All posts in February 2016

Give the dog a trombone

Love Can't Always Be Articulate

We started minding dogs through a website that offers boarding jobs for animals. At first we did it for the extra dosh, but right away we realized that it would be good for us as an animal fix too. But nine times out of ten when a dog is offered to us, we are unable to take them for one reason or another.

By the way, if you are in Europe and you didn’t get your Pledge CD yet, it’s because I made a miscalculation and didn’t send enough to my pal Paul in Dublin who is sending them out for me. He will have them very soon, and yours is on the way – sorry!

So where was I with the dogs? So, yesterday, a woman firefighter got let down, and at the last minute asked us to mind her dog Carla. I had a rehearsal planned at my apartment for the same time, but went ahead with it anyway. Fred Parcells arrived from New Jersey with his trombone, Andriette Redmann brought her skills to play bass and sing, John Rokosny brought his acoustic guitar with the built-in tuner (both came from Brooklyn where they live together), Mark Brotter brought some skins for percussion from around the corner. Kath Green had to see her mother in Pennsylvania and Nic the organist needs the church organ, so I will see him separately (we are rehearsing for the Premiere in New York of “Love Can’t Always Be Articulate” on March 12th – 7.30 pm). We went through “Billy Sunday” to get the tambourine part and the bone going. Then we hit “Life’s a Gas” with Mark on the sticks (claves?) then applied bass, skins and bone to our guitars on “Sorrow is a Solid Feeling”. It all feels so fresh and inspired to me, there is nothing conventional about it to bore. And then the dog arrived; it’s a big dog! A sweet friendly one that wants to play all the time. Straight away she discovered the tennis ball under the couch.

“Will someone throw this for me?”

“Not right now, Carla”

I sing: “I am Billy Sunday and this what I do”

“Pant, pant, can you just throw this once, please?”

Clare came in and took Carla to the kitchen.

This is going to be a slow burn; we will release this CD to the world at the pace of my life, the scenic route to the summit. Beginning with a very special experience at the The Gustavas Adolphus Church on 22 Street and the corner of 3rd at 7.30 p.m. on March 12th. Spread the word and lets pack this event, we have some really big shots coming, including Martin Mills, may be the most important indie record company executive on the planet, owning XL (Adele, Prodigy) 4AD (The National, Bon Iver, The Pixies) and many more. He signed me to Beggars Banquet originally and still likes what he hears, ye never know. And Ireland!!!! Are you ready? June 11th at the Unitarian Church Stephen’s Green Dublin tickets now on sale – details HERE

Remember lads I need you, word of mouth is powerful, but even more so now because we can reach the world through the Internet. Please encourage your friends to strike a blow for us, the man on the street, the un-superstars, share, tweet, spread the word. Order the album from us HERE.

Love Pierce x

P.S. Carla goes back today, she’s lovely.

To Kiss a Man

First Avenue

First Avenue

We went to our favourite restaurant in the village the other night. Our friend Chris came down from Westchester for his birthday and we went together to Pylos over on 7th Street to celebrate it. Pylos serves gourmet Greek food, the kind of Mediterranean food that they say makes you live longer. It’s the kind of place that you need to book in advance, once you have been there once you’ll go there thrice. And all those thrices add up to backed-up, it’s always good, and people always go back, so it gets booked up.

The owner, Christos, is Greek as is his manager Alex and many of the staff. Christos greets me with a kiss on both cheeks, I’m getting into it, but I’m always a little reticent. I come from Ireland, no actually I come from Wexford, and that’s not the same as coming from Dublin. A Dubliner might give you a kiss, but you won’t be getting one in Wexford.

The other night Alex was on duty and I greeted him as vivaciously as possible, I was ready for him, and threw myself at him immediately, offered my upheld hand for a hi-five while he offered me a hug on top of it, we got a little mangled and I lost my bottle when it came to the kiss. He knew what was going on and retracted a little, it’s extra complicated because Alex is gay and I worried that he thought that that was why I was hesitant, I also thought that he was being sensitive to the fact that I knew he was gay and might think that I, like an idiot, thought that he wanted a kiss for another reason. I felt bad that he was uncomfortable and the whole thing was ridiculous, not a big moment, but I wanted to kick myself. Alex is such a nice bloke.

