It’s been two and a half busy weeks since I got back from Boston. I pretty much picked up where I left off before my little trip out of town. My work load lightened up a lot, thankfully, so I spent more time on music and activism. I busied myself with a variety of things, my activities centering around a loft I had all to myself in Chelsea for most of a week, followed by my mother being in town for about as long. It’s easier to describe those weeks topically, so bear in mind that the chronology is a moot point. I’m also slightly glossing over fantastic and overwhelming personal developments that my complicated self is having a hard enough time processing, let alone describing to the masses. How’s that for vague?
First piece of stability, the borrowed loft in Chelsea. Being a transient with an odd living situation and spending a lot of time the past month with another lifestyle touring musician with vague arrangements, it was wonderful to have a genuine apartment. So seldom do I have the supreme combination of bed, full bath, kitchen, laundry, wifi, and windows. Perks like the impressive sound system and nine foot Steinway piano weren’t too shabby either. My week became so busy, I only occasionally had time to indulge in lounging around the place, practicing various instruments, sleeping in, and wandering the neighborhood. While my friend/boss was away, I had a couple of tasks to accomplish around the apartment. I rented a rug cleaner from the hardware store and cleaned the massive rug someone had given him – no small feat for someone as inept and inexperienced at renting things and using such technology as myself. The other job was much more in my department. When you enter the apartment, the first thing you see is a plain white wall with a door and some elevated moldings. I immediately recognized its potential, and my friend encouraged me to go forward with my vision.
A few days after I settled back into the sub-basement, my mother came to town. This time, she was chaperoning her musical theatre students and staying near the Southwest corner of Central Park. Part of why I hadn’t made it back to Chicago between tours was the fact that she was coming to New York once a month anyway. I could hang out in Chicago, or I could run around and have girl time with my mother while we see shows here. I even let her convince me to go dress shopping at one of the big discount designer sort of places. I rarely ever buy brand new clothes or shop in massive chain stores, but it was kind of novel – if overwhelming. I also got a new swimsuit, which was well needed since all the ones I’ve been wearing all these years are from high school. My mother and I went out to eat a lot that week too – meals by ourselves, meals with her friends, meals with my friends. It was wonderful. We spent one afternoon wandering around Chelsea and all along the Highline and I wore my pretty new dress and vaguely pretended we were bourgeois, visiting the vintage sewing machines at All Saints. On her last full day in town, I headed to a cafe in uptown for a casual brunch with my best friend from college (who lives in New Orleans and hadn’t seen my mother since college), assorted boyfriends, and my mother. So many people I care about it one place, epic.
After everyone dispersed, I headed over to Central Park to check out the Occupy action that was happening there throughout the day. A couple of brass band folks made a tiny horn section among the inevitable haphazard drum line. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my horn with me, but I was still in a state of massive recovery after being a hot mess from too much circus partying the night before. Lesson learned, hopefully. The demonstration was beautiful, very peaceful and informative. I reveled in the possible culmination of my teenage hopes that, within my lifetime, there would be a movement akin to the ’60s. In many ways, though, the Occupy movement speaks more to me than much of the hippy era. I laid in the grass and watched the crowds spread out around the park – circled in group discussions, playing music, distributing propaganda, making plans. I even got to see a performance by The Tax Dodgers, a clever fake baseball team. Eventually, I walked to meet my mother and we went to dinner with my New York friend from high school, who she hadn’t seen since we were teenagers. That night, we saw Peter and the Star Catcher with some of her students; it’s the origin story of Peter Pan and the production was absolutely brilliant.
All that time spent in Manhattan made it a lot easier to get involved with the Occupy in Union Square, although my involvement continued after I was back in Brooklyn. I made it to some of the midnight protest theatre happenings, including a rap battle between occupiers and the cops (you can guess who didn’t throw down on the rapping). I was especially pleased to get involved with Ballet Barre on the Barricades, a bi-weekly event where a lady (coincidentally from my old college) leads a free ballet class with live music, and we wear newspaper tutus and use the police barricades as ballet barres. Because I didn’t stay on tour in Massachusetts longer, I got to attend a general Occupy Union Square meeting, but of course was distracted from it by a marching band. I was on the phone trying to arrange just such a band for an Occupy-related book release the next day, when suddenly a brass band containing no familiar faces came parading past me, led by a friend from Time’s Up on a cargo bike. I was correct in my guess that it was Bread and Puppet, but alas they were leaving town the next day to play a show in Ohio. It worked out in the end, though, and a marching band did come together the next evening and led a large group of people through the streets of DUMBO towards free food and beer.
