Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning

1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of A City

Book - 2005
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"Masterful . . . In Mahler's expert hands, the city's outsized citizens are flawed, fierce, bickersome, and as indomitable as the metropolis itself." --Mike Sokolove, author of The Ticket Out A passionate and dramatic account of a year in the life of a city, when baseball and crime reigned supreme, and when several remarkable figures emerged to steer New York clear of one of its most harrowing periods. By early 1977, the metropolis was in the grip of hysteria caused by a murderer dubbed "Son of Sam." And on a sweltering night in July, a citywide power outage touched off an orgy of looting and arson that led to the largest mass arrest in New York's history. As the turbulent year wore on, the city became absorbed in two epic battles: the fight between Yankee slugger Reggie Jackson and team manager Billy Martin, and the battle between Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo for the city's mayoralty. Buried beneath these parallel conflicts--one for the soul of baseball, the other for the soul of the city--was the subtext of race. The brash and confident Jackson took every black myth and threw it back in white America's face. Meanwhile, Koch and Cuomo ran bitterly negative campaigns that played upon urbanites' fears of soaring crime and falling municipal budgets. These braided stories tell the history of a year that saw the opening of Studio 54, the evolution of punk rock, and the dawning of modern SoHo. As the pragmatist Koch defeated the visionary Cuomo and as Reggie Jackson finally rescued a team racked with dissension,1977 became a year of survival but also of hope.
Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, c2005
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780374175283
0374175284
Branch Call Number: 974.7 M278L 2005
Characteristics: x, 356 p. : ill. ; 24 cm
Alternative Title: Bronx is burning

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dennismmiller
Dec 05, 2016

In 1975, New York City, in many ways the capital of the modern world, teetered on the brink of collapse. The bankrupt city government was refused a federal government bailout, sanitation workers held a ten day strike during which garbage piled up on the sidewalks, and laid off policemen rioted, shutting down the Brooklyn Bridge during rush hour. The city bounced back in '76, serving as the focal point for the nation's bicentennial celebrations, hosting a successful Democratic National Convention, and cheering the Yankees into the World Series. The subsequent sweep of the Yankees by the unstoppable Big Red Machine might have served as an omen for '77.

As author Mahler chronicles, the momentous events of 1977 represented the convergence of a series of trends. Rupert Murdoch's New York Post continued to change New York's media landscape. Disco broke big, while punk grew in the East Village and hip hop conquered the Bronx. Pudgy postman David Berkowitz terrorized the city as the ".44 Caliber Killer" and then as the "Son of Sam", killing 6 and wounding 7 in a series of random shootings that lasted twelve months. A cascading series of failures in the city's power grid led to a blackout in mid-July that plunged the entire city into darkness, triggering widespread looting and arson. Most obviously, the future of the city was weighed in the Democratic primary for mayor, which pitted incumbent technocrat Abe Beame against irrepressible radical Bella Abzug, opinionated loudmouth Ed Koch, and political Hamlet Mario Cuomo. Yet for Mahler, the great story of '77 is the Yankees' championship season, throughout which manager Billy Martin fought his own personal demons as well as team owner George Steinbrenner and brash slugger Reggie Jackson.

Mahler's account is written in a readable, straightforward documentary style, but the material is loaded with a symbolic importance far greater than the bare facts. It is to the author's credit that he does not force interpretations onto these facts. The Martin-Jackson feud can be seen as representative of an insecure, unhinged white establishment trying desperately to deny the legitimate achievements of rising blacks, or as locally-rooted working class ballplayers being eclipsed by mercenary free agent superstars, or neither, or both. The Son of Sam murders certainly evoked the horror of urban anonymity (even as the discotheques promised the pleasures of that same anonymity), but also involved the hype of sensationalistic journalism. The result is genuinely poetic, both a revelatory history and a love song to the city and its legendarily outsized personalities.

l
lukasevansherman
Nov 28, 2015

"In later year, the proud pioneers who had settled--or resettled anyway--this urban frontier (SoHo) would point darkly to the day, identifying it as the tipping point, the moment when their beloved neighborhood made the irreversible transition from scruffy artists' colony to theme park for the taste-fetishizing upwardly mobile."
I recently read the wildly hyped "City on Fire," which netted it's first time novelist author a cool 2 million dollar advance. The book is set in the pre-gentrified NYC of the late 70s and uses the famous blackout as a set piece. If you struggled through that bloated whale of a book, you owe it to yourself to read the real story. Jonathan Mahler weaves together the cultural and political history of NYC, focusing on 1977, the year of the blackout, Son of Sam, a Yankees victory, punk rock, disco, and crippling debt. Familiar figures like Reggie Jackson, Mario Cumuo, Ed Koch, George Steinbrenner, Jimmy Breslin, and John Lindsay make appearances. Portlanders currently experiencing the growing pains of our city will appreciate the urban renewal/ gentrification aspects, as cheap space for artists and musicians is transformed into expensive housing and tourist-friendly destinations. Punk icons Richard Hell and Patti Smith both have books about this period as well.

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