Tag Archives: acid

St. Nicks Pub (New York City, New York)

African Nights

By Richard Prins

Not that I wasn’t a Columbia student when I first came to St. Nick’s Pub in 2005; my Swahili professor had suggested the venue for its Africa Night every Saturday, and we made an outing of it, a couple students each from the intermediate and advanced classes. The novelty of socializing with my academic peers convinced me to forgo memorizing a speech I’d have to give in Albany the following afternoon.

I played the native New Yorker and directed our crew of aspiring white Africanists to 149th Street. I had already developed instinctive grudges against my freshman class for their collective reticence to cross 125th. These weren’t first-years; they actually spoke passable Swahili, enjambed entire sentences between our English conversation, and had visited East Africa and done more than ogle exotic animals. They had dreadlocks, and dashikis brighter than my tie-dye, which I also envied as we reached the bright red billboard ST NICK’S PUB and walked down the steps into a tiny narrow bar where instruments were being dragged on stage. Guitars, a bass, a saxophonist with a backwards Yankees hat; what exactly made this African, I wondered.


The waitress in the leopard-skin skirt made us aware of the two-dollar table charge (the complimentary barstools were all taken, and it didn’t occur to us to stand) as well as the two-drink minimum. I asked for coffee, thinking I could stay up all night to memorize my speech, but there was none, so I got a Guinness because I knew what it was. As an 18-year-old unfamiliar with bar etiquette, I didn’t tip. The guitarist’s arpeggios sounded like the Sahara; he sang in smiling tongues even we polyglots couldn’t speak. My colleague stood to dance; I knew soon I’d have to rise to this occasion. She demonstrated the popular dance style of every country she’d ever visited, finishing on our common interest, Tanzania, “Where it’s all in the hips,” and her own percolated. She was electric. Her thickest fuzzy dreadlock bitchslapped my face, and I made a mental note to figure out one day whether my hips were mobile. They were by the time I ran into her a couple years later at a tourist club in Dar es Salaam and chased her across the dance floor like a dying man might chase a pulse.

“I can’t dance like that.” I stood. “But I do a pretty decent hippie-on-acid impression.”

“Acid is for innocents!” she laughed as the keyboardist took a break to dance with her. I let myself be guided towards joy by a second beer and the hollow detonations of a talking drum wedged in an old man’s armpit, which he beat with a stick. What did it matter if I would be speechless tomorrow before a crowd of young activists? The night was coming to life, and my limbs and torso were exploring new rhythmic contortions. Musical guests cycled on and off stage. A Cuban came and blew a shining trumpet – his fedora looked so classy it’s a sin he wasn’t simultaneously smoking a cigar. The waitress recited a lush slam poem; a drunk squealed briefly on a clarinet but was politely ushered off stage. A bald man took over on vocals and sang a song that made us sit back down so we could brace ourselves for its griotic power. Years later I would recognize the song as “N’Toman,” by Salif Keita’s first Afropop supergroup, Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux, and still relish its buoyant refrain.

At 2am the musicians took a smoke break in the backyard patio; mindful of my 9am bus ride to Albany, I said I had to leave. Surprisingly enough, my colleagues wished to follow. It was snowing fluffily. I scooped an armful of it off a brownstone’s ledge and dumped it in her dreads on the way to the 1 train. That was the last time I ever snowed someone. I woke in the morning to a phone call from Albany – there was a blizzard, so I could keep on sleeping.

I only make the trip up to 149th Street a couple Saturdays a year, usually when I’m trying to show off the venue to new friends. I dance so hard they pull me on stage when they can’t find another willing male; I let saxophone solos pinprick my brain and gasp in wonderment; I empty my wallet tipping the band and downing overpriced sugary blonde ales; I wake up the next afternoon and can hardly walk to the kitchen for water because my hips are shaken raw; I fulminate with mirth and pride at everything I’ve acquired from my multiple trysts with the Motherland. An ability to sing along to lyrics whose meaning I don’t know. To greet the Senegalese patrons in Wolof, which has the best “hello” in the world: “Wow-wow!” Wolof’s also the etymological source for words like hip, dig, cool. I’ve put effort into my Africanness, dammit, and Africa Night is my reward. The spiritual nature of the experience becomes only more exquisite.

