Earlier today, I came upon Edward Hopper’s birthplace, and starting thinking about Nighthawks, quite naturally. Looking at Nighthawks anew, it is hard not to get the impression that it is directly inspired by the corner about two blocks away. This is the intersection of Broadway and Main, but there is no such “diner” at that corner. Rather, there is a pizza joint which isn’t very reminiscent of the door-less diner and, facing it from the southwest side, but in mirror image, the background building looks very much like the one in the painting. Hmmm.
For some reason or other, this painting has had a massive impact on many a mind. I found myself now poring over every detail. Supposedly, Hopper’s wife posed for the women in red. Why was she dressed in red? In those days, according to one of my parents, a women dressed in a red dress or red shoes was a prostitute. And what is this woman holding? At first, I thought it was a wad of money. Then, I decided it was probably a matchbook, which which perhaps the gentleman of the beak-like nose had had his cigarette lit. And then I asked myself, why are the only words involving a cigar advertisement over the bar? Immediately, Freud’s notions of unconscious symbolism sprang to mind. Was this painting rife with sexual undertones involving the artist’s fears and desires relating to his wife or to women in general? Why were there no store names across the street (the one store seems empty but for a register).
These were some initial impressions that came to mind. I also, probably because of my direct presence in Nyack, considered the possibility that the cafe was purely imaginary. After letting some of the these seemingly prescriptive notions populate my mind, I then started researching what others had thought. I, of course, having a love of finding out I’m wrong. This is what draws me to research in the first place. At the same time, I love to discover when I’m right for the wrong reasons.
Here is the mirror image of the NW corner of Main Street and Broadway in Nyack.
Not exactly the droids we’re looking for, but surprisingly fraternal with them, perhaps. But there are significant differences. The windows on the second story lack a border on top, for instance. And the sidewalks are slimmer. Take away that awning though, and the proportions are surprisingly similar. Plus, most of the streets in Greenwich Village are wider than depicted in the painting.
In my mind, the cafe never seemed real. The unusual curvilinear structure, with its artificial light eerily setting off the figures inside, jutting with its subtle surrealism into the oddly emptied street with its repeating facades of nothingness, this was sub-realism at best. But some researchers, it turns out, thought there had to have been an actual Nighthawks Cafe, and did a lot of legwork for me. Among them was Jeremiah Moss, author of the blog Vanishing New York. According to him, Hopper had said in an interview that the painting was suggested by a corner on “Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet.” Moss proceeded to check out what stood on various corners, and eventually concluded, woefully, that there had never been such a place. This pleased me because I started out not believing in it, and was excited to find out there was hard evidence to back up it never existing. However, I can believe that there is an actual corner that served as inspiration on which the enigmatic diner was dropped.
Now, in my researches I discovered many amateurish analyses of this painting, much of which was obviously erroneous, and some of which threw me for a loop or two, much in the way that my overactive, random mind likes to do on a regular basis. However, there was some hard evidence to look at in the form of a journal that Edward Hopper kept in which he sketched and his wife, Josephine (Jo) Hopper, added notes. Once I looked at this evidence, I had to admit my notion that the corner that made its way into Nighthawks is probably not the one just a few short blocks from his birthplace, although I can’t completely rule it out either. I haven’t yet determined what was going on on my choice of corner in 1941-42 when the painting was probably conceived and actually completed. However, here are some old Nyack photos for your consideration.
Hopper is said to have himself posed for the males, using double mirrors. And he was said to use Jo for a model, but others insist he drew the redhead from a Lucky Strike ad of the time. What many recent scholarly researchers have concluded is that Hopper was definitely using composites from real life and advertising.
Excited to discover that Hopper used composites and models from advertising, I considered other possibilities. What is there was some other statement about his relationship with his wife embedded in the painting? Perhaps they enjoyed Nyack as a getaway? I discovered they actually got to know each other in Gloucester. I couldn’t back up this hypothesis at all. Most distressing.
Gail Levin, an Edward Hopper expert, was proved wrong by Jeremiah Moss, and conclusions that the woman in red was eating were heavily contested by others. Really, it was turning out that there was quite a lot of unraveling to do here. Or, one could just accept there were no definitive answers, as evidence was lacking, Hopper was perhaps evasive and secretive by nature, or even that Hopper wanted us to speculate endlessly. Such a scheme was certainly employed by other artists, James Joyce springing to mind.
However, as far as proving that Edward Hopper was evoking Nyack in Nighthawks, I was still clearly a straw-clutcher, and admittedly more of one than some others who concluded that the painting was a composite of various bits of corners on Greenwich Avenue.
Another interesting possibility is that the truth is the opposite of my hypothesis, namely that the background is the more imaginary bit, and that there was an actual diner, but that it was only partially representative of the painted diner, and included bits of other nearby corners. Jeremiah Moss in fact came close to decisively concluding such, and that the background was drawn from another Hopper painting, Early Sunday Morning.
Still, a small part of the prescriptive mind within me wants to believe that Nyack somehow emerged from the unconscious deeps into this painting. It just feels Nyack. However, Hopper’s actual statements refute this. The painting is about big city alienation.
