My life lies in piles around my feet. It is mostly paper things; boxes of musical scores, boxes marked STORAGE and HOME. Why does the Rilke go to STORAGE and the Hesiod makes it to HOME? Who knows? I take the G train to my studio at the Classon stop in central Brooklyn. The G train is mired in the shit of track transformation, a tough line to depend on. These are the last notes from my beautifully huge paint-splattered desk – you see this building is for painters – which I am not – and that is why they all hate me here in the basement on Lexington Avenue.
I used to play music from my third-hand turntable very loud. I listen to music while I compose music, words, whatever work needs to be done. I actually listen to music all the time. Sometimes the basement is satisfied when I’m only listening to say, Mozart String Quintets (the ones with the extra viola), but I listen to all six of them in a row! I figure immersion is the best teacher. The basement people, painters and one particularly nasty no-nothing sculptor (I think he has a studio to impress chicks or something) really began to hate me last year. They would send psychic’ fuck yous’ to me when I walked to the communal toilet in the middle of the dank hallway.
But I’m just getting warmed up. I might, on occasion play through a whole cycle of Modern Jazz Quartet recordings to compare versions of the same song over and over again. You know the ear can be trained with repeated listening; it’s called ear training of all things. But the anger really used to build when I got into my Carolina beach music classics or Milton Babbitt. Then the basement people began loving hating me.
When there are problems, the basement people leave me humorless, passive-aggressive notes, ” Can you please not SMOKE in the studio” I am totally resolved to not give a fuck. If they had to sit at a desk looking at small dots against five lines for twelve hours straight, they’d smoke a cigarette every now and again too.
So usually, it’s just the notes. But once when Cowboy Jones, last of the Kudzu Bohemians, blew into town, well it was just all broken camel backs. It was a lovely spring Sunday when Jones and I dropped by my basement studio. Sunday is amateur’s day at the studio, especially for people like the aforementioned sculptor. I knew Jones would dig it – he has his own penchant for subterranean living and cinder block reality.
We got deep into a jug of cheap wine about the size of our heads (which breaks some kind of universal rule), hooting, snorting, talking old time mountain shit, travels – he to Mexico, me to Paris – loves music, words, wine. It was Jones and I again, chillin’ Sunday-style deep in my Brooklyn backyard. Well the party moved back down into the studio. First we listened to some Ventures records – volume goes up – then moved into some Jerry Lee Lewis “Live at the Municipal Auditorium, Birmingham, Alabama 1964” – volume goes way up – the bottle is sorely empty – finally, ’cause its Sunday – I spin my prized copy of Five Blind Boys of Alabama “Greatest Hits” – FULL VOLUME – “Lord, Lord, Lord, Lord, sure been good to me.”
That was when the basement people lost it. In tandem, two unruly brush-wielding painters pound on my flimsy door, screaming to turn down the music. Cowboy Jones laughs with his whole body as he slowly pulls a drag off a hand-rolled cigarette. “Fuck ’em” he said with a grin. It was time for us to move on.
But now I’m moving on too, permanently. More sorting, more old life to ponder, pictures to caress. The sweet smell of dusky papers and books. But they are me, just glad to play my part in it all. I arrived at the studio today with forty-five cents and five empty boxes. The albums are boxed and the stereo is silent now. My last day here in the basement is spent hunting down my Atlanta 1996 Olympic mug full of change – it contains my last bit of old money, past life money.
So I break it down: fifty cents for rancid coffee, my one indulgence, from the freaky corner bodega, one-dollar-fifty cents, subway fair home, a miraculously salvaged new gold dollar plus five dimes, three-dollars in nickels and dimes for an order of Pork Lo Mein, small-size, from the horrific corner Chinese take-out Tang Zee restaurant, mostly a wing-n-fries joint. Total expenditures: five dollars. Now I’m moving. We’re all moving imperceptibly. Internal becomes external inertia. The city is always moving. Focus, focus, must finish packing, moving, packing, labeling. I have to go now, I am the only one working in the basement at this moment at 103 Lexington Avenue in Brooklyn and I’m working on leaving.