Books

Calling the New York Underground Your Playground

by Alexander Cavaluzzo on September 4, 2014

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Paul Zone’s ‘Playground: Growing Up In The New York Underground’ (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Many of us probably remember our formative years sitting in class, taking the SATs and trying to lose our virginity. Few of us probably spent that time hanging out with Debbie Harry, playing Max’s Kansas City, or finding success in an underground band.

zone1But that’s the life photographer Paul Zone touts in his autobiographical coffee table book Playground: Growing Up In The New York Underground. Disillusioned with high school and titillated by the world of his musician brothers, Zone entered a downtown universe of grit and glamour, drugs and sex, stars and junkies as a member of their band, The Fast.

The essays at the top of the book chronicle Zone’s anecdotes of stewing in New York Glitter Rock, hanging out with Jayne County when she was Wayne County, and the rise and fall of The Fast. The texts are a fascinating meditation on a seminal period of his life, but it’s really Zone’s photography that tells (and sometimes merely suggests) the best stories.

The photographs Zone captured have a raw, inimitable energy that extend beyond themselves. Naturally the subjects add notoriety and value, and even as the technique wavers in quality — especially early on — the essence that one feels when leafing through the pages is the sense of atmosphere. The feelings Zone experienced leap off of the page into our imaginations; the chord progressions ring through your ears even in a silent room.

And those photographs that capture more intimate bonds offstage and out of clubs — Debbie Harry brandishing her size 9 boot at the lens, Alice Cooper watching cartoons in a hotel room — humanize these icons and provoke you to wonder what conversations were had in the process, whether they be profound or quotidian.

The addition of ephemera — posters for Zone’s band The Fast, contact sheets, marquees promoting The Ramones — are the finishing touches Zone uses to sculpt a detailed picture of nostalgia.

A lot of us would probably prefer to be in CBGB’s than our high school cafeteria during our teenage years, but beyond the schtick of growing up around theses haunts, we’re left with a very unique book into New York City underground that separates itself from the other documentations floating out there.

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Playground: Growing Up In The New York Underground is available from Amazon and other outlets.

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