“Food and drink open the baser senses and open the way to the more refined senses.”
—The Evil Rancher in the
spaghetti western Django Kill…If You Live, Shoot!
“I don’t want something exciting. I want something lasting like a drink of water.”
—Overheard conversation on the street
between a woman and a man when
he offered her something exciting
Someone recently asked me what I did for a living. The proper answer would have been “Breathe” or “Live.” Instead I told him to ask Jim Feast while I went to the toilet. Upon my return, while Jim was trying to explain me to the guy, I broke in with the usual litany—all the sordid legal and illegal “jobs,” both real and imagined, that I’ve held in my life. Then I asked this self-proclaimed anarchist,“Is this a question anarchists usually ask people?” Whereupon he replied, “Sure. At meetings we always ask each other what our day jobs are.” Anarchist indeed. Now on to two longtime self-sustaining institutions.
Born in London to German Jews who had fled Hitler, author, actor, and entrepreneur Robin Hirsch, after settling in New York, decided, along with two other artists, to open the tiny Cornelia Street Café on July 4, 1977. It has since quintupled in size. Thirty-five years later, it is one of those rare cultural and culinary outposts that have miraculously managed to withstand the test of time as well as the New York real estate market. This past Fourth, while I was out watching fireworks and listening to the wonderful Brit saxophonist Trevor Watts in a rare appearance at the Stone, the Café celebrated its anniversary with a night of great performances. I’ve had many a wonderful meal there, heard many great sets of music and poetry, and thrown a line or two there myself. Though it showcases music of every conceivable style, its roster of jazz musicians has grown, and for me some of the best of the more adventurous small groups on the scene play there when not playing in, ho hum, Brooklyn. And big names like Joe Lovano, Paul Motian, Bill Frisell, Tim Berne, and Dave Liebman have played there frequently. This has rapidly become one of my favorite rooms, and the staff is the best.
The 10-year-running La Voix Est Libre festival (mentioned in my last article), which makes its home in Peter Brook’s Bouffes du Nord theater, boasts musicians, poets, spoken-word artists, and singers from both sides of the Atlantic, and is dedicated to mixing the two genres in highly experimental ways. I spent three days there this last trip to Paris and can say that for the most part the performances were top-notch, though at times they were a bit strained. (My lack of French didn’t help.) This is a highly recommended feast for the ears if you happen to be in Paris in mid-May.
Though it was a long, hot summer, the musical temperatures hit new highs and lows. It would be impossible to list all the shows that happened here over the last few months, so I will just run down a random sampling. For outdoor fare: The Philip Glass Ensemble gave its all in Rockefeller Park—with a kid’s orchestra doing Glass as the opening act. John Mayall looked his age and lost his voice, but I loved him. Buddy Guy had some great licks but too much show-biz. And some Clapton-sounding, 13-year-old prodigy with the voice of a girl wowed everyone but me. All of this took place at the over-packed Lowdown Hudson Blues Festival, which was run like a prison camp. P-Funk knocked us dead. The big indoor treat was the two-borough, beyond-eclectic Northern Spy Festival, which hosted lots of new talent plus old treasures like Sabir Mateen, Arthur Doyle, Thurston Moore in duo with Loren Connors, Cooper-Moore, and Rhys Chatham, to name just a few. And then there were the odd combos like Geri Allen and Laurie Anderson during Allen’s two-week curation of the Stone.
A bit later, after a couple of beers, I asked the anarchist, “And what about leadership?” “Well, anarchists always end up having some sort of leader who is wise and seems to know the most, so he rises to the top.” (I paraphrase here.) “Doesn’t sound like anarchism to me. Where’s the idea of the individual and self-governing, etc?” “The difference between anarchism and other systems,” he continued, “is that we don’t have to listen to what the ‘leader’ says.”
To quote John Ashbery, who gave a reading a few short blocks away at Poets House while P-Funk rocked Rockefeller Park (they should have teamed up—now that would have been innovative), “It’s important to find a copy of the reproduction.” Happy fall.