>Right Is Up (NYC Journal – Part 1)

>Thursday, 10:06AM, Nashville Interglobal Airtravel Place
Nashville’s airport has changed. I don’t mean that in a “I’ve returned from a thirty-month stewardship in a Tibetan monastery and my how the world looks different” kind of way. I flew out of this airport maybe six months ago, and I live in this city. Literally nothing I remember about the BNA remains now. Did I imagine the tourist photo-op pictures of Carrie Underwood on the walls? Did I completely invent the outdated security detail with straightaway lines and, rather than the long-and-winding road of white, faux-futuristic, StarWarsian weirdness I just trekked? Am I insane or did there used to be free wireless a-gogo in this place? What the hell is a Nashville Kitchen and why do they sell their own barbeque sauce? And why does it look like re-bottled ketchup? Why do I get the feeling that this airport would spell it “catsup” (if, you know, airports spelled things)?

My flight departs in an hour, and I return to Tennessee Sunday night, and NYC is in the middle. Come Sunday, if I touch down in Nashville, exit the gate, and am greeted by a life-sized wallphoto of Cunderwood, I officially give up. You win, Nashville. I’m going elsewhere, I’ll remember you fondly. And wrongly.

Thursday, 2:50PM, Nearly on the JFK landing strip
I also forgot that lighthouses exist.

Thursday, 6:13PM, The bar at the Ritz-Carlton
I’m here because a friend told me that if I only have one martini the rest of my life (possible), have it after work at the Ritz-Carlton. It’s after work, I’m at the Ritz-Carlton, and I’m openly eavesdropping on every conversation within earshot. I expected to see crusty uppereastside botox queens at every table, and was wrong–they’re at half the tables. The other half are a potpourri of supertall twentysomething girls, obvious non-locals (the nerve!), and people best described as “maybe prostitutes.” The only thing they all have in common is that no one–and I mean no one–is with their husband.

This marks the first time in years one of my friends was right about something.

Thursday, 11:30PM, Hotel
Finally eating dinner, watching Letterman a few hours after my cab passed Radio City Music Hall while I thought, “It’s 6 o’clock, I bet they’re filming Letterman right now.” Now I’m wondering why David Letterman seems even funnier than usual tonight.

The guest says something bizarre and Paul cues circus music and Letterman asks, “what the hell is going on here?” He’s constantly inviting the audience to ask, along with him, what the hell is going on here. It’s a driving force of his comedy. But, tonight, in this room, it’s not a pointed question, and it’s not a question with a pre-supposed answer, and maybe not a question with a bad answer. It’s just the thought in my head: “Where-am-I and what-the-hell-is-going-on-here and what-is-this-thing-I’m-eating?” And Letterman keeps one eyebrow arched at the camera and laughs his fatigued laugh and groans his goofy, over-the-top groan, and I don’t know what he’s laughing at. I’m just laughing too.

Friday, 9AM, Hotel (when propriety is harder than you think)
I just turned open my curtains in a fit of top-of-the-morning gusto and accidentally invited the 6th grade class across the street to see pretty much all of me.

Tomorrow’s test could have only one question, “How many moles does the guy across the street have on/around his butt” and the class could answer reflexively, “two, and a freckle.” Insert “anatomy test” jokes as needed. Zing, bing, bam.

Friday, 11AM, Hotel (when caffeine is harder than you think)
Coffee just happened. This is how:

I ask the concierge, “the nearest Starbucks, good sir” and he says, “outside the front door, take a right, it’s one and a half blocks up.” “Pip pip, cheerio,” I say.

I go outside, and I go up one and a half blocks. Then I go up another three blocks. I turn around, and re-enter the hotel lobby. “Say, which street is this coffery on?” “It’s on this street. Did you turn right and go up one and a half blocks.” “I went up one and a half blocks, yes.” “But did you turn right?” “I don’t know. Which way is up?” “Right. Just turn right and walk a ways.”

