Thursday, December 2, 2010

Further North

He does exist.

When I saw him, I felt like I heard Bob Dylan for the first time.

With his raw voice, biting lyrics and potent attack on the acoustic guitar – he mimed something known but never said.

...sad, jealous eyes

of sad drunken guys

checking my every move

What you see driving through Nebraska. To Alaska.

* * *

I was snowed in, in New York City. And that’s when I found him.

My car buried in New York

In - 2 feet of snow

For a day, a record store popped up in Brooklyn, only to be erased the same day. Its momentary spot (gone before the snow melted) was at Kill Devil Hill on Franklin.

(open space) Kill Devil Hill

It got converted into a one day music exhibit. You could text to pay for albums.

Flickr Photos: Mayfly (group).

Fatefully, I was snowed in, stopped from going to Canada.

Without a seat, I sat below him as he sung Further North - where I was originally trying to go.

* * *

I looked for his album on the wall. The title--in lyrical handwriting--was barely legible at a distance. His album was camouflaged, literally hidden from the rest. I had to ask him to point it out.

Like writing on a table

“I took a Greyhound to Scranton, and met you there half way

…We headed north in your shitty red Chevrolet."

~ The Falls

Like a premonition, he sung my route home. My friends, stranded in Syracuse, had left days earlier chased by a winter storm. “When it isn’t safe to move.”

His lyrical vignettes were like mimes. I think of bars where I can’t hear anything. Yet I see everything.

“You whispered something nervous

I couldn’t make out a word.”

~ The Falls

as if she blew a kiss in a dream

* * *

Further north, I called him the Alaskan hermit, who has no website, who stayed years away from New York City. Who challenged common notions, singing notion-less, stories frozen in time.

He Howl-ed.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,

starving hysterical naked

~ Allen Ginsberg

* * *

Skeletons was recorded in a small bedroom, with windows covered in plastic. They say you can hear snowmobile engines humming outside, beneath his “gravely voice” and "duct-taped Martin guitar."

He's a real Nowhere Man.

He spent four years in the Alaskan bush, only recently returning to the City to play where "people can hear it,” one blogger wrote.

* * *

Local Artists know him.

He had toiled many nights at Brooklyn's Bar 4 and Matchless before going to Bethel, Alaska.

Brooklyn Sidewalk he walked on.

In Alaska, he’s worked on rooftops and in waters fishing. On the ground, he’s cared for sled dogs.

In Brooklyn, he sings like a bear who just came out of hibernation. I live in the woods further north. I know that sound.

* * *

Lyrically I have no doubt when he sings.

Do you ever think about the time we snuck away to sea?

~ Falls

But I don’t know where Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan would go today.

He’s not Lady Gaga. Or Justin Bieber. He’s no Arcade Fire new media marvel. He’s not Taylor Swift. He’s not even Kanye West. He won’t be Grammy nominated. Far from it. But as I write this, I am further north. Far from LA.

I started wondering if there were more Alaskan hermits.

There's seconds left

They're only yours and mine

~ Further North

A Grammy blogger tweeted this just before nomination night:

“I can believe that

re: finding an Alaskan hermit whose music resonated with you in a profound way"

I told her about the Alaskan hermit after I showed her a Grammy project we demo'd, a visualization we made for the meaning of music Source pics:

* * *

Sometimes you only find a singer like this, last on a list like this.

That inspired me to write a note like this.

When it was safe to leave New York City, I drove through Scranton and Niagara Falls, places he had sung. Near where the winter storm chases you to Buffalo.

Streetlights pissing in the snow

~ Further North

On the road, you do see people and think:

you look like a bitter-hearted divorcee

~ Further North

He sung a lyrical truth. I think when you become a hermit, truth rises. Like on Bob Dylan’s farm.

Skeletons has a “sparse and haunting feel.” The Dylan feeling isn’t unwarranted. Revisit It Ain’t Me Babe. You can imagine someone leaving, further north, wondering if they’ll ever return.

