The Corner of 53rd and 3rd, New York City

53rd & 3rd by Ramones

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I'm tryin' to turn a trick
53rd and 3rd
You're the one they never pick Read full Lyrics
The Ramones' 1976 "53rd & 3rd" is a song about a male prostitute turning tricks on the street, who apparently killed a john when challenged.

Punk rock is like that. Did you come here for punk rock? Okay, here's your punch in the stomach. Enjoy!

There's a lot of speculation about bassist Dee Dee Ramone, who wrote this song. We know that he was a heroin addict, and that he in fact died from a heroin overdose in 2002 at age 50 - really, quite a long life compared to the typical rock star who rides the horse. We know that Dee Dee himself denied having turned tricks on street corners, ever, but the other band members sort of hinted that he did.

But then consider that Dee Dee Ramone wasn't the most trustworthy witness. His second book, Legend of a Rock Star, purports to be his autobiographic account of his hectic European tour in the spring of 2001. But it contains a large section in which he claims to have murdered a bodyguard, despite no outside evidence that such an incident ever happened. He also wrote one fiction novel, Chelsea Horror Hotel, in which he has himself and his girlfriend staying at a hotel room and being visited by the ghosts of punk legends such as Johnny Thunders, Stiv Bators, Jerry Nolan, and Sid Vicious himself.

The streetcorner of 53rd and 3rd, New York CityThe streetcorner of 53rd and 3rd, New York City
So what the heck is going on here? Heroin, being an opiate, does tend to give you hallucinations, particularly when you're coming down from it, so that could explain that he thinks he killed somebody. Or he could mean in a metaphoric sense; he committed the Old-Testament "murder in his heart" and sees his hatred as murder. Or maybe it's just a revenge fantasy. Or, what the hell, maybe he did off a couple of blokes. The Ramones are just that bad-ass.

If there was ever a place for such a scene to happen, the corner of 53rd and 3rd Streets in Manhattan is the right place for it. This is one wrong number of a neighborhood. Prostitutes of either sex, along with drug dealers, run rampant in the area. The only comfort there was the St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church, which was originally there, probably offering soup and a cot to weary bums. This is New York at its grittiest, with monolithic skyscraper buildings making windy, dark canyons of the streets and few places for a person to rest.

Life is tough for the street denizens out at night. Even tougher if you're there to perform sexual favors in exchange for a drug fix when you're sweating from withdrawals, and to add to your misery, "you're the one they never pick!"

Oh, one more thing: right after this song was made, Citibank Corporation built their headquarters here, called Citigroup Center. Make of that what you will!

Pete Trbovich
November 1, 2009
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Comments: 7

  • James Wielander from 10019 NycI recall "THE LOOP" was that stretch of East 53rd Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues where male hustlers plied their and bight ! In the mid 70's to mid 80's...bars like "Le Bar" and "Rounds" were well-known male prostitute hang-outs and young,cute boys could be seen and bought up and down this street...literally day and night; back in the gay!
  • Phil KappasiSaw the Ramones in 1996. Frigging awesome. I wish I could’ve seen them at CBGB when I lived there in the mid-80s. NYC hardcore was predominant there at the time. Glad I got to see them.
  • Teshie.r.hagGrew up there 53rd and 3rd 60’s and 70’s. At that time a haven for runaways from all around the US. .no prostitutes there then. It was a male high end hustling area, the other 42nd street. Female prostitutes were on Lexington. These runaways young as 10 or 11 back then. Formed groups of support. Back then drugs, some heroin and lotsa ruinous, black beauties and acid mostly. They came and went using alias’s always. Johns were mostly drive bus. No lipstick building then. Buildings owned by Italians but was an Irish check type neighborhood of tenements then. Local restaurants bickfords, king of the sea, bar on corner moriarty’s, Ryan’s liquor store. Lotsa old junk or antique type a stores. Actually a nice neighborhood relatively safe with a bunch of lost kids who grew up quick. I was a local faghag. One of the first sex change folks hung in bickfords. It was a crazy time...
  • Rickb from NycOnce upon a time, young men turned tricks on the corner of 53rd St & 3rd Ave. But NYC is constantly morphing into something new and the powers-that-be are constantly trying to "clean up" the streets. The corner's peak of whoredom was several decades ago. This reads like the writer last visited NYC around the time of Midnight Cowboy, if ever. And, to echo our Mancunian friend, heroin doesn't cause hallucinations (but remember that Laid Back song? "If you want to ride / Don't ride the white horse"). No-one takes heroin and sees things that aren't there. Quite the opposite - users don't even see things that ARE present. Part of heroin's attraction is that you get to skip your own life.
  • Mustafa from Xtjggam0bThe Ramones...the best concert I ever went to. It was in a small venue (skating ring by day) in Albany, NY in the mid 80's. EVERY sginle song sounded exactly the same, the volume was cranked to '11' and I had ringing in my ears for days afterwards. Totally. Worth. It. :)
  • Mutt_r. from 53 & 3rdwho wrote this piece? having lived there for 30 years, 53rd & 3rd is about as "gritty" as a david schwimmer rom com. that citibank is RIGHT there proves my point…this is midtown manhattan at its corporate worst. drugs? prostitution? nah, not so much….
  • Paul from Manchester Who rides the horse? And no, heroin doesn't give you hallucinations.
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