So it happens again, for the fifth time in five years, that I’m moving after exactly twelve month in my current domecile. You’d think moving would get easier and more systematic with practice, but every new time I still manage to act like a tantruming 8 year old, refusing to pack until the last minute, refusing to do all the things I wanted to do before I leave a place, and, most importantly/worst of all, suddenly realizing that I love the place I’m currently living, feel no need to move, and want to suddenly call up the landlord, my former employer, and who/whatever is the reason for my move to the next place and tell them, “Sorry, but I’ve thought things through a bit…”
So this is a melancholy leaving New York City post. There’s your warning.
One of my favorite things about New York City is Inwood Hill Park. It was in many ways the motivating factor in my move from Brooklyn to Inwood, an inconveniently located neighborhood, the bottle-stopper of the island of Manhattan. The park is a place where you can absolutely lose track of the city that surrounds you (“So…your favorite place in New York City is a place where you can forget you’re in the city?” “Yes, any other questions?”), and find things that seem more out of a half-finished fantasy book than an urban park. Walk up past the tennis courts and make a left and then a right, and you’ll see the Dominican guys, standing as an island in the low-lying ivy, trying to stretch BMX bike tires onto a trash-rescued mountain bike. Walk straight, past the paved path and onto the the trail that slopes down, and you’ll come across either one of the most elaborate natural recreations of a phallus you’re likely to find in New York City, or the place where they perform Santeria (A year ago, pictures of a local senator and chicken heads were found. All I saw were mounds of dirt surrounded by stones which I had no desire to dig up). Make a left from there and head up the hill and you’ll see the caves, inhabited on and off by native american, fugitive, addicts, and teenagers pretending to be addicts. Get to the top of that hill and you’ll see the ruins of the old orphanage which was built before almost anything else. They wanted privacy then, and they’d still have it today. Somewhere in there, also, is a plaque which commemorates the spot where Peter Minuit bought the island from a bunch of nonpulsed native americans, thus creating New York City’s first official act of gentrification. The park is the city, to me. You don’t go looking for things, you stumble upon them, can’t find them again, and slowly let the memory of that first encounter inflate until it interrupts your day to day thoughts. The park is impossible to navigate, a web of unmarked trails which loop back on one another, dead-end, and disorient you until fourty minutes later you come out a block from where you entered when you had been trying to walk south to Dyckman. After years of exploring it, I still get lost, can’t tell you how to get to all but two of my favorite places in its acreage. But last Friday, I was able to do one thing on the first try- find my way out.
Arthur Russel is New York in that proudly peculiar, half-obscured by a cop parked backwards in front of a spitting fire hydrant, unable to think of a synonym for unyeilding kind of way. He was a proud member of the downtown arts scene, A cellist from Iowa who liked noisy distortion and disco beats. His songs were pointedly incongruous. He wrote songs with his heart on his sleave, but his sleeve was long and stuffed in a thick downy winter coat, and when you went go to shake his hands, you saw something on the little bit of his wrist which may or may not have been his heart, but whatever it was, it was something which gave you pause. He was as full of love and as much of a spiny asshole as NYC.
And, though the first was written specifically about London, the second makes no overt references to New York City, and the third is maybe a bit too obvious, here are three songs which, at my best, I would step out to in this fine city.
I’ve been listening to The Clientele’s last album, Minotaur, a lot walking around the city. It a stoic album, which is what the band aims for, usually. What is makes this album more engaging than their past few releases are the threads of levity and humor which are present throughout. Hearing a band this kempt attempt a metal song, as they do on “Jerry,” or pronounce the name of the titular demonic half-bull half-man in that quaint, proper, middle-class British way is as close as The Clientele come to letting their guard down as you’re likely to get.
So, just as awkwardly as I transitioned from a vaguely-south-east-Michigan-music-blog to a vaguely-NYC-music-blog, I’m now declaring this, at least for the next two years or so, a vaguely-Chicago-music-blog. Expect exactly the same number of posts on the Mekons.