Friday, October 31, 2008
Thursday, October 30, 2008
A child isn't supposed to live at home after they're grown, and CDs shouldn't either.
So off goes "The Maxes Sing Al Hoffman", disc by disc, to this one and that one, each with a letter of explanation and a kiss before I drop it in the mailbox.
People ask me how I drive exotic cars---hell, cars of any kind---without crashing 'em at least once, or how I ride a motorcycle without getting knocked off like a porch pumpkin smashed with a baseball bat.
I tell 'em: "I surround myself with a bubble of love."
I do the same with the discs I send and hopefully the opener has an orgasm when he/she opens the package, or at least a flutty-wutty feeling. Off the discs go, like birds dropped from the nest, or bird droppings, depending on your point of view.
Some of the birds land.
Got a call three days ago from the New York music publishing office of 1/4 of That Band whose name rhymes with Needles, offering representation of 10 of my songs. Gonna meet with 'em this tomorrow to hammer and yammer.
Took a meeting last night with a record company distributed through WB who wants me, us, The Maxes, to record 3 more discs, soon, full budget, full production, horns, strings, and distribution in the US and Europe, and the dough ain't coming from my paper route. Yeah, you gotta recoup, but this deal is let's go let's go let's go we love you let's do it. We say ok. Gotta have the expert look at it and approve it, but barring incident...
Got this quote from Sirius DJ Meg Griffin yesterday regarding last year's "The Maxes", whose "Stand and Dig It" and "Fortunately For Me, There's You" she played a billion times:
"The Maxes...are infectious and optimistic in a way that defies the dysfunction of our times, and they sit quite nicely between Flaming Lips and the Jetsons. I'll have some more, please, especially on the radio where this kind of fun just grabs the listeners."
I have sent hundreds--hundreds of letters in the last 10 years to people in the industry. Tapes, discs, photos, calls. Repeat.
It's easier to get a Bentley Continental GT to show up at your door than to make a quick dent in the Biz, in my experience.
But in the imagined words of sewer worker Ed Norton of 328 Chauncey Street:
"The s--t moves along at last."
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
A frantic gesture by Mrs. Bananas outside the store alerted me to the presence of a car behind my car, and it wasn't Mr. Softee.
It didn't help that my car was a milk-white 2008 Volkswagen Jetta wagon with Michigan plates.
I charged out out out. Before I could get a word in edgeways, I got the grille.
"Is that your car?"
"No, ma'am, that's a test car. I am reviewing it."
"Well, you ain't got a press sticker in the front windshield."
"No, ma'am, I sure don't, but I'm pleading hunger in the 1st degree. I'll git, right now. To heck with the food."
"You're gettin' a ticket."
"If you have to. I sure would appreciate it if you'd let me go."
"You're gettin' a ticket."
"How about leaving off one of the numbers?"
"Now I'm writing 'Tried to bribe.'"
"How am I bribing you? I just asked you to leave off a number."
Silence. Since it appeared I was nabbed, I shrugged and started to dash back into the store to get my food.
"I already got it!" Mrs. B. said.
I waited. Wasn't I supposed to get some kind of orange envelope with a summons?
Walked back to the traffic agent's car, stuck the puss in the window.
"Hey, can I get out of here?"
"Yeah, go ahead."
Off I zipped.
You don't get sent to the Principal's office a billion times without learning something.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
sometimes wayyy back---
on pivotal New York
Everyone who lives in New York has a New York story, whether it's the neighborhood they live(d) in, the person they married or dated or divorced, the struggle to survive and thrive or watching H&H bagels go up to two bucks apiece. As an American cinema aficionado, I can point to several movies I've seen in my time in the city which shifted or shaped my viewpoint whether because of the content of the movie or what I was doing at the time.
Here are six.
The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989)
This critic's favorite, starring Jeff and Beau Bridges and Michelle Pfeiffer and which I saw by myself at the Angelika, won several awards. But its story of two middle-aged piano playing brothers who mostly gig at crap lounges---one keyman a true artist, the other a hack who sprays his bald spot black before each show---put the fear of Zeus into me. "Welcome to your possible future," said a little voice in my head. "Baker Boys" is one of the reasons I do not play more in public, even though I have 3,000 or so songs in my head and could easily attain employment at some hotel or club playing your favorite hits.
Just because you can doesn't mean you have to.
Midnight Run (1989)
I saw "Midnight Run" at the Metro three days before I went to an Indian ashram to live for 5 months, and laughed louder than I might of had I not had felt a deep excitement mixed with panic. "In three days, I will on the other side of the planet," kept running through the brain, and "Midnight Run" is now cemented in that time period for me and is as much a reminder of India as are mangoes, papayas and the smell of burning leaves and cow shit.
