st barths chronicles, part iV

you may blame Puccini for this poor joke

Day 5 – 11  

vignettes

###

one.

walked past a jeweler’s store at dusk. a high end store, full of colored flourescent lights and glass shelves and cases. every surface either light-emitting or reflective. all the moreso for its emptiness, even as tourists and locals bustle by almost caustically on the street.

through the glass doors, the jeweler can be seen. he stands, tall but beer-gutted, before one of the displays staring intently, almost longingly, at one of his own products. a sturdy, silent, all-too-perceptible sadness emanates from the man as he stands there. hearing nothing of the outside — even as the outside world sees nothing of his torment.

i imagine him saying, “so, this is it.”

###

  
###
two.

full circle. a ringleted rainbow circumscribes the just-shy-of-full moon. at night before the set, standing alone on the balcony. staring across still, maybe, stagnant water. there are lights on a genteel promenade beneath the rocky cliffs. lights.  eerily fashionable lamps so that, from this distance, there is more shadow than light. more imagining that observation.

like some antiquated portrait of a southern delta town. the yachts look like riverboats — only missing their bright red paddles. and the tiny european cars move slowly in the tiny roads so congested with way-farers, like laterned coaches. 
and from this distance, i can see the ladies in their hoop-skirts and petticoats, bonnets and lace, fanning themselves as they ask the footman to mind the cobblestones.

  
###

  

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three.

the sun is so bright, and the cloud so fluffy and ghostly that they cast fat, slow-moving shadows on the scrubby cliff side. it is hot and i am sweating. sweating is not even the right word. i pour. i have removed my shirt, my undershirt, and my shoes. my shorts will come next, though it will spare me little to continue to sit out here in the sun in my underwear, still pouring — drenched as if i leapt into a lake. a lake of warm, salty water. 
the web of dissipating cigar smoke probably adds to the relative feeling of too-warm closeness. but better than the lotions and sprays and the little yellow candle at my feet: it keeps the bugs away. indeed, i can actually see them at the boundaries of my expanding fog. testing the outer-most skin of smoke. now that i am more exposed flesh than anything else, they almost seem mad to have at me.

the roosters just on the other side of the wall are crowing furiously. at, i suspect, nothing. they are jerks. they wail all night. and most of the day. are they just complaining? “it’s too hot! it’s too dark!” more likely: “it’s too quiet.”
it is beautiful here. but it is never quiet. things on boats in the harbor… they start clanging and rattling early. speeding across the water and bouncing off both sides of the harbor (which is walled in by cliffs on one side and… us on the other). it is never quiet — the insects would be loud enough if the birds weren’t convulsing their high-pitched sirens at irregular intervals during the day. even the wind, disturbing all the flora on its way here or there — it’s loud. if i don’t hear the usual sounds of Brooklyn: a drunken man staggering home singing tuneless doo-wop; the distracting doppler of ambulances headed for the hospital; an idling car pumps biggie smalls and the bass rattles the windows and trunk like loose teeth in a big mouth. all those regular interruptions back home of tomb-silent city-corner. and they lull me to sleep.

here, the constant, ever-shifting noise prevents the ears from ever falling on any one thing at any one time. it is troubling. wild and untamed. disordered, discordant, disturbing. and yet, if you step back far enough, it is a perfectly white canvas of never-ending noise. 

and little, heart-felt melodies stand out like blood on a white fence. they stand out. and, like blood, they will stay there if you don’t wipe them away quickly.

###

  
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four.

more bright, artificial lights. salt air. low slung tables. raw, particolored fish in long, supple dishes. time spools out slowly in this hub surrounded by the ocean. 
so many people in white. clothes either so loose they look like happy scarecrows — or so tight, my eyes trip over bumps in the flesh beneath the breathless garments.

cigarette smokes mingle in mid-air with at least three distinct languages. often, four. 
my Nord keyboard is, i realize, in a moment of internal mirth — a crappy old joke: black and white, and red all over.
drinking. glasses. geometric music-shapes. smiles disguised as pouts. desires disguised as hands. every one throws lighting through the air. the musicians are walked through, like shadows. sometimes, trespassers shiver, look around themselves, and move on.
i feel like i am all teeth. all gnashing.
but every thing is soft. un-cooked. and ripe.

