It’s a bit inconceivable that it had been almost 10 years since I had been to NYC when my wife and I recently (last week in April) visited for a scant 4 days. New York has always been an elusive mistress for me, a city that has afforded me some amazing opportunities as an artist, but that I did not have the courage or base of support needed to make a commitment to. New York is the repository for significant recollections, such as riding the service elevator in Bill Laswell’s legendary Greenpoint (actually in Brooklyn for all of those reading that disqualify any experiences occurring on the wrong side of the bridge or tunnel) studios, heart trip-hammering in anticipation of God knows what concerning Nus recording sessions. Watching the beautiful hippie girls in Washington Square Park at age 17, wondering what it must be like to be so free, light of body and mood, free from religious guilt, gulping sunlight, music and laughter. Visiting my cousins above 110th street, and marveling at the universe of difference between us, our similarities consisting only of family blood, skin color, and purposeful mutual affinity. Going to Madison Square Garden in 1978 with my high school best friend Peter Erwig to watch the NY State HS basketball championships, and witnessing the spectacle of the crowd egging Peter on into jumping up on successively higher concrete barriers until they reached his height, marveling at the “ups on the white boy”…..all of these are NYC to me, no matter how seemingly insignificant.
Our trip was initiated by my taking a new job, one that will help me more fully realize my values as a psychotherapist regarding how consumers of mental health services are involved in the planning and implementation of their own care. This is a time of deep transition for me. New job. Musical creation in explosive mode, Meridiem about to start up again, Genre Peak in full swing, having recorded 8 excellent songs towards the completion of our upcoming album As Small As A World And Large As Alone, the Poet’s Cabaret project showing a lot of potential, and the joy and expression of writing this blog, especially interviewing profound artists that I respect, admire, and feel an aesthetic kinship with. All good change, but change, which has a way of leeching energy, creating self-doubt, fear, and anxiety. Changing the scenery for a few days would be a good way of abating potentially deleterious effects of change.
It helped that Lisa and I had free tickets which we were able to purchase using 900.00 in Frontier airlines vouchers given to us by the airline after a monstrously hellish experience flying to the family compound in Montana last year. This Sisyphean nightmare resulted in a 20 hour trip from Sacramento to Billings…so they certainly owed us. I wanted to stay on the edge of midtown in order to be close to well…everything, so we chose the Affinia Shelburne on Lexington as our base of operations for the 4 days. The flight out was uneventful, but productive, in that I was able to finish Joshilyn Jackson’s new book Backseat Saints in preparation for an upcoming interview that I am doing with her. I also was able to make some progress of Frank Wilderson’s newest book, Red, White and Black: Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms.
Arriving at LaGuardia, it was difficultto find our driver in the chaos at the curb, as there are no curb Nazis to ensure a smooth flow of traffic as there are at SFO for example. After some difficult to decipher telephone conversations, we were able to locate our man. The driver turned out to be a young African man, who had all too willingly has adopted the New York affectation of entertaining outsiders with a lovable irascibility. In his case, it was through a series of smirks, scowls, and generally peevish asides concerning his dispatcher, who kept giving him pick-ups, and then just as quickly taking them back, demanding that he go through some obtuse process of “returning” the pick-ups so another driver could claim them.
The Affinia Shelburne is located at 303 Lexington, not too far from the supposedly swankier and more hip W, but I found that not to be the case. The AS is located at a point on Lexington where the street gives the illusion of narrowing into a dark canyon of skyscrapers, and there is really nothing of note within a 2 block area, but it is close to everything, and the cost, under 300.00 per night, was excellent. The amenities were outstanding, as the interior is remodeled in a modern, plain style, on the edges of a sort of updated 60’s elegance, and the bed was uber, to say the least. The staff was friendly, prepared, and eager to be of service. I would recommend this hotel to anyone.
The first night was truncated, as concerns activities, as we got to the hotel at 6:30 PM, and had dinner reservations at I Sodi in the West Village. Forgoing the subway, we took a cab over, and I was immediately struck with a wistfulness upon encountering the tree-lined elegant bohemianism of the West Village. The Village is a place that I have always over-romanticized and idolized as a “best place to live”, right up there with Mill Valley and Laurel Canyon, about the only part of the cultural abyss of Los Angeles that I could ever abide to live in, don’t ask me why.
I Sodi is small and comfortable environment consisting of brown wood, simple tables and chairs, much use of white accents, and angular proportions and proximity. The element of proximity is demonstrated by the other diners almost touching elbows with you at the next table, as well as the proximity of the supporting detritus of the dining experience jammed together on your table; bread, wine, napkins, decanter of olive oil, glasses and silver wear. All would have to be artfully rearranged when the meal appeared. I indulged in the most decadent, crazily rich appetizer of chicken livers that I have ever had. It was if the recipe was prepared by the wanton love child of Giada De Laurentis and Clayton Sherrod. I have no idea how I was able to request, better yet finish the main course of 10 layer lasagna, but I did. My better half dined on a more sensible selection of salmon and salad. Excellent culinary experience all-in-all.