That Thing You Do! (1996)
It's never been a great movie---the band-frolic scene is shamefully stolen from "A Hard Day's Night" and lead singer/songwriter Jimmy Mattingly looks more falafel than 1964 white bread. Look at the below pic---do you think "Rock 'n' Roll!" or "Ravi Shankar!" ?
It was the first movie I saw with the woman I'd marry, though, and if it comes on the tube, we both stop and watch and reminisce. I was also living, at the time we saw this movie at Lincoln Plaza, in my official Worst New York Apartment out of the 14 places I've lived, I was painting apartments for a living, and had just started a band which would become Josh Max's Outfit. "That Thing" is a reminder of what's vanished and what remains 12 years later.
I live in a better place now, I don't paint anything and the band has a new name and is on its way to recording its 4th album. Unlike the Wonders, the Maxes never broke up; we just had to find a way to make a jump out of the clubs and into Central Park Summerstage,for example, and we continue to weasel our way into show biz. The cannons still fire daily, as they must.
It's also interesting to watch all those actors in the movie band, "The Wonders," and note that none of them has gone on to stardom post-"That Thing."
"Detour" was part of a festival of noir playing at the Film Forum in the summer of 2004, and Mrs. M and I didn't miss "Double Indemnity," "Casablanca," "Touch of Evil," and about six others. Every time I get beyond fed-up with New York City and need to find reasons to stay rather than going somewhere warm, at least in wintertime, the Forum's at the top of the list. If you become a member, movies are only 6 bucks, too, so there's less pressure to stay if the movie blows.
"Detour" is also my top favorite noir flick---cheap, violent, packed with classic lines like "As I drove off, it was still raining and the drops streaked down the windshield like tears," and "Listen, Mister, I been around, and I know a wrong guy when I see one. What'd you do, kiss him with a wrench?"
Monkey Business (1931)
Saw this antique gagfest in a double feature at the now-defunct First Avenue Screening room at age 11 with Nick Max along with "Horsefeathers," "Duck Soup,"and "Cocoanuts," over a series of successive weekends. My life can be accurately divided into before and after the Marxes.
I was dating a woman named Susan at the time, and the two lead characters in the movie are called Susan and Josh. "Big", for me, recalls that pre-Ashram time when the old mental, emotional and spiritual world was melting, and new concepts and attitudes toward life, work, sex, relationships, the world and the self were all rushing in. Susan was also the first person in New York I'd met who made enough money to have a new car and a nice apartment with the proceeds from her jewelry business. Dating her raised my bar for what was possible in the world of self-employment, as opposed to having a job.
Annie Hall (1978)
The final scene of this Oscar-winning Woody Allen movie, much of which occurs in Manhattan, takes place outside the Thalia, and I saw it in the Thalia. When the key scene appeared, the audience burst into wild applause. I saw it by myself soon after I moved to New York, and felt I really belonged afterward.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Captain B offers salve for the
baffled, the ornery, the battle-ax
and the bastard on the couch
Some people do better alone or with a cat or a book in the apartment than with another opposing-thumb creature using up the TP.
But if you're one of the millions who voluntarily plunged into what Chang and Eng Bunker did without a choice, I'd like to offer a few observations and or/pointers on this, my 7-year anniversary.
*Experts say marriage is work, but I haven't found that to be true. Mine's fun. Sanding 4 closets for 8 hours in 96-degree weather in an apartment with no air conditioning is work. If you're not having any fun, you're not looking for fun, and you don't have to look further than the guy in the reflection of yer bottle of Bud.
*Always strive to make the marriage the best it can be, and strive to be the best spouse, forever.
*Expressing yourself in a relationship is an art, but it's an equal art to know when to hesh, or find a better way of saying what you have to say.
*Don't try to have a conversation when one of you isn't in the room or has water of any kind running.
*Don't piggyback little complaints onto the big complaints.
*If you don't know what the other is thinking, ask them.
*Try not to go dead just because you're married. Keep seeing new possibilities, opportunities and seek adventure everywhere.
*Don't close the taps on loving others, even those of the opposite sex.
*Even if you've told them you love and appreciate them last week, tell them again this week and next week.
*If you come into a little money and want to spoil yourself, spoil her, too.
*Using either kindness or anger in an attempt to get what you want may not produce results, but one puts dents in the marriage and the other doesn't.
*Don't ever complain, even the slightest little bit, about your spouse to anyone, ever.
*From time to time when they're not home, go and look at the little objects they use in their life, like a shoe, a shirt, a necklace, a book, an eye mask. This will make you long for them.