###

  

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st. barths chronicles, part iii

rest assured, we drank quite a few cookie-monsters over the two days.

excellent sensual sexuality mitigates this winter’s mostly dark heart.”

     let’s begin with a long (and unask’d for) digression:     
     i have been reading my journal out here on the island. daytimes, there is not much one really needs to do. routinely, we return to the store, purchase some re-up of coffee, or milk, or booze. apart from that, *nothing* is necessary. on a real solid day, one could lie in bed from a couple minutes after the gig one night to a couple minutes before the gig the next. 18, 19 hours, we’re talking about.
      since i am determined, this time, to spend most of my off-time writing, i have been reading a lot in the off-off time. i have one nice reference book, one fat fantasy novel, and one hard-boiled modern fantasy audiobook. to boot, i’ve got a couple of letters that need to be answered and no shortage of just general things i want to write. but, also, i have my personal journal. the same one i’ve have been using since the Winter Solstice of 2006. and i rarely get to enter things into it these days — let alone read back the old entries. 
    so with the current downtime: lots of reading. and the reading bears strange fruit. it is almost (very, very nearly just-so) exciting to be privy to the candid thoughts of my 22 and 23 year old self. what a guy!
    there are so many reasons to be in wonderment. i am a fairly reserve person in real life. not a lot of emoting. even when i’ve been in relationships, pretty even-keeled. perhaps (nay, definitely) to a fault. but there is a great deal of emotion and rancor (?) bubbling beneath the placid surface. i think, in recent years, i had begun to believe my own hype. to imagine myself as really so much more calm and collected than I really am. reading back to the young Mr. Bermiss’ trials and tribulations. his wanderlust. his insecurity and fear. his lashing out at the injustices of his predicament. and, even, the omissions of things which he surely thought the reader would assume (ie, race) — it is all so delicious over-blown and mistaken and hopeful. later today, i shall likely come to the big fulcrum years: when i was 25, my mother died. when i was 26, my grandfather (and middle name sake) died. these experiences rocked me up out of my twenties and sent me, prematurely, into my thirties. by the time i’m 28, i’m already well into the manly decline that would lead to this 30-something passivity.
    still, reading this, too, is like a spell i left for myself. a shaping. like i knew that the world and life would crush me down and i knew i would need to leave a little echo behind of oldAkie so that, when the time was right, i would be able to reinvigorate myself. 
   (actually, according to harry potter this is *dark* magic. i’ve made a horcrux of my journal!)
  and, at least for right now, it feels like that is precisely what this journal is doing. my mind is lit up with all my shambling, melodic musings of old. i had not even thought them very coherent at the time. now, looking back, i say, “man, you had the right of it — even as you missed the point of it completely, poor fool.”
  so, a new entry is curious to do (as i did this morning on the balcony — sweating profusely in the blazing st barths mid-morning) because the tone has become so different. i wonder, now, if i could try to recapture that lilting naivete of sense and structure that once so riddled all my entries? how did i write that way? was it me? the times? the age? if i tried to write about my life that way now — what would come out. 
an experiment for later in this trip, perhaps.
for now, i should actually resume recounting the tales of this adventure. i believe we are on days three and four.

###

 

bartender, Loic, and I now have a short-hand for the four or five drinks i will order at any given time. the most commonly used: the coffee signal.

 
   the band continues apace here in paradise. no particularly special outings. nothing utterly momentous. i have a nice little stash of cuban cigars piling up in various places around the bandHouse and i ain’t mad at it.

   things are settling into a routine. Attis has his fancy camera, he can be depended upon to wander off in search of epic photos. sometimes, i don’t see him after lunch until night-fall.

   Brian is down in the room below me. i don’t know what he does down there. some sort of crunchy meditation technique that i cannot fathom. definitely reading books about transubstantiation or something.
   Ari goes to the beach before breakfast/lunch each morning. and he is usually the last one in after the gig each night. what he does, too, i cannot fathom

    i wake up early, it seems. no matter when i go to sleep. usually, just before sleep, i cut the AC and throw open all the windows. but, i am fond of watching some MST3K in my room after the gig. and usually take a night-cap or two (or three) on the balcony with a cigar and book before turning in. usually its somewhere between 2a and 4a. and yet i am usually up around 730 or 8 (about when the sun hits my above-bed window)

   so, in the mornings, i shower. and i glance at my journal. then i get out in the sun and start writing (as now) until we get fed. after that, my day is usually fairly unstructured til about an hour before the gig. then, i need to clean up and dress up and get right with the muses

  still, there are traditions. when i get down to the bar, i usually get an espresso  [see: picture above] to start out the night. still water with dinner. and sometimes another espresso before the first set. operations this year are 3 hour-long sets with fifteen minutes between them. 

   that is the gig. and that is what it is each night. often different. depending on the band and the songs and the crowd.

  always, in the third set, the band plays a song about midway through, and i get my last espresso of the night while that goes down.

   and then, we’re in the after-gig place again and all is up for grabs.

 

got the hook up on some PR-grown, SBH-roasted coffee. perfect for Sunday.

