All posts in January 2016

Storm Story

Today New York has been hushed by a blanket of virgin snow – this beehive city is slowed to the gait of a polar bear – and we are forced to make our hyper bodies halt beneath a blanket and just wait it out. Not sure why I need to write this blog,  am I just trying to get attention? I don’t think so, I also don’t even know if have your attention, or interest. Today I looked back a bit to see why I even began to do this, and found this story “Henry and Delores (hearsay from the East Village)” People say that a blog is supposed to be short and current, off the top of your head.  But that’s not what I had in mind entirely, I wanted to tell stories, and hone in on my writing a bit.  So here, in the snow, against all bloggers wisdom, I would like to give you a little story about my neighbours Henry and Delores.  Please let me know what you think. Pierce x

“Henry and Delores (hearsay from the East Village)”

I can’t remember exactly how he and I first spoke, it just seemed like we knew each other without initiation. I could tell that he knew I was a blow-in and also that he was retired from a good job that hadn’t been too hard on his hands or body; all presumption of course. Like all the other faces that I knew in the Village, Henry had become familiar through deduction. My curiosity had taken the information gathered from a thousand small encounters and logged it in the elaboration section of my mind – so close to the fact section that some of my suppositions fell in there by mistake. Nobody would die if I was wrong and we didn’t know each other well enough to have acquaintances that could loop my thoughts back to him decorated with trouble-making embellishments. So why not build a profile based on assumptions! Unfortunately Henry may have been doing the same thing with me, and somehow, somewhere, got a piece of rogue information, that later caused some disrepair between us.

Henry and Delores lived two buildings up from me on my small block, just after the mysterious Medina shop with nothing perceptible for sale and below the Polish diner called Neptune. He had always acted like he knew me, greeting me with a lop-sided knowing smile, he seemed to find me amusing without ever having shared our history. Of our course I found this very pleasant and tried to respond in a likewise manner. I often saw his wife Delores clutching her handbag and nipping along the Avenue with an agility that belied her age, she wore stylish black slacks and three-quarter length coats to match her permed hair and headscarf; making her look like she just walked off the set of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. She too smiled like she knew and liked me. I knew she was Henry’s wife, I had seen him drive slowly up to the front of their building in a cream-coloured Cadillac, and sit there staring straight ahead, patiently being impatient as old husbands do. Eventually Delores would come out smiling, place her small weekend case in the back, and slide in on the leather seat next to her quiet man, nothing needed to be said because of the marital bluetooth between their minds. Later she explained to my wife Clare that on those occasions they were heading out to Long Island where they had moved with there kids many years ago – holding on to their old Village apartment because they still had a yearning for the East Village buzz – it kept them young and in love.

When the weather was warm Henry liked to bring a chair out to the front of his apartment building and sit there with folded arms watching the world go by. He treated the Village passers by the same way as he did me. And they often responded in a likewise manner. Bringing your chair outside is an old New York tradition that stems from the days when large families lived in crowded apartments with no T.V. to watch or air-conditioners to keep them cool, it was an extension of the apartment, a ground level balcony, so to speak. This was the world that Henry and Delores had come from, and still clung to, albeit with the forward momentum of optimists.

Henry must have known that I was a musician somehow; perhaps – unbeknownst to me – my Italian neighbours, or even my Italian landlord had spoken to him about it in passing, I suppose it’s feasible that us Irish and English blow-ins are included in the Italian network of gossip, it had never crossed my mind, I had always assumed that it was just us observing them! He certainly showed no surprise when he witnessed me wall-papering posters on the wooden partition barring up the closed Bodega on the corner. It was constantly covered in a rash of loud ugly concert posters; as soon as one row was pasted, someone else came along and covered them with theirs. Professional poster companies always seemed to have a monopoly on these closed up premises for as long as they were shut. They came around every day and replaced the ones that were covered; it was effective, and soon the punk bands playing in CBGB”s and the New Wavers from the Peppermint Lounge caught on too. Black-clad musos with spiky hair and bovver boots could be seen late at night, outlined by the yellow lamplight and glare of passing cars – trying to maintain a modicum of cool while carrying a bucket of paste and a brush with a pile of small posters – keeping a wary eye out for the cops, as they tried to gain attention on walls covered with massive music industry names.