The Ireland that I grew up in wasn’t very kissy. And it wasn’t hand shaky either. You only shook hands with someone if a close relative had died. And you only kissed a woman if you were courting, or making out, as they say in America. When I returned home after my first three years in America (I wasn’t allowed to leave while I was applying for a green card), my mother met me at the airport with my brother Paddy and his wife Kathleen, I kissed them all except Paddy. That was the first time I had kissed my mother since I was a baby, babies got and gave plenty of kisses of course. What surprised me was how easily it came to us, it was a motion that I had picked up in America, and she liked it.

Now of course there is a lot more social kissing going on in Ireland. But not man to man very much. And some women are uncomfortable with being kissed too. I tend to adjust to the situation very quickly. My sensors are on from the moment I enter someone’s home, I am ready to kiss or shake hands, or bid good day from a distance. But my wife Clare insists on kissing everyone, regardless of who they are, so I have to kiss em too. One woman was so uncomfortable she blurted out with restrained annoyance “of course you love kissing, you have to bloody well kiss everyone” I was thinking “jays, no I don’t” I wanted to cancel the action entirely, but Clare was already halfway around the room kissing big red-faced men and shuffling women, they were only too happy when I stopped short with a wave.

I have to say that there is something lovely about a man greeting another man with a kiss. My friend Pat McGuire, the great Irish-American singer, always greets me with a kiss, and I feel genuinely that it is about deep friendship and affection, he is a very warm person, and it seems that shaking hands just doesn’t cut it. It never feels uncomfortable because he has no hesitation, and right away we know that we are really glad to see each other, there is no uncomfortable small talk, we have already knocked down the wall.

Maybe European men experience this all the time, it certainly seems that way from here.

Henry and Delores Part 3

Back-yard-photo-2

That evening I told Clare about what happened, and she was sympathetic, seeing that I was plainly upset. She had no answer however, and was just as confused as me, and surprised. I found myself searching through our recent encounters, looking for instances when I might have accidently blanked him during a walking daydream, or done something that he witnessed and disapproved. But it was a futile exercise, because we really didn’t know each other properly, and to boot, I wasn’t close enough to him to bring up such an intimate discomfort. We knew each other to see, and to exchange frivolous pleasantries, but we weren’t “in” enough to fall out. I just had to suck it up and hope it wouldn’t happen again. But it did! The next time he was talking to the Puerto Rican guy that owned the Bodega on the corner. Before it had closed he ran a pretty successful business there with his brother Peppi, however their replacement renter had made a mess of it and had to quit, leaving it boarded up for the best part of a year. Ironically, I knew Peppi’s name but not the name of his much friendlier brother. Henry was always pally with the friendly brother, and here they were having a right old laugh about something outside the now busy Bodega. “Goodnight” said I with the wave of my hand, doing the best I could to not seem hesitant – they both looked at me as if they were saying “do I know you?”

Now this is where you may begin to question this writer’s character: Henry’s second blank was a shock to me, but not the friendly brother guy, he had blanked me a couple of years ago after several years of charming exchange. I was so offended I didn’t bother with him again, he had always seemed like he loved himself too much – but not Henry, he was special. What in God’s name was going on?

The next time I saw Henry, I didn’t have any choice but to blank him too. Every time I saw him from then on was horrendously uncomfortable, and the hurt stayed with me for hours beyond. We continued to be friends with Delores however and I wanted desperately to talk about it to her, but couldn’t. The years went by, the cats grew older. Alice died at the age of nine; her genetic weakness had caught up with her. She was panting her last breaths on my lap when the young vet Jana arrived in her skintight checkered slacks, she kneeled down to look at Alice with compassion and on her way up she caught a glimpse of my escaping emotion. At first I hadn’t cared much for Alice, she was too scrawny with big ears and a rat’s tail, but with time I stopped being an asshole about her, she was just an innocent animal after all. Prejudice, as usual, was just an outlet for sanctimony. After living in New York for a few years Alice’s kidneys had begun to fail and the vet instructed us on how to give her dialysis. Every day we would hang a bag of saline water from a hook that I had screwed into a wooden shelf above the bed, and Clare would bravely insert a large needle into the folded skin on the back of her neck, going through this with Alice raised my affection for her considerably. Now I sat there rocking her as she reached for her final breath, extra torn because of my previous callousness towards her, her tiny life was slipping away on my lap.