 
###

 

speaking of new drinks: this was my reaction after the first sip of something called a “Port Whiskey Sour.”

 
   as we approach the weekend, crowds get a little more animated. they aren’t there just for dinner. they are coming to drink, party, have a good time. so we need to step up our energy to match it. all while still keeping an eye on the decibels. there is an ordinance about sound levels there. we’re supposed to keep the average dB level to 87. 
   87 is not very loud. if i sneezed with particular guttural vigor, i might hit 83 dB pretty easily. a whistle can pop up to like 90 (i have observed this several times at the bar, actually). so you can imagine: we are rocking out at half-volume. it is a kind of mastery of flow and musicality and dynamics. and the more you do it, the easier it is.
  when crowds get in there, you have to be real slick. and real slick is where we are going to live Friday and Saturday night.
###
finally, we start making preparation now for the weekend and the day off. it can mean several things to several people. having sunday off can mean that saturday night basically just never stops. it can mean you spend all of sunday in bed watching movies. it can mean you try to visit every beach on the island before it gets too dark to swim.
and it definitely means, you need to have whatever food on hand you need to sustain you til Monday when breakfast/lunch arrives.
 at the writing of this, i am not prepared. it might be wise for me go down to the Libre Service and score some foodstuffs. similarly, more cigars for the day off. plenty of scotch is left in the bottle — i should be fine on that score.
  as island-living settles on to my brain though, motivation and planning ahead become harder and hazier subjects upon which to act.
  still, as was once said, i need only lift my fingers way from the keys and stand up — and i’ll be half-way there.
  here’s to half-way, dear reader.

                                  +++
  

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st. barths chronicles, part ii

   

  if you’re smart (or maybe just experienced) day two is about preparedness. when you arrive on St. Barths it is easy to convince oneself that all is paradise: the sun is shinning, the weather is sweet, there is a fresh breeze to mitigate the blazing heat, the island — caught between two oceans — is not a place where one contemplates susceptibility to “exposure” or the threat of cataclysm. for most everyone here (tourists and residents alike) i can only assume the most constant threat is that of what-to-do-today.

so. we have arrived on-island before and whiled away the days smiling in our unctuous hedonism. the beer is free at the bar, food is prepared for us daily, and there is no soundcheck or load-in or breakdown to worry about. 
and we have been caught utterly unawares by the day-off. 
saving the very highest parts of the season (namely, Christmas and New Years’) a band playing at the Baz Bar is expect to play (and well!) for six nights of the week. Sunday is, as you might imagine, the day-off. but — not only does the band get the day off, the chef, and the servers, and the bartender and dishwashers get the day off. the restaurant is closed. indeed, our first year here, we woke from Saturday night’s stupor to discover: damn near everything is closed. so, sleepy, hungry, and hung-over, one is hard-pressed to find a free beer and a hot meal just for standing around thinking critical thoughts about mixolydian scales.
it was a tough lesson, to say the least. i don’t recall what kind of emergency rationing we put in place nor how we managed to buy anything from the few places that were actually open (considering we hadn’t bothered to get any Euros.
this is, i believe, our fifth time down here. so, as i said, day two is about preparedness. as the resident uber-nerdist, i woke early and took stock of those resources which we had in stock. water, toilet paper, working stove, towels, alcohol [various].
glaring absences? milk (Brian wanted to make white russians), ice (that could get hard), laundry detergent (this become crucial in a place where even as i write this at ten in the morning i am already sweating profusely through my fresh clothes), and — perhaps most importantly: coffee.
###

the bandhouse is atop of a large and somewhat steep hill. it is hard to walk-up, easy to walk down. the supermarket (or “libre service”) is actually a short distance from the band house if you disregard relative elevations and you can walk across water. 
supposing one were impervious to injury, one could take a running leap off of the balcony of the bandhouse, carom down the hillside through pebbly dirt and hearty desert-island trees, and out into the harbor. then either build up enough speed that you can skip across the water or: swim — probably about fifty or sixty yards (what is that in metres? i haven’t a clue). hop out of the water, walk about 20 more paces in the same direction and then about 25 paces to the left. you’d be at le libre service in, maybe, four minutes. five minutes, tops.
as we are plain-jane mortals, we have to exit the house, choose one of the downhill roads, then walk along the outside of the harbor (passing the the Baz Bar en route). follow that around the turn and then around again. and then walk back to just past where the bandhouse would be on the opposite side: supermarket.
don’t forget that once you are loaded for bear (i bought a good amount of coffee) you will have to retrace your steps and get back up the hill. a wise sojourner will pit-stop at the bar for a water or coffee on the way back. 
i wouldn’t call a walk to the store an adventure by any stretch of the imagination but, not knowing the language, and not knowing the exchange rate is, and not always know from looking at a thing what you are looking at (and not being able to use the labels to shed much light on things) — well, it’s often a learning experience.
     in the end, Brian and I made this initial store run and came back with all that was most necessary. and i got to practice my bonjours and mercis along the way.
###
   there was some significant drinking done with the meat of the day in day two. with the introduction of milk to our humble abode, much hay was made in the shape of very alcoholic white russians. i felt a bit like a writer or poet of old. drinking wantonly through the sunlight hours. writing snippets here and there. staring off into nothing. having the first of what will be dozens of political, social, and/or musical/artistic argument/dialogue/speech-contests with the band. 
   the bartender from the bar (what stupid sentence that was but i don’t feel like making it more precise — i’m a lushy artist presently, remember?) came by to hang for a spell. tell us how things have been going for the bar and for him of late. he also brought a bag of recently harvested “noni” fruit. i wish i had remembered to iphone-snap-a-picture of this stuff. they were swollen, spotted, whitish fruit. oddly bulgy and ovular. kind of twisted and rounded at the edges. they looked like giant, ugly caterpillar cocoons.

