Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Existing in New York City: An Unfinished Story From the Past

Foto by tgw, New York City 2009
As Found on wood s lot:

A Very Personal Message To The Poetry Community On Behalf Of Diane Di Prima.

By Amber Tamblyn

Earlier this month, my spirit animal and close family friend poet Michael McClure sent me an email regarding San Francisco Poet Laureate Diane Di Prima who is now 78 years old. Michael knows that Diane has had a particularly important impact on my life. Her memoir, Recollections of My Life As A Woman changed me on a fundamental level. Her very existence, even prior to reading her memoir, shaped the way I viewed myself as an emerging woman and as a writer. Upon reading Recollections, I knew I could never go back to the way I viewed myself again. I could not NOT define myself as, above all things, a poet and a feminist, titles I had always struggled with.

Michael McClure wrote me:

Diane is suffering with several painful and even life-threatening illnesses, including removal of all teeth, arthritis from her earlier back operation, extreme problems with glaucoma and a needed operation; but that’s just the top of the list. Despite all, she is in unexpectedly fine spirits. If you know of any way to help her, she would appreciate it and I would also.
So here I am, asking you—the poetry community—to support one of the most important poets in our lifetime. I have set up a donations page for Diane at Give Forward which will help to cover her rehabilitation and costs from several surgeries over the next couple of months. Please donate, even if it’s just a dollar or a message expressing love and warm wishes. (But if you don’t give a dollar… to quote a Di Prima poem, I say to you: ”Get Your Neck Off My Knife”.)
I spoke to Diane today by phone and when I told her about the fundraiser I would launch today on Harriet, she said to me, toothless and ruthless as ever: “That’s all great and we need the money… but more importantly, how are your poems coming along these days?”

Posted in Group Blog on Tuesday, April 17th, 2012 by Amber Tamblyn.


Note: We have purchased a MacBook, a rare black one with Snow Leopard (10.6) as its operating system on an Intel processor hard drive. We are now waiting for it to be delivered--by next week we hope--in time we also hope to avoid Blogger leaving The Daily Growler abandoned on the old blog highway--all who love and adore us, keep your fingers crossed--if we get this machine in time, we won't miss a beat--but, as the great Fats Waller said, "One never knows, do one?"

Art Pepper

Adjusting Parallel Lines to Track Correctly, A Story of a Jazz Man Inspired By the Late Art Pepper's Life
You're Wantin' to Live When You're Body's Wantin' to Die [from May 10, 2010]
I lay up in my bed most of the time I'm home. And most of the time I am home these days. I'm an aging musician. I work nights when I work. That's the problem: when I work. If I sleep I sleep after my wife goes to work. My wife works a day gig. I hear her in the kitchen cookin ' eggs and sausages. She works hard to please me. I smell the coffee brewing. On the stove. In an old coffee pot I had when I was in college. I'm particular. My wife bears it. This wife. I've had two other wives. But this wife...this wife is the chick who's saving my ass.

I lay up in my bed with pillows piled up behind me. I have a set of earphones hanging off a peg head-high on the wall behind my bed. The earphones are plugged into a stereo that is set up on a shelf in the book shelves on the wall to the left side of my bed. On those shelves I keep my books and my clippings and my souvenirs and memorabilia. Like that poster over there of that pig in a top hat carrying a cane and wearing a tux. That's the only band I was ever in that got a poster. That's my only poster. My past. I can pack it all up fast in a couple of suitcases and get the hell out of here if I have to. And I have had to many times before.

Like I said, I'm a musician. I'm a piano player. Not really a good piano player. Well, I'm very good for me, but I can't compete with the established names in my field no way. What I've got going for me is that I can play the piano AND I can also sing. When I first moved to New York City in late 1968, that was a big advantage in getting a gig.

There was a bar on every corner in downtown Manhattan where I ended up living--actually camping out in musician friends's living rooms or spare rooms, one time in a guy's attic--and in every other one of these bars they had live music. Some of these bars were low-life wino bars but there were some swankier places, usually called lounges, where they had live jazz. Another advantage I had at that time was I could crossover from jazz to blues to standards to
r and b to rock. Why, due to where I came from, the plains of West Texas, I could even do C&W. Like I could with ease go from a medley of Harold Arlen tunes into a medley of B.B. King's latest hits then into a medley of Hank Williams favorites. I even could do some Wayne Raney tunes. I could be Tony Bennett or I could be Sleepy LaBeef. Another advantage I had was I was a good showman. I had a stage charm. Even my patter was entertaining.

