Blue Skies

After returning a few books to one of my favorite libraries in the city (Jefferson Market on Sixth Avenue; it has these beautiful stained glass windows, and a turret!), I decided to go for a walk downtown towards the Village and Tribeca. It was Memorial Day Weekend, and as of that moment, I had no real plans to do anything or go anywhere. It had just stopped raining, and the sun was beginning to peak through the clouds. I started heading south on Sixth Avenue not sure of my destination, but rather in want of a nice journey in getting there.

I came to where Sixth intersects Carmine Street and stopped. In front of me was the most charming little square of a park with a fountain and trees. In the background, the tall steeple of a church was visible over the treeline, and for half a second, I was able to convince myself I was in Italy rather than New York. I had been to this park once before, but had nearly forgotten it as I’m never in this part of the city very frequently.

Father Demo Square: a piazza in the midst of the West Village.

Father Demo Square aka where I found the light in the Piazza

Father Demo Square aka where I found the light in the Piazza

The last time I had been here, it had been a chilly, grey day in the winter. All the trees were barren, the fountain empty. Snow dotted the tops of the benches and the iron railings surrounding the park. The only constant between that winter’s day and this decidedly summer-like one was the endless bicycles locked to the railings on all the sides of the park.

With the fountain bubbling and gurgling on this warmer day towards the end of May, I decided to sit for a while and enjoy its relaxing sounds. I chose a bench on the Carmine Street side of the square, under the canopy of leafy, green trees. I closed my eyes for a second, still trying to convince myself I was in Europe instead, and that’s when I heard him. A voice nimbly accompanying the strums of an acoustic guitar.

I quickly opened my eyes and glanced over to my right. There, with just a long, empty wooden bench in between us, was the most beautiful (and I choose that word instead of handsome, because his features were more delicate than jarring) twentysomething boy with a beanie on his head and a guitar in his long-fingered hands. He radiated Greenwich Village stereotypes, and yet he was unique somehow. We made eye contact for a second, and then both looked away as if we realized we were invading each other’s privacy in a very public space.

Now, he really started to play and sing, his voice confident but not imposing. It took me a second to realize what song he had chosen, because he was playing it as if he were Django Reinhardt, all French-style jazz guitar. Was I in Italy or France now? (No, I was still in New York, but this City can change its skin faster than Mystique in X-Men.) Cole Porter. “Blue Skies.” It totally surprised and delighted me that this beautiful boy would choose the Great American Songbook rather than Bob Dylan or Simon & Garfunkel, which would have been more obvious were we basing our decision on appearance.

And there was something about the way he was making this old song his own that delighted me too; it felt new. The casualness of it all, the way his voice scatted around the notes was downright sexy; it was like he wasn’t even trying. I looked over at him and realized there was no tip jar out, no expectation of getting money for his troubadour-ing. This was purely for pleasure, whose I’m not sure, but I certainly shared in the sensation. I realized too I was harmonizing along with him, not loud enough for him to really hear, but I’d like to think he did, because we locked eyes again for a second. I felt like he was playing just for himself and me in a way. In my head, we were entangled in a duet, and only we knew it.

I turned back toward the fountain, and a small smile crept over my lips. I was having one of those classic “I love New York” moments, but it was more than that. How could I have forgotten that art is chiefly about passion and pleasure? I’ve been spending so much time in my almost three years in New York trying to figure out how to make money from my art that most of the pleasure has been sucked right out of the whole process. This beautiful hipster boy with his guitar felt so good to my ears and my heart and my soul. I know it sounds like one cliché after another, but sharing in his apparent pleasure stemming from his art made me happier than I’ve been in quite a long time. He was having a journey that day too, albeit an artistic one, without the need for knowing the destination or even having one. Art for art’s sake. Pleasure for pleasure’s sake. I needed to find those things again for myself.

He switched gears into something mellower, more soulful. He would stop every so often, fiddling with a different chord until he found one he liked, and would continue on. I pulled out my journal and began writing, hoping to remember some of this moment for later, and I felt him glance over at me ever so briefly as my head was engrossed in my scribbling. I wanted to say “hello” but I felt like it would break the magical spell, and I wanted that spell to last for as long as possible. Music is one of the few real magical things in this world, and I wasn’t about to ruin such a delicate thing as this. I was trying to savor it, not knowing if I would ever see this soulful troubadour again (but secretly hoping I would).

A minute or two later, a man came and sat on the empty bench in between us, and the illusion was shattered. Beautiful Guitar Boy noodled around a minute or two more before packing up his instrument and silencing his voice. I felt desperate all of a sudden. Don’t go, don’t go, please don’t go, I thought to myself as he stood up from his bench, lit a cigarette, and took a long drag, surveying the park. I had had a taste of his music, his pleasure, and I wanted more. I kept my eyes down on my journal, but I longed for his voice in my ears so much I glanced back over at him just in time to see him flick his cigarette to the ground and carefully sling his guitar case over his back.

He started walking in my direction, and I got excited for a half second thinking he was coming over to say hello and ask me to run away with him to Paris where we’d sing on cobblestone street corners and live on baguettes and red wine and cigarettes just like something out of a Truffaut or Goddard film.  But he passed me by, his cool, lanky figure leaving the park and walking up Sixth Avenue to some unknown destination and possibly chic, artsy girlfriend (or boyfriend…who knows anymore?), and I felt sad to be losing him and his music. For a brief interlude, they both had brought me such happiness, such sheer delight in art and music and life, and now I would probably never see him again. But I had felt something stir in me that I thought I had been dulled by too many hard things in life, and it gave me hope.