The cops had been cracking down on the small clubs, issuing tickets to them if one of their bands had posted bills for their event, rumor had it that the mafia were involved in the bigger bill postings and they were allowed to carry on without hassle, charging handsomely for the service. I had done the midnight poster run too with the Major Thinkers, wearing the crappiest clothes I could find, my band partner Larry Kirwan watching out for the cops while I pasted. He would slap the poster on then, while I kept an eye out. The next day we looked like we had sex with an elephant, our clothes covered in hard wallpaper paste, massive swathes of white stains.

But now I was a solo artist, an older and wiser man, I knew it was a mugs game, there were so many posters all on top of each other, it was impossible to stand out.

Henry sat outside on the edge of the pavement looking inward for a change, perhaps to look at me. What I was doing certainly was different. I had a gig coming up in my friends restaurant/bar called The Pharmacy over on Ninth Street and Avenue A. They used white paper to cover their tables instead of tablecloths, they simply threw the old one out and replaced it with a new one torn from the giant roll in the Kitchen. I asked Jan, one of the owners, for six big sheets off the roller, and took them over to the closed Bodega on my corner. I borrowed a stepladder as well and with bucket and paste I covered the busy obnoxious bills with white paper, creating a visual silence that was beguiling by comparison. An auxiliary policeman came along scratching his head (they tend to be clueless).

“So what’s going on here?”

“Oh I am just covering up this horrible eye sore.”

He stood back and lifted the front of his hat to appraise the job.

“Oh really I see, huh” and off he went.

I then took three of my 12” x 18” black and white posters with the date written on them and put them in the middle of the huge white space. I had a hunch that if I did this, it would stick out, and that no one would want to cover it up. I climbed down off the ladder and stepped back to admire my work, Henry – who was out later than usual sitting in the changing evening light

“Is that it?”

“Yep” I giggled

He leaned back on the rear legs of his chair and nodded with finality.

Part 1 of 3

David Bowie in Union Square

Bowie sing song in New York

There was a sing song of Bowie’s songs in Union Square on Friday night – a young attractive crowd seemed to know every word.

David Bowie is dead, and New York is reeling. Bowie’s effect on the city was similar to that of the writer-performer Quentin Crisp – another transported Englishman of note – but seeing Quentin Crisp wasn’t such a huge conversation piece, a Bowie sighting was reported with wide-eyed glee and hugeness. It was akin to saying you just saw President Obama on St Mark’s Place eating a slice of pizza. Descriptions flew around with abandon: “he was very old looking” “he had a big hat, and looked frail but smiled sweetly” “he sat quietly at the end of the bar and nursed a pint of Guinness while he stared into thin air”.

“There was a big kerfuffle by the small round table at the door, the waiters fussed and everyone stared towards the light that came sneaking in past the curtain when he and his entourage entered” – this is how my friend Lori described Bowie’s attendance at one of my gigs in Joe’s Pub over on Lafayette Street, not too far from where he lived (we now know) on one winter’s Saturday night. Apparently there was a little too much fuss – or it was too crowded – or he didn’t like the music – but they left after a few songs. This was my second brush with the great man, and in both cases he slipped in and left, leaving nothing but a story for me to pick at in search of more-ness.

The first time was a long time ago when Larry Kirwan and I had a band called Turner and Kirwan of Wexford, he being the K and I being the other. We had been trying to get a gig for ages at a hip club uptown called Hurrah. It was a very cool venue, one of THE venues in Manhattan for new wave music at the time. The snobby booker wouldn’t entertain our advances for a second, in spite of our reasonably high profile (the top station in the City W.N.E.W FM was playing our self-produced album to death). But eventually he grudgingly complied, giving us the worst day in the week, Tuesday!

We had a loyal following, and 150 of them turned up that night regardless of the inconvenience (youth is a great leveler) – however in a club that held 800 or so that didn’t look like a lot of people. It was shaped almost like an old fashioned ballroom, and our loyal friends sat around by the walls on the cinema style chairs, I have never known a groupie-like audience that would stand up front and stare.

We were a two-piece band – Larry played bass drum and guitar while singing, and I played high hat, clavinet and mini moog while singing. We were loud (one person complained in Boston’s Inman’s Square Lounge, that we were “louder than a Boeing jet for Christ’s sake” I told him to fuck off and check out James Taylor who was playing down the road) – while we were hammering away in Hurrah that night, someone shouted up ‘Suffragette City” and we joked that David wasn’t here tonight. When we came off the stage, the snobby booker was standing there with two glasses of brandy in his hand and wearing a shit-eating grin: “Well David was here tonight, and he bought you these brandies, said to say he loved it, and was sorry he had to leave”. We had turned from the ugly ducklings into two swans – at the time Bowie was massive and, as usual, cooler than Antarctica. The joy that he gave us that night was immeasurable, and I believe that he knew the effect those brandies would have on that ‘too cool for his own t-shirt’ booker.