I got in with a whole host of downtown Manhattan musicians and soon I was using my advantages and getting a steady bunch of steady gigs. Soon I was playing, in the Players sense of the term, smack-dab in the middle of one angle of the New York City downtown music scene. Playing steady with a drummer and bass player at one joint--making 50 a night--and whatever tips I could hustle. I even did a steady solo thing at a pizza parlor that had a piano in the far back room where as the owner told me they liked to keep "a jazz thing" going for the atmosphere.

That was then; this is now. Now I have a lot of time between gigs. Gigs? The kids have taken the gigs away from me. As a kid, I suppose I took gigs away from the old cats, too. I never thought about it then and I'm sure these kids never consider it either. Fuck the old fogies. Give 'em a sort of a shrugged shoulders respect but at the same time advocated an "it's time for them to move on" attitude. And now having to accept these attitudes and give the stage over to these, to me, children, it pains a musician like me to see what's taking my place up there on those stages I used to make my living on. I go in a club where I used to work. They've changed the name of the club but the club's still the same, same bar, same tables and chairs, same crappy stage, new Klieg lights, they only had one spot when I worked there. But the music. That has changed. On stage were two White boys, with their shirts-off to show their many disfiguring tattoos, playing low-hanging electric guitars backed by an older White boy, a rather porky boy wearing a guinea tee shirt--tattoos blaring off his chubby lily white arms--and then they started--and one White boy leaps at the mic and screams something unintelligible to me but the audience responds by screaming whatever he said back at him. The fairly large music room is packed, at least 50 of what looked to me like underage teens trying to look trendy hip and older than they are--the club management not obviously checking IDs, nor do they seem to give a shit as long as this band was packin ' 'em in, though I did notice a lot of Shirley-Temple-looking drinks in front of some of the obviously moppet girls laced among the "drinking" studs--the boys all ratherfreakily resembling the guys on stage. I ask a girl who's the band. "Wow, man, the Social Loogies dance old man?" "I dance right out of your way, sweetheart," I suavely replied. "I like you, old man, you're cool." She shot me the peace sign and floated off into the mix of tables. The Social Loogies were now both screaming into their mics, leaping in the air, windmilling their guitars, hurling out their vocals with vile grievance on their faces. And, yes, it did look like they were hocking up loogies. But what they were hocking their loogies at, I couldn't understand. After about 15 minutes, the song the Social Loogies were singing BAM just ended. The crowd went wild. Absurdly so. I'd never in my performing career had a crowd go that wild. I don't remember ever really expecting a crowd to go that wild even after I did one of my specialty numbers (something I'd worked on to perfection in terms of how I played and delivered it).

Soon the Loogies just left the stage. That was it for them? I spotted the guy, I swear, the guy who owned the joint when I worked here. "Billy? Billy is that you?" "Yeah, I don't need no help if you're lookin' for work." "Naw , Billy, how 'bout giving me a gig in here." "Give your demo to that British jack off over there by the bandstand." "Billy, you don't remember me, The Wolf Boy...or how about Wolf on the Mantle and the Ordinaries?" "Wolf?" Billy finally looked up at me. "Wolf...god-damn, boy, you ain't no boy anymore. Is that really you? God-damn, good to see ya. What the fuck you up to?" "Just checkin' out the old scene. Gettin ' nostalgic." "It's changed, Wolf. It's changed. Did you check out that piece-of-shit band that just played? I won't let 'em play but one set. They get the birdies in and then I bring on the soapy set...she's coming on in 5...with big promises that those little prick assholes will do another set. It works. I'm not gettin' rich...." "Billy, you were pleadin' poverty when I worked here." If a girl, she's playing a tamborine or if talented an acoustic guitar. If she sings, she sings like she's sucking dick. All playing the same 3-change tunes rock and rollers have been playing since the overplaying Brits came over here and claimed our music as their own--playing like that guy in the Who who did the windmill thing on his electric guitar while holding down the reverb pedal while wanking the wah-wah pedal with his other foot. And we jazz and blues guys all horse laughed at these guys. We jived about how much these "tape recorder" types had copied from Jimi , a true hero to us. Whatever sarcastic opinions we older cats had of these 3-change (C to A-flat to B-flat back to C) monaural creatures and their monotonous music, they and their music were getting the gigs.