I'm leaving town

I'm walking out tonight

I'm going further north

to go and hide away

from any sort of love

I'll build a life out of loneliness

and lust

and what little's left of pride

~ Further North

Perhaps he was serious when he sang: “I’m never going to speak to any of your kind again.”



These links don’t work. He's further north, far from cliché. But a fan did film him. He does exist.

Further North:

Ed .- he's trying to kickstart his next record @kickstarter under the name Great Elk:

Friday, November 26, 2010

There are days I never forget. This is one. Risk.

Word brought me to 94 St. Mark’s Place on a Tuesday night. “It’s underground. Performers of all kinds show up, each inspiring,” he started off.

That was enough for me from a guitar wizard.

Next door was the porch where the Rolling Stones had filmed Waiting for A Friend.

96/98 St. Mark's Place. The bar in the video is up the street at 132.

Time Capsule: 1981

Keith Richards, are you a friend?

Led Zeppelin's album cover Physical Graffiti was also photographed here.

WINDOW TYPOGRAPHY: The place actually has five floors. But they wanted "Physical Graffiti" to space just right.

96/98 St. Mark's Place: "5" floors, not "4."

St. Mark’s Place has a permanent history in New York punk, rock, counter-culture, Warhol Pop, and all that jazz.'s_Place

Thelonious Monk played at 2. Yoko Ono performed at 4. Lenny Bruce lived at 13. Velvet Underground was a houseband at Andy Warhol’s club at 19-25.

My brother in- law's portrait of Andy Warhol

Abbie Hoffman lived at 30. David Bowie, Cindy Lauper, Debbie Harry, and Joey Ramone bought their make up and punk attire at 33. 51 showed graffiti art by Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat (SAMO), breaking them into the mainstream (if you can call it that). Klaus Nomi, John Sex, Wendy Wild, The Fleshtones, and Fab Five Freddy performed at 57. Joan Mitchell painted at 60. Allen Ginsberg (& Beat friends), Shelley Winters, and Frank Sinatra drank at 75.

My brother in-law's portrait of Allen Ginsberg

Both Leon Trotsky and W. H. Auden lived at 77. Author Ishmael Reed lived at 79. 80 holds the American Gangster museum; there was an actual gangster shootout at 19-25. Lyonel Feininger, painter and caricaturist, lived at 85. We’ll get back to 94. Led Zeppelin and Rolling Stones were at 96/98 for that album cover or music video. Dumpling Man at 100 has been tasty. There's a belly dancer in 101 (where a poet once lived). New wave singer Klaus Nomi lived in 103, first celebrity (?) to die of AIDS in 1983. Commodore Levy abolished Navy flogging, lived at 107, and died there in 1862. Best hummus in town was said to be at 109. 113 has an Eat Me hot dog sign. The phone booth used to be a speakeasy secret entrance (shh). On Mondays, Jeff Buckley sang at 124 (The Sin-é). It then became the Irish bar Tua (Irish for "victory"). It competes with 125, next door, a serious beer bar called the Beligian Room.

These are addresses for just one New York street.

* * *

Tuesday Nights

94 ~ A venue for "independently produced (as in not affiliated with any of the major improv theaters) improv shows,” according to Wikipedia.

It reminded me of unmarked places where gypsies played jazz. Django was here. Inside, there were comedians, musicians, poets, writers, actors/actresses, dancers and cabaret style performers – outside you would never know there’s a theater downstairs. And it’s licensed for beer.

A hole in the wall? Downstairs.

I think I was only asked for $3 to enter. I came long after midnight. And what are the odds…that an erratic drunkard who nearly got booted out of Caffe Vivaldi, across town, also showed up. He would later heckle in the middle of a performance and get booted out.

Usually there’s no one like this at both Caffe Vivaldi or Under St. Mark’s Theater. Just my night!

The show must go on.

This is Penny’s Open Mic – this is a place where anything goes (almost). You can experiment to your heart’s content. Even if you want to play guitar in your underwear – as it happened in one case. There was also a woman dressed in a cat suit sitting next to me who later went on stage. A spoken word virtuoso, she ended her life's sketch with a paper airplane made from her portfolio picture thrown into the crowd. There it goes. Bye.

