8-24-05, 9:24 PM -
Dang. Two months since my last missive. That's a record or something.
Though since I last wrote, the city remains unchanged, which is to say that it's still constantly in motion. Right now it's performing one of its more remarkable maneuvers, where it magically transforms from absolute hellhole into one of the most amazing and fascinating places on Earth.
It's not merely a matter of the temperature and humidity falling, though that is a part of it. Certainly without the misery of walking in the kitchen-sink-sponge closeness and sweat, one is more inclined to look up and see what there is to see. What there is to see can vary depending on your locale, but seldom will you find a completely featureless street in Manhattan and most of Brooklyn.
I've mentioned before that I find the sun's angle more aesthetically pleasing here than in my home state of Texas, or indeed anywhere in the South. Even in the heat of the afternoon, light tends to creep around corners, casting odd shadows and giving the world a somewhat theatrical appearance, rather than the get-out-of-my-way-motherfuckers approach that Southern sun takes. This pleasing Northern angle does not, however, prevent the humidity from reaching such insane proportions that one may be prompted to put on a diving bell, or at least carry around a vacuum cleaner to suck off the sweat that appears on the skin but does not dissipate, leaving a greasy film that September alone will remove.
But with the departure of said hellish conditions (hopefully for the year), it's now very easy to appreciate the gorgeous dark blue sky & round, textured clouds careering overhead. The sun casts its playful light on crevasses old and new in the city's nook-and-cranny architecture on every street, and the East River views from around my workplace in Lower Manhattan are really quite extraordinary. So too is the view from the elevated D train between our stop in Borough Park and the end of the line in Coney Island, a summer must-see that our current proximity has made much more accessible this year.
Although truthfully, I've only gone to Coney Island twice this summer, and it's August freaking 24th, so I'd better get on it. Apart from the ocean view, the people-watching is great, in a sick and twisted kind of way. This is no beauty beach, for sure. This is everyone else, which is probably why I like it. Like its neighbor Brighton Beach, Coney Island is treated like a local backyard, comfortable and unpretentious. It also sports some of the best cheap fried food in the city, from clams to shrimp to Jamaican meat patties and beyond. Top it off with a Corona in a paper cup, and you've got yourself a good time.
Speaking of crappy paper cups, I must mention that one of the big frou-fa-rahs in town recently has been the introduction of--heavens, no!--a 7-11 in the middle of Manhattan. I'm now going to piss off a large portion of New York and give myself some negative artiste points by saying WHO GIVES A FLYING MONKEYFUCK? Friends, it is not like your local bodega has been doing you any favors. If they can be bothered to give you a drink or candy bar that isn't deathly stale or otherwise dusty and contaminated, you've been blessed with a better corner store than I have in three years of living here. That is if you can get to the fridge case at the back of the store, down an aisle a mere two feet wide, filled with indecisive and confrontational locals, holding up items they've bought every night for ten years and asking how much they cost. And that's before the tattooed teenagers come barging through the door begging for onesies, picking up all the gum at the counter with their sweaty hands and putting it back to rot until some unsuspecting schlub picks it up to get the Coors Light smell off his breath before work.
In truth, the sort of kosher wilderness we live in out here in Borough Park has made gentile food something of a rare delicacy, and earlier this evening I found myself on the D train headed down three stops where--Pete preserve us--a 7-11 sits right by the train tracks. The pregnant lady who lives in my room made mention of a Slurpee, and by gummit, I wanted something good & cracker-ass myself.
What's weird is how the 7-11 feels like a different universe to me. Because the only time I've ever been in a 7-11 prior to tonight was during my 28-year existence in Texas. Even in the middle of Brooklyn, it felt positively bizarre to walk out of the exact same 7-11 layout I've seen all my life and not get into a car. Freaked me the hell out, seriously. Plus the damned Slurpee wouldn't stay fully iced up on the trip back, which of course was longer than it would've been on rubber wheels rather than steel ones. Nonetheless, the bulk of the drink remained Slurpeed, & a quick fresher-upper in the freezer when I got home put it in the right configuration. Preggo craving crisis averted.
Many who receive this letter have written me recently, concerned that I don't talk about the whole baby thing very much online. Truthfully, that's because my wife is doing it so much better than I do.
Wifely's done a site redesign since my last letter, and has been posting like crazy on the subject of parenthood, among other things. Honestly, I haven't had a thought about the kid that hasn't at some point come up in her writings, apart from the logistical life stuff, which is of course the domain of the non-pregnant spouse, and which is about as boring as warm spit to read in your Inbox, so I've spared you. The fact is, we're making plans. Big plans.
And oh, I mean BIG plans.
I've spoken of these plans to some of you, in varying levels of detail, but now that I've put you onto the Wifely's new site, it really does me no good to keep the cat in the burlap sack for the rest of you:
Come January, we're moving back to Texas.
