12-31-04, 8:00 AM -
Working on New Year's Eve. Ain't it a kick in the rocks?
The sky hangs darkly and drearily over Brooklyn, as seen from my subway window in Borough Park. I like that the tracks are elevated here, if only for a while. The slowest part of the journey is heading back underground, through what appears to be the storage yard for all of those lumbering yellow construction & repair trains I hate so much. It reminds me of walking past the Republican convention (dang, how long ago does THAT feel?). It's not the most scenic ride, but truthfully it's better than the black tunnel walls I see on the rest of the trip.
Played a good tsunami-relief show with my friend Doug Kwartler at the Baggott Inn last night. The sight of me with a bass on my back is getting to be quite familiar in the area of the Village just south of Washington Square Park. Soon they'll give me my own mural, or at least a lamppost mosaic. Which would really help pay the bills, I'll tell you.
The train is actually less crowded right now than it was last night. Ain't no tourists up at 8AM on New Year's Eve, I reckon. The Wifely and I certainly weren't when we were tourists for New Year's 2002 (damn, that seems like a REALLY long time ago). And since New Year's 2004 is now an eon past, I reckon it's time to take stock.
If 2003 was the year of charging forward, then certainly 2004 was the year of stepping back a bit. Not backtracking, really, but rather being more deliberate than manic. It needed to happen. One can't turn one's life upside down for two years and expect to keep that pace up indefinitely. I hate to say it, but I think I grew up a little in 2004. Actions taken in consideration of consequences...damn, I AM growed up. About time, too. I guess 30 does that to you. Something about one's adulthood being around for a decade to scrutinize. You have to explain yourself to yourself, and you can't just say, "I was a kid." Nice growing there, slappy.
This year began with twin initiatives, the promotion of texas and the recording of Dorian's EP, the former giving me a very different perspective on the music industry as it stands now & the latter beginning my new careerlet as a bass sideman. The winter was about club gigs, and the summer about playing in NYC parks, an interesting experience indeed.
In 2004 I underwent the most profound political immersion of my lifetime thus far, and educated myself about our world and its history in a way that will likely affect me deeply for the rest of my life. Here's hoping that's a good thing.
Through all of these experiences, I began to think about life in the long term rather than the immediate, an unusual condition for musicians. But given the present state of the music industry, it's one that I hope more musicians will take, thus cutting down on nervous breakdowns and the general population of nomadic near-vagrant disappointed souls wandering our world. In making the shift myself, I've put myself in a position to make the next batch of albums with something approaching order and consistency. But as always, we shall see.
So how does 2004 stack up? Hard to say just yet, but I certainly prefer it to a number of years already past. I have the feeling that 2005 will kick its ass, but then one never does know for whom the boot kicks. At the present time, it's kicking in my direction as we pull into the Broad Street station. It suppose it's the last time I'll work for these bastards this year. Praise Pete for small mercies. And for 2004.
1-1-05, 4:15 PM -
It's been a long time since I've seen a sunset in Sunset Park. It's still on 44th Street, just like me, but it's now six avenues away instead of two. Still, that sort of distance doesn't keep sentimentalists like me away easily.
The view is still as sweeping as I remember it. Manhattan stretching off to the right, the harbor and Staten Island on the left, and in the middle, the Statue of Liberty holds her torch up above the horizon of the New Jersey mainland, highlighting where New York ends and the rest of America begins. Sometimes it looks as if France erected a large warning buoy at the water's edge.
I've had a couple of good sunsets recently, the last being yesterday at the South Street Seaport near my job in Lower Manhattan. Nice to get off early enough to watch one. This one today's a little better, since I'm in my comfy clothes & there are no helicopters landing on any piers up here.
One of the most enjoyable things about a New York sunset is watching daylight give way to city light. I like watching the process happen, which it does in increments rather than all at once. One light here, another one there, all realizing at different moments that the sun has picked up its coat and is heading for the exit.
I watch each of those lights as they wink on. I think about what might be happening under their illumination. My mind fights to juggle twin concepts: The dreary repetition and mundane speech that I believe most people accept as life, and my belief that amazing things can happen in unlikely places. While watching the waking of the New York lights, I try to veer toward the latter. If legends be believed, the ratio of bright lights to dim is closer to even in this city, so I hope I'm not fooling myself.
One thing the one-by-one nature of the city illumination does is make me think of the local nature of each light. Yes, they're part of the New York skyline, but in truth, they're only there to light a small place.
I don't often think of myself in a local sense. Partially it's a condition of having been raised in the television era, but more likely it's because I've spent most of my life feeling out of place in small communities, and therefore drew larger circles to belong in. Rather than thinking of myself as a Texan, New Yorker, or even an American, I prefer to choose musician or writer, giving myself a community that is not only inclusive, but far broader in scope than a geographic designation.
But the fact is that most lives, and to a large extent mine, are spent on the local geographic level. My presence physically, if not mentally, is affecting lives around me every day in the little corners of New York where I work and live. I'm a seat on a Greenwich Village barstool, I'm a stop on a Chinese delivery route, I'm one guaranteed lunchtime yogurt sale a day at a cafe, and judging from the wide eyes, I'd be very surprised if I'm not a brief topic of conversation for at least two children a day at the Yeshivas Boyan school. The list goes on.
I don't know if much would change if my outlook shifted from universal to local. The people I come into contact with regularly would likely know my name, perhaps my profession, and might have some idea what I believe, if I happen to know it myself, but for the most part my actual impact would still be more physical than mental. Unless of course a personality connection was made, which due to the common mundane contents of most conversations as I mentioned before is a bit needly-haystacky. But then we apply the amazing-things-in-unlikely-places idea, and one never knows. Hell, I met my friend Paul while he was serving me drinks at about the most mundane bar I ever walked into.
Now that I've been here a while and made the disheartening discovery that New York has absolutely no shortage of mediocrity, it's hard to remember that when I came to this city, it was with a hope of finding more people on my wavelength. To be fair, I have found a few, but in truth, the number of people I can really connect with has remained smaller than the number I found in Texas. Granted, I did have 28 years there to build up the roster, so I haven't given up hope.
It is, however, a daily chore to remember that this city has, in fact, one of the highest concentrations of intelligent people in the world. Because it also just happens to be full of fucking morons.
Albert Einstein once said, "Only two things are infinite: The universe and human stupidity. And I'm not sure about the former." Albert had spent several years working in a patent office, so unlike many academics, he knew about people. Really, though, the sentiment was put better by Tommy Lee Jones in Men In Black: "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it."
So as I sit here mulling a universe of New Year's resolutions, I think I may put one a bit higher on the list: Find more smart people. Not nuclear physicists necessarily, just people who really think about the world instead of believing that what is should be and will always be, and that anyone who says otherwise is a space alien. Connections with others do happen within the larger drawn circles, but one must remember that the smaller circles are inside the big ones. Looking back out at the lights, I have to think there's at least one illuminating a thinker. Even out here in Brooklyn, where the sun casts its last light on rows of houses lined up both elegantly and oppressively next to each other.
The Christmas decorations still straddle 5th Avenue, but the temporary suspension of the ordinary brought by the holidays will soon dissolve, and life will go on in this very local place. And I will try, on the advice of Yoda, to not always look away to the future, but to sometimes keep my eye on where I am. Though it may take some time to figure out what that means.
So far, 2005 looks about the same. And for now, it is. But soon, people will begin to move along their own paths, changing the world in a million imperceptible ways, until the year looks very much and only like itself. I'll be happy to be a part of it, and I hope you will, too. Happy New Year, everyone. Show us what you've got.