*Always be flirting with them.
*Take her for a nice ride in a $375,000 Rolls-Royce and let her drive it in a parking lot. Ok, ok, that's my own little quirk. But ya get the point.
Monday, October 20, 2008
songs at wedding 2 feet from asparagus,
roasted red peppers, bruschetta
"She loves you" was written in the back of a van; most of the early Beatles material was written in an equal hurry under whatever circumstances.
And there I was, 45 years later, playing S.L.Y. and dozens of other Fab songs on the 65th floor of 30 Rockefeller Center for a wedding cocktail reception gig.
Photo credit: Josh Max
Got the call Thursday; "Beatles, 90 minutes, no singing, black suit, can you do it?" Sure.
I busted out my 1968 Gibson ES-335 to do the set.
A few things:
*There is something vaguely sad about a big wedding. It's a beginning but it's also an end, and you know a great deal of the people there were arguing right before they left the house to get there, and why didn't you put gas in the car this morning instead of waiting until we were on our way and I f---king hate midtown at rush hour and what do you mean 40 dollars to park my car. That said, this was a well-behaved bunch of bananas, and...
*A person in a black suit playing an instrument at a wedding is the same as the grilled shrimp, bruschetta, stuffed mushrooms and penne. The only people who look you in the eye and appreciate the wonder of being able to put your hands on a piece of wood with strings and make something called music are children. Otherwise, you are there for consumption and there isn't anything wrong with that. It also allows you to observe people without being observed, like a painting with eyes.
*People in their 60s will walk by and listen intently to a simple song like "From Me To You", mouthing the words without even being conscious of it---so ingrained in that generation's brains is this material---and you will reach them whether they know it or not.
*When someone requests all Beatles, that means you can play "Within You, Without You" if you wish, and I did.
*The bride and groom, who most likely requested the all-Beatles set list, did not appear and thus it probably wouldn't have made a scrap of difference to the crowd if "I've Got A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts" was substituted for "I'll Get You."
*I always want Clemenza, Tessio, Kay, Sonny, Lucy, Mama Corleone, Fredo, Johnny Fontane, Paulie Gatto, Michael, Kay, Vito and Luca Brasi at every wedding I go to.
Photo courtesy Paramount Pictures(c)
Friday, October 17, 2008
Photo courtesy of RobertPlant.com
Former Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant has perhaps the most perfect post-supergroup career in rock history. Last October, duetting with Alison Kraus, he appeared on"Raising Sand", a collection of earthy, moody covers impeccably produced by T-Bone Burnett. If this album was released by any artist at any time, it would be hailed as a masterpiece of vibe, color and feeling. That 60-year-old Robert Plant is half of this duet makes it all the more compelling.
There isn't a trace of Zep on "Raising Sand", but the album once again proves Plant's unique color, phrasing and intonation are inevitably overshadowed by his famous screams immortalized on the 84 million albums Led Zeppelin has sold worldwide. Listen, even on Zeppelin's debut, to Plant hitting a note a half-step above the root at the breakdown of "How Many More Times" on the line "Cause I've got you in the sights of my gun" and you'll hear the choice of a master. His genius, also, frequently came not only in a song's melody, but in his ad libs, most of which have become signature parts equally as recognizable as any guitar riff.
"Goin' down---goin' down, now."
"Do be do, bop bop a doo whoah."
"Hey! Oh! Hey! Oh! Hey! Oh! Hey! Oh! Oooooooo!"
"Keep a'coolin', baby. Keep a'coolin', baby. Keep a'coolin', baby.
After an ecstatically recieved Led Zeppelin reunion show at London's 02 Arena November 26, 2007, the surviving members were game to tour.
Plant refused, and continues to refuse. He doesn't need the money; he said so. But there is a another reason for him not to tour other than not needing the money and that he's got another project that's wildly successful.
Even at last year's reunion, the instruments were tuned down a whole step to accomodate 40 years gone. The person who sang "I come from the land of the ice and snow/From the midnight sun where the hot springs blow" has left the building and isn't coming back.
The one-off concert was a chance for fans to express their thanks and to raise funds for the Ahmet Ertegun Education Fund, and it didn't matter that Plant's voice isn't what it was in 1970. Is anybody's?
If Plant did an entire tour, screaming over the Zeppelin jet, he'd have nothing at the end but a big(ger) bag of money, a year of his life gone, an even more shot voice and dozens of videos out there on YouTube that would be available in ten years, twenty, fifty from now.