Exquisite isn’t always a good thing. Exquisite pain, for example. Exquisite disappointment. But I would prefer to experience something exquisite than not. To finger the jagged grain, as Ralph Ellison put it. Unfortunately, most people would prefer a pinch in the cheek to a slap in the face. And I hope they all get fucked in the ass by Lenny Kravitz.

Tonight I have to go there (in order to write this here article). It’s been almost a year (since I spent most of the year frequenting even wilder clubs in Tanzania) so I need a refresher. I was going to go with a fellow St. Nick’s enthusiast who I could sleep with afterwards, but she got invited out to Long Island for the weekend. The last time I went to St. Nick’s, I went alone; I had just extricated myself from a long-term relationship so I was cultivating solitude. I’m not anymore; a sweat-drenched dashiki already makes me conspicuous – I don’t also want to be conspicuously alone. I left a facebook status asking if anyone wanted to see some African music; everyone was either uninterested, or they thought I was inviting them on a no-expenses-paid trip to Dar es Salaam, because the only response I got was from a long-lost friend in Texas informing me that she hula-hoops at a drum circle every Wednesday. So I polish off some Jim Beam after brushing my teeth (bad idea) but before getting on the subway (good idea) and spend the trip listening to South African jazz and Maasai hip hop on my iPod, muttering to myself about how so goddamn many people are interested in African music, or intrigued by it, or feel generally positive and groovy towards it, but so few make any effort to know it. Other than the occasional dreadlocked drum circle or viewing of Fela! – The Musical. Not that both aren’t awesome, in their own way – but what does one really discover? One should see music as Vasco de Gama saw continents!… rape & pillage optional.

Try naming a historical character cooler than Frank Serpico. Sure, they exist, but it’s hard to top a hobo-looking, ballet-enthusiast cop who single-handedly exposed the extent of corruption in the 1970s NYPD and was nearly assassinated by his colleagues in retribution. There’s a reason for the non sequitur; he once said something that I would be remiss not to quote when writing about music. Al Pacino interviewed Serpico before portraying him in the 1973 film of his life, and one of his most pressing questions to the whistle-blower was, why did you do it? Why did you testify against police corruption when the entire NYPD had made it clear you would do so at risk of your life?

Serpico’s reply: “Well, Al, I don’t know. I guess I would have to say it would be because… if I didn’t, who would I be when I listened to a piece of music?”

I like this notion that we are someone when we listen to music; that music acts as a reflective conscience by forcing us to confront our own humanity.

That’s pretentious; I could have just written, isn’t what Frank Serpico said just the most fucking beautiful thing you’ve ever heard? and left it at that.

But I want to know who you will be when you listen to a piece of music. Are you waiting for the spirit to feel you up? Is your untouchedness innocent or lonely, and when it writhes are you also an electric snake, and do you coil through your own spininess? Or shed your skin and flicker your tongue at tomorrow’s edge where each beat is a horizon? Or slither away from all the heroic acts you didn’t perform?

Important questions, these. And who am I each time I venture Uptown, sipping whiskeyed ice tea on the subway so I won’t have to buy too many of their drinks, so I won’t have to feel the letdown of sobriety as I enter the orgy of music, will only feel electricity crossing the diaspora between their instruments and my body? Who am I that Africa Night at St. Nick’s Pub is my favorite music in the city?

“No matter who you are, or where you come from, you are an African,” repeats the guitarist each time he dispatches the tip jar through the crowd – bills which will later be tossed one by one at the musicians. (One must always tip the griot directly. Why do the hunters always defeat the lions in the stories? I once heard asked. Because the lions aren’t the ones telling the stories.)

