)  ~  ~  ~  review by adam sobolak

         you look 
like a city but you feel like a religion to me.  1.
                   (Laura Nyro, "New York Tendaberry", 1969)

              photo from lyric sheet of New York Tendaberry

Though for the Nyro record, the first edition of our so-yclept "Bible", the AIA Guide To New York City, was contemporary with "Eli And The Thirteenth Confession", and its gestation period pretty much encompassed "More Than A New Discovery" as well...ah, technicalities; for many a latent urban beholder, it was more than a new discovery. And it never stopped being so--it just got bigger and fatter and better and better, until by the colossally definitive 1988 third edition it was positively bursting with rapturous architectonic patchouli as if it knew Madonna's "Like A Prayer" was just around the chronological corner. Forget Rem Koolhaas--this was the real Delirious New York. (And a delirium too doggone sensuous to be grasped by your typical pretentious architecture student.)
               Hard to believe it's been so long (Berlin was still divided, bub) since that colossus came out--in the interim, that ur-Gotham televised icon, "Seinfeld", went on and off the air--but it came back for one more edition in 2000. Sans one author, in physical fact if not in credit; Eliot Willensky died in 1990. And Norval White, having retired and done the good Laura Nyro thing by decamping to Connecticut, had to be cajoled back with a good offer; such is popular demand.
               The end result--in balance, a welcome return and updating. But there are significant changes, some good, some not so good. And if you're getting ready to toss out your 1988 edition, hold yourself back--as a true Gothamophile, you'll need it as useful fleshing-out counterbalance. (Of course, afficionados will treasure all four editions in their library. Bibles are like that.)
               First, the "longbook" format's been maintained at the monumental thousand-page scale of '88 (though the paperback cover's now got French flaps); still quite convenient, even if as a Michelinesque "pocket" guide it's enough to rip the inner lining of a tweed jacket asunder (yeah, so whaddayawant). It's now, inevitably perhaps, openly riding on its well-seasoned venerability ("The Classic Guide To New York's Architecture"). But this newfound stateliness seems at times to crimp the insouciance of old. Take the cover. The classic Pop-Supergraphic title graphic idea--skyscraper-stacked words spelling out the title in big block letters with a kind of 60s-Nooyawkian Lenny-Bernstein-&-Joe-Papp boogie-woogie vibrancy--is still there, but beaten into pretentiously pseudo-embossed leather-or-metal submission. Think of Leonard Bernstein as handled by Andrew Lloyd Webber; and knowing the authorship, I doubt that was anything like the intention.

1.[Note: It's open to debate as to what the "official" lyric of New York Tendaberry is; while the lyric sheet and shows it as "a religion", Nyro clearly sung it without the article. Though I may be kicking myself for not consulting with some of the hardcore Nyrophiles out there, I'll tentatively accept the "printed" version--the fundamental meaning's the same, anyway.

OCT 30 2002 UPDATE: We've received note from the omniverse that "the original vinyl lyric sheet is true to the song: it contains no article..." Which shows you how passively middlebrowish a Nyrophile I am --I went by the CD booklet. How the "official" lyric got warped over time, I don't know --and it's also puzzling how wasn't on this tip, either. Because the dueling-"official"-version dilemma remains, I'll still maintain it as "a religion" --which will keep the debate ball rolling. A neat way to turn an embarrassing boo-boo into a subversive weapon? We'll see...]

Further notes from the omniverse...
Date: Sat, 03 May 2003 23:32
Subject: To: Adam Sobolak
I was looking up the Laura Nyro NY line in NY Tendaberry online and came across your rendition. No, the article and non-article versions do not convey the same meaning, not at all! It's hard to believe that a NYer wouldn't see that instinctively, but maybe you are not one. In any event, if you don't see the difference, you should go get some help before writing about it (and that's true irrespective of which version Nyro actually used or intended). But it's obvious that she's speaking in the sense of a whole NY feeling or experience (no article) and not the sense of one religion or experience among others (article). Even an LA native knows that!

Gene Goldenfeld

NEXT: maps retooled, asides curtailed in PART 2.

previous page: Table of Contents.

guide to guides AIA Guide to New York City

omni forum