I would not want to leave that to the world.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Captain Bananas, sexiest man in the world
Oh, my! Captain Bananas is beyond fit. The star - and his rock-hard abs - celebrated his birthday on Saturday with a jaw-dropping jaunt at an Australian beach. Scope out Captain Bananas' sizzling seaside stroll and other celebs' enviable beach bodies.
Yee-haw! Captain Bananas embraces NASCAR!
Bananas unscathed after condom incident
Attorney: Jailed Captain Bananas believes he was 'railroaded'
Bananas stalker accepts plea deal
Bananas angered by claim he faked AIDS
TRUTH BEHIND BANANAS' DEATH
MED CARE SUIT SHOCKS BANANAS
Bitter Bananas won't sign autographs
Bananas flips out over 'Dead Wrestler' joke
Puffed-up Bananas blows off his fans
Captain Bananas sends his tight end back to work
Captain Bananas---Paris REALLY hates you
Captain Bananas---living it up in London
Captain Bananas enjoys outing with the stars
Captain Bananas is in shape!
Captain Bananas Loves Johnny Depp, Not Marriage
Captain Bananas takes Negative, Bitter View on Former Show
Captain Bananas, Cosmopolitan Cover Girl
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
songwriting partner of Al Hoffman
also wrote a few other songs
you might know.
Norman Gimble co-wrote "Whale of a Tale" with my great uncle Al Hoffman for the 1954 movie "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea."
Gimbel also wrote the lyrics to Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly With His Song", "The Girl From Ipanema", the lyrics to "Makin' Our Dreams Come True" from "Laverne and Shirley", "Happy Days", "Wonder Woman" as well as scores for over 90 movies. He's been a member of the Songwriter's Hall of Fame since 1984.
I called him two years ago because as far as I know, he's the only person alive who co-wrote with my great Uncle Al Hoffman. We traded phone messages.
"Wonderful guy, Al." he said. "Send me the disc when it's done."
I'd called him two weeks ago and offered to send, and he finally called back yesterday. He asked what I did with myself and I told him, which was kind of like telling Mickey Mantle about your sandlot ballgames.
All his pals are gone, Norman said. He's 81 and lives in California. We blabbed the stock market, the presidential election and the Santa Barbara weather.
"Send me the disc," he finally said. "I'll check it out and get back to you."
I thought about it a second, then called back.
"When you wrote the line 'Strumming my pain with his fingers', in "Killing me softly', was 'pain' the first thing that came into your head? Was it 'soul' or anything, or was that your first choice?"
"The line was written the way you heard it. Over the years the rumor has flown that the song was written about Don McClean, but that's baloney. I had to write ten songs for this artist named Lori Leiberman on Capitol Records, and that was one of them. I got it from a book I was reading."
Sunday, October 12, 2008
A few things occurred to me as I rode, and I'd like to share them with you.
Part of my path to Central Park includes a 20-block jaunt through Harlem, which is almost completely populated, naturally, by African-Americans. At one point I passed a group of young boys on bikes, pedaling in a mish-mash manner, caring not about lights or "one-way" signs and just having a good time.
And it struck me: no matter who wins the November presidential election, each one of these boys, now, today, could imagine himself growing up to be the President of the United States.
I was also completely unafraid of any Harlem block. When I moved to New York City, even the people who lived in Harlem were scared to walk its streets, and if you went to Central Park after dark, you were either a fool or from out of town. Things have undeniably gotten better here. Banks and Gaps and Starbucks have invaded every neighborhood, robbing the town of its flavor, but one doesn't have to fear being shot or killed as we once did. It doesn't mean you walk around with 20-dollar bills peeking out of your vest pocket, and the cars will still hit you if you don't get out of the way, but the fear factor has lessened greatly.
(Addendum four days later; gang of 7 teens randomly attacks 7 adults on Columbia University campus.)
I passed a flyer advertising a Communist Workers Party meeting on 125th Street. Always attracted to nuts, I read the flyer in its entirely, and was surprised I agreed with many of its points, such as:
1. Affordable, decent housing should be a right.
2. The Capitalist system, so famously crashing now, was built on the labor of enslaved Blacks and the robbing of land from Native Americans after slaughter.
I didn't find anything wrong with those assertions, and began to play with the idea of dropping my life and working, from now on, for the rights of the people instead of trying to buy my own apartment at last as practically every one of my friends and family have done.
I'd give up my iPod and the testing of sky-fouling cars and trucks for money, move under a bridge and send laptop missives from the abyss, my voice echoing and bouncing off the minds of people equally awakened to their own bamboozlement, the relentless pursuit of money and fame and obsession with the trivial, like pop music and movies.