A text message arrives from a musician friend as the train is rolling over the Manhattan Bridge…  was goin’ on tonight? Probably saw my facebook post – he digs African music. He should dig St. Nick’s – who knows if I ever told him about the place. He should also dig God – he has a lot of spirit inside him, but won’t recognize it as Jesus. We tripped on 2C-E once in high school; he thought he had been poisoned and began calling everyone he knew so he could pin his death on me. Meanwhile I wandered into the bathroom to urinate and felt a supernaturally powerful orgasm rushing through my urethra; it knocked me back on the ground and piss rivulets dribbled in my pubic hair. If he hadn’t been so afraid, God could have touched his genitals too, I frequently remind him; he assures me that my peculiar religiosity is a symptom of schizophrenia, and the public usually takes his side in this ongoing argument.

He asks what the cover is, but the train’s crossed the bridge and entered the tunnel, so I have to get off at Grand to tell him it’s free (not mentioning the astronomical price of a beer) and get back on the next D.

And step into the narrowness and blinkering Christmas lights; the cackling in English, white French, black French, et al. No music yet at midnight, but every barstool and chair lining the wall is taken; the wall is festooned with a collage of photos – as if we’re in the bedroom of a 14-year-old girl who’s got the hots for Charlie Parker. No room to stand without my tote bag from Tanzania getting whacked by the waitress’s beer deliveries.

The only people who come here alone are African. You can walk into a pub posse-less in Africa and emerge with lifelong friends. I suppose it’s a theoretical possibility in America, but I don’t know anyone who makes a practice of it.

By 12:15 I’ve nervously sipped away the entirety of my Sugar Hill and only the percussionist is seated on stage. I would say TIA but that’s for honkie tourists. They put “No Woman No Cry” on the jukebox, which I find offensively obvious, though everyone else seems to enjoy it, and a group is singing along to the “Hey hey” in the chorus. A 21-stringed calabash is placed in front of the drumset, the kora-player rocking short, choppy dreads to contrast with the big lady bassist’s back-length tapestries.

Check my phone; no reply from my friend. Probably thought I was going to poison him again.

With a cascading clash of notes. The guitar & kora entangling like two lovers’ inner thighs. On their way to Harlem, they pass the nomadic pastures of the Tuareg and Peul, zig-zag through the heyday of the Mande Empire, raft down the Gambia River, make an unfortunate detour in Brazil for a bossa nova, land in the South and send everything they learn back home via a passenger pigeon nesting in James Brown’s hairdo.

A pierced-eared pansy is dancing better than me. Stiffer competition than usual in the white-boy-ass-shaking contest. Usually I’m the ringer, but that’s when I have girls with me that want to be hit on by the musicians. The chords become major when they sidestep to Nigeria for Prince Nico Mbarga’s “Sweet Mother,” and reach down to South Africa for “Pata Pata,” without the clicks.

I’m singing along to the Xhosa lyrics when he trills homosexually in my ear, “What are you doing here!”

“I just like the music,” I shrug, and somehow feel like I just gave a lame excuse, in the vein of I only read porno for the articles. His hand is on my far hip and the other one asks my hand for a dance. I let him have it, but let it go limp. I don’t know how to politely explain that I’m not very gay, so I don’t dance with dudes at Africa Night.

The chords of the keyboard pull a cord coiled taut around my heart. A sad flash of lightning that knows unbearable joy coruscates from the guitarist’s face and fingers. A djembe strikes midnight, thirty minutes late. There is not enough room to dance between the bodies but I do anyway, though some dressed-up dickhead keeps tapping my shoulder and frowning because I’ve stepped on his overshined shoes. The birth cries of blues are wailed by this small stage; I can’t tell if the top-shelf liquors are rocking to the bass or only appear to be moving due to the flickering reflection of Christmas lights. I fork over eight bucks for another Sugar Hill, and pitch my tote bag at two folded chairs in the corner, with an unapologetic shrug to the ostensible Columbia students whose shoulders I tossed it over.

