Monday, 1 March 2010

PiP Poets In New York pt 1

Having seen so many films set in New York, when I actually got there the entire city looked silver.

I'm on the subway clattering uptown. The buildings, traffic, streets etc all share such a strict symmetry, if the city were a set of teeth they could only belong in the mouths of clean cut American dreamers. I'm from London; my teeth have cracks, gaps and black fillings. Seeing such order makes me suspicious. I met a New Yorker later that day that filled me in, explaining how most crime was happening in alleyways so they closed them up so the city can advertise a prettier smile.

Second night and me and Josh are in Essex to perform an 8 minute set in a basement of a bar called 'Happy Ending' which I later realised was probably an innuendo. I met a lady who works as a journalist who tells me she's been out most nights of her life since she was 15, “YOU DEVIL!” I scream, “Well, I need to suck the blood out the city if I'm to write about it” she then disappeared into the red lights oozing out the ceiling to find the warm necks of her subjects. I took out my camera and got busy sucking my own blood.

Joshua and me performed by the DJ booth and the crowd gathered in their comfortable corners. I got to say though; following Joshua's epic 'My Love' piece is like a punishment for not being a better writer or performer. The crowd was attentive and mildly responsive. I believe my work will improve when I stop trying to make people like it.

After the show I discovered the upstairs room was a “pleasure party”, a gathering of people who pride themselves on their sexual awareness, meaning they are aware they like sex and they want more of it! There was a long, thick banana on the table and lots of fat women with cupcake flab and breasts that looked like over inflated lungs, which amused me. After an hour the crowd had filtered, those that still stood around were the uglies left out the orgy. I'd seen enough and followed Josh and his new friends to a venue across the road called 'Weird' (deliberate typo) it was a smoky dystopian lounge full of 20 some-things that looked like runaways. Scruffy clothes, tattoo's, piercings and faces that looked like they were washed with collage diplomas. I'd tired myself out taking photos and faking my enthusiasm for the American punk and rockabilly music – I'm snobby like that, if something doesn't feel authentic I will not move. The DJs stopped and a band came on stage. Imagine a dark and minimal Little Dragon that uses lots of heavy bass lines and echo re-verbs in their vocals, now imagine it doesn't sound very good. Josh and me headed back to Queens at 2am, exhausted, grateful and envious that the New York Subway runs 24/7. We slept like babies with hot milk.

The next morning I wake up and Josh turns on the TV, a commercial for diet pills lights up the screen. “IT’S GREAT TO BE THIN!” shouts a smiling fake tanned white teeth white woman, “she did not just say that!” says Josh, unimpressed, “MY LIFE IS GREAT!” she says, running along a beech in a bikini barley covering her nipples, Josh changes the channel and I think about America’s suicide rate.

We went into town that morning to look for a cafĂ© with wireless Internet; we go into three Star Buck coffee shops before we accept they don’t have it. It was on the street walking towards what I thought was the Empire State building that we both realize New York is just like London, just built a lot higher and wider, Josh called it “London’s bigger brother”, I agreed.

The New Yorkers themselves were also on a similar but larger scale compared to Londoners. I walked into many NY pizza joints that could have been run by the same grease as a typical Kebab shop in Brixton or East Ham.

The R&B and Hip-Hop club we went into had guys like they do in the London mainstream clubs, wearing sunglasses, standing in the corner either playing with their phones or just staring at the wall, slightly nodding their heads to give themselves just enough reason to be there. The girls were mainly dolled up, quite a few of the really pretty girls were underdressed and overdressed at the same time, dancing with some of the meanest muscle bound mugs I’d seen in my life. It could have been London’s Bar Rumba in a bigger venue.

The poets too, some of them were like the American equivalents to some of the London poets I know, not just in their style of writing and delivery but their humor, stage presence and mannerisms. This got me thinking about how the environment influences its artists, it was fascinating to discover these doppelgangers and how it’s likely they exist because of London being such a similar setting.

Some parts of Brooklyn looked like Hackney, Manhattan was like Westbourne Park, Queens was a bit like Brixton, Times Square looked like West End, there is probably a London equivalent for every part of NY.

The streets are definitely cleaner and Josh spent days trying to figure out why his breath disappeared when he glared down the busy roads between the skyscrapers. He was so happy when he figured it out, “I GOT IT!” he said resuming a three-day-old conversation, “the streets don’t end” and he was right, you can see right down the throat of almost every high street, unlike London which has more turns and dead ends than teenage relationships.

Another thing I found interesting was the fact that almost every carriage I got into on the Subway had a homeless guy asleep in the corner, if I had taken a picture of every case I saw I could have made a pretty cool collage of homelessness.


  1. "I believe my work will improve when I stop trying to make people like it."

    This is a courageous and interesting statement for any performer. I haven't seen you performing yet (hope to soon), but I'm liking your writing a lot. This post is a beauty. Can't wait to get to NY myself someday...

  2. "more turns and dead ends than teenage relationships." YES!

    I love it, I'm hooked, I want more. I like the connections withe places in London, it helps me visualise things better :)

    Funny you should mention the homeless person thing, I'm currently working on a side project about that and shooting the homeless around London.

    Brilliant piece Ray! x