 

Loic dropped by to tell us all about how to drink noni-fruit juice

 
   Loic (the aforementioned bartender from the bar) told us that the fruit are used to prepare a kind of uber-healthy draught. apparently you take the fruit, put them in a jar, put that jar in the sun, and let them sort of putrefy and ferment for two months. then you open it, strain it, and drink it at your leisure.
   if this sound exquisitely disgusting, it likely is. Loic guaranteed us that the final concentrate, to which he adds water for a short shot he takes every morning, smells at lot like sweet, old cheese. he didn’t say it wasn’t gross. only that it was an acquired taste.
    but so there you have it reader: my first in-blog recipe. for “Noni” juice concentrate. or whatever.
###
    so then, we played the gig. things ran a bit more smoothly. i didn’t forget more than i remembered — that is progress. the second night is for separating the wheat from the chaff. in essence, we take all of the songs we know and we just throw them all out at the unsuspecting audience. some tunes just don’t work in a chill, laid-back, warm and breezy, island venue. some other tunes, which never would make the set, are winners here.
     you’ve got three one-hour sets to fill. that’s about 25 – 30 songs, give or take. there are probably three ways to take that hill. come prepared. have your three sets of material. have your setlists. and just: do them. alter very little from night to night. you got set A, set B, set C. maybe, once in a while, you flip them around. but maybe you don’t.
      second option is — fly by the seat of your pants. we’ve done this a couple times. you just sit down for the first set… and start playing. and hope you can come up with an awesome tune for any given circumstance. and try to remember what you played and when and who knows what and call new songs and take requests if you can. and just generally go bonkers for four hours or so.
    the third way, to which i ascribe, is a kind of admixture of the first two. each night, i look at a master song list. i add a few suggestions that may have come up during the day. sometimes its something we practiced and arranged, sometimes it something we aren’t sure about but want to try if there is a crowd receptive to us trying out new stuff. and i start to draft up three sets. based on how i am feeling, i kind of know how i want to open and close each set. i try to spread out the new tunes so that we don’t spend one twenty minute block possibly crashing and burning serially while people cry sympathetic tears of frustration. 
    and then, we start and i sort of use the night’s set lists as a guide for where i wanted things to go. i keep an eye on the time. i try to call things in a way that keeps it interesting for the crowd and for the band. sometimes, i try to create a spontaneous medley of a few tunes if they connective tissue is ripe for such improvisation. and at the same time, i am keeping the master song list in the back of my head in case i just want to sub out something different. too, we will play these songs and give them enough lead to go to other places. sometimes this leads to a weird cover or an extended outro.
and sometimes: we write a new song that way.
     this is all to say, the second night is more for trying out what we know we know and getting comfortable with the temporal layout of the sets. and we discard the material that isn’t working and we internally invest in stuff that seems to be hitting the spot.
     and, while it always feels goofy to say this as a performer: its exhausting. i know i’m basically sitting and typing the entire time — but by the last downbeat, i’m pretty much ready to fall over.
###

 

Brian is intent upon you trying these white russians, mon hommme.

 
Tuesday night, we had a few people still in the bar when all was said and done. some interested in chatting up the band. so we tend to stick around, as the staff begins a frenzied clean up and break down of the bar. the outdoor tables and chairs come in. there is wiping of counters. the packing of liquors. the renewal of stores. the shutting of gates and lights and candles. and then everything is zipper’d up for the night. 
once again, we get a chance to practice our bon-nuits and our a-demains — and we trudge back up the hill to the house. some of the staff came by for a night cap.
so we started nightcapping. more white russians were concocted. cigars were clipped and lit. and there was furious discussion, card tricks, and the watching of perplexing internet videos out on the balcony/terrace.
in the end, it dwindled down to the band. and the discussion turned to science, being, faith, and truth. there was some side-long glancing at poor old Albert Einstein. and the title of today’s episode is brought to you by one thoroughly inebriated guitar playing exhorting his band mates that the music they play is what is actually making the Universe dance.
there were three. then two. then, as always, i was alone in my room. a few books to choose from. some journaling to do. and even imagining what this entry might become down the line.
and at some point, and i don’t remember when (for the keyboardist was a fairly inebriated his own self) lights went out and lights went out.
i woke to bright morning birdsongs and slowly saturating sunshine. though, sometimes, it rains in the morning. still, i knew the day two had come. 
and had gone again.