It got dusky sooner than I expected and I found myself riding in Central Park in a rapidly descending other world---New York at night. I let the mind go wild as I pedaled through the dark, the path back to my apartment adjacent to the Hudson River now unlit and unfamiliar. Usually this route is populated by hundreds of Hispanic barbecuers, beer-drinkers, salsa-blasters, bikers and passers-by. It was now deserted.
A rat crossed my path, then a raccoon, both illustrating the sort of life one lives in the woods of New York as opposed to coming and going from an apartment building. I pedaled faster, the pointlessness of my own struggle becoming more and more clear as the sky got darker and darker. You cannot argue with the sunset.
There is a section of my typical path surrounded by trees, and it was completely black now. I was also wearing all black, and my bike is black. Into the abyss I pedaled, a two-wheeled Ichabod Crane fleeing imaginary headless horsemen. I decided to listen to music to fortify me against the long, dark journey, knowing it was dangerous to handicap my ears as well as my eyes, but wanting the company. I pulled my iPod Nano out of my belly pack and selected The Beatles' "Twist and Shout" out of the glow of its menu. I forgot about Communism, glass, potholes and bank failures, and just concentrated on getting the carcass home to a bath and a meal.
The night has a way of telling you things that will not occur to you in the daytime, and sometimes it's fun to be scared and to go fast and to consider Communism.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Esperanza Spalding is such a bolt. A jazz star has come to your town and mine; a bassist, singer and songwriter whose sound and style emanates from a place far beyond that of mortal men.
photo by Johann Sauty
I was a pin to Esperanza's bowling ball for 90 minutes in the packed Highline Ballroom on West 16th Street last evening, not knowing what to do with all the musical light, color and sound coming at me like a freight train except to clap and yell and turn from time to time to the three others at my table to catch an eye. Each time, all present just shook heads and directed attention back to the band, to the vibe and the groove borne of soaring voice and standup bass mastery, each member of the 4-piece band comprised of piano, drums and guitar delivering statements as sharp and succinct and compelling as expert swordsmen.
This tiny 24-year-old beauty expresses pure feeling beyond language, bypassing the mind and going straight to the heart and soul of jazz. All that can be done is to stand right there, let her zap you and cry Amen, that was music to my ears, brothers and sisters, you heard it right there, witness.
Mrs. M met Esperanza the day before her Highline Ballroom show at the radio station---the singer was there to do a live solo set and interview---and Mrs. M discovered ES often warms up with Al Hoffman's co-written smash, "Mairzy Doats."
You'll all know her, soon.
Esperanza Spalding and Mrs. M, post-show
Esperanza, post-show, and the still shell-shocked JM
Thursday, October 9, 2008
In the center of the throng
Was gettin’ fed up right to here
I thought it best to disappear
So I checked the bank account
There was not a large amount
But it mattered not to me
There’s a world that I can see
And it’s just beyond the subway door
The cubicle, the coffee cart
The office chair nailed to the floor
I’ve had enough, time to depart
On a vacation in my mind
Cross my heart, hope to die
There’s no better way to fly
That to close your eyes and dream
When your wallet’s out of steam
Happy trails up ahead
At the place inside your head
Though the boss may stew and burn
You’ll return when you return
Now I got the blanket, got the lotion
Got the sun inside my brain
Got the swim trunks, got the ocean
Close my eyes, get on the plane
On a vacation in my mind
There I’ll sit, so sublime
With a seltzer and a lime
Let the world fly by my door
I won’t notice anymore
If the boss makes a fuss
Tell him I got on the bus
Better call some other sheep
Or leave a message at the beep
And I’m Dorothy lookin’ for the rainbow
A leaf just sailing in the wind
Close my eyes and let my brain go
Where the maddening crowd has thinned
On a vacation in my mind
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
*Friendly lady I sold my late father's exercise bike to who has four dogs, a bunch of cats, a fish and a turtle.
*Mom who owns lingerie store two blocks away that I've never bought anything from.
*Well-dressed man who hasn't said anything but "hi" in three years, but whose other half is always friendly and always asks me how my races are going if I'm doing one and who says she wants to be a bodybuilder but will never do it.
*Canadian actor who just got a Green Card, his psychiatrist wife and their cute, well-behaved poodle who are fighting with the man in the apartment below theirs and who claim he keyed their car recently.
*Two young guys with particularly great mutt who always leave the building to smoke.
*Couple across the way whose flat-screen TV is always on and who may or may not have seen me without my clothes.
*New neighbor mom who recently said she was moving, with husband, to a floor above due to severe second-hand smoke coming from the apartment below, but hasn't done it yet.
