Dear New York,
Why do you haunt me and taunt me so? Don’t you know I can’t get you out of my head? It’s all right for you…you just go on being yourself. You don’t care about me. You don’t miss me. To you, I was just an ant scurrying around your shiny streets. Can’t you see – I can’t love you if you don’t love me back, if you don’t want me back. Say you want to see me again, please! Until then, I’ll have to keep singing the refrain from that old Shirley Bassey song, the one that goes: I love you, hate you, love you, hate you, love you till the world stops turning…
You think you are so big and important, don’t you, huh? The Big Apple. Who do you think you are? What have you got that Bradford hasn’t got, eh? You haven’t got Bradford City FC, have you? Ha ha! You haven’t got a big hole in the middle and Lister’s chimney! Come to think of it, what have you got that Porto Alegre hasn’t got, eh? You haven’t got footy star Anderson, late of Manchester United, have you? You haven’t got black-bean stew and funny Gaucho hats! So, just what have you got? Well, erm, here are a few things…
Record Shops: dozens of them, full to the rafters with old LPs. Each record has one of those lovely, thick cardboard sleeves to protect the disc. Each record is a bit heavier, thicker vinyl, with sound quality to drool over. For just a few dollars – the price of a blueberry muffin and a regular coffee – you can get yourself albums by Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express or The Only Chrome Waterfall Orchestra. Tearing around Manhattan and Brooklyn breathlessly, I managed to plough through 13 record stores in 3 days, dislocating my shoulder with the weight of the bag. As Jeff Ogiba of Black Gold Records in Brooklyn says: “Records are the closest thing to a human relationship that I’ve discovered so far. I’m not on drugs.”
West 57th Street: if I could have chosen a better place to parachute into Manhattan, then my name wouldn’t be Herbert Butterworth. Bordered by Central Park, 5th Avenue, 7th Avenue, Broadway and with Times Square just down the road, this bit of the Big Apple is where the action is, where those in-the-know go, where the cool cats hang out – Bert included. And…just opposite my hotel was the coolest burger joint playing the hippest black swamp jive, hidden away behind a curtain inside the swanky Le Parker Meridian hotel.
Brooklyn Bridge: landed in Dumbo, Brooklyn 4pm (freezing the brass monkeys off), steaming cuppa tea 4.15, sprawling but neat second-hand bookstore 4.30, procured little bottle Wilson’s Whiskey 5pm (getting dark), climbed the 20 dozen iron stairs up to the bridge, knocked back the fuel and prepared to brace the biting winds 5.15, marched across the bridge with glorious views of the Manhattan skyline, landed Lower Manhattan 5.45, chilled to the bone, crimson-faced but exhilarant!
Greenwich Village: like London’s Soho in the old days, the Village has a kind of seedy, Bohemian feel, where every multi-coloured cafe, pub and shop is wildly different from the place next door. I even got sucked into the beat-up East Village, with edgy streets that seem to go on forever. I was lost and scared. I felt like Jack Kerouac…”an angel-headed hipster burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night.” Wow!
Carnegie Hall: growing up a jazz fan, the words Live at Carnegie Hall on the LP cover always filled me with awe and wonder, wonder and awe. Guess what? Carnegie Hall is on 57th Street – so off I went on Sunday afternoon, sober and civilized, to watch a little jazz group. Sitting in a cozy theatre room (an offshoot of the main auditorium) with the saxophone, piano, bass and drums just a few feet away, and knowing that Manhattan was waiting for me outside, was my kind of heaven.
OK, so New York can also get on your nerves sometimes. Like when you get the bill in a diner and there is a 20% service charge. That’s because the greedy owners don’t pay the waiters. Oh no – they expect you to pay them with a hefty tip! Many times Manhattan made me feel like a little, poor guy, like I shouldn’t really be there, like I should be emptying the garbage at the back of the celebrity party. And – get this – nobody speaks English! So annoying. I went to New York specifically to practise my American drawl (“What it is, bro!” and all that) and everybody, everywhere was chortling away in Spanish…shut your eyes and you could be in Mexico.
But little niggles aside, I am still smitten…love-struck to the core. Every time I play one of those heavy LPs with Made in New York printed on the back I hurt inside. The trouble is, too many people already love New York, that’s why she doesn’t care a fig about little old me. But I am already planning my return – I am going to MAKE her notice me, even if it means shouting “Hasta la vista, baby!” in the middle of 5th Avenue. Start spreading the news…