Have been back a week now and have decided to write about my feelings about visiting New York.
The reason I went was to fulfil a long ambition to visit a place that figured large in my imagination and was a place where many things happened that were an influence on me. In my mind at times it was a place I should have been. But I never went and, in fact, never visited America until now. Why was that? Well, chiefly it was financial. I simply couldn’t afford it. But I am sure I could have found a way if I had really wanted to. Money never stopped me from doing other things I wanted to do. I think the main reason was fear of disillusionment. That it would not live up to my idea of what it was. That all the things that I found attractive were not there any more or that I would not find it or fit in to it. And also fear of leaving my comfort zone and what I was familiar with. In many ways all these fears applied to me on my recent trip, it was just money that was no longer a problem!
I spoke to a friend last week who was enthusiatic, perhaps too enthusiastic, about my recent trip. He said I was living the dream. He’s the second person who has said that. He was raving about how I had done what Bob Dylan did and how I was an inspiration to him. I know this is quite a compliment but it is not really true. When Bob Dylan went to New York he was young, poor and ambitious. I was old and relatively well off and not ambitious in the same way. I wasn’t seeking fame and fortune, it was more an act of redemption! At the same time I think I probably felt some of the things that Bob felt. It is a scary thing to go to a big city where you don’t know anyone and you have no idea what is going to happen. On the other hand, we were both driven, in our own way, to do this. I’m very glad I did. The experience has been better than my most optimistic scenario. I met lots of nice, interesting people and felt I achieved something special doing the rounds of open mics and jam sessions. In fact, I felt accepted in a way I never expected to.
Another more recent influence was reading Patti Smith’s book “Just Kids”. I thoroughly recommend this book. In it she chronicles how she went to New York in a similar spirit to Bob Dylan. She slept rough and on subway trains and eventually had great success as a poet and singer. Inspirational. I can particularly relate to her description of visiting Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris. I’ve done the same thing. You’ve got to step out of yourself to find yourself.
The New York scene is not the same as it was in the 60s or 70s. The same focus is not there. But, I think, that is the same everywhere (as far as I know). Music has become far more diverse and there is not the same audience for live music as there was. On the other hand, interest and desire to play and write music is possibly even higher than it was. New York is full of great musicians and song writers and other acts. There is a vibrant poetry and spoken word community. In fact, you can find more than one place to perform any day of the week. On top of that busking is accepted in parks and subway stations. The general standard is pretty high! There is also a strong community feel amongst performers, they are supportive and interested in each other. From my first open mic spot onwards I was invited to many events and was even offered a job in a band as a lead guitarist! I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
There are many places to play. Bars and cafes offer one hour slots through the night. There tends to be no official pay but a bucket is passed round at the end of the set. Where there’s a decent crowd people tend to be generous and it is possible to make a reasonable amount of money. People are also more inclined to buy CDs than here. I took thirty and came back with none. Should have taken more!
My favourite place was Penny’s Open Mic on St. Mark’s Place. There was an amazing variety of acts and they were all incredibly good (well, nearly all). I’d go back to New York just to go there! But there are lots of others. Path Cafe is good and that is where I made most of my contacts. It was also, conveniently, just round the corner from where I was staying. The spoken word event on 116 MacDougal Street is worth going to. I was the only musician but they liked my song so much they videoed me and put it on their web site. They were very encouraging and the poetry was brilliant. Paddy Reilly’s and National Underground were good for jam sessions and I also made lots of contacts there. By the end of my time in New York I felt like a part of the local scene which like everywhere, considering the size of the city, is really quite small.
One of the good things about New York is the public transport. For $29 you can buy an unlimited ticket that you can use on any bus or subway train. This can take you to any part of the city including Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx, and they run all night. The Staten Island ferry is free! No excuses not to go anywhere. There are many places and things I didn’t see but I had such a good time I’m sure I’ll be back.