*Amiable Oscar Madison-ish palooka who smokes cigars and has been in the building since the 70s.
*Adorable 90+ year old lady across the way who doesn't speak anything but Spanish and who I've never seen wearing anything except a nightgown in 5 years.
*Angry, handsome man with moustache who recently said hi for the first time since I left him notes about his barking dog 3 years ago.
*Crazy lady from Iran. KEEP BACK 100 FEET
*Petite lady from Portugal who is soft and sweet and friendly and who reminds me of my mother.
*Couple 3 floors below us who have expertly remodeled the interior of their apartment; if you happen to go by while the door is open, you'll see marble kitchen counter tops, tasteful cone lighting and lots of wooden things.
*Angry actress who has given up acting.
*Six-foot-two bassoonist who has gained and lost weight over the last 3 years.
*Happy new Mom who owns a condo in CT that she rented to people who were arrested within a few days of moving into the apartment; they were using it to deal crystal meth.
*"Running man", who you may remember used to leave notes at my door wanting a ride to Strand Books on W. 12th Street. He is Running Man because he runs from the door of the apartment building to the subway three blocks away.
*Guy whose Asian girlfriend moved out when they broke up.
*Short fellow with two kids who I always make the embarrassing mistake of saying, "Hola!" and "Buenos Dias!" to even though he told me he's not Latino.
*Superintendent from Puerto Rico who worked for Con Ed for 18 years, used to have an auto body repair shop in the Bronx before that, and who I gave a joyride to down to the George Washington Bridge and back yesterday in a 2009 Lamborghini Gallardo.
*Curly-headed guy who doesn't seem to have a job and his friendly wife with the red hair.
Saturday, October 4, 2008
*It doesn't matter how many different and careful ways you try to take off your pants or how cheap or expensive they are; unless you remove all the change from the pockets first, the money will rain and scatter all over your floor.
*It is one of life's great injustices that one has to make coffee before one has had coffee.
*It is possible to shatter your coffee beaker, buy a new one and shatter that, too, within a week's time due to lack of coffee. It is best not to try and remember to wear socks in the kitchen for the next few weeks, instead accepting the fact that each foot's big toe, heel and ball will locate extraneous shards of broken glass and you can have fun yanking them out with tweezers while wearing a wife-beater and smoking a Lucky Strike under a bare lightbulb.
*Your house has a plan to devour you, and it's winning. Every time you leave, the objects move a few more inches toward the couch, bed, desk.
*There is a man in your building who, when you told him he doesn't have to ask why he hasn't seen you at the gym every single time he sees you, didn't talk to you for two years. This man said "Thank you" when you held the door for him the other day, but that may have been because he forgot he decided never to speak to you again.
*The biggest insult you can give an artist isn't criticism, but indifference.
*In your life, more than once, more than twice, some powerful media person is going to call you at home, express great interest in your project, offer to help you in a few ways, make a date for lunch the following week, and you'll never hear from them again even though their mother or wife isn't in the hospital, they didn't have a lot of money in the stock market and their workload is what it is.
*Anti-clutter affirmations printed out and taped to your bathroom mirror and kitchen cabinets may not produce a more orderly household, but they make you feel as though you are trying to do something about the fact that you can't find one of your own CDs to send to someone and have to call your wife at work and ask her if she knows where one is.
*When you get a Lamborghini Gallardo and take it on the West Side Highway on a Friday night when the Lincoln Tunnel is closed because of an incident, you have to drive it 5 miles an hour for 40 minutes the same as everyone else, and the universe doesn't care that a Lamborghini Gallardo gets 9 miles to the gallon.
*Sometimes you find $140 cash and the Verizon bill in the pocket of a pair of pants you haven't worn since August and it compensates for having to look for your newly written Uncle Al bio for 20 minutes on your computer because you didn't name it something obvious like "Uncle Al Bio".
*You can learn how to talk to a cop who has just pulled you over by watching political debates and paying close attention to what politicians say when asked a direct question.
*Your wife's hair looks amazing.
Friday, October 3, 2008
“We're making an album,” he said."And I need a guy who knows a lot of chords." The timbre of his voice sounded as though he was ever-so-slow in the head, but a job was a job. He handed me a card upon which was written “David Peel - Orange Records.”
I showed up at Peel’s East Village tenement later that night, ready to work, but after a stream of guitarists began showing up, some of whom I recognized from the park, I realized it was just a party. He had no musician accoutrements to offer guests, but instead basked in the glow of his long-ago tenure with John Lennon and Yoko Ono who produced Peel’s third album of hippie anthems, “The Pope Smokes Dope.”
