‘I Believe in Yesterday’

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  • Jon Friedman with Elvis Costello at SummerStage, June 15, 2017. Photo: Emily Tan for SummerStage

I miss the good old days of popular culture, the Swinging Sixties and the Me-Decade Seventies.

Self-pitying? Check.

Pathetic? You bet.

There is so much great stuff going on right now in any of the five boroughs of New York City. Ask anyone under thirty years of age. But for the rest of us, well, it’s a sad situation. So much of what we enjoyed about New York City is gone. Yes, that’s our problem. But it is still true.

I’m going to sound like One of Those People who stays trapped in the good old days, which may or may not have actually been so great. Remember that for every “Revolver” or “Blood on the Tracks” or Who concert at the Garden or Godfather classic, we also had “Sugar Sugar.”

It’s pathetic because I know better. I am a card-carrying member of the club which lives by Bob Dylan’s brilliant takedown of people who remain trapped in yesteryear. In 1992, when Dylan was going through hard times, he told Robert Hilburn, then the sharp music writer for The Los Angeles Times: “Nostalgia is death.”

My gloomy-Gus ‘tude stems from thoughts of how much my culture scene has changed, for the worse. So many of the music landmarks of my misspent youth are as relevant and, oh yes, pathetic as a baseball old-timer lamenting the loss of the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field (not to mention Shea Stadium and the original Yankee Stadium(s). (Cue up The Pretenders doing “My City Was Gone”).

If only I was cool enough to walk tall throughout Bushwick and discover new painters, bands and sculptors — my own little version of Martin Scorsese’s terrific, quintessential “After Hours.” Forget it. Next life.

When I moved into my first apartment in Manhattan, the West Village was Bushwick. There were endless places to hang out. Hey, media types, do you remember how great it was to drink beers and gawk at the industry celebs at the Lion’s Head?

What makes me uber-pathetic is that I still live for the nostalgia. I like it.

I was returning to Manhattan on New Jersey Transit on the early evening of Sept. 15. I had a sudden impression that I was the only person on the train who was not going to see Paul McCartney play that night at Madison Square Garden. I have seen Paul perform on five other occasions and had steadfastly refused to fork over the exorbitant amount of money for a ticket — roughly the GNP of a small nation.

I still felt jealous. I wanted to see Paul, too.

Fast-forward to the following Tuesday night when I attended his first concert that week at the Barclay’s Center. Paul was magnificent. We all grinned at the nostalgia (sorry) till our faces hurt and marveled at McCartney’s musical brilliance, at 75 years of age.

Paul played 40 (forty!) songs. Roughly 90 percent of them were recognizable Beatles or Wings or Macca solo gems. Yes, it’s true that his singing voice sounds strained, almost ragged by now (remember, the man is 75!). But as a tradeoff, McCartney is a vision on stage. The man never stops — singing, playing bass and lead guitar and piano (not to forget his terrific turn on the freakin’ ukulele during “Something,” his tribute to the late George Harrison).

As much as I loved seeng McCartney in concert, I’d prefer to catch Elvis Costello on stage. It’s what rock and roll should always be: fun, rocking, memorable — and affordable. Costello, perhaps to his chagrin, has never had the kind of following that requires me to spend time on StubHub scrounging for a seat.

I’ve seen Costello on virtually every one of his tours since his debut in 1977 and he has never let me down. When I met him, before his CenterStage performance on June 15, 2017, I reminded him that the time he played in a deluge at Jones Beach in 1991 was the most memorable. He nodded, in recognition and shot back: “Until tonight.” Thank you, Elvis.

Last summer, I took the students in my culture-reporting class to Greenwich Village for a field trip. It went something like this:

Me: “The Bottom Line, where Bruce Springsteen got his big break, used to be here until it closed down ... Moving on, this is where Gerde’s Folk City used to be. Bob Dylan got his big break here, long before it closed down ... Here, on MacDougal Street, there used to be lots of nifty music and comedy clubs, where you could watch the up-and-comers ply their crafts. People like Woody Allen and Bill Cosby (gasps of horror) got their big breaks, long before those clubs closed down.

“All right. Who wants to get ice cream at Cones?”

Thank heavens that Cones is still in business.

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