Greene Point, Brooklyn / April 2013 – with Sophie Mallam
I have been visiting New York every year for the past six years. The first time, I arrived on a plane from Dallas, Texas with my friend Zoe. We had been traveling in the United States for three or so weeks. It was around this time of year. Spring and all. We had already been jet-lagged in Los Angeles, bewildered in Las Vegas, wind-swept in San Francisco and converted in Arizona. Nothing makes the heart sing “America!” quite like a trip to the Grand Canyon. Trust me.
New York was the last stop on our itinerary. It was before my friends had started to move over. Australians are everywhere there these days. But at the time, the only people we knew in the city were friends of friends, as well as a young man I befriended on the plane after making small talk about the Robert Frost lines inked on his arm:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
We stayed in Crown Heights in Brooklyn. Young and broke, we stretched our limited funds to include trips to the MoMA, the Bronx Zoo and a bender in Times Square. I don’t think I’ve been to Times Square since. But oh, how I’ve been to New York. I used to imagine I’d live there, until I stumbled upon Nashville two autumns ago and reconfigured all my dreams almost immediately. Anyhow, New York. New York. I’ve visited so often now. I know its anxious hum and its cheap pizza and its pretty brownstones. I know its bookstores and its worthwhile vintage shops and its music venues. Of course, I still don’t know the subway system. But I reserve the right to pretend that I do.
On my most recent trip, I came up from Tennessee on the bus. For those unfamiliar with the narrative of this blog: I quit my desk job in Australia last year and I’m in Nashville writing my album, which means I’m not exactly time-poor. On the 24 hour journey, I was reminded that I’m not exactly poor, poor either. I watched three people get arrested at one stop in Ohio. I rejected the advances of a road-weary gun salesman. I listened as a young pregnant couple explained to all willing passengers within earshot that they met in rehab and were returning home so the expectant father could go back and serve time for petty crimes.
For all the rough and tumble of my pining for pay-day Australian upbringing, which often included my Dad bringing home every misfit to ever share a pint with him at the Turvey Park Tavern, the Nashville – New York bus trip was an eye-opener. Tough. Sad. Real. My departed Dad never saw America. I wonder what he would have made of me making my way to The Apple on the Greyhound. I suspect that he, prone to geographic romanticism as much as I, probably would have thought it was quite cool. His concerns for my safety never being greater than his concerns that I might not follow the less-traveled road.
Once I made it to Manhattan, I headed straight to the office of my dear friend Sophie. She’s a sister to me. A fellow Sagittarius and bon-vivant, Sophie works in a high-rise office with fancy views, where she makes television shows. My real-life sister, Lanneke does this in Australia too. Sophie whisked me to a coffee shop, expressed genuine concern that I was upset about the death of a country singer she’d never heard of and gave me directions to get back to her apartment in Fort Greene, a place I’d stayed last June and remembered well-enough to know where I’d find a decent cup of tea and some green food. They don’t sell greens at bus stations, you see.
When the night called I went back to Manhattan for a gig, met Sophie again, drank whiskey and wine and enjoyed the company of almost strangers, which was a nice, big city thing to do. Over the next few days, I got a decent dose of hearty-laughed Australian women, whose company I miss terribly when I’m in the South. My Nashville friends are brilliant. But I love the directness of these resilient, lovely girls and the way their adopted city makes me feel like an extra in a Woody Allen film or a footnote in Brill Building song. Silly, yes. True, also.
I’ve got two songs I’m writing at the moment that take place in New York. I like to sit with songs a while, so neither are finished. One is a love song for the city itself, all dressed up like a love song for a man. It’s sort of about what my life might have been had I moved there instead. The other is a love song too. Or perhaps more of a longing song. It’s not quite what Joni Mitchell would describe as a “portrait of despair” but it’s not exactly hopeful either. I’m not sure where it will end up. Recorded, hopefully.
While those songs remain recorded fragments and half-penned in notebooks, here are some New York songs I’m quite fond of.
Chelsea Hotel #2 – Leonard Cohen
Downtown Train – Tom Waits
Bleecker & MacDougal – Fred Neil