Jana the vet gently laid Alice out on our bed where we had shared our fearful routine for a couple of months, however this needle was to be her last one. Jana was a sensitive generous person, and we became friends with her after that, bringing Frankie up to her at the Animal Hospital for his booster shots and any other ailments that he might have. One day we noticed that he was limping and hesitant about jumping up to the back window where we kept his cushion. Jana had him x-rayed at the Animal Hospital where she worked uptown. She had grown very fond of him over time, he was a strong gentle animal, and never caused a fuss, a sort of Zen presence.

The Animal Hospital is a very slick place, geared up for effortless financial intake. They take your animal with one hand and credit card with the other. An assistant in blue medical overalls took Frankie away while we sat on the red enamel chairs in the large waiting area akin to the waiting room in an upscale private clinic. It can be an entertaining place to sit if you are not worried about your reason for being there. If your attention is not taken by the sniffing of a large dog or a terrier, your curiosity is aroused by the site of exotic birds or something small like a gerbil or a budgie, cats, snakes, mice, rats, you name it, all carried delicately by their concerned owners.

I needed to call my manager about a meeting that was proposed for the following day. Things weren’t going well between he and I, he had recently handed me over to an assistant manager, and another artist with a squeaky wheel mentality seemed to be taking precedent over everything. I was speaking to his assistant when Jana sheepishly came over and softly pulled me by the index finger towards an enclosed room. Clare was already inside the small room sitting on a chair facing me as I entered, Jana seemed nervous and her sad brown eyes betrayed any professionalism that she projected behind her white coat. With a shaky hand she took a large negative out of a folder and clipped it into a box light up on the wall, She pointed at the black negative line of Frankie’s rib cage, inside it there was a cloudy mass of white, Jana pointed with a shaky finger “This white stuff is not normal, I’m so sorry to show you this, but this is – she stopped to take a deep breath and gulped – some kind of cancer” We stood there, all three of us, staring up at Frankie’s rib cage, hoping to stare it away. Normally in a situation like this, the doctor is the hard ass that keeps a check on reality, but Jana was not only a young vet, she was also a friend now, and as she had put it, had a crush on Frankie. Clare had said more than once that he was the love of her life (I didn’t mind, he’s a cat after all) and I loved the little bastard too, he had been sleeping on my head for years. But I hadn’t time to get emotional; the two women beat me to it. Clare started to cry,

“Isn’t there anything that we can do at all? I love him so much, he’s the best pussycat that I have ever had” now sounding like she was about six years old. Then Jana lost all control of her composure, I knew she had been holding it in, And I was holding on to mine for dear life in case….just in case.

“Well all I know is if it was my kitty……..” exploding tears like a burst water balloon, her face and frame now small and shaking. “I would give him chemo …. to … try and reverse the damage…or at least slow it down”

I tried to hug the two of them, as sad as the situation was, Clare and I caught each other’s eye and shared the hilarity of what was happening. Jana showing this kind of humanity meant that she was in with us for life, especially with Clare, vulnerability is the key to her heart.

Delores noticed that Frankie wasn’t out on his cushion so much anymore, and asked Clare one day on the street if he was all right. We were sitting in our kitchen when Clare told me, I had just received a box of new albums that Beggars Banquet had released called The Compilation, a “best of”. We reminisced on how long we had been aware of Delores and Henry, I had made around ten albums during that time period, and this was technically an eleventh, but why did Henry stop speaking to me? It was still a bewildering mystery. Clare said that I should go to him now and reach out by giving him a copy of the album.

“Just go down the fire escape and say hello to him, give him the album”.

