Over wildly tangential brunch conversation at Le Gamin, reminiscing about old Fort Greene with and enjoying the rapid-fire wit of Amy Linden, she remembered our introduction at the long-gone Albee Square Mall. “I met you at Toys ‘R’ Us, rest in peace. You were looking for a black Barbie.” Recalling too, a recent interview with a gospel singer, she says, “when she called herself a ‘prophetess,’ I was like is that with an f or a ph?” My crêpes finally delivered to the table she mockingly exclaimed, “Oh two perfect little Hot Pockets!” She can get a lot out without taking a breath, but it’s natural to her, she says “I’m a writer, I get paid by the word.”
Born in Queens and raised on Long Island, Amy went to an alternative high school “which meant I did nothing but read a lot of feminist literature and smoke a lot of pot…In high school I wanted to be a rock star.” So how did she become a music journalist? “I lost a bet,” she says wryly. “I actually came to hip-hop through punk.” A post-high school stint in Jonestown massacre/Harvey Milk assassination-era San Francisco led to writing for a local punk fanzine.
Back on the East Coast in the 80’s, she worked at infamous after hours spot, A7 in the East Village and toured the northeast corridor with bands, Dead Kennedys and DOA. She got her first Spin Magazine piece when she and an editor friend took in her punk clips and pitched a “Celebs with Tattoos” story back when getting inked wasn’t so ubiquitous. “We really had to think about it. Usually it was circus freaks and maybe Billy Idol.” She got hers “when it was still illegal in New York. I mean, that was the point.” When I commented on the lasting vibrancy of her turquoise tat (the first of three) she said, “Yea, those guys really knew what they were doing. I charged this one to a record label on the per diem.”
Her second piece for Spin was her first on hip-hop. “I felt like I didn’t deserve it, yes I was a fan, but I didn’t know it, live it. My scene was the Lower East Side punk scene and the artsy spillover, yeah I’d see Basquiat riding his bike around.” Nonetheless, a friend at BAM introduced her to Boogie Down Productions. Off she went to the South Bronx to pickup a 12″ for a listen. “I thought I’m a white girl in skinny black pants and skips…I don’t have any cool sneakers.”
“Then I became the girl who wrote about the schlocky R&B, but I wasn’t doing it with irony. I was sincere. Miki Howard? Loved…Labels were really segregated then: the pop music over here and the black music waaaay over there.” The divorced mom appreciated the camaraderie. “You could go hang out all day and eat. I’d have my kid, they’d order food…And back then, people in the industry loved music. Everyone listened to and talked about music, real music.” She’s written her share of liner notes, including those for the late Keith Elam, Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Vol. 3: Streetsoul.
“I’ve spent a good portion of my career being the only white girl in the room.” People find it hard to ‘place’ her though. “I’ve escaped some Anti-Semitism because of how I look. Are you Greek, Italian, Armenian?” Try Hungarian-Polish. Her father was “born at the kosher hospital in Canarsie back when it was still farmland.” For all her non-observance, Amy found herself delivering her only child at the same hospital and though now called Brookdale and servicing a largely African-American population, still kosher. Fitting for a woman who says, “I learned how to be Jewish from Black people. Sorry I don’t fit the cultural stereotype. I’m actually not good with money and I don’t know the slang. I know a schmear, a schmuck and a putz, that’s about it.” And seltzer. When I mentioned I’d never had an egg cream, she said they were great, “my father made them at home, he had the seltzer bottle and the CO2 cartridge, I mean he’s a Brooklyn Jew. If you ask for seltzer and they give you club soda, you know. Where there’s no seltzer, there’s no Jews.”
Amy Linden: “I’m a Stones person, rather than a Beatles person.”
A staff newswriter for VH1, Amy became on-air talent when she joined fellow music critics Anthony DeCurtis, Scott Poulson-Bryant and JD Considine for Four on the Floor (1994-1996), a roundtable talk show likened to The McLaughlin Group for rock criticism. “It was a blast! We would always have a celeb guest: Peter Frampton, fabulous! Cyndi Lauper, Robbie Robertson, Vernon Reid, the Blinded Me with Science guy, uh, Thomas Dolby.”
She’s since covered everyone from James Brown (“It was like talking to the Tasmanian Devil. I couldn’t understand anything he was saying”) to the beleaguered Amy Winehouse to Q-Tip, whom she adores, for performing without fanfare at a benefit for her son’s school years ago. Lucian, now 21, used to call him “Uncle Ear Wax.” People magazine brought her aboard when it became clear that hip-hop couldn’t be “ignored anymore. It couldn’t be marginalized. The Fugees were #1 in the country.” The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Vibe, People, Entertainment Weekly, The Source and the Village Voice, she’s written for them all. Just last week she interviewed Bobby Womack for SoulSummer.com, where she is a frequent contributor.