Despite their svelte sweaters and impeccably-trimmed beards, I can’t help wondering where tonight might send them…. It was less than five years ago that these sonic explosions dispatched me across the ocean to study indigenous music at the University of Dar es Salaam, to traipse to Chamwino to listen to Kigogo choirs, to jet-set to jazz festivals in Cape Town, to ride with local stars to Dodoma & rap in Swahili, and to chase my favorite bands around Mwenge and Sinza.

Anything, anywhere, to figure out who I am when I listen to a piece of music.

Location In New York City

St. Nick’s Pub [closed]
773 Saint Nicholas Avenue
New York, NY 10031-3925

(212) 283-9728
http://www.stnicksjazzpub.net


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Goodbye Blue Monday (Brooklyn, New York)

By Steve Trimboli

Vodpod videos no longer available.
Thought and Memory on our sidewalk, MAKE MUSIC NEW YORK 2010


this past monday afternoon had a three-hour open window in my day and if you know me, you know exactly what i did with that time.
hint-hint.

i’ve been engulfed in the gulf. i can’t stop watching ongoing developments just as i couldn’t stop watching those jets fly into those buildings back then.
i call it “trainwreck mystification.”

the week it happened, sixty-five-plus days ago, i told a friend that this was going to be bigger than the twin towers because it will play out to be mass murder on a decades-long scale by white guys with a smart logo and thousand-dollar suits who speak our language – sorry scared white guys, it’s a bunch of your own this time and i’m wondering how you’ll justify this horror, but i know you’ll have no problem – and if anyone thinks human loss is more precious than the things around us, think again.
murder (or manslaughter) is a crime, whether driven by political ideology, greed or contempt.
humanity’s sense of entitlement knows no bounds.
that’s at the core of religion, but that’s just an opinion.
i have plenty.
three thousand people died on september 11th and thousands more will have gotten their lives shortened by their selflessness for pitching in and caring about what happened.
there’s a lot of wheezing going on around NYC as a result of that day.
in the gulf, miraculously, only eleven people died on the Deepwater Horizon on april 20th, which was horrible because of the arrogance of that corporation – but the overwhelming promise of long-term tragedy will, over time, eclipse the trade center numbers.
if i owned a farm, i’d bet it.
which brings to mind…. april 20th…. isn’t that hitler’s birthday? you mean there’s no white-trash supremacists out there toasting or trying to secure a link between the black president’s agenda, the führer’s dreams for the schwarzcommanders as spoken of in pynchon’s “gravity’s rainbow“….. (or was that “V”)?
if you let them sit side by side on a shelf in your own mind for thirty-odd years, it becomes one big book.
everything becomes one-big-book.
maybe it’s time to revisit those titles again so i could drop pynchon’s name with focused certainty.
….or would hitler’s birthday cause tea party conservative confusion – whether to bury the president or praise him……

but i digress.
i was somewhere about crime and punishment (or the lack thereof).
i was somewhere, skirting the oily shores of corporate crime, moral hazard and the first meeting i had with that grifting lizard who looks like omar sharif and sounds like eduardo ciannelli, in months and months, who, this day, had in tow the suit of ayn rand, the author of the biggest, longest-running comedy on mars, “atlas shrugged,” the book written by the lizard who made a meal and suit out of ayn rand when she signed the hollywood deal for “the fountainhead,” got a big check and was gobbled up – literally – in 1955.
the lizard who wore ayn rand wrote “atlas shrugged,” in addition to being hilarious on their planet, was taken as gospel by many faithful on earth, spurring a movement that would be co-opted, corrupted, conned, fattened and devoured by the lizards who live life no differently from ginger rogers, who once told me this;
“a girl’s gotta eat.”
that lizard guy (the one who sounds like eduardo ciannelli and looks like omar sharif) told me last year that they’re still getting tremendous mileage (or tonnage….i think it was tonnage) out of “atlas shrugged” and the humans who buy into it.
he then made a point of telling me, “wait till that angelina jolie plays dagny taggart – it’s gonna be a feeding-frenzy in lizard-land, you betcha,”
…..but i’ve drifted way off base.