The day of the book event, I had come straight from a meeting at the Living Theatre. I felt privileged to be at the first meeting outlining their collaboration with Occupy Museums, a group I was glad to be involving myself with. As someone who studied radical theatre extensively in college and owns a massive copy of her collected early diaries, being in Judith Malina’s apartment was incredible. I managed not to say anything to embarrassing to her about what a bad ass she is. I’d met her at the theatre before and even played music at a performance or two there, but I still get a little star-struck around her. I mean, the woman has been doing experimental and radical theatre since the 1940s, has been arrested in something like a dozen different countries, and she’s still raging! Besides my awe, the meeting went well and the ensuing hanging out was also a lot of fun. Since I didn’t go tag along on tour in New Jersey this week, I made it to the Occupy Museums open meeting about arts and activism, another edifying event exploring the relation between the two worlds. I met a random occupier who was on his way to the protest and brought him along to the meeting, which was quite well attended anyway. It lasted for hours and explored a broad range of topics. By the end, the numbers had dwindled considerably, but I could have stayed and kept talking for another hour. Afterwards, some of us wandered over to the protest down the street, where the late night theatre of dissent continued to weave its magic.
While in theory I was still out East for the band, it took a while for Inferno rehearsals to start back up. I also finally decided to start attending Rude Mechanical Orchestra practices in the meantime. After the first one, I had to hurry off to help at the space in Downtown Brooklyn, where my constant companion was throwing a composer/occupier concert and dialogue. It was the most well-attended show I had ever seen there and I finally got to meet the lady who runs the space. I wound up covering the “bar” for the whole night, with backup supply run help from the members of RMO who made it over for the show. I like having a role at shows and parties, it’s nice to have a purpose and you even meet more people that way. I saw several good shows at that space over the last few weeks, as well as at the spot in Chelsea. Unlike your average regular venue, these sorts of concerts allow a way better chance for conversations with the people there.
I happened to be in town for Slavic Soul Party’s album release, where they had a special guest Finnish circus performer doing acrobatics out front of the band. The end of the night was exceptionally memorable, which is saying a lot considering I’ve been seeing shows at Barbes pretty regularly for over six years now. After the band ended, someone started playing “Down by the Riverside” on the piano. I couldn’t resist the temptation and pulled out my clarinet to join in. Then, the random button accordion player who had turned up started playing a drone on just the right chord, so I did a somewhat sloppy but sincere version of the intro to “Ederleizi” which one of the SSP guys joined in on trumpet. The night dwindled on at the bar until it was me and two of my friends from the brass band scene, one of whom happened to be bartending. We sat and listened to various obscure bits of world music on the stereo for what felt like hours. The friend who was on my side of the bar was ringing in a big birthday that night, and he had closed the night with me on two previous New York birthdays, so it only seemed appropriate.
The next day, I had the classic unexpected day in New York. I went to Chelsea to do a quick hour of work on a project at the space, but it wound up being a wash after all. Fortunately, my friend from high school was just waking up, so we were able to go out for lunch and have a nice long chat. I decided to then walk over to Union Square and browse the farmers market and visit Occupy. Inevitably, I ran into someone I haven’t seen in months. Finally I headed into the subway, only to discover a friend of mine busking. Suddenly, my quick hour of work and day spent at “home” catching up on things turned into hours of busking. I just happened to have my clarinet and washboard with me, which fit in perfectly with their banjo, spoons, and bones. They informed me that Vermont Joy Parade was playing at the Jalopy that night, so suddenly I was running “home” for an hour or two and then out all night.
The show was a lot of fun and it was a treat to see the folks in that band again. A busking friend from New Orleans had even joined the band since I last saw them play. The Jalopy always gives me this wonderful piece of time in which I can pretend I’m anywhere but New York; most nights, it’s New Orleans. The crowd there is always exceptional as well, and now that the venue owns the bar next door, staying out until 4am on a Wednesday suddenly got more appealing. On a side note, at the various shows I worked at, volunteered to help with, or simply attended, I wound up randomly meeting various folks who are heavily involved in the NYC Steampunk scene. It was fun to meet folks who had never heard of Inferno but were psyched to hear I was in Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band.