  

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St. Barths Chronicles, part i

     
  on the second flight — the much tinier plane with its *single* propeller — both of our pilots were named Mike. odd, no? yes! and the first mike wore an ironic, lopsided smile as he told us this. even as he was stooped over like some ancient wizard or crone, trying to stand in the tiny plane and address up before take off.
for such a tiny plane, it was a long flight. ordinarily, we have flown s different way to get to St. Barths. and the puddle-jumper flight was something like 10 or 15 minutes. from San Juan, it was a full 55 minute flight. i closed my eyes and had fantasies of being some WWI fly-boy. 
did they have fly-boys in World War I?

 

point being, we made it here. we got through customs. we got our gear. we were picked up. brought to the band-house. we toasted (as has been our tradition since the first trip here some seven years ago), then we changed and went to soundcheck. and that was the night of the first gig.
###
you have to understand, the first night’s gig at the baz bar is always a bit of shambles. you’re not really in your right mind. for us, we had 13 or 14 hours earlier departed for the airport in a city where the temperatures were several degrees below freezing. it was night and cold and busy as all hell. after a day spent in-transit, you emerge into the bustling island-world of SBH, but it is comparatively sleepy. and it is bright, and suffuse with color and heat.
you get driven to the house, have to sort of crash course your brain through some rudimentary french and kissing people on both cheeks and shit. and then, if you’re us, you toast having made it here one more time.
there was not enough time after arrival for us to unpack and decompress. we had to do a quick turn around and get down to the club to souncheck, eat, and play.
you can imagine how we shambled, how we staggered, how we swayed on our feet. we were sleepy as hell. and it’s usually like that on the first night. everything is uncomfortable, awkward, new, tropical, and sleep-hazed.
###
we made it through our three sets without major incident. i got a coke from the bartender and walked back up the hill to the band-house.
there was an old cigar i’d found during my clean-up/packing frenzy on Sunday night. i’d wrapped it in a napkin, put it in a plastic bag, and wrapped that in a teeshirt. it came through the various jostlings and changes in air pressures unscathed. mostly unscathed.
i lit it up. open a coke.
and looked out on the harbor. always, the dark water and the distant lights make me think of the Great Gatsby. which, when reading it for the first time in (junior?) high school — made me think of what the un-advanced new world must have looked like. how the natives saw the same shores. 
similarly, here.
in the night, i sit, in enforced aimless, workless, worryless quiet. smoking my cigars and wondering what was before and what, pray tell, will come after us?
and that was the beginning and the end of day one.

###

  
  

no time to unpack. just dropped everything and ran to play.

  

the toast. (attis doesn’t drink)

  

no — attis looks over his new kingdom. and, we imagine , he smiles.

  

hadn’t had any solid food in a while, this was my first indulgence . candy and the paper, on the first leg of the trip.

  

this was the “plane” for the second leg of the trip. i think Ari does capture the fly-boy essence well.

  

during the layover in San Juan; Brian and Attis sit on a couch, eat healthy snacks, and discuss the merit of certain television shows. it should be a podcast.

 

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All Those Who Came Before Me In Brooklyn [part i]

All Those Who Came Before Me In Brooklyn

— in three parts

[part one]