the point being, humanity means as much to that lizard guy (you know the one i’m talking about) as a can of starkist tuna means to you. speaking of tuna, you might notice a spike in tuna futures soon, what with the big Oops down there.
i wonder if there are tuna futures. i wonder if tuna HAS a future.
probably as much of a future as we have.
p.s. – i don’t think we have a future, or at least, i don’t think humanity deserves one.

if this is your first visit here, it’s all about the food chain.
if you still don’t know what i’m talking about, google “the grifting lizards from mars,” or hit these two links;
hi-dee hi-dee ho addresses more of what i’m talking about, but ken lay; martian lizard is the genesis of this balderdash.
there are mountains of hubbub between then and now.

i’m writing this to be offered in a friend’s blog about “the underground” (whatever that means these days) and by virtue of the fact that goodbye blue monday is remote enough to maintain such underground-ness for five-plus years (more or less).
for us, mainstream could signal failure.
why travel way out here for the same shit you can get at your local pub?
i’d prefer to fail doing something….”other than.”
goodbye blue monday is “other than.”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

i won’t write much about this place because i am genetically disposed to automatically having it become a pitch for money, performance gear, kitchen equipment and just as recent as today, a free or really cheap car.
there, i did it.
i also can’t help grinning at the term “underground” because as i write this i am preparing to post it onto an open source information clusterfuck of word and imagery, not that “underground” isn’t valid.
i just tend to think that the whereabouts of osama bin-laden is “underground.”
and subway systems are “underground.”
besides, how “underground” are you once you’ve made it into Vogue Italia? (we made it last october)

i was interviewed by an documentarian a couple of weeks back.
at one point she asked me if i was an original-equipment new yorker;
if i was born and raised here – and when i replied “yes,” my plumage sprouted wondrous colors and rays of light sparkled and glimmered on and around me in the afternoon sun.
“there’s plenty of us,” i said.
i explained that i didn’t ride up the empire state building’s elevator until 1984 when i was thirty (laughing uproariously with a headful of acid) – but i DID have lunch on the 82nd floor of the unfinished, un-windowed twin towers when i worked at 90 west street in 1974 when i was twenty.
do you know what i’m saying?
that was being a new yorker, i guess, back then.
….and as our interview went on, she asked me about my experience with the music and art scene in NYC.
so as not to offer spoiler alerts, i’ll say that i’ve been part of the bar and club scene that stretches from the late 60’s, through disco, punk and whatever else that is or was up to now and because i believed i had/have an artistic bent, i did “art” and continue to do so, though i have no documentation other than the things i’ve done and continue to do.

i never read “on the road”, but i imagine it had to do with being young, indestructible (seemingly, until otherwise proven), eternal (ditto), rebellious (double-ditto), passionate (ditto squared) and maybe self-centered (“pi” times ditto to the third power).
my “road” book was “fear and loathing in las vegas” and more accurately for me, “screaming bloodily down the highway of oblivion,” the title (that i just made up) of my own book that no one wants but is available in fits and starts on my blog and at myspace.com/scrapbar.

