Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Dear Liza

Back in the 1970's, when I'd been living out my first chapter in the city as a self-supporting independent dreamer, my father showed up at my humble apartment which was a converted first-floor office I rented on the cheap.  'You're overdrawn,' he announced, without a trace of sympathy or paternal emotion, which was his MO.   At first I took this as a backhanded critique of my drawing techniques...I was still studying art... but then I realized he was talking dollars and sense-- the only advice-road he ever crossed where I was concerned.  SO... my checking account was $10 in the red and this, according to him, was a financial and moral sin.   Did he offer me a coffee-- an ice-cream?  A street pretzel?  I'd given up all luxuries to survive my little spartan life as a student with part-time jobs at Bloomingdale's, at an art gallery, babysitting... earning $90 maximum per week.  I gave him my word it would never happen again... and it didn't.

It occurred to me, listening to my son rattle off the numbers of his friends with wealthy parents who backed their start-ups, bought them apartments, set them up with stock portfolios... this was my strict lesson in economics-- my hard-landing, my teenage Brexit.   While I had little in common with my military Dad who disapproved of my life choices until he died, I raised my son with a parallel ethic.  But somewhere in the last 40 years, urban values have changed.

Last night I listened to Danny Fields talking via the LES Biography project about city life back in the 1960's and 70's... the music scene, especially... and I nearly salivated.  Yes, I remember when there were maybe 1000 hip people in New York who were doing things--- very few of them had money, but there was a certain fierce bohemian patriotism... we hung out and listened and exchanged... things were being discovered... things were new and hypnotically interesting... you'd miss them if you stayed home.  Even mainstream music was pretty good-- bands were inventing and becoming.  Records were important and in the clubs, no one dared get up and perform unless they had a concept.  Not much of the avant garde was on television, and punk was so much more than a recording-- it was energy. It was live.

Not watching the Grammies has become a no-brainer.  This is not music-- it's some new kind of industry that has little to do with discovery and everything to do with marketing, cultural manipulation.  Money.  I admit I turned on television for a quick minute in time to catch a quick visual meme of Jennifer Lopez thrashing it out on a piano-top... and I literally felt sorry for her.  Okay-- I'm pretty old now, way past the age of strutting onstage half-clothed... but let's face it, there's a small fortune's worth of spandex and Spanx in the Beyonce and J-Lo shows these days.

The truth is, I feel rich.  I am grateful to have lived in the Danny Fields version of New York, and lucky to have seen what I saw, usually without paying very much if anything.  But the time-- it was worth it.  Staying out all night year after year, dragging myself through classes and gallery afternoons just to make it to another night of back-to-back gigs and inhaling the charged air of downtown.   I never 'made it' in the music business... and I still feel rich.  I never asked anyone for a dime, once I settled the 10-buck debt with my father.  In fact I paid him back in spades, but that's another tale.  He went to his grave without sampling a single one of my living catalogue and it doesn't bother me.

I guess we can't help wanting things for our kids-- I'm sure he wanted me to have the best appliances and home decor-- the perfect tennis-playing husband, the country club and the vacations... For my son, I want him to have that discovery New York gave me-- the jolt, the inspiration-- the courage to be what I wanted-- the values I cling to that had me starve for years for a painting I craved, work weeks on end to collect $50 at a gig, walk miles carrying heavy equipment...   But it seems while I was mothering and forging onward, the urban garden turned into a money crop, and I'm a bit lost here.  One thing I do notice: rich people, with a few exceptions,  do not feel rich.  They are insatiable and often unhappy.  They trade in their wives, their homes, their cars, their clothes... and still they search for more.

Someone asked me the other day about my Bucket List.  I remember the first time I heard that expression and didn't recognize it.  It's a recent coinage, I think... although a bucket is a pretty Mother-Goosey kind of image.  What I thought of immediately is that old folk song-- 'There's a Hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza... '

There's a hole in my bucket, for sure.  But my list is kind of checked off.   And so many of the things I'd wish for-- well, I've done them, in a sense.  Traveling the world-- I guess I saw plenty of places playing backroom gigs and going to art auctions when I was young; and I can look at images, watch films... no hotel room hassle, stressful delays, no airport security.  My shelves are lined with the best books I'm lucky to have become acquainted with-- because plenty of young people come in here and have never read Pushkin or Celine or Borges.  I visit the past with these authors who open their minds and landscape for me.  I read on trains and kids sometimes ask about my book... they often note titles on their phone-- their version of a bucket list.

Maybe the after-effects of something like poverty have seeped through my cracks and wrinkles and changed my chemistry from a longing young girl feverish with passion and ambition, to a wiser and warped older woman who just wants some time to finish my work and study that of my heroes.

Last night that Supermoon was pretty amazing.  It outshone any of the red carpet jewels the Oscar nominees will be showing off.  As for me, I'll be doing a gig somewhere, wearing the not-on-the-bucket-list necklace my son gave me for my birthday.  It's tiny and magical and so perfect, the way these things are meant to remind us of a star-- an unattainable tiny point of light...   perspective.  Somewhere in this city of competitive bank accounts and 7-figure Valentine gifts they forgot the point of beauty.  Nothing compared with that moon that hung there for every single one of us-- homeless or penthoused... not the ring of Steph Curry or the trophies of Tom Brady and Cardi B.  So keep your eMemos and iNotes going... I've still got plenty of work to do, God willing, but fixing the bucket is not on the list.