Taking it Back to the Old School with The East Village Eye for “It’s All True”

Picture It: The East Village, May 1979. A new scene is emerging within the burned-out buildings and abandoned lots. It had been a decade since Daniel Patrick Moynihan urged then-President Richard Nixon to adopt the devastating policy of “benign neglect,” effectively cutting off major cities from federal, state, and local services in response to the race riots of the 1960s. At the same time, the Nixon White House initiated a phony war on drugs, as the cover story for flooding African-American and Latino neighborhoods with heroin.

Also: Forty Years in the Making, “History is Made at Night” is the Stuff of Legends

Yet, despite the United States’ government’s best efforts to destroy its own citizens, like the phoenix they rose from the ashes and gave birth to the greatest cultural movements of the late twentieth century. Up in the Bronx, Hip Hop was born. Over in Washington Heights, graffiti took hold. And down in the East Village, punk rock emerged. It’s very telling that when people were pushed to the edge, they came back stronger than ever before.

May 1979, debut issue

May 1979

Into the scene, a young publisher arrived. Leonard Abrams, a native of Spring Valley, a little village 30 miles out of town, first began his foray into printed matter as a high school student when he launched an underground newspaper. He landed in New York in 1976, and took in the scene. “I always wanted a soap box,” Abrams reveals, “I was interested in the creation of culture. I saw an opportunity in New York for the new wave of people seizing that moment and I realized that I could share in it.”

Abrams recalls, “There was kind of a vacuum in the arts and music that we were happy to fill. The hippie thing had played itself out. There was disenchantment and disillusionment. These were the younger siblings of the Vietnam era people. There really was nothing going for us so people wanted something else to take the place of the vacuum in the city, physically and culturally.”

Summer 1980

Summer 1980

In May 1979, Abrams launched The East Village Eye, a monthly broadsheet that covered the cutting-edge times. “It’s all true,” the tagline declared with a knowing wink. Back in the days, legends were born and legends were made; The East Village Eye captured their heydays with verve and panache as art director Christof Kohihofer, who studied with Joseph Beuys, created a captivating vision of the city’s life and times.

Imagine it: the crème de la crème freshly skimmed, each with their own vision of the world and the ability to manifest it. From Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith to Run-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys, The East Village Eye knew just where to look for the latest, greatest happenings in New York. It’s distinctive mix of art, music, style, and politics was second to none, making it the most groundbreaking read of its time.

April 1984

April 1984

In celebration, Howl! Happening: An Arturo Vega Project presents It’s All True: The East Village Eye Show on view now through October 9, 2016. Drawn from an archive of some 4,000 pages and 3,000 photographs, the exhibition features a selection of key covers, centerfolds, interior pages, ephemera, and photographic prints alongside artwork from the era. The reproductions will be blown up large enough to be read comfortably while hanging on the wall.

Looking back at the era, it’s clear to see that the void is the greatest space for creativity. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” Plato wrote in Republic, to which Aristotle followed up, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” And so it was the city, gutted to its core, a new ethos arose: Do It Yourself.

June 1980

June 1980

Self-reliance is one of the greatest traits to learn for it enables each of us to be the captains of our own fates and follow our guiding stars. Abrams remembers, “There was a lot of community spirit but there was also a lot of individualism. So many people wanted to do things, to change things. People were full of piss and vinegar. They had an axe to grind. Circumstance has so much to do with what a person does. There were plenty of people who just hung out to party, get high, and mess around but there were also a lot of people who had something they wanted to do and could do it.”

These were the people who made the headlines, people like Richard Hell, who explained how he “invented punk,” and David Wojnarowicz, who wrote about his harrowing past as a street hustler and later as an artist living with HIV.

August 1982

August 1982

Abrams remembers, “When we were creating The East Village Eye, anyone could take part. Society was not so punishing towards the poor. People were able to live better if they didn’t have a job or means. People were coming out of school, taking classes, and dealing with larger, existential issues of life without being segregated by socioeconomic status or race and ethnicity.”

In many ways, the East Village was truly the melting pot that the country likes to claim for itself. And that is how The East Village Eye was the first publication to publish the term “hip hop.” It came out of a conversation between Michael Holman and Africa Bambaataa, just one of the many historic conversations taking place in its pages—living up to the promise, “It’s All True.”

The East Village Eye group photo

The East Village Eye group photo

Special Events:

September 24 / 3 PM
East Village Eye Showcases the Films of the 1980s: New Wave / No Wave

An afternoon of films featuring Rome ’78 by James Nares, You Are Not I by Sara Driver, and more.

September 25 / 3 PM
East Village Eye Showcases the Films of the 1980s: Cinema of Transgression

Films by Richard Kern, Tommy Turner, Nick Zed and others. Featuring Where Evil Dwells, Simonland, Thrust in Me and an program of short films.

October 6 / 7 PM
East Village Eye: Channeling the Dead 

Readings of works by seminal writers Kathy Acker, Cookie Mueller, Rene Ricard, David Wojnarowicz, Jesse Bernstein and (too many) others. Readers include Bob Holman, Max Blagg, Carl Watson, David Huberman, David Katz, Leonard Abrams and others. Hosted by Bob Holman.

All artwork: Courtesy of The East Village Eye/Howl! Happening: An Arturo Vega Project.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.