To New York, September 20th 2014
Onward up the eastern seaboard we go, the weather consistently glorious. Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey. We pass Baltimore’s scrappy skyline and skip across wide inlets densely forested on each bank. I imagine the fear and wonder of the Europeans sailing up these rivers into the unknown in the 16th century. We twist around the base of Manhattan, spotting emerald Liberty from the arc of the Verrazano Narrows bridge. The great “fuck-you” of Freedom Tower rises from the ashes of ground zero, ugly and crass compared to the streamlined simplicity of the twins it replaces. It’s odd to be driving straight into Brooklyn and not setting foot on the island. I may walk over the bridge tomorrow to rub Manhattan’s monumental grandeur into my eyes. The gig is surrounded by a swarm of hipster dipsticks, pushing prams and tousling each other’s angled fringes. I get clammy with old-gitness and grit my teeth at the rampant smuggery. We are forced to wait our turn to soundcheck as there are three separate shows on. Saturday night, New York City. Ram ‘em in, sweep ‘em out. I bristle at this as I like a venue to be mine for the duration. We will have to perform in front of another band’s backline like we’re fourth on the bill at some dreadful rock charity night. You know you’ve still got it when you still act spoilt.
While we’re waiting I stroll down to the edge of the East River and take in the splendid panorama, the Empire State dominating midtown like a concrete Christmas tree among stone shrubbery. A small wedding party arrives to take photographs, the planner in a floral summer dress fixing up an altar made of branches, the photographer pulling kit from her bag. I make an exit as a ghastly parade of pampered guests drifts down to the water to pose in front of the famous skyline. I don’t see the happy couple. There is indefinable noise all around me, the enormous city doing what it does, moving and making money. They have constructed a little artificial beach here and it’s populated by the affluent, mainly white, Brooklyn residents. It’s a lot like west London but somehow even more self-satisfied.
After a quick soundcheck I take a gander about the neighbourhood and mercifully find a locale free of the unspeakable yuppie, gym-toned hordes. When you see a Payless ShoeSource you know you’ve hit pay dirt. Gentrification is nibbling away here but I find enough scuzz to feel at home. At last there are immigrants, corner diners and cheap groceries. Ancient beauty parlours, nail bars and a 99 cent store. There is even a crazy hardware store run by Syrians on ketamine. It’s the old New York and I breathe, through the fog of the fumes, a sigh of relief. I take coffee in a neighbourhood café with swivel stools at a marble counter and baseball on a TV plonked precariously atop the chillers. It’s the Mets versus the Braves, New York against Atlanta. I could sit here all night, it’s cheap and it’s no-nonsense. Everyone has an accent and no one gives a fuck who you are. This is what this town is about; not lofts and duplexes but walk-ups and wonky sidewalks. A melting pot, sweating and bubbling, not a manicured metropolitan playground for graduates, trust funders and kid-on creatives. And who am I to judge? Well, I’m a musician. So fuck yous!
The show goes well or in any event, I enjoy it. I mess up my timing and have to drop the finalé to make curfew. As we come off stage we find the band on the late show comfortably ensconced in our dressing room. I feel like one of the three bears. Fuck off Goldilocks, we want to chill. I say hi to some old friends but we are soon evicted and out on the street. Some friendly punters get their photos taken with me before I jump into the van. A few blocks from the hotel I find an eatery and am served a Reuben so large I almost gag at the sight of it. I make as best a dent as I can, hacking away at it like a frenzied cannibal but the beast defeats me. The land of plenty is still capable of delivering cheap excess with a laugh and a twinkle. The night is beautifully warm at a minute past midnight. The incessant traffic sweeps past. Across the street FINE FOOD DELI flashes in dirty yellow neon. The radio plays dance music, SPOOM BTCH, SPOOM BTCH. Sirens whoop at irregular intervals and the cabs swim about like sharks looking for blood. I love this town.