On her own blog, Not for Nothin,’ she culls the music landscape, “making the world safe for bad music and pointless culture since 19**.” In her “plan for world media domination,” she’s rolled out the Not for Nothin’ podcast, where she channels her inner DJ and kicks it with the likes of Pharoahe Monche and Corey Glover (with whom she kicked off Black History Month spinning Bryan Ferry, Wendy & Lisa, and the “blackish” Alison Moyet.)
We celebrated her recent graduation from the New School (3.8 G.P.A., thank you very much) over sticky toffee pudding and people watching. Though she loves Brooklyn, BK hipsters and their fedoras work her nerves. “It’s all too precious now,” referring to the nostalgia trend. “Soon we’re going to have a restaurant where you can eat everything your Mommy said you can’t. People will be drinking from large milk cartons.”
So we know that terminally hip hats and haunts get under her skin, but let’s check what the straight-shooting Lady Ames loves…
1. Bryan Ferry. She names, without “even a moment’s hesitation” the glam rock frontman of Roxy Music her absolute music crush. “In a just world, he would be mine…I’d blow up a building for him.” She met him, in passing, at VH1, “Thank God I was dressed like a human being that day.” Of a 1972 performance clip of Virginia Plain, the band’s first hit, she muses, “just sink into the dreaminess of Bryan’s glittery eyes… somewhere a young David Bryne is thinking hmmmmm…”
8 min doc on Bryan and the effect of Roxy Music.
2. The First Taste of a Great Dessert. There’s nothing like the first time. On a road trip with her best friend, Candice in Oregon a few years back, Amy noticed a sign for Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant in Albany. “I had to stop…made me feel connected to my roots.” One bite of the poppy seed strudel, and it was love. “It tastes like sweet dirt, gritty,” and that’s a good thing. Back home in Brooklyn, a current rave is the sticky toffee pudding, the only dessert offered at the Oz-inspired, Sheep Station on the fringe of the Slope. Two upended wedges in a delectable caramel sauce with dollop of vanilla ice cream to round it out, “heaven!”
Poppy seed strudel.
3. Hanging with the Little Ones. “I love the energy I get being around little kids…that somebody is glad you’re there, you know, ‘Miss Amy, Miss Amy’… and kid logic is hilarious, they crack me up.”
Photo: Rachel Titiriga.
4. NY Basketball. “Back when the Knicks were good…I was obsessed during the Larry Bird-Patrick Ewing-Magic [NBA] era.”
Though the Celts prevailed, Ewing scored a career high of 51 points in this game.
5. Love Me in a Special Way. Rendering Boo-hoo Brown’s performance a simpering mess, El DeBarge’s redemptive comeback –“He looked great, he sounded great.”– on the 2010 BET Awards reminded her of just how much she enjoys his falsetto on the 1983 release. Yet true to her exalted place in Ferry fandom, she dreamily queried, “Can you hear Bryan Ferry singing it?”
…and a Stevie harmonica cameo!
6. Loafing with the BFF. “We just lay in bed all day, watch TV–asinine, juvenile stuff– and eat crap.” And they’re always minimally dressed, “just t-shirts and underwear, with our hands in our pants like little old men.” She contemplates the visual then in true Lindenian self-deprecation says, “this is why I’m going to die alone with my cats. I’m not girly. I like being goofy. I’m always looking for material.”
“I lived in Cali, I know my Mexican. It’s gotta be 3 steps from the health department.” Photo: Molly Awwad.
7. Community. Where everybody knows your name… “I love walking down the street and being detained, being part of a real community.”
Amy was at an election night listening party with Q-Tip in Manhattan when the 2008 decision was called and she realized she wanted to be back home in the community. Looking up on the TV screen, she sees the NY1 coverage of Ft. Greene and her son celebrating his first voting election…on a lamppost with a forty. Photo: Andy G. Hatch
8. Foreign Product Packaging. Amy enjoys perusing the aisles of drugstores in other countries. The riotous colors, the often indecipherable language…
9. Richard Price. Among her favorite authors, she’s read all of his books. She passed on seeing the film adaptation of Clockers after “Spike got his grubby little mitts on it.” She laughs and adds dryly, “Who am I punishing? Is Spike Lee like, ‘Oh no! Amy Linden didn’t see Clockers?”
Novelist and Oscar-nominated screenwriter, Richard Price. Photo: Sarah Krulwich/The New York Times.
10. GoodFellas. The 1990 Scorsese film, not the pizza. She watches it every time it airs on television. An early role for Ray Liotta, he “held his own with that cast. There is not one thing wrong with it, not a bad scene, not a bad line… I love the scene where he’s driving, helicopter overhead.”
Amy’s favorite scene, when a helicopter hovers over Henry Hill in his Caddy, driving in utter coked-out paranoia.