Tag Archives: Jesus

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

Tel-Aviv, Israel

A Parody of Paradise

By Jared Oppenheim

It seems like yesterday that I walked through the busy streets of Tel-Aviv, with its sweet smell of sweat that lingered. Those days are the days I now long to grasp. They were my leisure days, days consumed with booze and the salt air that rippled between the cracks and pores of my skin, days where all I could do was think of nothing, as my mind dulled in the weekday sun.

I salute Tel-Aviv, with its Shalom, for good tidings sake. I salute Tel-Aviv for bottles of 10 shekel Arak, with all of its jolly popping courage and days spent dousing in the Mediterranean sun. I salute it for its hospitality and warmth, for its days of simple discourse, for its days of nothing, for its days of unwanted visitors and even less wanted friends,  for the bubble I called home, and for the fanaticism that kept the day fresh, when there was only you, me and a bottle between us. Until dawn I salute Tel-Aviv, and fantasize about its romantic misgivings, misfortunes and wines, which were so sour that my chickpea was begging for a breath.

Old Central Bus Station

There can be a lot to say about a city, a city which thrives on its landmark beauty and simplicity, while it’s self-serving urban life grows and envelopes other developing Israeli cities, creating a shield of loftiness throughout the land. This raving and departure drives the  prepubescent city of Tel-Aviv. And at this I remind you, the traveler, how short a life this city has had. One hundred one years.

It began in mid-December, dear traveler, that I arrived in the city of Tel-Aviv. I was in a state of mind that made regret hold on tight, for I wasn’t ready to be living in another land. I couldn’t have thought much more than this at the time. When I arrived at Ben-Gurion airport I was greeted with the whole-hearted glory of inquisition by an immigration officer: my religious views and reasons for coming to this country were all too sloppy, plus my lack of faith almost gave the short man a right to deport me. But at another gander of my features he must have figured me a Jew, and so surrendered me to the slow air of the crazy city. Surrounded by tacky billboards that I couldn’t make out, smiling faces, and its cheap allure, I stepped into the heart of fundamentalist beliefs.

I spent my days in Tel-Aviv kicking the same can, essentially, making my rounds through the local joints, night after night living on bottles of beer and falafel. Being a musician I found myself in the right spots, and, for the most part, at the right times. Although once in a while I found myself in a slight state of awkwardness, a characteristic I can contribute to my ever-changing mental state. Many days I would frequent a café situated on the corner of Sheinken Rehov and Rothschild Boulevard, which actually was quite a drab spot. But every day from half-twelve to seven in the evening, I saw herds of retired or unsuccessful Israeli sportsman, poets and writers, drinking tea or bottles of Goldstar. The hooch would have to send them away in convoys late in the afternoon.

At the time I had two friends who lived in an apartment conveniently located above the café. I would visit them often, say hello, drink tea, watch the antics that ensued below. For the most part, we were the same as the desperadoes of the cafe, except we were young and watching them. I believe doing this made us take on some of their key traits, and we would buy our bottles of Goldstar around the corner too.

The days will pass quickly in Tel-Aviv. There are many hipster dive settings that a young jock might seek. You can ask a dame for a dance and end up with three, until your pants are about to roll off with sweat and sweet licorice. They just can’t say no, it is a matter of inconvenience. To get a man who doesn’t wear stock-green camouflage trousers and a standard issued Ak-47 is a common sign of female success. I have to say, looks don’t necessarily guarantee a night out, but I bet you a paraplegic would have better a chance with a woman than a soldier.

A Night on the Town

I suggest going out on a Thursday or Friday night. Remember this is Jewland, and Saturday is a holy day, so most places shut down. It just isn’t the day of the week,  like in most countries. This, of course, threw me off at first. But it’s better to know this from the start, or you’ll end up chilling out Thursday and Friday, waiting for Saturday night to party.

Rothschild 12
There are a couple joints one should remember when wandering through the streets of this fair city. First of all, you have the Rothschild 12, and just like the name sports, its address is 12 Rothschild Boulevard. If you’re  looking for a vintage type scene, with a great stage, live music precariously often, and an incredibly diverse menu of food, then this is the spot you  should be stopping by. Located on one of the most known streets in the city, you shouldn’t have the slightest difficulty finding it. The only trick is that the entrance is around the back of the building. So when you walk down the grand boulevard, with all of its bright lights and young kids out for the weekend, you will hit an abandoned looking building and think,  ‘Damn! That bastard played me. Fuck that travel guide!’ But no! Stick with it! Around the side you’ll find a happening little entrance, and depending on what night of the week you go, you can catch a variety of the best acts the city has to offer.