nights stack up upon nights. dawn is hot coffees and stretches of reluctant slumber. the days are hot (’tis summer, ’tisn’t?) but fleeting. and in the evening, we rise, and don our armors, our medallions of service, our ribbons, our pledges and writs — and we go out. we are music. we are musicians. crawling and swirling like plankton on the underbelly of the world. painters and photographers praise the light; we praise the night. you may dance, you may huddle close, squeeze tight, and weep. yea, you may even sing along (but i won’t force you). some times are hard. hell, most times are, actually. but as payment for what we do, it is less than, perhaps, we would pay. flesh, and peace; companionship and succor; food and rest and the comforts of the mundane. all are lost in the fray. even now, i stand upon the cusp of evening. this night, which shall go on and on (a soundcheck, a talk-through, a show, drinks, a cab to the airport, an early morning flight, a lay-over, an early afternoon flight, a gig, and a gig, and gig). the drop is vertiginous. a strange wind sweeps up from the abyss. i do not close my eyes. i do not hold my breath. sure of step, and deliberate of purpose — i step off the ledge and fall. ’tis evening, ’tisn’t? ’tis another night upon the heap. a feast of feats to be rended in our singing fingers. i know myself, and the toils to come. and i take comfort in the strangeness. night is like a home.
darkness is our time — and darkness always comes.
###
the weekend began with labors. i played a show in a lovely new outdoor space right at the foot of Madison Square Garden. playing keys for the wonderful Grace Weber. it was friday night. a long set from dusk well into night. we finished around ten o’clock. we broke down and hung. there were friends, acquaintances, and (as always, in this life) strangers aplenty. when the bustling crowd became a dry bed of pools of disparate groups, i said my goodbyes. collected my belongings and found my trusty ’08 Toyota Camry. and i drove a couple hours north to Rosendale, NY. 
arriving well after one, i stole in to a friend’s house. tip-toed up the stairs to the spare bedroom. closed the door, closed my eyes, and slept three uneventful and dreamless hours. the alarm rang at 545a. Ken McGloin — said friend and musical compatriot — was already up. making espresso in his kitchen. packing the car. i came down the stairs, silent but surly in the fine, threadbare light of dawn. i greeted him gruntily. i excused myself to the bathroom.
then, hurriedly, i packed his car with gear from my car. Steve Riddick, the band’s frontman and singer, arrived just around then and did the same. at sixish, we piled in to Ken’s car and drove off. the light was beginning to give warmth. it would be a long drive.
to Columbus, Ohio. nine hours, in fact. we stopped but twice: once for gas, and once for coffee. somewhere along I-80 in northern Pennsylvania. Ken asked me to look and see if there were any Starbucks on our route. it’s not that Starbucks makes the BEST coffee. but, like most nationwide chains, it makes consistent coffee. and when find yourself on those parts of America that, though beautiful, pastoral, and quaint are, still, parts-inbetween, well, you look for that consistency to keep away from distraction.
alas, no Starbucks were to be found. none directly on our route. we wrestled with veering 20 or so miles of course to get ‘there and back again,’ but it seemed unworthy of the drive. so, searching, we found something well-reviewed on the way and headed for that coffee shop. leaving the highway, and using Google to navigate the swirling streets of an unknown town, we made our way to the joint. it looked closed. but the sign said it would be open in a few minutes. we parked and waited. no joy. no one came by with keys. we looked through the windows. no one bustling about in the back room or flipping switches in a tiny kitchen. gloom and disarray. it was: closed.
disheartened we headed back to the car. maybe something further on? Steve made us of a local eateries bathroom and I considered doing the same thing when, standing on the corner, Ken spied a bakery and said, “maybe *they* have coffee.” a busy intersection — like those in a town by the highway… two lanes to a side and no discernible regular interval for the walk signs. so we jay-walked deftly and entered the bakery. 
upon inquiring about espressos (after ken saw the machine behind the counter) we discovered that the owner and main-doer of the establishment was off at some bakery event somewhere. and the woman tending shop was really more the book-keeper and business-minded partner. she admitted to not knowing how to make a cappuccino — that she had been brusquely instructed by the main-doer on his way out the the door. Ken offered to help her make them (you will recall, he was making them not five or so hours earlier in his own kitchen) — help which she gladly took. and then i made use of the facilities.
behind the counter, ken was quick and efficient but also instructive. i dare say much passed between he and she on the subject of coffee. Steve found us there.
we got waters to go with the coffees and departed.
and there were another four, mostly uneventful, hours of driving. Ken did it all. we listened to half of a long podcast about the end of World War I (my “Hardcore History” and Dan Carlin lovers know the deal) and a few of my own strange podcast confections (Spontaneanation and Star Talk) and then we were there. in Columbus around 330.
what of food, you ask? surely you did not pass 9 hours and change driving without some stop for sustenance. ah, but, dear reader, we needn’t have stopped. Steve brought more than his voice to the party. he’d woken up earlier in that morning to fry a host of chicken pieces up. wrap them and bag them. and with some tabasco sauce to garnish ’em with.
we are that. as we drove. why stop? why cease? do it right the first time and ’tis never done again. sort of.
and so we arrived at the hotel. and checked in. and briefly, rested.
###
the Jon Bates Band is how i spend my weekends in summer and fall. we play weddings and parties and birthdays and events. we go where the work is. the Hudson valley, Northeast Harbor Maine, yea, even unto Columbus, Ohio. we fear no trek, so long as music is at its end.
the other half of the band had conservatively — but one admits, wisely — arrived the day before. and so, had loaded in and soundchecked and everything by then. Our car was still chock full of musical materiel.
but the wedding was at 7. and i had a cocktail hour at 6pm. so Ken gave me the keys and sought to catch a ride over with that more wisely-dispositioned half of the band. Steve, too.

 

