It’s stopped raining, and with that I take the last beer in my fridge to my apartment’s small balcony. I like the earthy aroma that rains kick up, which I’m told is from bacteria spores lying dormant in the ground until a summer storm churns them into the air. In Brooklyn, you don’t always get such a natural delight, especially in smells, but my tiny balcony overlooks Greenwood Cemetery, which is old and larger than most of the city’s parks. The brief afternoon storm has driven everyone off the grounds. Usually, at dusk I see art students in groups with their sketch pads and charcoal, tourists, neighborhood walkers, and, here and there, one or two folks paying respects to the deceased.
The dead are not in the well-kept ancient graveyard, either. But, they wouldn’t be. That’s not where they horribly died, if they died horribly. I’ve been privy to dealing with and studying the dead for nearly twenty-five years. They don’t hang around cemeteries.
I wrote a short ghost story! Soon I will have edited it! Then, I’ma gonna post it here! I’ma gonna post it here so good, y’all are gonna lose your natural minds! So, all 1 to 0 of you that catch this post, get rapt. Get rapt, y’all!
To be clear, this is a short story with a ghost in it. Not a story about a short or otherwise diminutive ghost. Damn it, it is in fact about a ghost of someone who was short, but that isn’t what I’m talking about when I say “short ghost story.” You diggy?
A year and a half-ish. That’s a long time for a blog to go quiet. Most of the people I’ve written about in these pages are gone. Nearly every one of them. You’re all gone now. It makes sense. This was mostly about Southern and/or country-ish music. I don’t really get out to see anybody play anymore. No time.
I write now. I’ve been working in earnest on a novel. I think I’ve mentioned it a couple of times in previous posts. It’s a ghost story. I like it so far. Maybe I’ll make this blog about that. Is that interesting? To talk about my wannabe writer life? Maybe I’ll comment on some shit I see out there in the world and on the news. I’ve decided not to let this blog die, even though with everybody gone I feel like it should.
Here’s a Southern gent I can’t get enough of right now.
A thousand years ago I was a kid in a trailer park hoping to hear a voice. I had thought it’d be Jesus. He was who all the other park kids were hearing. But no Jesus ever came knocking on my heart.
I watched the Christian Slater movie Pump Up the Volume, a film about having a voice. My young self ate it up. Slater as Happy Harry Hard On broadcasted a pirate radio signal out from his basement bedroom, and played all the music our parents were afraid to let us listen to, telling us we are all fine, we’re ok. Talk hard, he said. There I heard a voice. To open every broadcast HHH played “Everybody Knows” by Leonard Cohen.
Back then, a thousand years ago, in my Podunk hometown I had to go searching desperately for Leonard Cohen. They didn’t carry his CDs at Walmart or Kmart. They had the soundtrack to the popular flick, but Cohen was not on it. Just a Cowboy Junkies cover of his song. However awesome the official movie soundtrack was, it wasn’t giving me the voice I was longing to hear. It wasn’t until I could drive and have access to Atlanta that I finally possessed Cohen’s album “Various Positions.” Probably the first thing I sought out and bought in Atlanta’s ultra-hip Little Five Points neighborhood from a record store that I’ll love forever, though I can’t remember its name. The CD doesn’t contain “Everybody Knows.” I bought it for “If It Be Your Will,” also on the Pump Up the Volume soundtrack, and the one to ensnare my baby bear heart.
I skipped school just to listen to the record over and over. That’s not an exaggeration. I did that.
I started writing then.
I met a girl, introduced her to his music. It helped more than I could to make her mine. We would lie down in bed and just listen to his records as we acquired them. We laid and listened through our young love, through our not as young love; through the parting where we remained friends, and through the rekindling where we finally learned who we are and what the words meant. We listened in her health, and in her sickness. I laid and listened while I mourned. “Suzanne” was our song, but “Take This Longing” was always my song to her.
I’m not much for pilgrimages, but on my way to meet a friend in Manhattan I passed in front of Chelsea Hotel. I knew I’m where I’m meant to be. I wished she were here.
I have studied Leonard Cohen. I listened to his records so much that I don’t listen to them anymore. They’re all in my head. I poured over his poetry. I went hungrily to his ancient website The Leonard Cohen Files, which still exists to my surprise. I read both of his novels, and a few biographies on the man. I’ve heard a few things from his very first band, a Canadian country outfit called The Buckskin Boys. I read of his time as a monk on Mount Baldy, this Jewish man who loved Catholic imagery so.
