Art After Midnight reviews

“…drugs, sex and chicanery… with verve, charm and sophistication…”

East Village Eye, August 1986: This is the first full-scale treatment of the overlapping club, art and performance scenes which have wrought tremendous changes in New York’s art world. Since it began in the late ’70s, a generation of artists sidestepped the frozen, hierarchical world of Soho galleries and began doing their work in nightclubs. Art After Midnight tells their story with verve, charm and sophistication. The book is not art history, not esthetics. It is a social history, a chronicle of artists’ lives, and of the broader milieu through which they moved. As one who hung out through most of this, I can testify that Steven Hager got it right. Not much is left out, and what I didn’t witness sounds like I pictured it. Art After Midnight reads like an expose—drugs, sex, artworld maneuvering and chicanery. Hager rips aside the sanctimonious veil that covers most writing on art to show us the real movers of the new scene as real people. (I know I’ll never read in Artforum how Zurich art dealer Bruno Bischofberger “rolls into” a Fun Gallery opening with “a babe on each arm.”…the Dionysus of the fun art Blitzkrieg was Kenny Scharf, insisting on his right to remain in the nursery, with its intoxicating funny-faces and delirious horrors….ten years from now, how will we feel about the lions of today?…Hager’s book provides a vibrant panorama of the beachhead.—Alan Moore

“…riotously illustrated…lively narration…”

Booklist September, 1986: Having already given its South Bronx sibling the once-over in Hip Hop, Hager turns to the East Village art scene that flourished simultaneously (c. 1975-85). His riotously illustrated chronicle tells how, inspired by such 1960s avant-gardists as Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground rock band and by the gross satirical filmmaker, John Waters, the young artists created successive waves of neo-dada, first in punk music, then in performance art, before the burgeoning of new galleries in the East Village brought most of them back to painting,  where they had generally all begun. The scene finally fell apart when, like avant-gardists before them, the best talents in the movement became famous and started to sell to high-dollar collectors. In the meantime, an immense amount of fun was had, fun that Hager conveys through a lively narration sparked by commentary of most of the scene’s principle artists, performers, and musicians.—RO

“…as artless as the scene itself…”

ELLE, June 1986: Long on hindsight, short on insight, Steven Hager’s book on the rise of the East Village art scene comes off as artless as the scene itself. Yes, you may learn how the Mudd Club got its name (I’ve already forgotten) and what CBGB & OMFUG stands for (who cares?), that Keith Haring went to Grateful Dead concerts because “he wanted to be a hippie,” or that David Byrne was described as “a cross between Ralph Nader, Lou Reed and Tony Perkins” in an early press release, and you’ll hear all about Kenny Scharf’s Jetsons fixation, but you won’t get much meaningful evaluation of the often questionable art to emerge from one of the more fringe movements of this century. —Peter Occhiogrosso

“…a Big Chill for the punk generation…”

The City Paper, July 4, 1986: Take the in-crowd focus of Interview, add gushy innocence of a teen music fanzine and a dash of the I-know-what’s-important pose of Artforum, and you’ll approximate the tone of Art After Midnight, a coffee-table postmortem on the East Village punk scene, RIP (roughly) 1977-1982. The scene itself comes across as fun, ingeneous, wild and wacky, with that mix of profundity and utter frivolity we associate with the hijinks of any art student crowd anywhere anytime. Hager’s I-was-there slant, meanwhile, is a kind of heavy nostalgia editorializing that makes the book a Big Chill for the punk generation. Every generation is nostalgic for and overly apologetic about its wild and wacky youth. The East Village scene was clearly a lot of fun for Hager, and he does a good job of making it sound like fun in this book.—John Strausbaugh

“…art that the serious have to take seriously…”

Boston Phoenix October 8, 1986: They were young—the first generation weaned on Let’s Make a Deal—and they had no standards whatsoever. They were American: they ruled the world. And they just wanted to have fun. They succeeded, some, like Haring, Basquiat and Byrne, beyond their wildest imaginations, and in the process they made some art that the serious have to take seriously. This book may not diagnose the disease very well, but it sure as hell is a fun display of the symptoms. —David Bonetti

‘”…detailed descriptions of clothing and hairstyles…”

City Arts  January 18, 1987: Aptly, author Steven Hager chose the style of a gossip columnist to relate the history of this neighborhood, which has seen the birth of punk rock music, performance art, and the newest school of visual art, Neo Expressionism. Hager talks about the lives, relationships and social gatherings of East Village art and music celebrities, including fairly detailed descriptions of their clothing and hairstyles. For those who believe in the purity of artists and their rejection of crass commercialism, this book will be an eye-opener. Hager’s description of the new art superstars, most of whom achieved substantial commercial success while still in their 20s, illustrates the overwelming influence of television, blockbuster Hollywood films and popular music on these artists. —Patty Somlo

“…outrageous energy….”

