Sunday, February 22, 2009

Before The Show, And After

Brooklyn doesn't want me to have a stereo so I drive the length of the New Jersey Turnpike with This American Life in one ear.  And It's cold in Philadelphia - not freezing, but the wind comes in detonations, shaking the car and then violently whipping the trees, so I sit for a long time in the driver's seat, just off of South Street, thinking about where to spend the next few hours.

I end up alone in the back room of a little Middle Eastern Place, where two men, the only other people in the place, talk about defense contracting in relation to the auto industry, and I keep picking up flakes of their conversation, but not enough to string it together.  And The waitress is polite, and it's early enough in the shift to have a pleasant conversation and get some advice on killing the following hours, but our exchanges are off, I can't hear right, and my words keep coming out sideways and upside-down. 

I eat slow, and have a text message conversation, read a page and a half of my book, and eavesdrop.  There's an old poster of images from Jerusalem on the brick wall above me and I look to see if I can recognize places from five weeks ago.  Eventually I'm full and leave and wander through the aisles of a three story arts & crafts store, florescent light flooding over the place, and a woman's voice on a loudspeaker, every five minutes, counting down to closing time. The place feels like a knot in the back, and I walk out with a roll of printing paper under my arm.

The show is fine, the bar is filled with people when I arrive, people a little older than me, that probably won't look up from their conversation as I play, but I trust that a few will, and the other bands, and my friends and fans will come and watch, and they do.

And after packing my guitar away, I have a long conversation with guy who approaches me and says he's from The Bay Area.  There is always a long conversation to be had with anyone else from the bay, and we talk about his industry - the newspaper industry - in relation to mine, and how they've been passed down for so long from creative folks who made the rules to left brainers who follow them into the dirt like the hand of God, folks that are rigid and stuck and can't change, and I tell him how I'm getting out, how I got this finished album that I recorded with a producer in Hollywood, and an engineer and top level session guys, in beautiful studios, and I'm gonna put it out myself, on my website, piece by piece, to prove that we can do it however we like, and he tells me how he is redefining his paper, was hired to do so, but with the economy how it is there isn't a place for him, even though he's the one that could trade their sails in for an engine, and we talk about the cold and how neither of us will spend another winter outside of California...

At some point I dismiss myself and walk into the street, past my car, parked on cobblestones, and up to Market. There's an old man on the sidewalk and I walk by him and turn back to see a couple behind him turning around as well.  He is hunched over so far, his nose is by his knees and he is trying to walk like that, saying "spare some change for the homeless."  I am struck and walk back to him and ask if he is okay. "I'm a veteran," he says, and I hand him the change in my pocket, and the couple approaches us and the woman asks in a serious but soothing tone, "Is it your back?" and he gives a slow nod, "Will it be better in the warm, inside?" and another nod. She is asking him all about where he can sleep that night while her husband or boyfriend is pulling out a wad of cash and she puts it in his hand, and we walk separate ways.

And back at the bar, between bands, waiting for it to be last call, so I can get paid my eighteen bucks and drive back to New York, I wander upstairs. Up through a thin light an into a dark room with chipping red and black walls adorned in paint-pen and sharpie, I find another bar lit with candles and a flashing TV and the conversation of a few locals, leaning over their drinks and moving a little to the wind of the music. There's a hip-hop beat, something from the early nineties, and it drags me up another short flight of stairs.  It's a song I've heard from year to year, from one incarnation of myself to the next, so I let it pull me around a corner, through a brick corridor, and before me, beyond the empty folding chairs and empty glasses on empty tables, high above the empty dance floor, there's a DJ, hunched over his turntables, presiding over a dark and empty room.