Boogie Woogie Broadway, The Beat, and The Street

  “True boogie-woogie I conceive as homogeneous with my intention in painting: destruction of melody, which is the equivalent of destruction of natural appearance, and construction through the continuous opposition of pure means – dynamic rhythm.” Broadway Boogie Woogie / 1943 Piet Mondrian's homage to his new home, NYC, and to Jazz. 

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Perhaps the greatest quality of New York City, is the mad juxtaposition of cultures. Especially in the everlasting getting harder to find non-overly-gentrified neighborhoods of Gotham.  But back in the pre-mallification of NYC, Artists, Junkies, Club Kids and the Gentry would find common ground in the hot neighborhoods of each micro-era. Places that had the juice included Greenwich Village, Soho, the Meat Packing District, Tribeca, and of course the East Village.   

The East Village in the early days of Rudy Giuliani’s reign as mayor of the Big Apple was, for all extensive purposes, still a dangerous and exciting place. Even years after the Tompkins Square Riots , that marked the beginning of the cleaning up the East Village Bohemia; Cheap drugs, Cheap Apartments, Cheap Thrills, ruled the day in the land of Alphabet City. I spent so much time there that it was practically my home.

 The art and music culture in the East Village, was as vibrant as the streets. I went to my first Rave on the same block as The Nuyorican Poets Café introduced me to poetry slams. I performed at an event called the Deviant Playground  that brought together the SM community with the Performance Art world. An event where I drummed for ritual pierces who danced with lead weighted fishhooks in their skin. I was hired by Mistress Leda, “a respected fixture in the S&M scene”, to drum for her, in the Black and Blue Ball she created as well as for show that featured her on HBO. I guess I passed the audition.

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 Summers in the East Village were a virtual smorgasbord of sonic offerings blasting from speakers, and live on the street. If one were to walk around on a warm night, one could taste the sonic delights of various forms of music. Hip-Hop, Techno, Free Jazz, Punk, Speed Metal, World Music, African and Haitian Drumming, Neo-Folk, Neo-Soul, Bluegrass, Hare Krishna Chants, Reggae, Psychedelic Rock, House music, as well as stuff too freaky to even put in any sane category. All contributing to a cosmic slop, head expanding, soul nourishing feast.

 Everywhere was the beat, the Beat, The BEAT. Rhythm of the music, Rhythm of the Streets. Rhythms of the polyglot language of the African Diaspora rooting in the concrete jungle of NYC, sprouting through mutations in the toes, and fingers of all brave hearts, dancing the dance. People of every skin tone, and vibration walked the streets of the city...but the East Village was a funky ass version of the whole city encapsulated in a riotous souvenir snowball of decay and possibility. Sewer water, day-glo sparkly flakes, needles, tears, passions, whispers of the new dawn and cacophony of divine magic moments, in one small neighborhood that even Mr. Rogers would have to say was wonderful.

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I lived, and drank the riddims of the Street. It was my nectar. It was my lover. It was my teacher. Soon everything became rhythm to me. The traffic lights would play polyrhythm with the cars, buses, bikers and pedestrians. The hum of voices in Grand Central Station rode the waves of dynamics, answering the call and response of footsteps and announcements. The insects in Central Park stomped it out with the cacophony of the Dj’s playing disco for the rollarbladers, dogs barking, kids screaming “Ice Cream”, and the Sensimillia dealers hawking their wares, in low seductive tones.

But I wanted more. I wanted to know the spirit of Rhythm. I wanted to know the spirit of the Drum.

I have been playing drums since I was a wee lad. I started in Junior High, and High School in various School Bands, and Orchestras. I did my time in school in various Rock and Jazz bands. I got interested in African and Afro-Cuban percussion when world music influenced such musicians as Peter Gabriel, and the Talking Heads. So like other followers of the D.I.Y. Manifesto I wanted to be in a band...a real band. I co-founded a cult musical group, that eventually became the house band every Saturday night at the hippest watering hole in the East Village.

Sine’ Café represented the best of East Village culture. It was a lovely semi-dive, where upstarts like Big Dream could play on the same stage as Sinéad O'Connor, Shane MacGowan and Marianne Faithfull when they were slumming it. (I once told Sinéad, in a fake tough accent to stop writing graffiti in the bathroom cause I had to take a piss, we laughed). Jeff Buckley got his start there. 

For a year and a half Big Dream performed to a packed house. We aspired to be a band that could play any type of music. We played a magical brew of Punk, Afro-beat, Jam Band, Jazz, Pop, acoustic/electric Celtic stomp and tribal psychedelic music. We would easily play three hour sets of original music and occasionally, very twisted covers. The line up was electric guitar, bass, electric violin, keyboard, with my partner in crime, Gary, as lead vocalist and electric bouzouki. Oh yes...two drummers. I played a hybrid drum kit and hand drum set up, Barbara who played in classical orchestras filled in with concert percussion and timbales. The bassist played a short while with Miles Davis. The violinist was the grandson of a founder of the Budapest Quartet.  We were unruly, and highly skilled, and we loved to have people dance! Sometimes the audience was so large that it spilled out onto the street and people just danced on the sidewalks to our  ecstatic offerings.

 Eventually we attracted the attention of major labels to our shows. But then overnight we started to only see dollar signs, where we once saw an audience. We fought internally. And in the fine tradition of a great band imploding right before exploding, we followed suite. We lost the thread of why we first started to play music. We disbanded.

For weeks I walked the streets of my home in Park Slope and my second home in the East Village in a bit of shock. Big Dream was an awesome band. But life goes on. Summer melted into the Fall.  As it is said in many ways and by many souls, for every door that closes a new one opens.

One cold and rainy night I met the Master of the Rhythm. The Shaman of the Drum...

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