Tuesday, September 27, 2011

It's about community


Jeremy has come by. I wanted him to hear me play and see if we could work anything out for the P & G's  concert tonight at West-Park. I warm up with Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire, what I sang years ago with Jed at a special benefit at West-Park. Then I suck it up, take a breath, and start in on my own songs. The piano and guitar thing is not really working. He pushes me in some good directions. Especially on getting a groove and not swallowing punch lines. Its loosening up. I feel good, though my fingers hurt and I’ll be nervous all day. Jeremy tells me that my songs are good. Depressingly good.
Why depressingly?
Well, I work really hard at it, he says, I don’t like to think just anybody can write well. 
I laugh. I’m not just anybody, I say.
Deacon James stops in. He’s bothered by the effects of the chemo. Taking more out of him than he’d like. 
All afternoon RL and Dave are setting up sound, resetting lights, getting ready for the evening. For one night, we’ll recreate P & G’s at West-Park.
The doors open at 7. Deacon James has come to hear me perform.  RL will hold off starting until we’ve got at least three civilians, as he puts it. RL opens followed by a spoken word poet. And then he introduces me. I feel a bit odd that he calls me Church Bob, but I am accepting that this closeted singer-songwriter me and the pastor of West-Park me are the same me. 

RL Haney

I’ve got Amanda’s New York guitar. We found P & Gs together. That was where she first played in New York City. Open mikes and her afternoon showcase. And she used many of the P & G’s folks in her December Balcony Music Festival. Piano Dan and David and RL all P&G’s regulars. I plug in her guitar, take a breath and jump in. 
Doing this is a  bit like preaching ( at its best). You walk off the ledge and see  if you can get across to the other side without crashing. You can feel the rushing of the wind. I start with a New Mexico song. And a song about a well. And finish with my song about the old Greenwich Village club, the Bottom Line. 
I look out at the faces. There are smiles. Looks of pleasant surprise. When I finish, I know. I held my own. 
Over the course of the night, there are solo acts. Bands. Irish music. Sea songs. A woman violinist and jazz singer. The amazing Piano Dan. And Mandola Joe. And RL’s Western song stories. Classic rock. And many good shout outs to Steve, the man who made P&G’s what it was. Who welcomed them all.  
Hank from Coyote Love tells me my lyrics blew him away. Lots of folks have thoughts of maybe doing this again on a regular basis. Maybe once a month.  There’s a jar marked donations for renovations. RL’s idea. We collect almost $400.
Jeremy arrives shortly after ten. Does a mini set with a shout out to the late Jack Hardy who hosted a pasta and song writers’ night every Monday in the Village. He was friends with Dave van Ronk. Mentored Suzanne Vega, the Roches, Lyle Lovett. And Jeremy. RL’s wife is wearing a t-shirt from Jack Hardy’s memorial service. On the back it says Shut up and play the song. 
It’s past midnight. Still going strong. And in walks Jack’s old partner David Massengill.  Whose own writing far surpassed Jack’s. He playes his dulcimer. Sings Kill the Rich (it’s a satire, he says), his Orphan Train song, then Forever Love, and finally  his Great American Dream, which my uncle-in-law David Sear also once recorded. At that hour, at that moment, he was magic. 

The "Folk Brothers" David Massengill and Jack Hardy

So why did I want to do this? it’s about community. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that community was God’s love in action. It’s community that I find sacred, wherever it’s found. In church, in a cafe, in a bar, around a soccer field. Anywhere people accept each other as they are and offer care and support for each other. That’s what I saw at the Monday night open mike at P&G’s:  community, acceptance, mutual care and respect. And that’s why I invited them to West-Park. Makes me sad sometimes that community is found more at some other places than the church. But I believe God blesses it, wherever its found. 
If I, if we, together, could truly create, be a community, I would be happy. 
It’s late. RL wants to go off in search of a proper drink.  And i need to go home. 

                                          * * * * 

    The Great American Dream - David Massengill
    Excuse me sir... I am a foreigner I left the white sands of Zanzibar Where is this place you call free lunch bar? I am hungry and have overstayed my visa I'll work your farm your factory your pizzeria Is TV more beautiful than the Mona Lisa Someday my sons will I fight for the eagle My daughters will never be ashamed of me It is my dream... to be a citizen It's the Great American Dream It's the Great American Dream It's the Great American DreamExcuse me sir... I am a prostitute Just pretend that I'm a Playboy bunny For a Franklin I will tongue your tummy My body is a battlefield and a flower Four score and seven tricks by the hour O the many men--one might have been my father Gonna make my getaway in a zeppelin Take a bubble bath in the fountain of youth It is my dream... to be a girl again In the Great American Dream Excuse me sir... I am a writer Tho' the critics are jealous of my genius They say I'm writing with my penis Perhaps you've read my work in True Confessions It pays the rent and fuels my obsessions On the sly I give elocution lessons Someday I'll write the Great American Novel To be required reading in the Ivy League It is my dream... to die infamous It's the Great American Dream Excuse me sir... I am a carpenter Once I built a treehouse for Rockefeller Tho' now I've been laid off since December Someday I'll build a castle all my own In the den the best laz-e-boy throne In every room a different color phone These torn hands are skilled as spiders I hear there's work in Kansas building coffins It is my dream... to be cremated It's the Great American Dream Excuse me sir... I am an Indian O the white man is as greedy as fire His heart is wrapped around with barbed wire My father died of whiskey and religion But ghosts are cheap on the reservation In the summer we're a tourist attraction It is wrong to squeeze the earth like a snake A deceit to give a stone to the hungry one It is my dream... to skin a Pilgrim And the Great American Dream Excuse me sir... I am Everyman I'm the good thief of Jekyll and Hyde I'm the social climber on a mountain of pride I'm the deaf the dumb and the debonaire I'm the mouse the monk and the millionaire I'm the Great White Hope riding an old grey mare I'm the sad-eyed girl as young as the earth I'm the mother who died giving birth To the Great American Dream I love freedom I hope freedom loves me

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