The New York Tales: live music

Because sometimes you just need to put it on paper to quiet the voices.


 

There is a bar, in Brooklyn, at the corner of two streets that don’t have much to say, that is a speckle of warmth in a maze of freezing, gusty winds.

The main room, with its standard wooden counter, booths and vintage bartenders, is the opposite of special. There is a constellation of pubs and bars with the exact same layout, clientele, chit chat and smell all around the boroughs.

What the unknowing onlooker won’t know, though, is that ensconced between the bathroom and a tv swimming in an aquarium, a set of narrow double doors guards a different reality. It’s like a bubble of sound where talking is not required.

Listening.

That is all people do in that room.

I’d never been to a live concert before, but I had seen enough movies to expect a stage shoved in a corner of a club, with just a few tables paying attention while the rest of the crowd is too busy rushing to the finish line between tipsy and drunk enough to warrant an hungover.

This. This was not what I had expected. Rickety tables lined the asymmetrical shape of the space, with a nook slanting on the left side, hiding from my sight half of the public. Summer dresses, all in shades of red, were stapled to the ceiling so that their gowns billowed like sails, and infant art that probably cost more than my rent peppered the walls.

And right in front of me, close enough to make out the fingerprints the bassist had left on the body of his instrument, was swaying the jazz band.

The soloist was almost too much of a cliché. Thin as a nail, black and wrinkly, he was playing his life though the saxophone, the music expressing what his shut eyes refused to. The bassist seemed almost out of it, in his own world, while the pianist and drummer kept looking at each other, following, leading.

Improvising. Jamming, as people would say now. Feeding off each other.

Playing as a single being, each musician a limb, but all sharing a brain. Or a heart, depending on your philosophical orientation.

Ten minutes in, a couple that was so typically hipster I had to stifle a chuckle stood and tip-toed outside.

My friend and filled the void, and already the weather inside was different. The air was thicker closer to the stage. Heavier. It filled my lungs in a more substantial way.

Goosebumps etched on my skin as the group drew to a close and the vibrations in the table, floor, chair, bones stopped. The room was suddenly a little less alive.

Claps, introductions were made. Names exchanged.

I noticed beards, glasses, skinny jeans and more beanie hats that should be allowed in an inside space. Age didn’t matter. It seemed the modern intellectual fashion transcended decades of birth, and everyone had embraced it as standard uniform, making me glad of for my shortsightedness.

Everywhere glances were exchanged, but not in the interested or lewd way of clubs, where everyone’s appraising everyone’s else willingness to ‘go outside to hear each other better’. Here no one was a random willing stranger. For a few instants, it fell like a family of strangers.

Here, eyes were glistening with excitement. Smiles were trying to stay private but the muscles at the corner of our mouths were giving us all away.

The second band hit the stage. The singer had a cough, judging from the quantity of honey candies he popped between and mid-song. Middle aged, looking more like a fun-sized truck driver than a singer, he told stories of lost virginities and lives well spent.

Behind the stage, a screen flashed a bricolage of images of clips from the good ol’ days, mixing fifties’ commercials, Godzilla, sex, movies, dolls, war, sitcoms. It was maddening, sometimes repeating on a loop, other times running so fast your head spun. And yet it fit so right with the night, it was impossible not to be distracted by hot line numbers appearing on screen followed by the removal of an appendix and a glove hand dipping a dime in solvent.

The applause was even louder for the second band. Shoulders were slapped, more names exchanged, and we got to know some of the attendees, more beards and beanie hats and glasses that made me wonder about their necessity.

The whole room was hyped up, almost chanting for new music to be played. We were all living on a high, dreading the moment in which real life would seep through again. Because that night we were all just listeners. No students, no husbands, no mothers, no billionaires or people who just lost their jobs. If you may, the only difference was between those playing and those who weren’t, but even then there might be some overlaps.

It was the kind of night that filled you with such positive energy it made you want to draw the 21st century equivalent of the Sistine Chapel, be the new Shakespeare, leave you mark, scream, write, run in the streets, kiss, make love, hurt, laugh hysterically.

And then it happened.

I accidentally, momentarily — mind you — fell in love with a stranger. Not just a stranger. A musician. How cliché of me.

If we want to be specific, I fell in love with the way his hands moved on the fretboard. He played those strings like it was a personal thing between them. Like they were having a private conversation, the likes one would have with their second or third personality. Not quite amicable, but nonetheless familiar.

He barely spoke between songs, like the fact that there was an audience in front of him, a stage beneath his feet was almost secondary, if not a nuisance. I wondered if all those fake glasses bothered him. His shirt, with a hot air balloons print, spoke more of a self-deprecating joke than egotistical recherche.

And then it happened. I noticed a glint of light caught in the air around the neck of his guitar. Like a silver hair floating on a river of vibrations. He barely noticed the string dancing around the extremities of his instrument, and the music barely suffered from the casualty, but oh, did I ever notice.

It was not merely the pressure that broke the string. It was the passion that guy, wearing hot hair balloons and a basket of curls, was pouring into his instrument, that just got too much and it imploded.

I felt the string snapping inside of me. And then, at the end of the piece, his voice asking the crowd if anyone knew how to change the string. A beard stepped forth and went to work while the band resumed with a different instrument. The tribute, who looked like you would imagine one of the Karamazov brother would, started fixing the string and caught my eyes. Smiled. Not smugly, but rather thrilled he had landed the job. Glad he could put his two cents in. To be part of the show, in a way.

When one of the strings of the second guitar gave in, too, all the crowd had now learned to recognize the symptoms and a low laugh snaked around the tables.

I wondered whether it was just a mere mechanical issue of too tight strings or if something in his life, in his mind right there and then was escaping through his fingertips and taking it out on the poor guitar.

Their last song ended and the whole room was on fire. More. More.

More!

Hungry. We were all so hungry.

They complied, and you could tell people were savoring the last instants of that universe, before that too imploded and who we were in those moments disappeared in the collapse.

The music trickled off, we stood up, shook some hands and made promises, for once real, to be back. I didn’t glance back to the stage, afraid I’d see the man behind the musician. The flawed human being behind the energy, the flying hands, the passion, the private conversations I felt like I was eavesdropping in.

So you see, there is this bar, in Brooklyn, at the corner of two streets that have nothing to say, where once a week something mysterious happens. Where strangers feel like family and your soul gathers inside you in a reassuring hug.

Everything will be fine, it says. There is still magic in this city.

 

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