Second Coming

Andrew Hultkrans at “Recapture the Rapture”

New York

Left: Deborah Harry. Right: Fab 5 Freddy, Lee Quinones, and friend. (All photos: Michael Sharkey)

There was a moment—somewhere between John the Revelator and Tim “Left Behind” LaHaye . . . OK, the early ’80s—when the word rapture connoted something other than the faithful dead blasting out of their graves and flying to heaven before the Great Tribulation. That moment, mainstreamed by the Blondie song “Rapture” and its early MTV video, was the mingling of two previously separate New York undergrounds—hip-hop and punk/new wave. Uptown met downtown, black met white, turntables met guitars, graffiti met galleries. This was new, and as with most quasi-utopian cultural moments, it proved fleeting. But it did leave us a few fine artifacts (“Rapture”; Wild Style; the art of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and others) and launched or elevated a few careers (those of Bronx scenester Fab 5 Freddy, graf artists Lee Quinones and Futura 2000, and DJ/Zulu Nation founder Afrika Bambaataa, among others). Distant echoes of the scene can be heard today in the mash-up craze (good to great) and the butthead rap-metal of Limp Bizkit (unclean).

The bill—Deborah Harry and Blondie, Fab 5 Freddy, Lee Quinones—of Saturday evening’s attempt to “Recapture the Rapture” at Deitch Projects is promising, so I check my attitude at the door. On entering, I notice a disclaimer: Apparently, we’ll be filmed. The cavernous trilevel SoHo space is empty, save for a makeshift bar and some tables and chairs in the corner facing the stage. A mash-up of “Rapture” and the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” plays continuously, with a DJ (not, sadly, Bambaataa or Grandmaster Flash) working the decks on the mezzanine. The now-quaint, low-budget, Basquiat-starring “Rapture” video is also looped, projected onto the far wall next to a loop of live Doors footage. Called “Rapture Riders,” the musical track, I later learn, was an illegal 2004 mash-up by UK-based Go Home Productions that found favor with Harry and Chris Stein, who then authorized a legitimate single release.

Left: Stylist Michelle Snyder with Le Tigre's J. D. Samson. Right: Rosie Perez with Darryl “DMC” McDaniels.

As hipsters and nightclubbers—budding to aging—file into the space, a tall, strangely recognizable man in a godfather hat decides to stand very close to me. As he checks his BlackBerry, I realize that it’s Darryl McDaniels, better known as DMC. Ashamed that I’d left my Adidas at home, I still get up the nerve to say the immortal words, “Aren’t you the DMC?” He looks at me quizzically, so I blurt, “I’m a fan from way back!” and he smiles and shakes my hand. “Who’s performing tonight?” he asks, as if he’d just teleported from another dimension. “Blondie,” I say, and he nods in recognition.

Leaving DMC in the place to be with his PDA, I go outside for a smoke. I spot a smiling, energetic Lee Quinones, who doesn’t look more than two years older than he did in 1983’s Wild Style, where he played graf bomber Zoro (himself, essentially). Impressive. Then there’s Jeffrey Deitch, immaculate in pin-striped suit and glasses, formally greeting people outside at the door. Mike Myers walks by with a younger woman, hardly pausing to regard the gathering scene.

Back inside, Quinones and Fab 5 Freddy climb onstage. They had previously done three mural-style paintings now affixed to the wall behind the stage, and it appears they will be tagging and altering them with spray paint as the music plays. One painting is a CBGB tribute, with caricatures of original Blondie members Chris Stein and Clem Burke and the epigram “Every generation has to answer the exigency of their time.” True dat. As Lee and Freddy start modifying the paintings, members of Blondie pick up their guitars and jam along with the mash-up. It’s all very ad hoc. Nobody announces anything, and there’s no clear “beginning” of the show.

Left: Jeffrey Deitch with Deborah Harry. Right: Artists Dash Snow and Chris Johanson.

Finally, Harry gets onstage—strawberry-blond pageboy, black thigh-high boots—and starts . . . rapping? Yes, after a fashion. What she lacks in flow, she makes up for with enthusiasm. “Where are the break-dancers?” she shouts. I agree. Without real dancers in the house, none of these nostalgists, club hoppers, and gallery lizards will realize that this is supposed to be a dance party. In fact, I had just realized it myself—the event is modeled after those cameo performances by star musicians at early-’80s discos. Over a third of the now-full house seems to be operating a camera of some sort. Everyone waits for something to happen, but it doesn’t, really. Nobody, but nobody, dances. People slowly start to leave, and the performance, if it ever really started, ends.

I could go on about how today’s obscenely expensive New York could never support the vibrant parallel undergrounds “Recapture the Rapture” celebrates, but I won’t. Even with several of the era’s leading lights in the house, the rapture was gawked at like a historical curio, not recaptured.