who, while reckless with me, were still wiser by half. as i hard but a scant hour or so before having to get showered, and dressed (tuxedo dressed, mind you), and head further into Columbus to the venue. 
’twas a treacherous load in, as sometimes happens. pull up to a service door behind the establishment. slam on the hazard lights so the car is not ticketed or towed. open up the trunk and grab two armfuls of gear. in through the door, a short flight of stairs, a quasi-corridor, into the kitchens, past the chopping station, around the ovens, past the long tables heap’d with appetizers in various states of readiness. through a set of swinging double doors. around a staircase to the freight elevator. up one floor. out of the freight, gear still encumbering — use an elbow to his a big metal button on a wall and another set of double doors swings open. into a rug-ed and art-lined hallway, past the bar, into the ballroom, and to the end of it to the stage. there to drop the gear.
dressed as i was (but not yet with the bowtie on), I made this trip some four times. i had originally planned only to bring up my stuff and Ken and Steve would have gotten theirs up when they arrived, but the parking situation made that untenable. the cars needed to be put in a lot on the other side of the building and down the street. it would have made Ken and Steve’s load in particularly unpleasant and i had the extra time. so i cleared the car.
i parked it.
i walked back over to the venue. i set up the keyboard, the amp, the mic, and the music stand. i retired to a green room of sorts to get my bowtie on. and, with about ten minutes to spare (for looking at my phone and answer texts and emails ignored in the interim from first arrival to load-in.
and at six, i grabbed my music, walked back down the hall to the bar, sat behind a grand piano, and began to play.
###
til midnight, we played. there were breaks. we ate. we drank. we made merriment amongst ourselves. but, too, we sang, and banged, and screamed, and cajoled. cheered, and clapped, and jeered and jived.
after an unexpected demand for an encore, we closed ranks and began the arduous break-down. now, all the set-up work of the harried hours before the gig becomes one cooperative frenzy of stand-collapsing, instrument bagging, cord wrapping, book collecting, tie un-slinging activity. some folks pull down the speakers, some folks run to get the cars, some folks congratulate the bride and groom, collect the check, and thank the hosts.
a little over an hour, and all that is left is a bare-stage littered with loose bits of paper, napkins, straws, and some empty (and half-empty) glasses.
a diligent band sends a few back to check all around the stage for any lost cords or connectors, any important documents, discarded shoes, glasses (like for your eyeballs), keys (like for your car), and wallets. more than once, these things have been left behind in that breakdown frenzy. no dance performed by the attendees of the wedding is more complex, consistent, or complete than this final dance the band must carry out.
and, then, reversals: back out of the ballroom, back past the bar, down the rug-ed hall, hit a big metal button, automated doors open, back into the elevator, back out and around a staircase, back through manual double doors, back through the kitchen (all the stations now gleaming with empty promise or menace — or both), back down a short hall, down a short staircase, our the service door, on to the street, and back into cars.
there are goodnights, and iterations of goodnights, and reiterations of goodnights. and two cars drive separately off in the same direction.
on the way to the hotel, we debate a departure time. 9 hours back to Ken’s, and two hours back to Brooklyn, and plane to catch at 6am Monday morning. the time of arrival back to the hotel is about 130a. we debate 6am, 7am, and 8am. Ken wins out with 8. he drives, his car, his toil — we support it.
then into the hotel, a stop at the front desk for sodas or waters or candies (or all three — screw you for judging me!). one slips the Do Not Disturb tag on the door with a deliberation with that says “in case of fire — let me burn.”
and the sound of the hotel room door closing, is like a low gong. what you do now is private rest. you may have your music — if you are not worn out — you may rest — if you are unwound enough — you eat your candies and write a blog post for an hour or so til your drooping eyelids start to grate against the now-dry skin of your eyeballs. 

then, lights out. and be quiet. i like to pull the curtains back once it is dark, dear reader. if you pass my windows, you may peer in, even as i am sometimes peering out. i see you.
and the night. and the darkness. and i am full up of thoughts and dreams and regrets. the flavor of life is a full and splendor’d thing. even as i drift off to my, as usual, dreamless sleep — i think of these things. and ready my will for tomorrow.
  ###
the final passage is just a drive home. wake. hydrate. make a final check of the room. check out and meet Ken and Steve at the car. we get gas, we get water — and we drive out east. back home.
another nine hours. but this is slightly more fraught, it being the return trip. we stop more. we weary more. we wait upon the miles more. we only want to finally be where we say we mean to go.
Ken’s by 6pm. and more reversals. Ken to his house, Steve and I attack the trunk and return our respective equipments to our respective cars. 
Steve departs — a 30 minute drive home. I make use of the facilities once more and drink a final capp from Ken’s Kitchen.  
then, too, i hit frog and toad [i forget how that one goes].
Sunday traffic is no blessing but a knowledgeable driver goes out of the way to find the fastest indirect route home. two hours is easily three. but less than four or a creeping five.
stops in Brooklyn: the bank, the store, the gas station. arrival in Boro Park is something like 10pm.
i come in. feed the cats. clean the waste. i consult my ledgers, my computers, my phone.
i dwell in the land between sleep and waking. it is 1am now.
i have packed for LA the next morning. or, really, the same morning. I retire, at last, to my own bed. hard and unforgiving as ever. the frame cracked and bending where time has worked the cheap wood of the futon frame. and, again: down go the lights. down go the eyes. down goes the mind. in to darkness, once more. the sleep, itself, is insignificant. i wake at 3, a mere two hours later. and it will be a pitched battle to drag myself forth from that sweet, disreputable darkness. but what must be done must be done. there is no peace in peacefulness. no succor in sweet repose. what we live for is the weary world that NEEDS our music. we feed it bit of ourselves. we carry on.
i will lay down in darkness. and wake up in darkness. 
i said before, it always comes. but, in my maturity, i really know better. departure is an illusion. out beyond the fragile atmosphere of this world, the darkness is. the darkness always is.
and darkness is our time.