HOLY MOTHER OF SHITSTICK! CROWN PRINCE HINDUBURGER ON A TRICORNE HAT! WHAT THE...HOW THE...WHAAAAAAA??
Yes, you heard right. We've completely lost our motherfucking goddamned minds. Again. The first time, of course, was when we decided to come up here. Which, as it turned out, was the best possible thing we could've done. We really, really, REALLY needed to shake off our old lives, old selves, old assumptions, old comforts, and do some serious self-discovery. And as this periodic letter and the Wifely's journal have shown, that's exactly what we've done.
Through that process, we've whittled down a mountain of hang-ups, anxieties, and autopilots to find what it is that we truly cannot live without. In my case, the essential thing is to write and record music with the greatest possible convenience, ease, and time. These three properties are starkly lacking in New York City. In fact, it's probably more difficult to make music here than anywhere else in America, at least the way that I do it. Sure, I can find jam sessions and music collectives all over the place, but to just have a room, a space, where me & my music can breathe freely...that simply doesn't exist here. I mean, I have this little closet that passes for a studio, but Pete help me if I need to get another player in here.
Which is another thing. While making my preliminary tracks and charts for the new album, I've been making a wish list of people I'd like to play on it. 75% of them are in Texas. While I've made some great musical friends here (and will definitely be putting them on the record), I find that I still work best with those I grew up learning music with. It's just the truth, and no amount of look-to-the-future inspirationalism will change that.
You might at this point say, "Well, couldn't you fly down for a few weeks and record their parts, then finish the album in NYC?" You would be astute to observe this. What you do not know is the rest of the plan.
Being a temp with no college degree and no real field of dayjob-career specialty, my earning potential is not spectacular. Given my prodigious clerical skills, it's not bad, but it ain't mind-blowing. The research we've done makes it pretty clear that any decent daycare we could afford for our new arrival would cost more than I could ever make doing what I've been doing. It's a nasty fact, but it's better to know it than not. However, what I can do, and what I do know, is recording. Thus, my new dayjob: Running my own recording studio, to be operated on nights and weekends after taking care of the kid all day.
Ah, now you see the dilemma. How can one run a recording studio in one's shitty-ass apartment in New York City? How, indeed. So we need some space. Some cheap space. Sounds like Texas to me.
We are not, however, going back to Dallas. Dear Pete on a crossbow bolt, I've had enough of that fucking place. Nor are we returning to Fort Worth, nice little town that it is, but utterly bereft of decent jobs for my wife. We considered my hometown of Weatherford briefly, but ceased when we came upon a brilliant idea: Austin.
The truth is, I've nearly moved to Austin twice before. Once was in 1995, after the breakup of my first band, when I felt I needed a fresh start. The move proved too costly for my meager bookseller income at the time, and fortunately, I stayed where I was long enough to hook up with my wife. The second near-move was in 2001, when the Wifely and I were looking for somewhere, anywhere to shake us up and revitalize us. Turned out that Austin wasn't different enough from D/FW to be worth the effort, so we decided on NYC.
But now, we are presented with a unique situation. We have both enough money and enough need for the familiar-but-not-too-familiar to make Austin a reality. And best of all, it would be only a three-hour drive to the little one's grandparents back home, so we're not completely without a support structure.
Yes, this plan carries a degree of risk. Wifely could have a difficult time getting a job. We could have a difficult time finding a house. The transition could be--WILL be--a complete pain in the ass. But I tell you this: I HAVE LIVED IN NEW YORK GODDAMNED CITY. I mean, I have been tried by fire. I have been impaled upon Satan's gigantic roasting stick and sizzled till I'm crispy with pain & suffering. This town has thrown damn near everything it's got at me, and I've either dodged it, caught it smack in the face, or blocked it with a projectile of my own, and by Pete, I'm still alive to tell the tale. I'll be damned if I'm gonna be scared of Austin, Texas, or anywhere else in this country. I am as armored against catastrophe as I will ever be.
Kurt Vonnegut said few things more true than this: "Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard."
This city is something that I wish everyone could experience for at least one year of their lives, preferably two or three. It is completely impossible to look at life the same way as you did before moving to this crossroads of all humanity. Nonetheless, it was in the middle of my third year here that I began to feel a saturation, the sort of feeling you get when the gas pump turns off by itself because the tank is full: It's done. New York has given me all it can. Now I must take what I've learned and make a life somewhere. My life. Whatever form it may take.
And at least for the short term, that means a house and child, Mister Mom by day and Mister Recording Engineer and Artiste by night. I've been reading up on soundproofing, and I'm reasonably sure that I can pull off late night sessions in a converted garage without disturbing small ears or those of the neighbors. And I've been researching Austin-area house prices, which, though inflated, are within the realm of reason for our modest means. Thanks to our housing partnership with deanpence here in Brooklyn, we've managed to pay off our debt and make some substantial savings to speed us on our way. We shall see what we shall see, and I'll keep you posted as developments develop.