Our kitchen window was wide open, it was a lovely summer’s day, and Clare had just waved at Delores, seeing her put a mop out to dry outside her own kitchen window. “Fuck it”, I thought, and swung my feet out through the window landing on the old wrought iron fire escape with its peeling green paint (the iron is thin and rusty and it crossed my mind that it must’ve been challenging enough for it to hold my two hundred pounds). I stepped over my next-door neighbor’s portable barbecue, dormant and unused, and held on to the railing as I veered past the old flowerpots with dead plants. I peered down into the dark kitchen, inside Delores was cleaning the small narrow stove with a brillo pad, and Henry’s sallow eyes looked up with incredulity from behind the newspaper in the corner by the back wall. Delores said “Hi” but he said nothing, just crackled the paper. The austere apartment harked back to a different time, linoleum floor, white enamel Kitchen table, with matching chairs, no music, no TV,  just a small Panasonic fan, dignified silence and cleanliness with available daylight cutting sharp lines in the shadow. I threw some words together with great discomfort and handed over my album as a peace offering.

“ I have no idea why we stopped talking, maybe I can just give you my new album as a token and we can be friends again”

Delores smiled her cute smile and reached up to take the album from my hand, she was sympathetic and maybe amused, but loyal to her man too, I could hardly believe what I was doing, it was a big gesture that fell to the ground like a drunken sailor in a strange port. Whatever I was talking about – and I’m presuming that she knew as little as Clare – she was not going to intervene. Henry said absolutely nothing, and I scooted back along the fire escape feeling even more of a fool now than before.

A couple of winters after that Henry died – Delores told Clare one day on the street that he had been hospitalized for several weeks with lung cancer. She carried on with great dignity and, amazingly, found a reason to keep her smile handy. She still maintains her apartment over Neptune (rent stabilized I presume). I occasionally see her buzzing around, if I don’t stop she doesn’t seem to be aware of me, but when I do she still has that cute smile and always seems to be going somewhere seeming to have plenty to do.

I will never know now what I did to turn Henry away, I knew of him for thirty years, but of course I never actually knew him, the most intimate thing we shared was falling out, that was as close as I got to knowing him. Maybe he was a friend after all, only friends fall out. You can’t fall out with someone you don’t know.

Henry and Delores Part 2 of 3

Pierce at the papered wall

This is the photo taken by the French Photographer at my papered wall on on the corner of 12th Street and First Avenue

A French photographer that had been looking at me said it was magnificent and wondered could he come by the next day and photograph me in front of it. I still have the photo; I’ll rummage around for it (as you can see I found it). What fascinated Henry and I was that the plan worked! It was left like that until the gig the following weekend, completely untouched. Every day I would go by there and Henry would be sitting on his chair with his back to it, almost like he was guarding it.

Delores first came to Clare’s attention when she noticed her flying her clothesline over to the back wall behind her building. The neighbourhood was changing; some of the things that were allowed to happen in a community that shared a similar economy were going to be frowned upon soon by the upwardly mobile.  But in the meantime Delores was allowed to carry on using the washing line that Henry had hooked up many years previous to these times. The line went from the back of her building across to the old stone wall that traversed the end of all of the yards on our block.   One time we all had yards that were there for us to do what we liked with, some of us grew vegetables, and some of us kept our bicycles there or held the occasional barbecue. Now the landlords had given them away to whomever was renting the stores on the ground floor to sweeten the package.

Behind Delores’s and Henry’s building the Polish restaurant on the ground floor had built a wooden deck and turned it into a summer garden section of their restaurant. I often went there myself for breakfast; on a couple of occasions I stuck my speaker in the window and played a CD to accompany my coffee. They also erected large umbrellas to shield us from the sun. It was all pretty upscale for our neighbourhood, so long as you didn’t look up, if you looked up you would see Delores’s bloomers and Henry’s boxer shorts, and t-shirts, socks, tea towels and sheets, flying overhead. There was a system, one day it was her bras, the next time it could be Henry’s underpants, then came Delores’s knickers and so on, all done by hand incidentally, they kept their apartment in the same manner and style of its origin during their youth, no fancy electronics like washing machines, besides the plumbing and electricity couldn’t handle it. Clare and I always found the clothes line amusing, and loved how it kept things in place. Eventually however the restaurant put a stop to it and the line was lowered forever more, like a flag that signaled the end of an allegiance; No bugle reverie however, just eggs and coffee without that natural human eyesore of a clothes line over head – the beginning of a new more lucrative world in the East Village and the higher the rent, the fussier the tenant.

