A reference for what's hip

You don't have to be a New Yorker to get Paper magazine's guide to pop culture, but it helps.

Publishing

October 31, 1999|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,Sun Staff

HBO's "Sex and the City" suggests we're not having enough sex, and the sex we're having is in the wrong city. Filmmaker Woody Allen taunts us with his cinematic Central Park strolls. Author Tama Janowitz shuns us for not attending enough avant-garde art openings.

It's the same pretentious postcard New York has been sending those who dare live outside the 212 area code for generations: You don't live here, so go shuck corn or something.

One may feel a similar attitude attack from the newest harbinger of Big Apple egotism: "From AbFab to Zen: Paper's Guide to Pop Culture," an en-chic-lopedia from the editors of Manhattan-based Paper magazine.

But before you decide to shuck "AbFab to Zen," put your Manhattan-envy aside for a moment and listen to Baltimore's own John Waters, who penned the book's introduction (and rates his own entry). The book, he says, "is elitist in the best meaning of the word."

If John Waters can't steel you for a book that could potentially make you feel ignorant and stupid, maybe co-editor Kim Hastreiter can. "It's not like, 'If you don't know these people, you're stupid,' " she says.

Hastreiter and "AbFab to Zen" co-editor David Hershkovits founded Paper 15 years ago. The monthly, an arty, cheeky, scene-zine, has a small circulation but a relatively huge impact on culture, entertainment and media.

In "AbFab to Zen," the Paper editors have shaped 500-plus flashy blurbs into a cultural Cliff's Notes of people, fashion, art, concepts, catch phrases and kitsch from Krispy Kremes to drag queens.

For the book, Hershkovits and Hastreiter scoured practically every avenue -- from A to 7th -- of the New York creative community. They meshed their finds with a smattering of mainstream fare, a la Leonardo Di Caprio and "Dawson's Creek."

But as you turn the pages, you're more likely to make the acquaintance of less familiar faces; New York nightlife luminaries like Peter Gatien, deified dragsters such as Joey Arias, and a host of upstart artists, including Damien Hirst.

The editors' Manhattan myopia is a natural condition.

"We've always been on the ground zero of downtown New York, which is where a lot of things start," Hastreiter says.

But they don't always end there.

Before she was the Madonna, the blossoming boy toy (see Pg. 112) was an anonymous blond at the downtown club called Danceteria. Cyndi Lauper (Pg. 107) clerked at legendary vintage store Screaming Mimi's before she bopped on to the '80s charts. Artist Keith Haring (Pg. 74) made his mark with mammoth subway graffiti before his vivid, kinetic images attracted the world beyond the island.

"We don't really differentiate between famous and nonfamous," Hastreiter says.

Consequently, to the uninitiated, some entries seem to require a membership card to access (performance art band the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, whose shows combine eggs and wild Indians).

But in "AbFab," there are also things that are bigger than all of us, like AOL. And things we all share, like DNA. Entries on MTV, the Beastie Boys, Puff Daddy and the Gap should also make you feel at home.

"We didn't want it to feel too exclusionary," Hastreiter says. So there are no class-based snubs here either. There's a highbrow bow to the New Yorker, a lowbrow nod to QVC, and a no-brow notice for face-altering performance artist Leigh Bowery.

But still, how much in this book could the average non-New Yorker identify? To find out, we decided to be really mean. We concocted a short list of some of the more obscure Paper picks and quizzed some peaceful patrons of Barnes and Noble at the Inner Harbor.

Hey, at least they read.

First up were Jennifer Smith, 29 a fitness club manager, and Debbie Linde, 48, and Kim Ray, 38, both health food store employees, all from Lancaster, Pa.

Linde (peeking at book): Pee-Wee Herman, I know him.

Ray (on African-American model Roshumba): She was on MTV that one weekend. She was at the beach.

Smith (on New York art darling Tseng Kwong Chi): This is a drink, it's got Chi in it. Or is that Chai?

Ray (to friends): You don't know what the Kabbalah is? Think of Madonna.

Linde: I've heard of Madonna.

(Linde, for the record, also knew what Snapple was.)

Next up were James Sands, 28, a research scientist from Parkville, and Larry Chase, 28, a brewmaster from Sioux City, Iowa.

Chase: This is like playing Balderdash.

Sands: I'm trying to have fun, but I'm feeling really stupid right now.

Sands (on hip, Scandinavian furniture outlet Ikea): It's two miles from my house. I know what it is.

Chase: I didn't know there was a SoHo in New York.

Larry, Larry, Larry, We can understand that Tom of Finland, a Finnish illustrator of macho men in uniform, wouldn't ring a bell, but get a map!

For now, Paper may be the best chance for people like Chase (and you) to get a quick underground update. But say you want your own entry in future compendiums of cool.

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