He was a novelty act and the music sounded worse with more musicians, but it was a night’s floor, and there I crashed. A few days later, I took the train in from Westchester specifically for Peel’s recording session in Tribeca.
Peel’s songs were similar to Peel, but his recording methods were novel in that he gathered 15 acoustic guitarists in one room all playing the same thing around a single microphone, producing a purposeful Phil Spector-ish “Wall of Sound”. I played bass on the 3-chord song after the assemblage had laid down the guitar tracks, and all were satisfied.
At the end of the session I asked when I might be paid, but I'd learned by that time that if Peel didn’t want to answer any direct question, he’d somehow turn an answer into something about John and Yoko, hoping to bamboozle.
“That comes later,” said Peel. “When I was with Elephant’s Memory, it was all for one and one for all!”
“You’ll learn, you’re young. Que Pasa New York? Call me.”
I was trusting and excited about recording, and somewhere inside I knew I wouldn’t get a penny, and it was ok. I had seen how Peel lived and I had evaluated his talent and chances for massive album sales, and I knew there wasn’t any money. It was back to the park.
I saw Peel two weeks later one early, drizzling evening, walking by himself. He didn’t recognize or remember me, then said, “Oh, yeah! The yuppie!” which was an indication of the state of his melted but harmless hippie noggin. I bore him no grudge and demanded payment of no debt; instead we just blabbed about music, and I still wasn’t sure if he actually remembered me. Presently he lit a pipe he was carrying, took a long drag himself, and offered it to me.
I didn’t smoke pot or do anything that would damage my voice, but it was raining and the park was getting deserted. I decided to take a puff.
Within a few moments, my consciousness went sailing back into a tiny, tiny portion of my brain, and I turned into an instant, floating collection of muscles, veins, organs, limbs and hair. I hadn't thought to ask what was actually in the pipe. PCP? Angel dust? I didn't know. All I remember was slowly sliding down the wall of the arch until I was sitting, the universe exploding in front of my eyes and the outside world of Manhattan erased. I sat there like a building on fire, feeling the drug devastate my consciousness, unable to play the guitar, and hoping no one would take my money or cart me off to the hospital. I was profoundly, deeply drugged in a very public place, and the only thing that kept me from panicking was the mantra, “You’re on a drug and it’s going to wear off. You’re on a drug and it’s going to wear off.” When would it wear off? I didn’t know; it might be 20 minutes, an hour or 12 hours.
I called Nick Max and told him what had happened.
"Are you ok?"
Yea, I was ok. There was nothing to do but wait while the world shimmied. In about an hour, the world started speeding up again like a steam train gathering momentum, and soon I was back to relatively normal. Peel was gone and I never saw him again, or heard the record we’d made.
I played and sang and sang and played that whole summer, broke all 6 strings dozens of times, begged a shower or a floor here and there, had to stand in between a homeless guy and my case full of money a couple of times while swinging the arm of my guitar as a warning, was drowned out by ghetto boys walking by with boom boxes, was offered every kind of drug known to medicine, was chased away by the police, got soaked by sudden rainstorms, smiled at N.Y.U. girls, hooked up with a few who allowed me to, and became that which I set out to be.
One early Saturday morning, the wind bit my fingers as I tried to chord a song, and I decided to wait until noon when the sun would defrost the West Village. It never warmed up that day, though, and as truly inured as I’d become to every obstacle that would chase a musician away from his spot, in the end it was cold that shook me off the public stage of Washington Square Park.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
I trained and subwayed back to the park the following weekend, set up my open case and started playing.
A few people recognized me from the weekend before, and this time a few dropped a buck. I had boiled down my repertoire to about 10 good songs---common classic rock I was used to and could belt out with no microphone. I also began including Tin Pan Alley material I knew, and occasionally fired out the instrumental parts to "Over the hills and far away" and other sure-fire Led Zeppelin riffs. Zeppelin was the eternal basket of restaurant bread, though, in that I could play the riffs but not sing the songs credibly, so I never performed that material in its entirety. Instead, the musical interludes to "Communication Breakdown" or "The Immigrant Song" were used as lures.
I also began doing anything I could think of to make people look at me, like perching precariously on the edge of metal garbage cans, playing guitar behind my head or pretending to sing lyrics that were deliberate nonsense every now and then, which got laughs. I also became known for dispensing, within seconds, virtually any Beatles song in the catalogue for a buck. You had to be careful with the Beatles, though, because everyone knew the words and wanted to sing along. If you played more than two Fab Four songs in a row, a quick mob would inevitably form which usually included guys with guitars they couldn’t play. Your set subsequently became the property of whoever had the biggest mouth and the most beer in him, and 20 minutes would pass with nothing tossed in your case and every sour Sam and Sally chiming in. A street set, I learned, had to have a start, middle and finish, and guest vocalists and musicians were to be discouraged by whatever means necessary if the money was to keep rolling in.
