In the winter of 1985, I moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., and I worked at the now-closed Gotham Book Mart on 47th Street in mid-town Manhattan. The wooden floorboards were worn, and the shelves held books two rows deep. It was one of the oldest bookstores in New York, at the time, and it had held court to the likes of Eugene O'Neill, Henry Miller, Arthur Miller, Allen Ginsburg, Andy Warhol and Patti Smith, to name a few. This was my first job since I had arrived in New York six months earlier with two suitcases and two pieces of paper with contact names scribbled on them. Since I was the new employee, I was the designated delivery messenger for the store. On Christmas Eve, after a long, stressful, busy week, I was sent by Andy Brown, Gotham's high-strung owner, to deliver a book to his friend, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Just great. It was 4:30 in the afternoon, and it was dumping snow, with strong, cold winds, accentuated by the tall buildings of mid-town Manhattan, creating a wind tunnel effect. I would have to take a crowded bus (where you had to balance yourself between passengers, holding one hand firmly to the ceiling of the bus, if you could reach it), traveling north on Madison Avenue, to around 82nd Street. Ms. Onassis lived in an apartment building across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After handing a package to the doorman, who would undoubtedly receive a Christmas Eve tip, I headed toward the steps of the Met, to stand in line, on the sidewalk, and wait for an equally crowded southbound 5th Avenue bus. I thought of this John Cheever short story I had recently read about an elevator operator working during Christmas. And even though the main character received a number of breads, cookies and the like from the residents in the building, there was a sense of isolation, due to the nature of his work, that permeated throughout the story. It captured exactly how I felt.
I had my fill of holiday consumerism; I was spent. By the end of the workday, I went back to my Brooklyn apartment, a single room, and looked out the window, the fire escape covered in snow. I was new to the city, and I had not known many people yet. I put a Leonard Cohen cassette in my player, and I punched the button. It made me feel a little more comfortable in this beautiful, cold loneliness. That, I realized, was my true gift for that season -- how the power of music can compliment my life, how it can provide a type of comfort. And it's not something I take for granted.
Even though it wasn't mentioned in my Top 5+5 music releases of this year (for the "In Review" section) that appeared last week, my favorite 2008 recording by a local artist was Lila Nelson's Letter Home. It's an excellent release of solid songwriting, melodies, instrumentation (including the fine guitar work of Freddy Koella) and intimate production (thanks to former Stone Pony Kenny Edwards). Nelson will be touring in January, with guitarist Koella, who recently finished a tour with France's "First Lady" Carla Bruni.
Safe to say that there aren't a plethora of musical events happening in the area, but it's quality, not quantity, right?
For a nice break from the post-Christmas consumerism, The Uniontown Jazz Trio will be performing Saturday afternoon, at the Morris Graves Museum of Art, in Eureka, from 2-4 p.m. The trio features local jazz stalwarts Shaoway Wu, Susie Laraine and Brian Post.
Also on Saturday, Humboldt Brews will be hosting a special all-day, all-evening "Musicians Helping Musicians" event, to help cover medical costs for Phil "Twitch" Twitchell, who suffered a recent assault in Eureka. Among the long list of featured bands for the event are St. John and the Sinners and Sabrina on the Rocks.
On Sunday, Seattle's The Intelligence, In the Red recording artists led by guitarst/vocalist Lars Finberg, will be blasting their unique mix of garage and power pop (think Buzzcocks) at Big Pete's Pizza in Arcata. They're in the midst of a West Coast tour (in the middle of winter, no less). Local luminaries Eureka Garbage Co. (Humboldt County's longevity equivalent to the Fall) will be making a rare 2008 appearance (this is their one and only show of the year), opening the show. It's an all-ages gig, starting at 9 p.m. Eureka Garbage Co. have been in the studio recently, so chances are they'll be playing a batch of new material.
I spent 1998's New Year's Eve in Macroom, Ireland. A friend of mine from Cork City invited a number of us to his hometown, offering to let us crash at his parents' home. I took the last bus leaving from Cork, and the bus driver was driving so fast, on small, turn-filled rural roads, that several passengers nearly got ill. He was rushing, I later discovered, to get to the pub before it closed. I met up with my friend Mike Darcy and the rest of my mates at a hall called the Hooded Cloak, which was located next to the town's funeral parlor. You paid one nominal fee, and you were given a meal and all you could drink. I ended up falling asleep on the floor of the Darcy home. The next morning, I was surprised to see the kitchen table covered in plates of scones, toast, jam, scrambled eggs, rashers (Irish bacon) and pots of tea and coffee. Mrs. Darcy turned to me and said, "You must be feeling a bit rough. How about a cup of tea?" It was beautiful.
One might hope for such salvation from this year's New Year's Eve events. Mazzotti's, in Arcata, will be offering an extravaganza of Jamaican Dancehall artists, including Jamaican superstar Fantan Moja, Chezidek, Ninja Ford, Jah Womb, among others. The event's host, Humboldt resident Jah Tory, will be "on call" all evening. He and his family are expecting a baby, which is due on or around New Year's. Should make for an interesting evening. The show starts at 7 p.m., and the tickets are $29 in advance.
For something a little more intimate and gentler, Blue Lake guitarist Dave Storie will be featured in the Forever Young Experience, at Trinidad's Ocean Grove (480 Patrick's Point Rd.), starting at 9 p.m.
And, at Sal's Myrtlewood Lounge in Eureka (1696 Myrtle Ave.), the Kent Stephenson Band (known as "KSB") will be performing at 9 p.m.
Perhaps simply being with loved ones and friends is the most important item of the evening. I want to wish a prosperous New Year to all, especially to my friend, Bob Doran, who is on a "Busman's Holiday," for having me fill in for him this week. He'll be back next week. Have a safe holiday.