I didn’t tear up for Bowie, or Prince. They’ve held my enormous respect and interest, but L. Cohen has my baby bear heart. His passing is the only “celebrity” death to garner real tears from me. Well, maybe Gene Wilder’s death, but only in tandem with Gilda.
Anyway, I loved the man, or the myth of the man we all delighted in. I’m glad he was at peace with death. It’s nice to think that death was kind enough to have made an introduction, to have sat and drank tea with L. Cohen before carrying him up to the tower of song.
I hadn’t been to Hank’s Saloon in years. It is a hole in the wall dive in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill neighborhood. Or maybe they’re calling that area something different now, I don’t know. It’s a block or two over from America’s worst Target store at Atlantic Center. Maybe you know it as where Barclays arena is, but if you ask me about the area, it will forever be where that fucking Target is. What am I posting about, again? Just start the song, and get back to me below it.
Garbage and Beauty. (The beauty is on top, the garbage is in the trash can under it.)
Oh, yeah, Ruby Rae whose refreshingly straight forward rock’n’roll performance has put me in this “fuck ’em” state of mind. A friend hit me up, said she’s going to see ’em at Hank’s, and that it’s near a particular Target. I said I know the joint. Hank’s hasn’t changed. Its Christmas-lights-lit ceiling reveals just enough of the found junk that adorns the walls to bring us to that exquisite place where beauty and garbage meet.
Front-woman Abby Hannan, I’ve heard it told, hails from Massachusetts, but I could swear by her rockabilly leanings that she rose up from the Okefenokee itself. Or, hell, maybe even cut her teeth playing just outside the French Quarter before or after Mardi Gras when them frat fucks or Daytona rednecks are gone away. Point being, she brought a rowdy and boisterous raucous to the tiny venue. Ruby Rae’s hard slamming fits and voodoo energy put a spell on the tiny and cramped stage, and opened it up. They made the scene feel expansive. Not like a bare and open plain, but the intimacy of a meeting in the woods where the wild is confined only by the outlying wilds. Such is the dark magic of good rock’n’roll in the tiny pockets of New York City.
Internationally he was known as El Tigre. (this is not made up)
I met Mike Windham in the early 2000s, but had heard tales of him for years prior when I lived in Atlanta. His daughter is my best friend. She beamed when she spoke of him, and I must say I liked the man, too. What struck me first about him was how little fat there was in anything he said. Every word from him was necessary toward his meaning. Yet, he wasn’t dry. He was not a serious man. He was too intelligent for that.
Last week he lost his fight with cancer. My heart goes out to my best friend and her family who are rocked and robbed by this disease. I know a good man’s gone.
El Tigre held dominion over all cucurbitaea, which enabled him to rally and command pumpkins, gourds, and squash. (also, not made up)
We traded books. I still talk about the first thing he recommended for me to read, Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” I was surprised and thrilled when he read the first thing I recommended to him, Nick Tosches’ “The Devil and Sonny Liston.” He gifted me a subscription to The New Yorker when I moved here, so as to help me acclimate to the city. I returned the favor by signing him up to the Oxford American. He told me he was glad I was doing this blog. He was my first vocal supporter. Kindness and faith in his family and friends, those things he took seriously. He was smart like that.
Amanda Neill of Barefoot & Bankside, asked me to impart: “While I don’t have the words to heal, I do know, somehow, strangely, music has the power of soothing. My prayers are for you, your family, and my friend Jody.” El Tigre has told me on more than one occasion how he enjoyed her songs.
When I learned he was to start chemotherapy, I knew he’d be spending many hours a day in a chemo chair. I asked the musicians I was just getting to know from doing this blog if they’d donate some music and merch to a care package I was putting together for him as he very much enjoyed their music, and they were gracious enough to do so. I sent it to him with two of my favorite books (“Sometimes a Great Notion” by Ken Kesey, and “Shadow Country” by Peter Matthiessen), and some special mouthwash to counter the cotton mouth I knew to be a side effect of the chemo treatments. I hoped for him, and I hoped for my best friend.
It is unfair.
El Tigre knew exactly how to set the scene.
He let me know how much he enjoyed the blog, and how much he enjoyed my writing regularly. It was an honor that made me bashful. He was the best kind of reader. It’s a rare thing to feel that kind of support when you know you’re nobody. I don’t say that cynically. I mean to convey what it’s like to be cared about by that man. He makes you feel like somebody.
