Saturday, August 27, 2005

Apropos Randy

Apropos Randy Jones, it strikes me that something should be done to make him a force to once more trouble the charts, perhaps in solo guise. I note from his business card that he has a website, the appropriately cosmic "Randy Jones World", where we can only imagine the inhabitants are strictly choreographed, and luminous. You can, and should, find it at:

He has a new single out, appropriately titled "New York City Boy" - so if you want to understand NYC life, give up on this, and go out and buy.

Also, I learn that there is a photo of Randy and yours truly, occupying some corner of cyberspace. But, ha ha, you'll never find it-

Deborah and Randy

Some nights after my inititation into East Village life, I had a better initiation. This was Wednesday.

Debbie Harry, who makes even my father's voice quaky, was playing a show at Mo Pitkins, one of these polymath venues that combine all sorts of innovative features, like drinking and singing. She was playing with her jazz band The Passengers, who were hanging out in the downstairs bar, drinking jazz-sized helpings of spirits - but of Debbie herself, there was no sign. You could tell the photographers, because they were the people who didn't look happy to be there.

Eventually, I was shown up to meet Debbie and interview her on East Village life. The up direction in this case involved rather steep black steps, and I could make out her still very recognisable cheekbones for what felt like fifteen minutes before I had attained parity. Those steps were pilgramage. God never looks like you expect, I suppose, and Debbie Harry had a black, broad-rimmed hat pulled down over tightly. She looked quite cross to see me, and as if I had crawled up above my natural rung.

After we chatted for a while at the top of the stairs, she mellowed somewhat and ultimately even brought herself to say a pursed "Good luck." I told her she could say a little bit about The Passengers, and she said "I don't need a plug. It's Jazz!", which I did not think was a helpful description.

The performance space was inevitably packed to the rafters. The Passengers played very idiosyncratic, slightly spastic jazz. The saxophonist was particularly watchable, he had his feet turned inwards like on the Elvis Costello album, "My Aim is True", and managed to move them at high tempo. His solos were exceptional, and the man beside me was understandably nodding along. Hell, I could even excuse his mouth being deliriously wide open...but hold on, doesn't he look like the cowboy from the Village people?

"Hi, I'm the cowboy from the Village people."

Randy Jones, for so was his impossibly apposite name, had to curtail his introduction, for Debbie Harry at that point took to the stage late, first protruding a limp, dangling hand from the behind the curtain, and then her whole person. She launched into the first track immediately, with the nonchalant ease of someone singing in a perfectly acoustic bathroom, and Randy's capacious jaw charted new dimensions. A scrum of photographers had been formed by an invisible referee, and in the melee I could make out several of the unhappy-looking moonfaces I'd seen earlier. One of them had been sitting at table with Randy and myself, and she punctuated her frantic zooming with a return to grab extra reels of film. When the frenzy abated, she settled back at her seat in a state almost of equilibrium.

"So you're from England?", she demanded. Randy had told her. "I gotta lot of friends in England. A lotta friends." I nodded. "And I know a lotta people. Debbie and I go a long way back. I knew her before Blondie, I knew her before any of that."

That was very good, I said. She was wearing a lumberjack shirt loose, and had many missing teeth in her mouth. When I asked her name, I discovered it was also Debbie.

Waitresses are very prompt in America, and one was naturally circulating at this point. Randy took it upon himself to order me another Pinot Noir, generosity that I received with untutored gratitude. Debbie made some small gestues heavenwards with her hands, and the photographer sprang back into action. Debbie took off her hat, and they snapped in chorus. I noticed that Randy was still, unusually, yet to receive his drink. Have some of my Pinot Noir, I suggested. He dipped his moustache, and whispered into my ear:

"No thanks sweetie, I'll drain yours later."

I was untutored, but the signified meaning seemed readily graspable.

I tried to concentrate on the rest of the concert, really I did, and many of the melodies still linger in my head, but I was in a state of bemused agitation throughout. At one point, Randy bent (sorry) in low and whispered something that sounded like:

"Now all we need are the triplets of Belleville!"

The triplets of Belleville? Was that supposed to be code? Code for what? After the show had ended, Randy showed me his, wait for it, mobile phone, which was replete with snaps of Randy with many celebrities. There was Randy with Debbie Harry. There was Randy with someone I didn't recognise. Randy was ubiquitous. After a while, the postshow bonhomie made me relax a little - so much so, that a group of us ended up at a nearby punk club till 3am. At some point I was bundled into a taxi, and awoke the next morning to find Randy's "business" - i.e. being himself, being photographed - card in my front pocket. He must be in his twenties from the looks of the respectfully-demure image, and I would like to say he hasn't aged a bit. I'd like to. Save for the rushing in my temple, I had all the important things intact, and I staggered to the kitchen, and made myself a cup of Earl Gray, as if nothing had remotely happened.

Friday, August 26, 2005

British mornings, American nights

I arrived in Manhattan from London this week.

So, British mornings, American nights.

On the first full day of my stay here, rising at a preternaturally early 6am through jet-lag, I took the L Train into Union Square. That day coincided with the opening of a festival called Howl, which honours Ginsberg in an appropriately loose fashion. Howl aims to celebrate those prodigal excesses of Village life (drag queens, junkies on corners, etc.) and highlight factors conspiring to threaten their continued existence (real estate vultures, the daftly arcane "Cabaret Laws" invoked by Mayors Giuliani and now Bloomberg.)

The first event kicked off at the Bowery Poetry Cafe, a charming place opposite CBGBs, which appears to be living its life like a person in reverse: having achieved an effortless cool in the 1970s, it has now regressed to an adolescent age full of angst, with nu-metal bands heading the bill, and their outsize t-shirts hanging in the shopwindow. The imminent lease expiration means that CBGBs is at risk of - as many adolescents will say of themselves - having its existence terminated.

At the Poetry Cafe, performance poet Janet Hamill played a 2pm Sunday slot, so there were only a few stragglers to listen to her meditations on cosmic essences, which she half-sang, half-incantated above a steady, sub-Velvet Underground drone, while moving her hips in concentric circles, in a long green skirt.

But a better time was had at that night's official opening night.

In a small club off Delauncey Street, a crowding and sweating bearpit assembled downstairs, and some of us could even see the rapid-fire cabaret acts performing onstage. There was a hulking, bearded man dressed in a skintight see-through blue bodysuit, with a pair of pin-on azure ears. This was the Blue Rabbit. After gurning entertainingly at the crowd for a few moments, he turned his back, and out of nowhere, the string stabs from Psycho started up. Slowly, Blue turned around, holding tight in his hand, like a dagger, a bunch of carrots. Bringing them down in a beleivably murdering arc, he stuffed them into his mouth, ground them to a pulp, lauging maniacally, and spitting out the flakes of carrot onto the floor. His set had finished. Rapturous applause broke out.

Later in the evening, we witnessed a human lady dressed an alin reading what purported to be an extract from the autobiography of her dog, a naked hula-hooper, and a female singer-songwriter delivering strumming traditional folk ballads about her cunt.

In the words of Murray Hill, the evening's host, and self-appointed "hardest working man in showbusiness", "welcome to a celebration of our life of doing nothing at all!"

Murray Hill, of course, is a lady with a moustache.