Lucid Culture


Beam Me Up, Scotty, This City Sucks

A couple of nights ago I ended up in New Jersey. Don’t ask me how I got there: I didn’t take the Path, or a bus, or a kayak. And I was sober: no blackout nightmare scenario here. Did somebody tell Mr. Scott to pull a cruel joke and beam me across the river? Not to Hoboken’s cozy mile-square confines, or Jersey City, but to some random spot in the middle of the state, down the block from a mall, a short drive (distances are measured in drives out there, not blocks or walking time) from a Starbucks? Without my bearings, surrounded by a Saturday night’s worth of rich suburban white kids, I needed a drink. I stopped into the first bar I could find. What a surprise to find that a friend of mine was working there! He pushed a beer my way, and I started to feel a bit less queasy.

And what a pleasant surprise to see a good band onstage, in the middle of nowhere. They were called Pharaoh’s Daughter. I’d read about them in the Voice and had been put off by the little blurb they got (memo to self: NEVER TRUST THE MEDIA) which gave the impression that they were new age. Not at all. They’re an interesting, syncretic band, mixing Middle Eastern melodies with a somewhat jazzy pop sensibility. And they’re very psychedelic: their frontwoman Basya Schechter uses Middle Eastern tunings on her guitar, their hand drummer excels at polyrhythms and the lead guitarist they had tonight (more about him later) is very adept. Whether singing in Hebrew or English, Schechter is a deceptively good singer, her voice sailing calmly and effortlessly over the hypnotic swells and ebbs of the band behind her. Their Orientalism appears to be all-inclusive, incorporating both Arab and Israeli traditions: it’s soul music. I wish they’d played longer.

As it turned out, this was something of a cd release show for their lead guitarist, who as it turns out is a Westchester guitar teacher (Schechter was a student of his at one time). It appears that he’d invited a bunch of friends to play sets tonight. Pharaoh’s Daughter would prove to be a hard act to follow: the place went from penthouse to shithouse in the time it took to set up the guy who followed them. He was a trendoid playing country songs, all originals, an endless series of cliches, every trite phrase used in country songs over the last half-century. But his songs weren’t parodies, like something David Allan Coe would write: this guy really thought he could sing about ridin’ on the midnight train over and over and over again and sound authentic. Or perhaps he doesn’t understand the concept of authenticity, the notion that a pale, pale imitation of the real thing might not pack quite as much a punch as the genuine item. But maybe for this guy, with his carefully coiffed, $200 bedhead haircut and hired-gun guitarist sidekick (who was actually pretty good), content is irrelevant. Maybe music is just a thing to do for him, like he’s “doing” New York for a few years until he finally hits 35, his trust fund kicks in and then he can move up to Bearsville. Where he can finally take the midnight train for the first time in his life. Sitting at the bar, it hit me: if this guy can write a country song, then so can I. So I wrote one especially for him. Trendoid boy, whoever you are, I put the lyrics in the comments section below. It’s a simple G-C progression on the verse and then D-G on the chorus, feel free to take it if you want. I wrote it in five minutes. It’s not Johnny Cash – or David Allan Coe – but I think it pretty much tells what you’re about. If you’re about anything, that is, which could be a false assumption.

Finally the torture ended and Dayna Kurtz took the stage. We’ve been very cruel to her here and in past incarnations, and it’s obvious that she has a lot of tsouris. But it was clear from her performance that she’s a Democrat, and she doesn’t like trendoids, so she gets a pass. If I’d had some rugelach with me, I would have offered her some: she seems like the kind of person who knows good rugelach when she sees one. And rugelach will make you happy: have some and you’ll see what I mean. Too bad it was late and we were all somewhere in central Jersey because if we’d been in New York I would have told her that on her way home she could have taken the highway around to the FDR and then made a left on Grand (giving Lower East Side street directions to suburbanites is invariably a lost cause), to that wonderful bakery down the block from Kossar’s. Surely she would remember Kossar’s from what her mother told her, growing up here eighty years ago.

Then the guy whose cd release night it was played a set, and it was sad to see him perpetuate the myth that good sidemen can’t write songs and shouldn’t be out in front of a band. But watching the fat, old, balding Westchester guy singing breathily about picking up a girl in a parking lot was just preposterous. No disrespect to fat, old, bald, guitar-playing guys from Westchester, but the only woman this guy is ever going to pick up in a parking lot, especially with his soft, dorky voice, is a hooker. I got up to go to the bathroom.

When I came out I was suddenly back in New York. The suburbanites had disappeared and the bar was empty. My friend poured another beer and pushed it my way. “You want another one, right?” Damn straight I did. How did I get here? Where had I been? I clicked on my phone: the display said it was after two. My friend looked tired. I drank my beer and didn’t say anything. What I’d been through was too weird to explain, especially to somebody who’d been on his feet all night and was about to close.

So if this ever happens to you, don’t freak out. Eventually, you’ll get home. You might discover a good band, and you might also have to sit through some really bad stuff, but it’ll all turn out ok in the end. I wish I could promise you that would happen, but I can’t.

October 20, 2007 - Posted by | Music, New York City, Rant

1 Comment »

  1. Now here’s that song lyric. The chord progression at the end is the same as the verse because it would be just too, well, authentic to use the same melody as Long Black Veil:

    I’m ridin’ on the midnight plane
    On the way down to St. Bart’s
    I’ve been drinkin’ PBR and eatin’ Mickey D’s
    And now I have to fart
    She’s got an eagle tattoo the size of an oak tree
    On the underside of her thigh
    And I think I’ll go see her
    In the sweet bye and bye

    Oh angel of Caroline
    Won’t you sing my blues away
    We’ll be drinkin’ whiskey and drinkin’ wine
    California chardonnay

    She’s a hard headed woman, dontcha know baby
    The queens of the streets of these ole Beverly Hills
    She takes my money and she takes my time
    And runs up my platinum Amex bills
    The porch light’s on but nobody’s home
    There’s a shingle missing on the roof overhead
    Think I’ll light up another smoke
    And rest my weary head

    In the gutter down these mean ole streets
    You could see the smoke and flames
    And the saddest thing I’ll ever know
    Is that she didn’t even know my name

    She rides in a limo with a long black veil
    She visits my condo when the night wind wails
    I gotta go, I have to pee
    Everybody knows but me
    Everybody knows but me

    Chardonnay-hee-ho, chardonnay-hee-ho, Chardonnay-ee!

    Comment by delarue | October 20, 2007 | Reply

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