The rest of the evening was spent wandering the West Village, enjoying the reconnection between Lisa and I. Baby, job, routine and the tyranny of the immediate can conspire to rob a relationship of its verve, adoration, and elemental sexual heat, all of which conspire to create a couple in the first place. So we enjoyed clicking the switch back to the primacy of our need for us. It was a disappointment when we descended down the stairs to the cave better know as the Village Vanguard to hear the Geri Allen Quartet featuring Ravi Coltrane, Joe Sanders and Jeff “Train” Watts, only to be turned away by the fact the show was sold-out. That would have been spice, dessert, crack and candy for the ears all at once.
Saturday morning saw us liesurely rise and make our way to Tribeca for my interview with Cintra Wilson, culture critic, fashion deconstructionist, spiritual seeker, and all around amalgamation of good-humanness. I will not divulge all here, but will say that the conversation was enlightening, full of laughter, wit, and open-heartedness, as well as scathing critique of everything from fame, American cultural proclivities, and Tiger Wood’s monstrous fuck-up and public cyber-lynching. The interview will be published in all of its glory in an upcoming edition of this blog. After interviewing and lunching with Cintra, we made our way far downtown, past ground zero to the Century 21 department store for some furious designer shopping at criminally discount prices. The store is difficult to navigate, with people crammed in sardine-like into very small spaces, furiously trolling for bargains… but it did prove to be fruitfully wardrobe enhancing.
Back to ground zero for a minute. This was incredibly underwhelming to me. I expected some rush of emotion, etc. But there was none. The 9/11 experience has been beaten into me with such severe, pugnacity from without, that there was nothing within to respond with. It was kind of like when I saw old faithful in Yellowstone last year for the first time. I expected this profound experience, a monstrous geyser filling up the sky like some orgasmic explosion from Jupiter or Zeus, but all that lifted weakly towards the heavens was an impotent little stream that I took to calling “the little spurter”. Ground Zero was a “little spurter” to me.
We had tickets that evening to see David Mamet’s new play Race, Starring David Allen Grier, James Spader, Richard (John Boy) Thomas, and Kerry Washington. It was without a doubt phenomenal. Mamet has eyes and ears that seek beyond the narrow parameters of gender and race, and beg the greater question of “how do we exercise our humanity?” The characters are flawed, “human all too human”, and work from the myopic perspective of enlightened self-interest. You guessed it, just like real people, like all of us. Mamet uses the backdrop of a racially charged sexual harassment suit as a platform for how we let our fears and misconceptions of the other repress our well-formulated and in some cases deserved distrust of others, excellent stuff.
Dinner was at 10:00 that evening, in the NY tradition of the late after-theatre meal, and was at Maison, a little French Brasserie. The meal was simple and excellent.
Sunday was a packed day, beginning with a wonderful interview with Latin Jazz-Soul singer Gemma Genezzano near the MOMA, which would be our primary destination for the day. The interview with Gemma will be published shortly, but she is a very gracious, beautiful woman that has, in my opinion, the right idea about how to be an artist. As it turns out the most revealing and incisive questions were asked by my lovely wife.
The MOMA turned out to be an exercise in repetition, as I had seen much of the work at MOMA SF, and in various museums in Europe as well as the The Crocker in Sacramento, The DeYoung, etc. The exceptions were The New York Waterfront exhibit, which details architectural and urban planning considering projections that Manhattan will be largely underwater in 60 years, the Henri Cartier Bresson photo collection, and the Marina Abramovic installation.
The Cartier Bresson photographs of Ezra Pound and Carl Jung were astounding in their sheer penetration of the subjects, so that the viewer has a deep, connected impression that they actually know the admired soul in question. Difficult to explain, but viewing his work was a deeply moving experience for me.
The Abromovic installation has been the source of much gasping and oh-mying. All viewers of the installation have the option of walking between a nude man and woman that are standing 3 feet from each other staring dispassionately with arms at their side. Meanwhile, Abromovic is seated at a table, mute, staring straight ahead, while various people sit across from her and match her stare. There are many possible ways of discerning the intent of the artist in creating this installation, but all meaning was lost to me in the utter pretense of the exercise. I have no interest. The emperor truly had no clothes on in this instance.
Sunday evening saw Lisa and I having dinner with my old East Hampton High School chum, Jimmy Blackman, AKA Schwatzman, AKA “The Schwatz”. Jimmy is one of the most uniquely present people in this world. He is a wonderfully kind witty person, full of grace of spirit, happiness, and equanimity. He truly has soul. Jimmy and I spent the requisite time in the land of reminiscence, but we were also able to move on to the beauty, pain, joy and exasperation of our current lives and circumstances. I am so happy to have seen him. Dessert at Rare (supposedly notable hamburger joint which was actually a bit under-par) consisted of deep-fried Oreos…..phenomenally disgusting.
Our flight was leaving at 1:30 on Monday, so we needed to be at the airport by 11:30. Before that I had the great pleasure of having breakfast with Anton Fier and Giacomo Bruzzo, the owner of RareNoise Records. Anton and I are discussing a potentially very interesting co-production venture, and Giacomo and I were able to discuss some possible business as well. A welcome conversation with like-minded lovers of music is always welcome, and this most certainly was that.
All in all a fantastic trip. I look forward to returning, hopefully next time for a live performance by my project Meridiem.