……so the conversation with the documentarians went on, centering on why i did what i did in bushwick and my answer was “i just did,” and quickly added that there’s no place where anyone can “begin” anymore.
i took them to the backyard and showed them “the other stage” where we do acoustic, electronic and experimental music and films.

i told them that here at goodbye blue monday there is no 22-year-old numbnut passing judgement on anyone’s musical statement or artistic direction when they ask to perform.
that we simply say “yes.”
….that my only hope is performers show they care by inviting a few friends to support the house.
i understand the limitations of nyc venues. i’m not knocking them.
they can’t do what we do anymore and haven’t been able to in decades. that they have to shuffle bands in and out, get door-counts and charges, and even steal a percentage of people’s merch and more.
new york city can’t afford to be creative unless you’re connected with a group of swells or have dad’s black american express card tattooed to your bank account, and even then the deck is generally stacked by PR and shmoozer’s professionale.
this isn’t an indictment, it’s just the way it is.
the village voice voted us the best place for new music and performance in 2007. six months later i was in their offices, arguing.
i asked them why they didn’t ever list the shows we did here on their calendar – ever – and was told that “editorial” didn’t believe anyone who played here “mattered.”
i explained that i even ADVERTISED with them.
it didn’t matter.
there was a new issue of the voice laying open on a table in front of us and my eyes were drawn to an ad for a show sponsored by “the fillmore at irving plaza (whatever the fuck THAT means) and the village voice.”
there was a list of six musical acts slated for this show. i pointed at the ad and said, “what? i have to have names like these to get a rise out of those douchebags in editorial?”
and the person i was arguing with looked down and said, “well… yes.”
and i pointed at three of these names and stated with strong certainty that these bands all played on my stage over a year ago.
“so what we’re saying here is once it matters to you, it matters. it doesn’t matter that they may have cut their teeth in my stage, you shit!”
i stopped advertising with them.
and that’s what the music scene is in new york city.
last week, three years later, i was informed that village voice editorial has decided to list us in their calendar.
this was followed by a pitch to start advertising with them.
whatever…..
don’t eat the brown acid – it’s really little pebbles of ka-ka.

in 1985, allen ginsberg walked down into a bar i was building at 116 macdougal street and asked me “do you know where you are?” and before i could offer my wiseass reply, he excitedly told me the history of the place, it being the original “village gaslight.”
he told me about dave van ronk and careers started from bob dylan to bill cosby and loads of other stuff.
it excited him to pour his past out and lay it on the same floor i was currently using to spray six-foot flourescent light tubes with day-glo blue krylon paint.
i would later learn that “cafe wha” – across the street – ran an open stage every day with booked acts at night and everyone worked “the hat.”
was this in my mind when i began out here in bushwick?
i don’t think so.
i’m not very good on “plans” and maybe that’s not a good thing, but no one i knew was running their businesses with slide rules and graph paper when i was a kid, though i admit i wasn’t looking.
me and math never got along, anyway.
i told the documentarians that now is more punk than ever, that the gradual dissolution of the recording industry as i knew it was a good thing and that i never lived in a time of such startling creativity.
i also qualified this by saying that it’s just an opinion by “a musically-challenged writer with a short attention-span who did way too much of whatever he could get his hands on for far too long a time.”
that would be me.

i prefer to talk about near and dead-death experiences, my extraordinary friend’s rendezvous with my late, sainted-irish mother whom she never knew till they chatted briefly on the corner of Eternity boulevard and Hallelujah avenue;
….the “gulf-coast oil window” and when it will despoil the beach where me, maxx (my dog), the giant tire i befriended some years ago and those lizard people i keep mentioning meet on an almost weekly basis and where i can get a clean shot at “the eighth-electro-plasma-ocean of the ninth dimension” where i mingle with the comings and goings of everyone who ever came or went, who matter and anti-matter and who i hold, will hold or ever held in my electronic sputterings near, dear and otherwise to me.

instead of this, i can tell you about our booking policies, backline list and cheese you with goodbye blue monday’s history, but if that’s what you’re looking for, it’s on the website/blog.

see this thing just below here?

nuclear missiles used to be mounted on these things as they waiting and waited for something to happen.
i live my life waiting for something to happen.
it always does.

Location In Brooklyn

Goodbye Blue Monday
1087 Broadway
Brooklyn, NY 11221-3013

(718) 453-6343
www.goodbye-blue-monday.com

Bands Featured

Thought and Memory
www.myspace.com/thoughtandmemorymusic