Today, as I was walking home from the gym I saw a Bowie poster crudely taped outside a Chinese restaurant. It had a black star at the top of it and under Bowie’s photo it said “New Album Out Now” someone had scribbled on it R.I.P. I tore it off the wall and took it home.

There was something eternally youthful about Bowie, even now that he’s dead, he seems young. Are you as shocked as me, to think of him lying lifeless?

1916 Down Rising..and then Up

Pierr A pic small1916 Down rising, and then up Rise (photo of Pier A that night)

The black waves are crashing against the jetty, far off and silent. I’m reminded of my childhood when we lived on the quay opposite the New Bridge in Wexford. Ferocious nights when the wind spat the wooden works up like matchsticks, and all that lay between us was a couple of curtains and a single glaze window. It was a melancholy meditation for my teenage wonderment, what was this feeling of dark mystery that came with the wind and rain from out there where the fish and birds felt at home? With the curtain resting on his head, Sputnik would stare out there with me, he seemed to wonder too, and we were at one, Sputnik the dog, me, and the whole out there. All the loneliness of love and forever came to dwell in my empty mind, and a feeling of homesickness in the hearth of home itself.

Now I am not there anymore, now I am an American, now I am in a fancy new place called Pier A, staring out at the Statue of Liberty with my wife Clare by my side. It is the launch of the Irish American Anniversary celebration for the 1916 Rising. There are hundreds of people here, mostly mature, well-heeled Irish or Irish-Americans. A band plays Irish trad tunes to accompany the nervous chatter of small talk, the booze is free and fine appetizers are proffered plentiful by attractive maids and men. I can see that Clare is exuberant and I want to be too, but I am looking out the window at the yellow lighted Staten Island ferries criss–crossing, and the coal black waves chewing at the small wooden boardwalk where I imagine summer libations are served. Clare is trying to shake me out of it, and I want to, but I can’t. God I’m a miserable sod, I can’t look back into the crowd; I have to stare out at the starkness. I am ready to scream, what the hell am I doing here? I don’t know anyone; they don’t even seem to know each other, what is the point? 1916! That was so long ago, and as much as I admire those people that died for Ireland, I can’t feel anything for them now. Isn’t this just another piece of bollox where people are hustling to make a few bob out of history.

The ceremony begins, Barbara Jones the Irish Consul makes a genuine plea for silence as she introduces a lady who will sing the Anthems. The first strains of the Irish National Anthem stir me to attention, this woman sings her heart out, some people join in, I do too, the air in the room begins to change, I find myself looking into the room instead of out. She turns to the musicians for a note and launches into The Star Spangled Banner, it’s high, really high, I know what a mother of a song this is to sing, and she’s started really high. But she seems unperturbed, I trust that she would know if she was in trouble, people begin to join in, the band plays support, she goes for the end “the land of the freeeeeee” and I swear she won’t make it, but she does, she nails it with a very lilting Irish traditional, slightly nasal vibrato, but from the chest, the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, I look around the room and realise,

I’m here!

Happy New Year means nothing? Try this

So my dear ones, if I say Happy New Year, will that have any effect on you really? Probably not.  Why? Maybe because it will not actually affect your coming year.  All I can really affect is this moment here and now, because you are reading this I presume. Here is a meditation that you can practice anywhere, I learned it at the School of Practical Philosophy last year.  You can even do it on the Subway/ Tube/ Dart/ Underground/ Luas ( all the different modes of hustling to work).
Seated upright with both feet firmly on the ground, close your eyes and listen as far to the left and right as you can until you reach the limit, imagine crossing the land, the rivers and the mountains, the planet, even up into the galaxies if you can, suspend yourself there for a little while and think of absolutely nothing else, then slowly bring your thoughts back in again to where you sit, feel the air on your skin, feel each part of your body starting from your feet upwards, open your eyes and see where you are – you will see everything around you more vividly now, you will be present.  Stay that way as long as you can, don’t think, just feel. As I say in one of my new songs Heal  “leave yourself and you will heal.” So much of our pain comes from the past and the future, we are very seldom in the present nowadays, but we can only get to where we need through the present.  This is my New Years PRESENT to you. Thank you so much for your support this year. Look after each now, and the year will be great.