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akie SINGS!

sure, I sing all the time.  its basically my job.  but sometimes i’m singing my own stuff and its for people to listen to.  and its not just a random demo i threw up to Soundcloud.

last week I was on a program called B-Side in Brooklyn singing my #alienlovesongs for a small studio audience and a host. and answering some pointed questions about song-writing, growing up a nerd, and the Brooklyn “renaissance.” the host was a very cool actor, musician, director by the name of Sahr Nguajah.

if you like the talking, there is plenty.  if you just want music, there is plenty of that too.  and if you like to be entertained, you can just pop in on and listen all the way down.  I think you will find it most enjoyable.

and if you don’t like my stuff, i’m sorry you had to hear that…

***

B-Side: Akie Bermiss from Brooklyn Independent Media on Vimeo.

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akie turns 31; masters the #selfie

what follows now is a triptych of #selfies from this past week.  wherein I released my first solo record, taped a solo concert for television, and had my first voluntary birthday party in about, well, 10 years.

since I actually am really weirdly sensitive about looking at photos of myself, I’ve been forcing myself to do more #selfies.  of course, i find it a bitter pill to swallow, but it must be done!  the introvert must learn!

following each photo, a description.  as I am pretty sure, after a week and half of doing #selfies, I am now a master.

thank you, and good night.

_______________________________________

Part I: good #selfie
photo 2

 

nota bene: I am centered. I got all my friends in the shot. they look OK, but NEVER BETTER THAN ME, there are multiple skin tones represented, and a few important details [read: someone has glasses, someone has a hat, someone ISN’T smiling].

the group #selfie is the most difficult but also the most forgiving of all the #selfies. if done moderately right, you have a clear #FTW situation on your hands.

You should consider this deeply.

——
Part II: bad #selfie

photo 1

 

well, here is a fine example of a perfectly simple #selfie gone terribly wrong.

for one thing, never #selfie yourself near a picture of yourself. nothing makes your #selfie look more terrible than it getting #photobombed by a much better photo of you. the positioning here is bad and that is the great trouble with all real #selfies.

nota bene: a Real #Selfie is taken with the camera on the back of the phone. the quality is usually better but, downfall, you have no way of knowing what your photo looks like. you must capture by feel — and this is the challenge but also the reward. the more difficult the shot, the better it is done, the more you my self-congratulate which, we know, is the #subtextOfSelfie.  

finally, I wore blue and aqua and I’m sort of a red-prone brown fellow and there was red on the walls and so I look flushed. nervous. drunk? maybe just: reddish. either way, it’s too bad. this was on the set of @bkindiemedia’s #BSIDE. had I set up better, I would have had a very cool #selfie.

still, we learn more from this than we would from a decent #selfie. we grow.

—–
finally, Part III: the elusive EXCELLENT #selfie

photo 3

 

now this is master-level work, folks. so don’t try this at home (seriously, a home #selfie is the lowest common denominator of #selfie. if you aspire to greatness, out yourself in wondrous environs). this is an excellent #selfie. and the reasons why are simple, yet profound. for one thing, the composition of this #selfie is ME and the unintelligible background stuff. this is crucial and all about balance. too close and you only get my face or partial-facial (which is almost always an #epicfail); too far away and you’ll be able to see that I was at Rockwood Music Hall in the big bar, hanging with a bunch of folks after a show. #tmi. this is a #selfie, not the New York Times!  

facts distract us from the very essence of this methodology. here, the facts are nearly completely muddled. and thus do we have something that approaches the zen-zenith of the craft, the: #selfOfSelfie. you see me, a cute shirt/tie combo. a white jacket (and think: “damn! a WHITE jacket? Akie is the man!). it’s all me, and then abstraction.

#thisisart.

observe, too, that I am, myself, out of focus. as if in action. but this is a #selfie — no such thing as action. and yet, the blur distinguishes me from myself, the #selfOfSelfie. lastly, excellence is assured by the details here: flash in a dark room with an iPhone = over-exposure. note, though, that with proper *subtle* filtering you can turn that fault into a favor. no redness here. so that all the blue and white does not draw you away from my face. mark the open mouth. things which would be uncouth or even downright disgusting in other photos or in the company of intelligent human beings serve the #selfie very well. the mouth is open to an alarming wideness, and at a rakish angle (who is he yell/smile-in at? some one off camera? we, the viewer? or perhaps, meta of metas, to his future self. we can only wonder…)

and the piece de resistance, observe the only other discernible entity in the photo — my musical compatriot, Lynette Williams — completely un-acknowledging the #selfie. in the world of #selfie, this is known as the #spectator. in this art-form, where all is reversed, capturing someone on camera who is NOT observing you is huge. especially if they are going about their own business quietly and politely. this only draws contrast to the douchiness of the art-form. only better alienates the subject from his surroundings and from any sense of decorum or class. further heightening that most precious prize: the #senseOfSelfOfSelfie. a true master can do this with a single shot, perfectly framed, perfectly timed. and thus achieve an EXCELLENT #selfie.

You should consider this deeply.

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