Tonight, someone is reading Edgar Allan Poe’s Raven from sheets of paper. I’d never heard it live but strangely had just read Gotham – a Pulitzer Prize winning history of New York. It cited the Raven in my previous night’s read. A sign? Turned out this is also the only poem host Penny Pollack committed to memory.

Christopher Walken also read the Raven - he's now nearing 800,000 views on YouTube.

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

There were people dancing like they came from Cirque Du Soleil afterhours. A Tricyle Theater troupe was in town.

There were people speaking slices of life, spoken word, what happened to them ("Estrangement"), as if it mattered, making one see things from a sharp lens. People who talked in rhythm. I am writing this one year later on memory. Each night has a theme. Risk was this night. I just remember the rhythm. The edge. And people dressed like punk.

I arrived after midnight on 11/11 in 2009. A day to remember. I'd always wanted to write a risky piece on "Estrangement" but who can outdo her? Many people could identify. A night of Risk couched it. The rhythm made it okay.

There was even a spoken word piece about suicide. Travelling south, seeing some schools where students were expelled for being gay, who later became suicidal. How topical that would become one year later.

The billing stated:

"Take a risk? What is a risk to you? When was the last time you took a risk? Artistically? Personally? What have you risked in the past? Has it payed off? Was it a big mistake? or the Best thing you ever did? Do artistic risks make you better? Scared or excited? Sing/dance/show a short film/do a monologue/tell a story about taking a risk or don’t use the theme at all and just enjoy another night of art at Pennys Open Mic!"

Risk made me look at things quite differently, made me deal with what I was going through. In a strange way, Risk healed me. Risk rapped at my door. This whole street's history came from Risk.

What is this. you ask?

It's the world's smallest stage

It adds drama

It fits any small as you can go for an Artist.

It's her bar. And Penny has bartended the Odessa

You can stand on it or... in it for Open Mic.

You can take it anywhere...Across an ocean, somehow she landed here.

* * *

The Hootenanny at Penny's Open Mic this night was American Pie where everyone went up on stage to sing.

"A long, long time ago, i can remember how that music used to make me smile."

No music stands

The Hootenanny in New York was first held by Pete Seeger and friends to help raise money for rent. It’s an Appalachian word for “ things whose names were forgotten or unknown.” Synonyms might be thingamajig or whatchamacallit.

It became an old country word for “party” and later became known as a folk-music party. Firefighters once used the word to mean a “meeting of the minds.” The Open Mic evolved from this and in many ways embodies all those definitions.

Tuesday nights at the Bitter End were among the most famous Hootennanys in Manhattan. These days, I only think of two: Kate’s Open Mic (Caffe Vivaldi, Mondays) and Penny’s Open Mic (Under St. Mark’s Theater, Tuesdays).

Both have lasted several years in New York City – the longest continuous shows with many performers (without the words Lion King). Both yielded tight knit communities and invite newcomers. This is when your name is Robert Zimmerman before becoming Bob Dylan. When you and I and he or she are the same.

If I were to use a metaphor to describe Penny’s Open Mic – I can only think of Patti Smith. The musicality you will experience comes in many forms. Music, dance, poetry, spoken word, comedy…I know Patti is not all of these. But the ethos is the same.

my brother in-law's portrait of Patti Smith

1987 TRYPTIC: Miles Davis, Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe. Photographed by my brother in-law. I think they'd be a fit for 94 St. Mark's Place.

New York Magazine recommendation of 94 St Mark's Place (July, 2010)

If Led Zeppelin can alter reality at 96/98, then Penny's Open Mic can too, next door at 94. This whole blog got inspired by that one line.

I won a door prize that night but didn't claim it. The show was too good of a deal. I didn't want to take away anything else. There are days I never forget. This is one. Risk. And I am grateful.

PS Penny’s show No Travel travelled to Scotland where she, Killy Dwyer and Scout Durwood represented New York City. Their expedition got funded by Kickstarter.

Have gotten to know Killy's work virtually online