I made $88 at the end of my first day, mostly singles which I uncrumpled, straightened and deposited in my guitar case. After all the wholesome tourists had gone from the park in the early evening, replaced by the party people, the inebriated and the troublemakers, I sat in Bagel Buffet on 6th avenue, drinking the same cup of coffee for three hours while writing in my journal until I was kicked out. I wandered around the West Village and found a deserted street, selected a safe-looking darkened doorway, and there I rolled up my duffel bag into a pillow, drew a newspaper over my head, and tried to sleep.
At 6 AM, when they let people back into the park, I claimed a spot and snoozed on the ground. The park didn’t get busy until late morning, so I chatted with the park people and students wanting directions, practiced riffs, read newspapers and waited, occasionally baring teeth at another guitar player who thought he should have my section of real estate simply because he’d had it yesterday.
I played all day, the same 10 songs, trying, trying to become something worth looking at and worth someone’s dollar, removing a shirt, tying a bandana around my leg, whatever produced people in front of me who would grant me the privilege of listening. The sun reddened my face, the wind made my kinky hair explode, my fingers and strings were filthy, but there I remained.
Soon people tossed real money in my case, not as much money as I’d seen Ellis collect, but money that folded instead of jingled, and I became that which I wanted to be, and I was no longer a phony from the suburbs.There now was no hesitation when I opened my case, set it in front of me, started a song and walked back and forth on an imaginary stage as I played. I got my desired transient audience plus a few sweet N.Y.U. students like Bonnie and Gabriella who became my mini-fan club, watching my case when I went to the bathroom or to get food, and who made song suggestions.
During one set towards sundown, an inexplicable enormous mob formed in front of me, and I thought I’d finally hit the jackpot. I finished, got a big hand and saw Ellis Hooks walking through the crowd with my guitar case, shouting, “Give it up, give it up for the boy!” He’d been standing behind me while I played, and that was what had drawn the big crowd.
My case came back with $40, an absolute fortune for a single set. The crowd dispersed.
“Thanks. You didn’t have to do that,” I said, packing up. I’d had it—voice shot, fingers sore.
“Naw, it’s nothing, man. How’d you like to buy me a hot dog—on you?” His voice was equally worn-out from singing at the top of his voice all day. He reached into my case and took a five.
“That’s my agent fee!” he said. I didn’t argue.
I had no idea why Ellis had taken the slightest of interest in me, but I was game to be his new pal. He walked with long, Alabama cowboy steps, and I trailed along as fast as I could. Every single person who passed us seemed to know Ellis, and he’d respond to greetings shouted with a hearty “Hey!” or “Howdy, son!”
We met up with two Portuguese girls Ellis knew, and together we walked to West 8th street where Grey’s Papaya, the home of the 50-cent hot dog, was. The girls, Dina and her little sister Albertina, were barely 20 and I wanted them to like me like they liked Ellis, but it was impossible to compete with him on that level. They did not want to know anything about me, where I’d come from, what my story was, or if I had a girlfriend or not. It was all right here, right now, and the hugs and kisses delivered to Ellis were off the menu for yours truly. Ellis was the center of attention, in the park and, now, on the street.
We stayed that night at the once-spanking but now beat-up Marlton Hotel, and the girls paid. I soon realized Ellis almost never produced money for anything; every girlfriend he had, and there were many, soon figured out his company would cost them. He was sought after by dozens of women and he knew it, and everything from his food to his roof to his beer to other necessities were essentially free. Tonight the girls were paying fifty bucks for two rooms, his and mine, and the price was his presence.
We hung out in his room, talking, laughing and picking guitars until midnight when he kicked Dina and I out. After spending an innocent night in the same bed as Dina, listening through the wall to sounds various people get up to when they flop in a cheap hotel, I rose early, washed up in the bathroom sink down the hall and headed like a boomerang back to the park.
I was delighted to have what I thought was a new city friend, especially one so locally famous and influential, but Ellis’ face was closed to me when I approached him in the park later that day. His “hi” and grin was a mask, and he acted as though we hadn’t spent 6 hours together the night before. We were not to be friends, colleagues or anything else, which was the way he treated everyone, Dina told me later, including herself and Albertina, and that was the way it was with the Alabama cowboy. I was crushed and slunk back to my spot to do another set, and another.
Part 3 of 3 will appear tomorrow.