“Turn right” was pretty much too difficult for me to understand, and I still don’t know how “up” is a direction. On my way out, he adds, “If you take a wrong turn [read: if the only turn you make is somehow wrong, you terrific moron], it’s alright, there’s a Starbucks over there too.”

And so there is.

NYC 2,837, Milam 1.

Friday, 3PM, Hotel (after walking further than any man ever has)
Coming back “down” town (get it now) from lunch with a friend (meaning I watched him order expensive stuff and occasionally smelled it across the table), I begin walking in the direction of my hotel. I know I’m heading in the right direction because the numbers which counted up on my way here (“up” being a direction and all) now count down. Math, against all odds, has become my saving grace on this trip. Tonight I will play “3” by Blind Melon–which is just Shannon Hoon counting, set to music–and truly feel it.

Anyway, I walk and stop and try to get a cab and fail because all the cabs are headed in the wrong (read: proper) direction. So I walk a few blocks and stop and try again and fail again because it’s, you know, still the same one-way street. So I walk some more. And then I realize I just walked 15 blocks, which my powers of subtraction deduce is about halfway home. And now I’m getting into the “fun” part of town and the weather is “nice-ish,” and I want to see what this whole “Greenwich Village” thing is all about, so I say, “To hell with it, I’m walking to Hotel. This will be awesome.”

You’re not going to believe this, but my powers of subtraction were off by twelve miles. Forty-five city blocks, a bizarre two-minute rainshower, exactly four mohawk sightings, and one defeated Cyclops later, I’m back at Hotel.

My plan is now to shower and get my gear together for the set tonight.

Friday, 3:16PM, Hotel
A friend informs me she has recently seen Heidi Klum at a park very near Hotel. My plan is now to live in that park.

Friday, 7:50PM, the Bitter End
The Bitter End is a New York landmark, one of its oldest and most historic music venues. Most of my idols–everyone from Bob Dylan to Bill Cosby–has played here. I’d never even seen a good picture of it before now, so I’ll try to paint one now:

Walk in the door, the ticket booth is immediately in front, the bar to your left. Artwork of aforementioned idols adorns much of the wallspace, reminding you where you are and what’s come before. It’s a very long rectangular room. The bar runs along the left wall, the stage along the right wall. The performer faces the short space of the room available for front-and-center seating. There are plenty of tables on all three sides of the stage and, thanks to a properly raised stage, there is no bad seat. The place, along with standing area by the bar, comfortably holds 150 or so. There is no cloud of smoke, and (this early anyway) no discernible haze of alcohol. It’s in the heart of the Village, but the crowd isn’t uberhip or young, and it’s certainly not ironic or sneering or intellectual. Nobody is propping up the back wall, waiting for a wrong note with a smirk. The place is full of people simply eager for (and expecting) great music.

Landmark music venues feel old in the best possible sense: their history is palpable, and they naturally command respect. For the audience, the pull is a constant reminder of past history, and the implicit promise of future history (“the next guy on stage could be a star tomorrow”). For the performer, the place simply demands your best shot (“Your heroes played here…anything less than 100% diminishes you as an artist”).

The Grand Ole Opry is one of those places. The Station Inn (Nashville’s most-storied bluegrass and country dive) is, in a different way, one of those places. For a nascent singer-songwriter, who came up on Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Sam & Dave, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Miles Freaking Davis…who’s toured the coffeehouses and divebars of the South and Middlewest and back down, worked his way up the Nashville bars, then clubs, then proper venues, playing for every type of crowd imaginable so long as there’s an open ear and a mic that works and a chance at sharing music with someone or anyone at all, a stage in New York is both an aspiration and an abstraction, a dot on the map, an unreality, a Great Unseen Thing…the Bitter End isn’t one of those places. It is the place, the spot on the map I’m currently in, the Great Unseen Thing now all around.

I go on in ten minutes.

Part Two Later This Week!

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>Right Is Up (NYC Journal – Part 1)

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