Publishers’ Weekly May 30, 1986 The outrageous energy of the participants and their subsequent notoreity will carry the reader through this uncritical, discursive pop history of what [St. Martins’] calls the “Global East Village.” He begins with CBGB’s and its development as the premier club for punk rock and the nihilistic youth culture of its audience. The author then covers various groupings that were make to make Manhattan’s East Village and neoexpressionism buzzwords of the ’80s. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf and Keith Haring receive extensive coverage, as well as performance artists like Ann Magnuson and “personalities” such as Patti Astor. The book culminates with the explosion of galleries in the East Village and its impact on the New York art market-place. Hager’s treatment is unremarkable but, as always, the East Village provides its own momentum.

The first history of Hip Hop

Long out-of-print and with copies selling for upwards of $500, the original hip hop history written by the first journalist to document the scene is now available. When the book first appeared in 1984, here’s what some of the press had to say:

“…extremely well-written…”

Rock&Roll Confidential, #16/September 1984: HOME XEROXING PROSPECTS…Hip Hop by Steven Hager is an intelligent, vividly illustrated and extremely well-written account of the rise of hiphop culture. It begins at the beginning, that is to say, with James Brown and details the destructive policies of New York planner Robert Moses that created the South Bronx in the first place. By the end of the book you’ll feel close enough to many of the graffiti writers, breakers, djs and rappers that they’ll seem like old friends. —Dave Marsh

“…sets the record straight…sorted out fact from fiction…”

Paper Magazine: Steven Hager’s Hip Hop attempts to set the record straight on the endlessly argued questions of who did what first where. On the case for years, interviewing anyone and everyone, Hager (who also came up with the idea of Beat Street) has sorted out fact from fiction and written as “true” a story as we’re likely to get. — David Hershkovits

“…the best and most reliable history…”

Penthouse October 1984: Within a few months time the Hollywood films Breakin’ and Beat Street were huge summer hits. A half-dozen books on break dancing are on the market, not to mention more movies and instructional aids. In Hip Hop,  the best and most reliable history of the break-rap-graffiti subculture, author Steven Hager reveals that break dancing actually started around 1973 amid the urban devastation of New York’s South Bronx and had all but disappeared by 1978, supplanted by newer dances like the “freak” (ritualized dry-humping) and robotic “electric boogie,” What saved breaking from disappearing into the limbo of great lost dances? Mostly the growing popularity of disk jockeys like Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, and Grandmaster Flash, who encouraged competitive dancers at club and community-center functions.—Robert Palmer

“…thrilling intricate story…”

Artforum: Did Keith Haring’s use of found frames make his work something other than graffiti, which defines its own field? Did the Funky Four + 1s “That’s the joint” and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message” speak separate languages? Such questions don’t come up in this fine book; Hager is stronger on sociology than art, more acute on the secret history of the scene than on its spectacular emergence. The prehistory was really secret: budding graffiti writers seeking the new Bronx Kilroys, would-be DJs looking for the right party to crash, cops chasing guerrilla artists, turntable wizards stripping the labels from their records to out-fox the competition. Hager makes it all a thrilling, intricate story, all set against the heroic opposition between master-builder Robert Moses, destroyer of the Bronx, and Afrika Bambaataa, tribune of a new culture built on the ruins of the old. But Hager loses his tale once it becomes public, as perhaps it has lost itself. His claim that hip hop “has the potential to infiltrate and subvert the mass media, energizing them with a fresh supply of symbols, myths, and values” doesn’t define hip hop: it defines America’s ability to recuperate the idea of subversion itself. Still, Hager talked to the right people—better yet, they talked to him.—Greil Marcus

“…thorough job of research…”

Pulse: New York City always seems to be at the cutting edge of trends in pop culture. Recently, breakdancing, hip-hop and rap records, and, to a lesser degree graffiti art have broken out of their Gotham origins, gotten picked up by the media and—as a result—have become important movements in ’80s pop culture. Steven Hager’s Hip Hop is a fast reading history of how these movements started—and developed —that focuses on the many personalities that made it happen. Hugo Martinez and Keith Haring, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash—from street-gang origins to recognition by serious art and music critics—they all come alive here in Hip Hop. This is a quick read—you can knock it off in an evening—but don’t get the idea that Hip Hop is one of those quickie exploitation jobs cranked out to cash in on current fads. Hager—whose original newspaper article inspired the film Beat Street—has done a thorough job of research, tracked down many obscure artists, breakers, and DJs for some cool interviews, and tied everything together in beautiful style.