In fact, speaking of our roommate, I have some news that involves neither big plans nor bringing children into the world. In fact, it mostly involves unrestrained vulgarity, forceful statements of opinion, and offensive accents. I hereby present the inaugural episode of the deanpence cornhole show.
This is a podcast featuring deanpence and myself, and as its title suggests, is not for Disney-aged little ears. Not that it's Howard Stern or anything, but it ain't Sesame Street either. We mostly drink some beer, turn on the mics, and have ourselves a discussion. Topics range from embarrassing pieces of personal history to politics to the arts to the occasional piece of original music. And really, hearing deanpence and I sing the dean-penned Battle Hymn of the Pimp with full Radio Shack keyboard orchestration is an experience well worth your time.
We're both brand new to podcasting, but I think we've turned out something entertaining and somewhat informative. But mostly entertaining. Enjoy...
8-28-05, 4:13 PM -
As I write this, the catastrophe that has been predicted by so many for so long is preparing to unfold down in New Orleans, not too far from my home state. I really hope that everyone gets out, though by the time anyone reads this, it'll be too late.
It makes me think about my own proximity to the ocean here in Brooklyn. The New York Press printed a rather terrifying piece a few weeks ago warning that the NYC area is also overdue for a major hurricane. They tend to hit in 80-year intervals, and the last one--about 80 years ago--was incredibly devastating, though it didn't even hit New York head-on. The one before that completely wiped out an island that once stood just off the coast of Coney Island, which at that time was not very densely populated. Supposedly, a direct hit now would send floodwaters to within a mile or less of my neighborhood, according to a disaster planning map drawn up by state agencies. And of course, that's just a guess. It could be quite a bit worse. Manhattan would be hit hard regardless, leaving a small two-block strip of unflooded land in the middle of the island. Many parts of Long Island would be swamped as well. While I don't like to sit around and dwell on worst-case scenarios, I will feel a bit better when we're landlocked again. Though that's where the bloody tornados are. You can't win.
A bit of news on the musical front: I'm playing a solo acoustic show at Southpaw in Brooklyn this Wednesday, August 31st at 8:30PM. I'll be opening for Hamell On Trial, whom some of you in NYC and Austin may remember from his relentless touring and Friday night Electric Lounge residency during the 1990s. Well, he's still alive and kicking, so I encourage all to come out and take in the show. I'll be debuting some new material as well, so there's incentive as far as the eye can see. Looking forward to seeing you.
Got a new playlist up on the matthew show radio as well, for those who enjoy a little eclecticism in their radio experience. Check it out here.
The new playlist features a couple of tracks from the Warren Zevon tribute album Hurry Home Early, featuring my cover of Mohammed's Radio, which apparently is selling like hotcakes. It broke the top sellers list on CD Baby in its first week, and continues to hurtle off the shelves like those books in Ghostbusters. You remember, back when no one thought Bill Murray would ever qualify for an Oscar. Anyway, pick up a copy for your own self, you'll be glad you did.
Also, I've posted the last of our friend Paul's Letters From CA. Seeing as how he's moving back to NYC this week, I figure I'd better get this sucker up there for a few days of relevance. Enjoy.
Dang, I need something to eat. Hold on...
5:31 PM -
Ah. Better. Picked up some fruit at the local Jewish market, and returned to find freshly-baked cookies made with Wifely love. Mmm, tasty.
I'd like to extend hearty greetings, salutations, and thanks to all who performed and spectated at the Hollow Body Studios Roots Music Festival on July 30th. Rorie Kelly, John-Flor Sisante, Deborah Lombardi, Seth Davis, and of course my faves the Northerners all put on a heck of a show, and the crowd was great. Those not in attendance didn't get to see me bookend my set as pretentiously as possible with Pink Floyd's Pigs on the Wing duology, always appropriate for people who just really like playing in G. Many thanks to Doug Kwartler and Michael Leuci for backing me up on Union Station, also in G. Them Yankee boys sure do have some redneck in 'em.
I should probably wrap this up, as I watch the sun get a little dimmer. So much happening, it's hard to know what to include and what to leave out, but suffice it to say that I'm very busy, so I'll make no promises as to when the next missive will be sent. There could be another little presence in the house by that time, or maybe still an impending one, but really, apart from the walls of my wife's belly, he's already here. I say "he" because the last ultrasound we got seems to confirm that he's a boy, though of course we're keeping girl names handy just in case. And no, I'm not telling you what names we're talking about. Right now he's known as Herkimer, just so we've got something to call him that isn't "the baby".
The kid's still en route for the couple of weeks around Halloween, so it won't be long at all now. As I said before, Wifely's got the most frequently updated information, so go visit her.
I'm going to eat another cookie and do some monkeying around in this here studio. Gotta know what I'm doing, I reckon, not just for my record but for future customers. To paraphrase the ever-paraphrased Ferris Bueller, sometimes life moves pretty fast. Seatbelts on, here we go...