The music tourist in New York City: Corner of W 23rd St/8th Avenue and Hotel Chelsea

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I was recently on a 10 hour stay in New York for business and, while I didn’t have time for sightseeing, I was still able to tick off one item from my “must see list” of rock landmarks (and it shows how much of a music nerd I am).

Now the corner of W 23rd street and 8th avenue looks like any other street corner in New York. But on October 26th 1974, a little known local band called KISS shot a series of photos with Creem Magazine photographer Bob Gruen. Intending to show the band’s transformation from “regular” people to the superhero personas they used on stage, the pictures show the band wearing suits with their stage makeup. Some pictures were also taken in the subway station, which probably explains why this corner was chosen: to the left side, right out of frame, there is a subway exit, making a convenient spot to go in an out.

Apparently, jaded New Yorkers barely batted an eye at the sight of four clowns in suits on a street corner. One particular shot would be used for the cover of their next album Dressed to Kill which was released on March 19th 1975. The album contained their future anthem, Rock N Roll All Nite, and while it didn’t bring them the fame they sought (the following album Alive! would do that), it stands to this day as one of their most solid albums. One funny tidbit about this photo shoot is that drummer Peter Criss was the only one who owned a suit, the other 3 had to borrow one from manager Bill Aucoin. If you look closely, you’ll see the suits don’t fit very well! (Take a look at Gene Simmons’s pant legs that clearly meant for someone much shorter).

 


On my way in and out of there, I almost missed another landmark building 500 feet from this street corner at 222 West 23rd Street. The famous Hotel Chelsea is undergoing extensive renovations, and isn’t the icon it used to be, but it still holds much history. The Hotel has hosted many long term tenants over the years, many of them among the rich and famous: Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams, Stanley Kubrick, Jimi Hendrix and so many more. (For a more exhaustive list, check out the Hotel’s Wikipedia page. This hotel is where Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road, where Sid Vicious’s girlfriend Nancy Spungen was found stabbed to death, where Dylan Thomas died of pneumonia. Madonna lived there in the early 80’s and returned to shoot photographs for her book Sex in room 822 (The Pretty Reckless also did a photo/video shoot in that room for their song Make Me Wanna Die). Arthur C. Clarke wrote the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey while staying there.

With all that history, I’ll have to keep it on the list and come back once it reopens.

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Jean-Frederic Vachon

Manager in the video game industry by day, rock journalist by night, Jean-Frédéric fills every waking moment of his life with music. Diary of a Music Addict is the little corner of the Internet he's claimed for himself to share his passion with the world.

He's also a regular contributor at the very rad site Montreal Rampage
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2 thoughts on “The music tourist in New York City: Corner of W 23rd St/8th Avenue and Hotel Chelsea

  1. Hi Jean-Frederic,

    I’m a big KISS fan and am looking forward to visiting Dressed to Kill corner in person. My wife and two daughters have discussed coming out from Ohio to not only see this Kisstoric spot, but actually pay homage to it by putting on the suits and makeup (the ladies may just do more of a school girl uniform with tie). We are looking at possibly summer 2017.

    I know you were only there for a short visit. But overall, how was the neighborhood? Did it seem relatively safe? This is the only hangup for my wife, so I need to do my homework a bit.

    Of course if we drive out to NYC we’ll plan to take in lots of other sites as well. I’m trying to convince them that we should go up to the Empire State Building and take photos up there in makeup as well. But given all of the security measures since the 9/11 attacks, we are wondering if we would be allowed to enter some of these tourist sites in the makeup.

    Thanks for any insight you may have on this stuff, as well as your observations of the neighborhood where Dressed to Kill was staged.

    And yes, I love the Dressed to Kill album. I’m so burned out on the live version of Rock n Roll All Nite, that I actually prefer the studio version. Rock Bottom has a great hook…maybe the long acoustic intro keeps it from being the real rocker it should be. Come on and Love Me is probably my favorite track…”Your good lookin’ and your lookin’ like you should be good”…this is the kind of stuff you wanted to hear about as a kid!

    • Thanks for the comments Eric! That street corner is in the Chelsea area; it’s not the most glamourous but it’s certainly the area that I’ve seen that feels the most like “real” New-York. You have the water towers on the roofs, the local shops, the restaurants… It’s a little dirty but I never felt in danger when I went. It was during the afternoon and it was really busy, lots of people on the sidewalks. It’s a short walk from Penn Station. I’d say it’s pretty safe.

      I have a feeling New Yorkers won’t even pay attention to a family of KISS fans in suits 😉 But Empire State Building might be pushing it I think.

      Good luck with your project! I hope to go back someday with my wife so I can be in the picture next time. I had the same problem when I went to the Abbey Road crossing. 🙂

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