Or, and here's another problem I'm facing: even if there is a venue where my kind of music is still accepted, when I get there to promote myself and try and get a gig, I have to wait in a long line of better recognized has beens than me. Why look, ain't that Chubby Checker up there behind Neil Sedaka? Yep, these has beens get the gig based on their past fame. Like this one joint I spotted with a sign "Live Jazz Nightly" in its window. I had a demo with me, so I decided to go in and see if I could drop it off for the music booker to listen to--a chance for maybe at least a Monday night gig. As I walked in the door I saw a bill posted in the vestibule and on the bill I saw that an old jazz pianist hero of mine was doing a single there. Inside I was told this old dude was pretty much a permanent fixture there now. Very popular.

Then through my charm, I got this great gig in the heart of Greenwich Village; playing a sort of jazz-blues-free-form fusion; the owner lady with twinkles in her loving eyes told me not to worry, she liked me, and sure I had the gig pretty much forever. It looked good for me; a chance to get back in the public eye again. And then one night after I'd knocked a packed house's socks off, I went up to the boss lady to get my money and she starts hem-hawing around, acting shy, not looking me in the eye. Then she told me she was sorry, so deeply sorry, her eyes tearing up on cue, but she was giving my gig to this guitarist dude. I recognized his name. His fame was he'd worked briefly with Miles Davis. Plus he had a wife who supposedly could sing just like some so and so girl singer. So that was that for me and that gig.

So I had a lot of time between gigs. So I had my bed rigged up where I could lay back, listen to music, or watch teevee. The teevee was straight in front of the bed. Big screen. With a video player attached.

And when my wife went to work and I was left alone in the apartment, that's when I just lay in bed, got high, reefer, drank strong coffee, and either listened to music or watched teevee. I had a big notebook always by my side on the bed, too. While digging music I wrote poetry. While watching teevee I wrote music. I wrote songs. I had started writing my autobiography. I thought I had a wild fascinating past. I'd done some stupid things in my life. Like alcohol. Wow, I used to be such a bad drunk. Like I got into such an alcoholic rage one night in a San Francisco club when a customer came up and requested I play something recognizable I leaped off the stage to attack him and cracked my jaw when I fell on the edge of a table.

So I'm watching television this morning. My wife's cooking me breakfast. She's just brought me a steaming mug of Joe, Bean, Mocha Java, whatever you call coffee. Musicians I know never just say coffee. The Bean was what we called it in my crowd. "You're eggs and sausage are comin' soon. You ready?"

I'd lucked out on this my third wife.

[THIRD WIFE: "The first time I met him? I didn't remember. He said I did. He said he caught my eye...that was in downtown Manhattan dump...damn, it's unbelievable to me how long ago that was...but, anyway, he claimed he caught me adoring him while he was playing this certain tune a certain way. You know, like he was playing at me as though I was a cobra in a basket. [She laughs a bright laughter.] He claimed, 'I was playin' right at you, baby. I could tell you were diggin' me solid. I was sendin' you, baby.' I guess he's right. I don't remember how it happened. But I did end up bookin' into the Terminal Hotel with him. And do remember shackin' up with him there for 2 days in some friend of his's room. And I do remember telling him yes I would marry him. I found out later, the bastard, I looked almost exactly like his first wife. The wife he had a kid with. No, he told me straight off about this wife and the kid, but he never mentioned she looked just like me."]

Yeah, she does look like my first wife, Janine. God, with Janine I was so sure it was true love. It wasn't. It was sex. She had a smokin ' little body and she was grabby and easily grabbed in return, and she was warm and foxy, and she was expertly passionate, and easy, so easy. I just snapped my fingers and she was taking her clothes off and prodding me on. I thought things were great. Champagne by the jeroboams. Weed by the pound. Hell, we even grew it in our pot plants. Then one day she just said, 'What if I quit fucking you?' Damn. I thought about that. It was a powerful question. I looked her up and down. I thought, Jesus, I don't know anything about this woman. All I know is I look at her and want to fuck her. She's right. I don't know her desires. I don't know her hopes. And then the truth hit me right between the eyes. I don't know these things because I don't care about them. I don't love her. That's it. I don't love her.

Then when I was at my lowest--I sat day and night with a bottle of vodka between my legs. When I sobered up I got the willies so bad, I got to banging down uppers. To stabilize me, I rationalized. I was stumble down drunk and on a buzzsaw high at the same time. Sleeping awake half of the time. Swilling. I became a drunk.

[And there this story suddenly ended.]
picking 'em from the past for The Daily Growler


Anonymous said...

Don't leave us. Get a new laptop.

Marybeth said...

Big CONGRATS on the new machine. Christ, you know I need my Growler fix!