Alas, parting is such sweet sorrow.

And so I too decided I needed to move on, and casting an affectionate glance at the bench my beautiful, mystery troubadour had just occupied, I thoughtfully strolled out of the park and in the direction of the sun, hoping its illumination might also enlighten my mind and heart.


The Thankful Challenge: Day 9


Taylor Hughes Smith.  I’m thankful for him, our friendship, and the fact he lives here in this crazy, huge, weird, yet wonderful city with me.  We’ve been friends since we were five, but really became closer than close in middle and high school.  He is one of my oldest, dearest, best friends, and I just can’t believe we wound up here together like we always said we would back in high school when real life seemed so far away.

Taylor and me

Taylor and I always knew we were two-of-a-kind; artsy yet focused free spirits in a conservative, small town.  When classmates around us talked about wanting to stay in Missouri for college, becoming a teacher or something “practical,” the two of us would just smile and nod, because we both had bigger plans.  I should note there’s nothing wrong with our classmates’ plans; plenty of people do exactly that and are very happy, and I wouldn’t deign to belittle their dreams simply because they are different from mine.  Teaching, banking, owning a business, being a doctor or lawyer are all noble professions, it’s just not what I ever wanted for myself.

I can remember so many times we’d sit together on the way to a band competition or in the choir room, making plans and dreaming about what we’d do when we graduated and left our hometown.  I’ve wanted to live in New York practically my whole life; I had this romantic vision of taxis and Broadway shows and grand apartments and picnics in Central Park.  After growing up in a town where I could go to Wal-Mart and see practically everyone I knew (especially when I was buying something embarrassing like lady-parts hygienic supplies), the idea of living in a city where nobody knew my name or reputation or what brand of lady-parts hygienic supplies I bought was completely welcomed and wholly appealing.  Not to mention the fact I needed to be in a place where I could embrace my art and more importantly, that place would embrace it.

Taylor felt the same way.  He was desperate to play in a symphony orchestra where all his hours of practicing the bassoon were not thought odd (his dream job is the NY Philharmonic).  Being one of the first and few openly gay students in my high school often put Taylor at odds with other students and teachers who couldn’t and wouldn’t understand why he was the way he was (well, is).  He faced a lot of bullying, hurtful comments, and downright discrimination on several occasions simply because he refused to hide who he was or change it to make himself less “controversial.”  Music was his escape.  And he was/is damn good at it.  New York, for both of us, meant escape.  Freedom.  Art.  Love.  It became a beacon of hope in a town occasionally stuck in the dark ages.

He went to school in Kansas, and I went to school in Oklahoma.  We often had phone dates to catch up on each other’s lives.  We were both happier being at schools where we could be free to be ourselves and pursue our passions.  Several spring breaks, we both wound up being in New York together at the same time, so it became like a preview of what life could be like: our dreams inching closer to reality.  When I finally moved here last year, it was without Taylor.  He still had a semester to finish his second degree at KU.  True, I had my other dear friends, and things were good, but it didn’t feel quite right being here without him too.  He would occasionally come to visit, auditioning for grad schools and catching up with friends like me who already had lives and jobs here.  Finally, he was admitted to Manhattan School of Music, and moved last winter.  The dream became real.

We don’t see each other as often as we’d like to now that he’s started grad school, and I’m busy working and auditioning (but we have lots of fun when we do, see here), but knowing we’re doing this crazy thing together like we always planned makes me feel wonderful anyway.  I’m not sure if I ever thought it would really pan out the way we wanted it to, but so far, so good.  Neither of us have our dream jobs yet, but living here together, working hard to get those dream jobs is a start.  And if we could accomplish the living here part, I have a feeling we’ll both eventually accomplish that whole dream job part too.

This Week’s Obsession: Bonnaroo Music Fest 2010

I have a new obsession, and it’s bad: trying to score tickets to the 2010 Bonnaroo Music Festival. This 4-day event is held each year in Manchester, Tennessee, and brings out some of the very best acts in the indie rock scene.  My favorite radio station at home (central Missouri), 102.3 BXR, is currently having a call-in contest to get your name thrown into the mix to win two passes to Bonnaroo.  I have actually been listening to it online and calling in, but to no avail.  I have not been caller 10 (damn you, fast dialers!).

As a rabid follower of the indie music scene, I’ve been dying to go to Bonnaroo for the last several years, but this year’s lineup is pretty spectacular.  A brief sampling of the attending artists include (but are not limited to): Regina Spektor, Phoenix, The Temper Trap (my newest musical interest; look for a review of their debut album soon), Brandi Carlile, Kings of Leon, Dave Matthews Band, Norah Jones, The Avett Brothers, Weezer, OK Go, Ingrid Michaelson, and Conan O’Brien.  For a complete lineup, click here.

Needless to say, my little indie heart is swooning beyond belief.  My generation hasn’t had some big event like Woodstock, but I feel like Bonnaroo may be as close as I could get to experiencing just a taste of that celebration of peace and music back in ’69.  Also, I’m looking to have a little adventure this summer instead of just hanging around my house for three months and being bored in a small town of 12,000 people.

So who wants to go with me?

Happy Birthday, John Williams!

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

an awesome film composer named John Williams was born. The frequent Spielberg and Lucas-collaborator turns 78 today.  He’s been one of my favorites for as long as I can remember.  From the Olympic theme (who’s excited for the Toronto Winter Olympics in a few days?!) to Star Wars to Schindler’s List, John Williams has been making our world just a little more epic.  The awesome videos below highlights some of John’s best work.

Happy Birthday, John!  Keep up the good work.