Tonight I phoned one of my old downtown rocker friends. He’d been having his share of small personal tragedies, and trouble finding work. We’d spoken about putting our old band back together. So it turns out, he’s actually in LA—renting a place in North Hollywood with a pool and a Jacuzzi for $600 a month, which for the uninitiated buys maybe an unfurnished week in an average cramped dumpy light-deprived roach and roodent-infested NYC apartment. ‘There are people here,’ he tells me. ‘There are Marshall stacks and a Goth scene. You don’t have to take a 45 minute train ride to Canarsie to hear a goddamn band. Manhattan is dead.’
Of course I am a born-and-bred New Yorker who has sacrificed everything to own my tiny piece of real estate. I always maintained that anyone who disses my city is a sour-grapes loser. But tomorrow is the annual coop meeting where I will have to sit with the outcasts and over-80 tenants and vote in a bloc against the hedge-fund assholes and bankers who’d love to turn this classic pre-war into a resort. Gut the whole damn thing--- out with the old. I am getting to the age where the Starbucks baristas aren’t so cheery about pouring my free venti refill, the grocery boys don’t jump to open the door; they sit and watch while I struggle with my personal economics.
The corporatization of New York is an old story; the face-lift-- -the weed-like overgrowth of 21st-century context-less buildings which have really altered the logic of the old plan. It’s a little bit Hong-Kong-y--- maybe trending toward Dubai? Whatever… maybe this city is becoming a hideousity--- like an architectural Donatella Versace. I mean—20 years ago, I was incensed by Starbucks—now that’s the least of my worries.
I’m not quite ready to jump my old ship—but that phone call tonight was sort of the first indication that maybe, just maybe, my dream has become my albatross… that whatever we are struggling for here in this center of the cultural universe--- maybe it has already left, or been chased away. It’s true, there is no rock and roll in Manhattan. There are only versions of original bands, and then the tribute shows. Nothing is real.
I always hated LA. I tried to move there way back with my rockstar husband. I had no drivers license and I couldn’t find a bookshop I liked. I couldn’t understand why people wanted a star on Hollywood boulevard when everyone knows there are trillions more stars in the universe than people. Everyone looked like a character in some play; I couldn’t find the Kerouac version and I couldn’t find any grit. I spent a few nights at the Rainbow…just didn’t fit in. I missed CBGB’s and the Mudd Club. Now I’m in New York, ensconced—rooted—and I still miss them. Maybe while we were all buried in our phones and facebook pages---everyone left… including the music scene.
He also told me he was hanging out with one of my former bandmates, who left to marry some producer out there. Apparently her happy posts on facebook said nothing about her domestic misery and failed affair. Apparently in my little narcissistic world of writing and desperately trying to ‘keep it real’ musically, I am missing the point of everything. Maybe I have deceived myself.
I’m listening to Bloomberg now.. these new companies… they are all like a major convoluted explanation for someone to get paid… the concept is a variation on something else… an excuse for making money.. an excuse to get venture capital, hire people, move around like they’re doing something… sell stock, etc… medical ideas are unaffordable… $140,000 for a pill…takeovers in the ‘medical device’ industry. Something is wrong. No one should be taking over. They should be giving away. Giving.
I’ve joked that Manhattan is now for the billionaires and those that serve them: the sycophantic celebrity-sucking nouveau middle class. So yes, the irony of stars being a dime a dozen---or less—but it seemed, 50 years ago, that people were distinct-- that they looked like who they were--- they were unique. Even in fashion--- voiceless models were unique: there was Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, Lauren Hutton—Penelope Tree. Now all these blonde vegan froth actresses maybe started out looking like something, but they get their noses shaved down, their skin scraped, their lips plumped, their hair processed. Black people have straight blonde hair. At least 10 actresses look exactly like Jennifer Lopez. Or maybe I have cultural cataracts. Whatever. I didn’t mix people up back then. Now I have to look at captions.
This couple moved into my building. They were not very good looking: pudgy and awkward. The wife had brown frizzy hair and squinty eyes. Now they have grown thinner and thinner; the husband wears Gucci loafers and combs his hair straight back and has learned that Wall Street slow-strut. The wife looks like a Pilates instructor. All the lumps and bumps have disappeared. Especially the ones on her nose. Her skin is smooth and her eyes are wide open. Her daughter’s nose is straight, too—like they had to destroy all genetic evidence of any flaws. They have matching Balenciaga bags. Yesterday she was blonde. Beyonce-blonde.
This woman I know posted on facebook that she’s now homeless. She came to see me last year with her daughter and granddaughter. People in my building—the staff-- -they questioned me about them. They asked who they were. They’re PEOPLE, I said. People. My doormen said they looked like trailer trash. The doorman. ‘They’re people from the Midwest who have had lives.’ How do I know them? The real story? I bought something on ebay. It came broken. I wrote to the seller and she began writing to me. She listens to my songs and reads my poems. She comments. She’s interested. So she rented a car and drove here. ‘They have bedbugs, these kind of people,’ my super said. Fuck you, I didn’t say. I own this place. They would like it if I didn’t own, but we’re stuck. The thing is--she looks like someone, this person. She looks unique…the way I did, the way everyone did before they realized everything could be fixed. What if someone decided to flatten the world? To shave down the mountains and fill in the ditches and oceans…so it would be easier to ‘mow’? Well that’s what’s happening here…people look generic. Hair is generic. You can change everything--- your face, your body, your age, your hair texture…you can put on 8-nch heels and look tall even if you’re stout and pudgy with short legs… so suddenly a piglet is a gazelle. It’s messed up. Like those toys where you put the dog head on the gorilla body. We can do this now. We can get an Alec Baldwin face on a popsicle body. You can be 4 ‘2” and have Charlize Theron’s face… or at least her make-up. I see about 50 people a day who look exactly like Tyra Banks. Beyonce. Who the f- is she? Show your ID. Shake it. Double shake it like you do. That’s Beyonce Knowles. Another fake name.
Maybe Manhattan is just the fat-Elvis version of what used to be New York. People like the fat Elvis. Just not this person.
My neighborhood poet today was wearing a down coat and sunglasses. It was overcast and 80 degrees. She was pre-occupied and shuffling. Please, I wanted to say--- don’t leave me. I look down--- my shoes are so out of style they could possibly be cool in LA. My clothes are shabby and I’m a version of myself that might be my own fat Elvis.
Another friend who moved to Nashville just called and asked me to overnight him a pastrami sandwich. Since the old Second Avenue deli has gone, I looked on the internet to find out where to get the best pastrami, just in case he was serious. Turns out it’s in Nashville. Nothing is real. Say Graceland.