Then afterward you might be wondering where you can catch a little dive set. Well, your next stop will be the Mish-Mish, located at 17 Lilienblum. It’s guaranteed to satisfy all your hipster needs, while offering an array of nice peach-fish and passion fruit drinks; plus cunt willing to dance with you all night, and then take you home to let you devour into the ripe skin of her tanned flesh. This is a club, dimly lit and hidden behind a mirror, that you might finish the rest of your night in. The music plays loud, and the drinks are served late. And even if the catch of the day leads you astray, the bartenders are the best in town. With a variety of different DJ’s, the music may start at funk and soul, and then move on to electro-dance hall hits, then pop up to your latest hipster fix. All this in a little spot behind a mirror.

If you’re looking for a more intimate, tight, hot, sloppy and packed joint (reminiscent of NYC’s Lit Lounge), then get on down to the Micatronix. It’s at Ben Yehuda and Trumpeldor. This club was hot and fresh when I was on the scene. It has records covering the ceiling, a Pacman machine, DJ’s, and live music everyday of the week. At this club you can expect to be packed in like a sardine, but with affordable drinks and guaranteed good music, it’s worth it. If you’re there on a good night, you’ll catch the DJ playing an array of 20’s swing, mixed with surf and post-punk, and then ending on a high note with dance hall classics. Definitely the club to stay at to meet some of your new friends. To get in is a bit of a trick, though. Being underground this place does not have a web site, and you have to buzz an intercom where  there looks only to be a broken down shop. Walk on over, watch out for people walking into the club, and then slowly inch your way to the intercom and buzz. BINGO! You’ve just found the Micatronix. Now dance!

If you really want to strut your stuff, walk straight to Florentin.  It was once the artistic side of the city but, like all things, it came to an end. I was lucky enough to catch a slight glimpse of a dying phase here. This neighborhood is dimly lit at night, and filled with enough bodegas, laundry shops, food marts and, of course, a whopping amount of pubs, clubs, bars and stars, to keep you occupied.  But for the most part,  the show really goes on at the unadvertised house parties. And as for these few bars that lie beneath the surface mainstream, they are still on the border of mediocre.

A Day’s Outing

You might notice, dear reader, it’s almost impossible to get lost in this city. There is the center, which encompasses most of the urban living area, and it spans from Shenkin to Florentin and from the Central Bus Station to Ben Yehuda. It covers a vicinity of about ten miles, and anything is at most a 40 minute walk away. To navigate through this area, directly relate to the Rothschild Route, which is a boulevard that runs through most of the city center. If you follow your instincts and walk in a circular motion, you’re almost guaranteed to get where you’re going. In other words the city is small.

And if you’re worried about being surrounded by religious freaks, don’t be. The only fanatical man I met in Tel-Aviv, other than the massive amounts of soldiers, which are quite scary since they carry automatic weapons, was a stout man who slightly resembled Jesus. He played the card of being Jesus reborn. The man is just a sight to see. He can do you no harm. His followers, which consist of four women, and the giant picture of himself with his prophetic commandments, can be found at the Carmel Market.

The array of markets in this city extends from one end to the other. On a good day, with a pocket full o’ dough, you can walk about and spend like a mad man, stuff your pockets with tiskets and taskets of this and that, and revel in the fond Jewish memory of the overcrowded market places. But I warn you, before you know it you’re washed-up and walking back home with, more or less, no weight in your pockets. Fresh fish, flowers, breads, various halvas, barreckas ( pastries) and more, fill the air with the sweet smell of longing, regret, and satisfaction. You can spend days walking through all of them, through the allies, between the little chip shops, and then to the beach with its white, white sand and clear blue water. This might be the finest luxury of this city.

Carmel Market

As I sum up my experience with the city of Tel-Aviv, and the country of Israel, I conclude that its yearning to be accepted as a great city of the western world is as apparent as day or night–and this destroys all the culture and heritage that the city once had. This may have been where they all went wrong; for this country that is supposedly the home of the Jewish people has now turned into a circus, manipulated and ring led by American motifs and endorsed by the British.

It’s a shame how the manipulation of a governing force can actually confuse its citizens so much that they can actually believe their neighbors, and once occupiers of their territory, are not entitled to the same privileges as they are. The complacency of the Israeli mass population towards negotiating with Gaza shows just how uncommitted they are to a resolution. I guess the greater shame is the safety and protection the Israelites feel, while their neighbors are imprisoned within their land without aid or support, forced behind walls that were erected to entrap them. Across the border, Zionist groups challenge Palestine and force them slowly out of their own birth right, even as citizens. And although I admire many aspects of Israel, and the goodness it has to offer, this is a dangerous game for them  to be playing, especially for a people that have been played so many times in the past.

“I could have spent my till flippin’ flint… But well, ya know, a God fearing child only has so much to say in a place invested , infested, tried, and yet to be tested.”

Locations In Tel-Aviv

Rothschild 12
12 Rothschild blvd
Tel-Aviv, Israel

Google Maps

Mish Mish
Lilienblum 17
Tel-Aviv, Israel

Google Maps

Ben Yehuda and Trumpeldor
Tel-Aviv, Israel

Google Maps

Carmel Market
14 Carmel Street
Tel-Aviv, Israel

Google Maps