Every time I was able to hangout with him and through our correspondence he made me laugh. In fact, when his daughter told me he had gone, the first thing that went through my head was a time when we were at her place in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and her visiting father spat his chewing gum at her apropos of nothing, but to signify that he was very bored. It was the first time he’d made me laugh so hard from the gut that I couldn’t stop. I think it’d have pleased him that my first reaction to his death was to replay this moment in my mind all day.
Should you see his daughter, spit your gum at her. She probably won’t get the homage, but it’d make me laugh.
Mike Windham was strange and brilliant. He was a good thing in this world. He saw a good thing in me, and this blog. In those moments that I would seriously reconsider whether or not I have the time and inclination to continue writing here, it was his encouragement, his enjoyment of how I write and what I write about that has helped keep this going. I always knew at least one person was reading my stuff, and that it was the best kind of reader doing so. And to know his daughter, equally strange and brilliant, is to know he was the best kind of father. He is missed.
As you know, Barefoot & Bankside had their last show ever, what with Jamey “Brother” Hamm leaving for Alabama and all. I recorded their closing song with my phone and futzed with it in some editing software as a learning project, and decided to show off my rudimentary skillz. So, please enjoy the very last performance of fan favorite “Make Me Stay” by Barefoot & Bankside.
It seems an apt tune as I reboot this little blog o’ mine. And, so, my apologies to the two or three of you that read this. Since the last time I wrote in these pages, Brooklyn has lost some good folks. It began with Matt “Cracked” Frye who’s down North Carolina way now. Then ol’ Alex Mallett wandered west to Kansas City. Trisha Ivy went on back to Tennessee. Now it’s Jamey “Brother” Hamm’s turn. He, his wife, and their brood have pulled up stakes, and as of this writing they are currently ‘Bama bound. Everybody’s going home, it feels like.
Jamey “Brother” Hamm
While these folks were making their exits, I was working a lot at the shitty day job, keeping up with a nice gal, and trying to write a book. The blog fell to the side. There wasn’t any time for checking out bands, then writing, then editing, then putting together a multimedia post. Then the nice gal fell by the side. We hired new help at the day job, and I’m working less. So, now I’m in danger of having too much time on my hands. In the interim, I was sad to watch these musicians go. And, yeah, sad about the nice gal, too. It felt like the life I had built myself through TRS was dissipating. I suppose in actuality it was. I accept it, though. Not just because I have to, but because I understand it. The people of your life, they are a river. It’s like when ol’ Vonnegut wrote those three little words that sum up the whole of our personal experience in this world. You remember. He wrote, “So it goes.”
Celebratin’ Brother Hamm
I’ll miss the music of those fine singers and players. And the conversation. But Jamey’s going home is a big one. His band Barefoot & Bankside got this blog started. On May 29th, a Sunday, he had himself a farewell show at Littlefield in Gowanus. It was, like most solidifying moments, bittersweet. Brother Hamm had been here for almost a decade, and in that time had made a substantial mark on the Brooklyn Americana music scene. Literally everyone I’ve written about in these pages can be traced back to having met Jamey “Brother” Hamm at his coffee shop, Roots Café, in South Slope, which he made a nexus of southern/Americana culture in Brooklyn.
His farewell show was itself a musical history of Brother Hamm’s Brooklyn tenure. Beginning with a gospel duo he had started upon first moving here, he went on to fill the stage a la Talking Heads concert film “Stop Making Sense” with many of the performers he’d worked with through the years. It was, in short, a kickass night. A good way to see him off, as he’d picked the most appropriate way to see us off. I’ll miss him. I’ll miss all of them. So it goes.
Amanda of Barefoot & Bankside, and soon to be Amanda of just Amanda (She’s playing Threes Brewing June 22nd in a solo capacity.), now owns Roots Café with her husband. It’s where I do most of my writing, and I get to watch her welcome new folks to the neighborhood, to Brooklyn, to NYC. She makes them feel welcome. That’s a thing that doesn’t really happen to most of those fresh off the bus.
Possessed By Paul James
And wouldn’t you know it, as I was wondering if I should restart this blog, a friend let me know that Possessed By Paul James is in town. I found this musical entity when I first started this blog and fell in love with his album “There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely.” He’s out of Texas. And he don’t get much out of the Texas area, but for one night he was in Brooklyn. And I went to go to see him. And once again I was happy to see and hear an artist representing the absolute best of the South. I found myself back on that road home, that road that is home. It’s like when ol’ Robert Frost said those three little words that sum up the whole of human life. He said, “It goes on.”