Welcome to the 5 Ninth Avenue Project

todayFebruary 16, 2023 673 5

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By Jason Hamric

The quintessential dive into every day life in the 80’s NYC freak scene

If I could time travel there are a few places I’d love to go.  Paris in the ’20s would be amazing, California in the 60’s sounds exciting but my first stop would have to be Manhattan in the early 80’s.  The intersection of punk, hip hop, new wave and street art/style.  The Bronx were burning, The Lower East Side was dirty and affordable, Time Square was a “red light district” and all of that desperation and odd freedom produced some of my favorite things.  Basquiat, Ru Paul, RUN DMC, CBGB and all the music floating around it -and a ton more!  Unfortunately for me it was just a tad before my time so I can only visit through photographs, documentaries and short little online videos.

Every time I go to a new city I like to make no plans, wake up every morning and wander the streets pretending for that moment I live there.  No better city to that in than New York, and thanks to Nelson Sullivan you can experience that voyuersticly but in the 1980’s.  In 1980, he saw a building on the corner of Gansevoort & 9th Avenue in the Meat Packing District with a rental sign on the door. Nelson purchased the duplex & soon renovated the building to be his own salon. It also became a hotel, way-station & halfway house. The ongoing 24-hour salon gave Sullivan the idea to begin videotaping his life.  Inspired by Warhol and other street photographers Nelson took to the streets armed every day with his giant camcorder documenting everyday life.  His everyday life.  And although sometimes seemingly mundane, the main character of his films is always the city.  The oddball cast of friends and what are now historical locations randomly popping in and out is just the kind of thing I love.  You’re almost afraid to stop watching in the fear you may miss something.  What Nelson was doing at the time was completely unique and ended up building one of the only video collections in existence that chronicle every day NYC street life, queer culture, world of drag and the creative swirl of downtown living.

We meet a young and unknown Ru Paul along with a lot of the city’s stars, artists and cultural who’s who of the time.   John Sex, Tish and Snooky (manic panic), lady Miss Kier, Ethyl Eichelberger, Wendy Wild, Dianne Brill, The Boy Bär Beauties, Patricia Field and Rebecca Field, Sister Dimension, Julie Jewels, Rudolf, Dean Johnson, Stephen Saban, DJ Anita Sarko — the cameos go on and on.  We also get to visit some amazing venues.  The Saint, The Limelight, The Pyramid Club and C.B.G.B. all in their prime.  It’s an archeological dig through the past and somehow gives you the sensation of actually being there.  Like a crystalized childhood memory… if your childhood was the best ever and filled with drag queens!

Unfortunately like a lot of the artist from this time and place Nelson died young at the age of 41, and just like those artist he left us a wonderful gift.  The 5 Ninth Avenue Project is his legacy.

I recommend pressing play then let it just run in the background and absorb.  There are hundreds of these short movies, and once you start you’ll have a hard time turning it off.


Written by: jamric

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