Lox, Stocks, and Backstage Broadway: Iconic Trades of New York City


Product Details

Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press
Publish Date
5.9 X 8.9 X 0.7 inches | 0.65 pounds

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About the Author

Nancy Groce is a folklife specialist and ethnomusicologist at the Library of Congress's American Folklife Center. She has served as a research associate at the Smithsonian Institution's Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and managed four Smithsonian Folklife Festival exhibitions on the National Mall.


Profiling those who craft the artistry of Broadway, pilot NYC subway trains, construct the city's ubiquitous water towers, plaster Manhattan walls with graffiti, and more, this compendium of big city trade from Library of Congress "folklike specialist" Groce is packed with the fascinating testimony of cityfolk who honestly love what they do. The process of making a wig for a Broadway show, detailed by designer Linda Rice, involves thousands of individual hairs hand-tied to mesh, taking some 15 hours to complete and a minimum of $1,200. The graffiti industry is well-considered some three decades after it emerged as a cultural force, and the everyday frustrations of riding the MTA's subway system are put into startling perspective: "Approximately 70 percent of Americans who ride mass transit each day do so in New York City." Groce also demystifies Wall Street with the help of traders and others, and serves up everything there is to know about Bagels and Bialys on Coney Island: the third-generation owner of Russ and Daughters says that the present-day variety of shmears (like tofu cream cheese) and fish ("I have ten different kinds of smoked salmon") would make grandfather roll over in his grave. A grand undertaking, Groce's volume makes an absorbing document of "local culture in the global city." (Publishers Weekly, Starred Review)

This exploration of New York City's "iconic trades, occupations, and industries" takes the reader behind the scenes of Broadway stages, inside the subway system, to Wall Street, and to a popular Coney Island bagel shop. The book, which grew out of the Smithsonian Institution's New York City Project, reads like a guided tour of the city without the hassle of climbing on and off a tour bus. Even better, it's a backstage tour, taking readers to places ordinary folk rarely visit, including a theatrical costume shop and the "homes" of people who live in subway tunnels. The author explains that the various craftspeople of Broadway, or the tens of thousands of people who work on Wall Street, are united by "occupational folklore," a specialized body of knowledge and traditions specific to their way of life. New York City, then, is not merely a sprawling, diverse metropolis; it's also a collection of occupational subcultures, as vibrant and storied as any remote-island society. A deeply illuminating book that will prove equally interesting to New Yorkers and visitors to the city. (David Pitt, Booklist)

Those who love getting behind the scenes and under the hood should follow Nancy Groce as she sleuths her way through iconic New York workplaces. Her Studs Terkel-style interviews with bakers and brokers and subway conductors are engaging and intriguing. And if you thought the Chorus Line was the last word on backstage Broadway, think again. In the theater world, as in all the trades she explores, Groce's folkloric eye uncovers the many customs and rituals, rooted in Gotham's history, that make for cooperation as well as competition. A fun and fascinating tour of places you can't visit on your own. (Mike Wallace)

These are the stories that make the resulting book, Lox, Stocks and Backstage Broadway, hard to put aside until the final page. Author Nancy Groce has arranged snippets of interviews among detailed historical and cultural contexts to create a riveting collection of characters. These professionals are fascinating not despite their lack of fame but because of it; in a few key ways, they are just like us....Whether Groce is writing about day traders who wear silly hats, train conductors trying to deal with suicides on the tracks, or wig makers who produce the wigs for Saturday Night Live, her prose is respectful and, most importantly, entertaining. One of her great strengths as a writer is knowing when to get out of the way of words of the interviewees; she has a knack for perfectly balancing context with what workers have to say about themselves, their jobs, their families, and their city. (Foreword)

Using an oral history approach...this book will have great appeal for all New York City buffs, as well as students of oral history or urban folklore. Anyone in search of a different career might find solace in knowing that New York continues to employ people in both traditional and not-so-traditional fields, always welcoming newcomers. (Library Journal)

Behind-the-scenes tales of how Wall Street traders, Broadway producers, subway operators and others perform their almost mythic jobs are sure to resonate with native New Yorkers and captivate visitors to the city. Most impressive is how Nancy Groce makes the familiar exotic, and thus provides new insights into the folkways of our contemporary urban culture. (Richard Kurin)

The book's portraits of nine occupations specific to New York City's particular blend of cultures and activities offer beautiful, well-chosen, and sometimes revelatory descriptions from the city's vast and ever-renewing store of folk traditions....The Broadway chapter offers the richest and most significant ethnographic description of the professional New York theater scene that I have read....Groce and her team do admirable work chronicling life and lor on the trading floor....A fulfilling read for both undergraduate and graduate students, Lox, Stocks, and Backstage Broadway offers a compelling model for beginning to understand how people make their livings and tell their stories within a complex, interwoven, and possibly unique urban ecosystem. (Journal of Folklore Research)