As Moss concludes when finished with his final red herring, “close but no cigar.” Or, really, I wasn’t that close to anything, except getting caught up in what was perhaps intentional enigma.
Now, I could, of course, pursue this much more deeply than I have. There have been many wild goose chases. I imagine I will hear a pleased chuckle from beyond as I find myself minutely studying street corners henceforth.
“Eat my body, drink my blood, and we’ll sing a song of love…Halleyuh, Hallyeh you yah YAY!” — Happy Catholic Church Sing-A-Long Song
Jesus is a very interesting combo of various myths. Not only are there several myths, going back to the Egyptians and probably earlier, that include Christ-like figures (consider Horus, who invented salad dressing), but Jesus has magical qualities that bleed into folkloric traditions as well.
Due to the fact that Jesus asks his victims to drink his blood, the vampire springs immediately to mind. Except, in the case of the vampire, the vampire drinks our blood and lives forever and we either die or become vampires ourselves. With Jesus, we drink his blood and we both live forever. In the meanwhile, having imbibed the blood of Jesus we are driven to get others to follow our lead. Yes, come to the church (wink, wink) and try the wine. Don’t worry, it’s just a bunch of happy people trying to have a sense of community, and we are happy, and we sing, and we help poor people. Yes, that’s all. But now that you’re here, perhaps you’d like to live forever and not burn in hell for all eternity? Think about yourself stuck in a pizza oven and the door shuts on you and the metal is so hot…how would you like that to last forever, hmmmmmmmmm?
Well, that’s an offer one can’t refuse, isn’t it?
Unbelievably, idiotic atheists, when they’re not making up stories about Jesus freaks not leaving waiters tips, argue for hours, while stoned, about whether Jesus is some kind of reverse-vampire. Some of them have proposed, in debates I was privy to as a deep cover Christian, that Jesus is actually more like a lich, which is just so ridiculous, really. A lich? Liches are cadaverous and hardly interested in giving their blood out. Plus, not very edible looking at all, unlike yummy Jesus, people. I mean, Jesus is oh-la-la sexy. Everyone wants to eat a wafer of that.
In fact, I think Jesus would make a great guest star on Twilight. I always pictured Jesus as a sort of high school student, maybe bi, likes to hang out in locker rooms stroking his beard and humming softly to himself, his spectral skin sparkling.
Anyway, forget the lich, what about a plain old revenant? Revenants like in that awesome French show. Jesus dies and comes back and maybe doesn’t even know he’s god? And why are people eating him? This is kafkaesque, to be sure. The whole thing has an enigmatic penumbra that captures my inner child and locks it in a basement. I like it.
Except, it just doesn’t fit in the revenant world. So what is Jesus? Who came up with this character and how many hit points and how much charisma does he have? Does Jesus have nine lives? Can Jesus walk on holy water or turn holy water in wine or would that be holy water +1 in that case?
These are important questions. I will smoke another bowl and get back to you. Really, I will.
As we plunge into the king of the holi(read holy)days, it’s good to remind ourselves of the reason for the season. Here is a short list of some of the wonderful things Christianity has and/or continues to do for us.
1. Hope: Gets people to not gripe about this world because they are told they must suffer here to expect eternal reward elsewhere. This produces lethargy and apathy in the population that is used as a labor force.
2. Slavery: the Bible defends it. With slavery, the foundation of America’s greatness was established.
3. Delusion: people imagine that a guy who lives in the sky and has all the power makes good things happen but when bad things happen it’s all their fault. This instills humility and fear and keeps people from the horrifying understanding of their true selves.
4. Love: Christians love each other and also the sinners who are going to Hell for all eternity for disagreeing with them.
5. Logic: God can do anything, therefore he had to knock up a virgin in order to give birth to himself so he could get himself killed in order that he could forgive humanity for sucking so bad even though he knew they would when he made them.
6. Presents: People never gave each other presents before Jesus invented Christmas.
7. Child abuse: people think they are being good people by telling their children that they better not think or they will burn in Hell for all eternity.
8. A tack: Satan has to sit on this when you say “Ho ho ho.”
9. Wine: Hope you enjoy the blood of your Savior. He suffered while you’re all drunk, you know.
10. Massacres: when people are Muslims, Native Americans, or not as white as Jesus you can kill them as entertainment. Yes, really.
I am driven to rewrite many of the poems now due to new concerns which have arisen.
Potentially, this will alter aspects of your reality.
Luckily, your memories and the entirety of your cognizance and the universe will immediate accommodate any changes.
Thanks for your compliance.
I met with two friends for drinks
to celebrate our scholarly success.
They hardly ever drink and, after
just a couple, they were both
behaving in a very strange and foolish manner.
They both attempted a 3rd drink, couldn’t finish
it, and had at that point completely lost their minds.
They insisted on walking home, later to vomit
and wake up miserable and hungover.
I, on the other hand, was mildly relaxed
after 3 drinks. I went on to have a fourth.
Conclusion: Clearly, alcoholics like me are in way more
control of themselves than normal drinkers.