“…Hager is an ace reporter…”

Village Voice  January 14, 1986: Hager offers a good helping of relevant data, bringing us through the two phases of graffiti’s art world acceptance, pinpointing crucial journalistic moments (though not his own Voice profile of Afrika Bambaataa, which is where Beat Street began), and devoting an epilogue to the fallout from the biggest of all hip hop’s breakthroughs—the crassly out-of-context  appearance of the Rock Steady breakers in the crassly pop-populist Flashdance. But Hager is an ace reporter, not a critic or social historian. —Robert Christgau

“…for those who wonder how it all started…”

The Palm Beach Post October 26, 1984: Most of us have probably seen enough break dancing to last us several lifetimes. For those who still wonder how it all started, a new book has come out called Hip Hop by Steven Hager, who tells us, among other things, that the graffiti sprouted on subways and walls were started by a young Greek named Taki, who put his first tag on an ice-cream truck in 1970.

“…formidable job of reporting…”

Knight-Ridder News Service March 30, 1985: Hip Hop takes its title from the street term for the entire urban subculture of rap music, break dancing, and graffiti art. The book comes packaged as if it were a bit of fluff intended to capitalize on the break dancing craze. The text, however, is a formidable job of reporting. Hager, a former reporter for the New York Daily News, tracked down many of rap’s most elusive figures, like the South Bronx disk jockeys who played the first rap records on turntables set up on street corners, and the earliest rappers, whose performances were given a parties and on inner-city playgrounds. The result is a description of a vibrant subculture.—Ken Tucker

“…fine investigative report…”

Voice of Youth Advocates: New York journalist Hager, who followed the hip hop scene for years before mass appeal set in, does a fine investigative report here. His sources: the horse’s mouth. The book is full of quotes of original New York hip hoppers he has interviewed: graffiti artists such as Futura 2000 who began “writing” on subway trains and now commands thousands of dollars in commissions, deejays such as Grandmixer DST who reveals here the secrets of his “scratchin'” technique, rappers who record their staccato rhymes now but whose tradition extends back to prisoners composing rhyming fables called toasts, and break dancers in hit films who began as street gang warriors. Their voices give Hager’s account authenticity.—Cathi Edgerton

“…explains how hip hop happened…”

The Boston Herald December 9, 1984: Hip Hop was written by Steven Hager, a longtime reporter on the musical and artistic subculture that’s rocked the world after busting out of New York’s slums. This serious but not heavy-handed guide explains how hip hop happened and what it’s all about.

“…it’s impressive…”

New York Daily News: Steven Hager’s Hip Hop isn’t a definitive study but, considering how hard it is to get information on the street culture of the South Bronx (few written sources, many reluctant or self-serving informants), it’s impressive.—David Hinckley

“…hits home with little-known facts…”

Billboard Sept. 15, 1984: Hager hits home with some little-known facts: that blacks were performing a form of break dancing in the mid-70s and at some point abandoned it, to be revived by Latin males, that graffiti artists often collect in “gangs” to study each other’s technique and avoid police while utilizing their favorite canvasses, New York City subway cars, and that a Bronx DJ named Kool Herc played a crucial role in the development of hip-hop music. —Nelson George

“…excellent book…”

KLIAT January 1985: This fascinating book is not a how-to manual, but a discussion of the evolution of Hip Hop, that subculture of dance, art and music that started in the South Bronx. He doesn’t romanticize Hip Hop, but he doesn’t treat it condescendingly either. An excellent book Hip Hop is worth owning. —F.L.

“…the best read on the subject…”

East Village Eye: Steven Hager’s new book Hip Hop is certainly the best read to be found on the subject. Hager was the first major writer to pick up on the movement, and he remains the best. His book encompasses the entire spectrum. —James Marshall

“…messy, ego-obsessed scrawls…”

New Musical Express September 22, 1984: There seems to be an inability to ridicule the more ridiculous aspects (like the graffiti artist who arrived at a rival’s house with a shooter threatening to use it unless he changed his pen-name). He also shares the age-old white critic’s fallibility of reading more importance than is necessary into black man’s art—most of the illustrations herein show street graffiti to be messy ego-obsessed scrawls. —Gavin Martin

“…obsolete as last month’s Magic Marker….”

Heavy Metal Feb/March, 1985: The walk from the South Bronx to the Lower East Side is long, and Hip Hop is like the view from a Greyhound bus. Encompassing break dancing, rapping, scratching, and street fashion, spanning from the present day New York back into the beyond, Hip Hop is a lot to digest. Even worse, the bleached-out black-and-white pages lack the visual beauty of their subject. Writer Steven Hager has renovated his Soho News and Village Voice articles to dissertation length, and even tacked on a glossary and bibliography that will, if we know Hip Hop, be obsolete as last month’s Magic Marker. —SM

“…formidable job of reporting…”