New York is whatever you make of it: Writer Nick Fulton
Nick Fulton is a writer and music critic from New Zealand. Formerly editor-in-chief of Einstein Music Journal, Fulton has always looked outward to expand his musical palate. Since plotting a course to New York from Melbourne, the writer has amassed an enviable selection of bylines. Reflecting on front yard culture, marching for change and the equalising nature of the subway, Fulton spoke to Aerostorie about all the ingredients that make New York feel like home.
“Many things prompted the move, but the main motivation was to be closer to the publications I’ve always dreamed of writing for. I was always able to pitch to them from Australia or New Zealand, and I did have some success, but being here and being able to be apart of the industry really does make a difference. I’ve been writing about American artists for years, so it just made sense to be here. I actually made my move in two steps. I went to Los Angeles first and spent the winter there, which was really beneficial because it allowed me settle in and learn the American way of life. I lived with a friend for two months in East Los Angeles and he gave me a lot of valuable advice about the music industry and I was able to get into the groove of pitching to magazines and writing everyday. He gave me a base and it meant I didn’t have to launch right into the difficult process of finding a place to live while having no credit history or permanent job.
Living in New York has been everything, and more. I did a lot of research before moving, so I knew what I was in for. People warn you about the cost of living and the fast paced lifestyle, but New York is whatever you make of it. There’s a lot of cheap food and the city has so much public space, so you can find entertainment almost anywhere. New York, particularly Brooklyn, which is where I live, is an incredibly welcoming place.
In Australia I was constantly asked to repeat myself and people would always make fun of my New Zealand accent, but in Brooklyn people are used to hearing different accents so nothing phases them. I also know all my neighbors, which is beautiful. I love the front yard culture here. In New Zealand and Australia everyone has a backyard and it’s all very private. I lived in an apartment building in Melbourne for 4 years and never got to know my neighbors. In New York I got to know my neighbors almost immediately. I stop and talk to the old men on my block almost daily and I have learned so much about the history of my block from them. They view gentrification through a very unique lens.
One thing I’ve learned through my work as a writer that has surprised me, is just how many people grew up around the church. I have spoken to so many artists that grew up either in the church, or attending church as a child. I recently interviewed the artist serpentwithfeet and we spoke at length about the difference between growing up in the church verses going to church. Not many people in New Zealand grow up in the church, but here it’s incredibly common for it to be person’s singular focus. People get fully indoctrinated, and many of them have ended up coming to New York to escape that lifestyle.
I moved to Los Angeles the day before Donald Trump became president, and as a writer I’m always on Twitter, so yes, I see plenty of evidence of the current political climate and it’s quite overwhelming. On my second full day living in America the first Women’s March took place and like most people in Los Angeles, I attended and certainly paid attention. I remember going home and writing about the experience from a completely observational viewpoint. That was 18 months ago and it seemed like a really cathartic day for many people, but since then it’s just become even more exhausting. I recently made the decision to only consume politics through traditional news media, because I was getting so caught up in all the mayhem on Twitter. All the different opinions on Twitter create such a toxic environment and it was impacting my mental health.
The people I’m immediately surrounded by make me feel incredibly welcome. As I mentioned before, I know all my neighbors, young and old. Just recently I was playing catch with my 7-year-old neighbor and the next day I was talking to another man on my block named George who is 81 and went to Woodstock in ‘69. But it’s hard to feel welcome when the president is saying awful things about immigrants. Even though he’s spending most of his energy attacking immigrants of color, it still feels like an attack on all of us. And it is, because we’re all one species. There shouldn’t be any black or white when it comes to who is welcomed and embraced at the border. Everyone should be made to feel welcome because every single person on the planet has something positive to contribute.
Through my work I’ve had great conversations with Lenny Kravitz, serpentwithfeet, Gemma Thompson from the British rock band Savages, and many others, but my Puerto Rican neighbor George is undoubtedly the most interesting person I’ve met since moving here.
I really want to write a book about his life, or at least a collection of short stories based on his adventures. In the summer George sits outside his apartment on a brown fold-up chair and whenever I walk by he says, “have a nice day”. Just last week he told me a story about how in the 1960’s him and his friends loaded up a van with booze and marijuana and drove up to a lake in the Adirondacks. Their van kept overheating and they drew the attention of a highway cop, but the cop didn’t notice all the contraband. He’s told me about seeing people shot across the street when there used to be a lot of drugs in the neighborhood, but his Woodstock story is my favorite. George and his friends drove to Woodstock in ‘69 in a laundry van that his friend borrowed from his employer. He didn’t think his boss would notice the van missing over the weekend, so they loaded it up with booze and drove to Woodstock, picking up hitchhikers on the way. Then on the way home they decided to stop at a lake for a few days and things got out of hand. They all got drunk and then on the way back to New York the van veered off the road and scraped along a highway barrier. Sparks went flying, but everyone was OK. His friend was going to tell his boss that it happened in New York, but then when they got back they discovered a photojournalist had captured a photo of the van with all the sparks flying off of it, and the image was used on the cover of the New York Post. George’s friend was fired. His cover was blown by the most popular newspaper in New York.
If I were mayor for a day, I would change the subway. I’d make it run on time and have less rerouting on weekends. But I love the griminess of it. It’s the great equalizer. On the subway it doesn’t matter if you wear a suit and work on 5th Avenue or if you are a janitor at Yankee Stadium. Everyone is using it for the same reason and there is no hierarchy.
I actually don’t think New York has a lot of cliches. Or maybe I just don’t notice them or go to places where they exist. Eating at Tom’s Restaurant in Morningside Heights is probably the most cliche thing I’ve done. I’m a real sucker for good diner food, and Tom’s is actually one of the better ones still in operation. There’s a little bit of Seinfeld memorabilia scattered around the diner, but it’s surprisingly not really a tourist destination. Maybe that’s because it’s on 112th St. I think cliches definitely exist outside of New York. Los Angeles has a lot of cliches because of all the references to Hollywood. I like walking down Franklin Avenue past where Joan Didion used to live and I like driving down Mulholland Drive at night listening to moody electronic music. I just love driving around in Los Angeles in general, especially because I’m always a passenger. There’s something quite beautiful, but incredibly cliche about all the bright lights. Whenever I’m in Los Angeles I find myself inspired to write fiction. It’s the setting for a piece I had published last year, that actually mentions Joan Didion’s old place on Franklin Avenue.
As I get older I find myself thinking more about where in the world my future is, but I honestly don’t have an answer. I love living here in New York and it’s where I’ve done my best work and where I believe I will continue to thrive, but I also love Los Angeles and I have a lot of great friends out there who are incredibly supportive of what I do for a living. I think if I can find those type of friends here then that will cement my desire to be here above anywhere else. I love my family and it’s tough being so far away from them, but I really don’t see many employment opportunities in New Zealand. If I moved back to New Zealand I feel like I’d be sacrificing much more than I sacrificed to move to New York. When I moved here I knew that I could find work as a writer. I still don’t know if that’s possible in New Zealand.”