The fire escape for our apartment travels sideways along the back of our building to the adjoining ones. If there is a fire we are expected to scoot along to the next building and knock on their window ‘Excuse me, our house is on fire, may we go through your place?” For the most part we had no idea who was living in the adjoining buildings, except for now, we knew Delores and Henry, sort of. We were coming into our second year of Clare living in New York since she moved from London, and she had had her fill of living without her two cats, they were pining for her as well back there in London. Frankie was an old mutt tabby without a tail – which he had lost in a car accident, and with a bald spot on his back from the same incident. Alice was a Siamese that was born with some kind of congestive issue causing her nose to drip constantly, she was also going blind. Before I met Clare she was sorta married to Frankie, and used him to imitate Davy Crockett’s hat by placing him on her head with his tail-less arse at the front – he loved it; she also waltzed with him over her shoulder every evening after work. This cat adored her, and she him; she had gotten Alice, the Siamese, to keep him company while she was at work, and after an initial rejection he had grown to love her too, they slept in the basket with their arms around each other. Now it was time to bring them to New York.

Alice was a house cat and never went outside, if she did it was a disaster, she once went along the ridge of the London apartment building having escaped clueless through an open window, fortunately the neighbour gave her back, although she did question our ownership for a moment, originally she had cost 300 quid! But Frankie had been an outdoor cat, that’s how he was hit by the car, so Clare encouraged him to go out on the fire escape. He had a cushion there where he sat and looked out over the hood like a cat king. Delores took note of him as she pulled her wet clothes out over the Polish restaurant. This became a talking point with Clare when they met on the street, so Frankie gave us one more link to our charming octogenarian neighbours.

Sometimes months would go by without having contact with Delores and Henry, so it was never an issue if we hadn’t seen them. One day we ran into Delores as she was entering the building on her own. She looked harried and her constant smile was tainted with the gravitas of something troublesome. She held her hand to her mouth like she hoped to reverse the enormity of what had happened. We asked her how she was.

“He has been in the hospital for the last three weeks”, she shook her head in disbelief. “He almost died on me”.

“What? What’s wrong with him?”

“He had pneumonia and he was in an oxygen tent, thank God he’s on the mend now, but I really thought I was going to lose him, after sixty years living together, can you imagine? I just don’t know what I would do” Her words stood us still, it was easy to put yourself in her place, the inevitability of it, the loneliness that it conjured up drove a bolt through my imagination.

The worst was over now and she still managed to squeeze out one of her cute smiles. It seemed so strange, Henry had not shown any signs of illness at all; He appeared very strong except for a slight hesitance in his step. But this is the thing about age I suppose, younger people bounce back; later in life, it’s not so easy.

The following spring I was pleased to see Henry back in his chair outside the building watching the action on the sidewalk, bantering and joking with anyone that presented a suitable reason. He seemed a little less robust, but otherwise the same subtle charmer. The bodega on the corner found a new renter and it pleased us all to see lights and action brought back to that corner.   And then! I can’t say why – but in the same way that I don’t remember meeting Henry, I came to lose him. I thought that it could’ve been my own paranoia at first, or just a side of him that I didn’t know. After all there must have been so many parts of him that were unknown to me, he had actually never told me anything about himself, our relationship was entirely above surface, as I said, a series of guesses. I was walking up 11th Street just by Veneiros the famous Italian pastry shop – if it had been a busy street I wouldn’t mind, but there was just Henry and me. I saw him coming towards me and was already to make some kind of sociable remark designed for short encounters. He smiled as he came towards me with his slight arthritic hobble, it was beyond our usual territory, I rarely saw him outside our block.

“How’s it goin?” I smiled.

He looked right at me! Wearing that same worldly expression, one eyelid less open than the other, olive skin scrunched, that incredulous smile, I waited for his response as he came inches away, but he kept going, and to my absolute horror; said nothing at all! I felt a cold wind cross my face as I walked on completely bewildered.