Monday, April 18, 2011


NPR is allowing access to hear the entire new Emmylou Harris album, and the first song “Road” evokes driving cross-country to me, coinciding with reading a friend’s account of a trek across country. So I’m feeling a little expansive, and like traveling an expanse while sitting in my chair and listening to some music.

Emmylou I love – I’m going to see her with the friend mentioned above this Thursday. We both have a connection to slightly sad women with guitars and songs to sing; it’s somewhat lessened as we’ve aged and cheered up a bit, letting things roll off our backs that used to stick and push their way deeply in (and hopefully she’d agree). Emmylou, though, still plucks deeply at a string somewhere in me, her voice and stories mixing up melancholy and travel - stories of loss, hope, love, and lives lived rough; somehow comfortable and spacious at the same time. When I was in New York, I walked around the claustrophobic vibrating city streets which I loved, listening to her in opposition to what was going on around me. Walking on Wall Street or Houston, I could hear a mesa at Sunset, or trees with Spanish moss, or driving a trance-inducing highway with nothing but brush for miles. I missed that space. Her voice, no matter what tragic, funny or wonderful story she’s singing about, always comforts me. I don’t listen to her as much as I did that time in New York, but I still pull out the CDs once in a while, especially on a long drive.

On another note, more about New York, is a post my friend Patrick had about choosing to be in love with Manhattan. I was struck by St. Vincent’s closing that he wrote about, walking past it and knowing that they treated survivors from the Titanic and 9/11 to a great deal of AIDS patients among so many others in a century of service. A fixture. But the only thing constant is change, and everyone’s profit driven in the current climate, so history and care go down the drain I suppose, in the face of valuable real estate and a challenging healthcare landscape. It made me think of how many times I walked past St. Vincent’s when I was in NY- from my first visit to Uncle Charlie’s in 1989 to the last time at the Center in 2003.

I had my tonsils out at St. Vincent’s when I was thirty. My friend Brian came to help me recover, ushering me out late at night, when I had been the last person in recovery room ("Michael, are you ready to go? Michael?" they said and then I'd pass out againthey gave me too much anesthetic, which seems to happen because of my size). I remember shuffling out the door wearing a patchwork hoodie from J Crew that I kept trying to like, bought for some imaginary me who lived on the cape or something, but that night on my way to a week of lo mein and fatigue. A block up, 13th, was my main thoroughfare crosstown, since I preferred to walk whenever possible. Past the Center, past what I now think of as Sean and Patrick’s building, past that simple federal church, that building where I had a day of sunburn, cat allergies, and a rainy gay pride brunch which was so awful I finally just had to laugh, and usually ending up at the quad for a movie. It’s where I first saw Beautiful Thing, Nights of Cabiria, Paul Monette: Brink of Summer’s End, and many more. Where I waited for friends who have now passed away, or passed out of my life in other ways. I even wrote a story that opens with a walk across 13th street.

Those Titanic survivors, the 9/11 survivors, all the people who passed shuffling through the doors of St. Vincent’s; I wonder if we leave ghost traces, some invisible air of ourselves. I think of walking in that neighborhood – Ollie’s around the corner and that second floor cafĂ© on Greenwich that’s not there anymore, either, and it seems like I could go back and see it. I’m sure that’s as much of a fantasy as the idea of country music in my head keeping me from being completely consumed by the urban surroundings. But even if it is a fantasy, I like it. At work today, I was telling someone about “Bartleby the Scrivener”, which seems like such a modern tale to be written when it was. I always liked that I knew where the offices were that Melville wrote about. Even if the buildings weren’t still there, there’s something comforting about knowing the history that was before. Even here in LA, which has a good deal of it as well. Every day, we’re making more paths, more of air rushing past us. Who needs a drive on a wide highway?

On another note, I’ve seen so much theater (including both casts of the incredible Danhy Boyle “Frankenstein” from NT Live) that I’m chock full of things to say, and seeing more things this week and several more shows to try to fit in before the end of the month. I guess it’s time to turn off the Emmylou, let go of the ghosts, and touch the ground again.