On The Brooklyn Beat

I don’t know what’s come over me lately, but after a lifetime of being at best grudgingly content about where I lived or the circumstances causing me to be living there, I’ve suddenly found myself overwhelmingly, almost ecstatically happy to be right where I am, in this particular apartment, on this particular block, in this particular corner of Brooklyn

Michelle Shirelle, formerly of the Steinways, now a Sandworm.
Michelle Shirelle, formerly of the Steinways, now a Sandworm.

I don’t know if this feeling will last, but I hope it does, because while a pervading sense of dissatisfaction is always good for material to write about, it’s not that much fun (for myself or others). I also don’t know how it came about. Yes, I was looking forward to getting back from London and being in my own home again. But I didn’t realize that once here, I’d find myself quite literally thrilled to walk out my door and be reminded of where I was, or, conversely, to walk back in my door and be able to say, I live here, this is my place and I love it!

Well, enough of that – wait, there’s one more thing: when I was still living in London and considering moving to New York, I always assumed that if or when I did, I’d be getting a place in Manhattan. And when I first started thinking about it, sometime around the turn of the century, that was still an entirely reasonable idea. Every time I visited, I’d have a look at the real estate ads and say to myself, yes, I could afford that – not the West Village, certainly, and probably not Chelsea, either, but on the Lower East Side or somewhere near it, no problem.

The trouble was, though, that I dithered about it for a long time, telling myself that things were pretty great in London, that New York would always be there, and what difference would it make if I waited a few years before moving there. Well, as many of you will know, the trouble was that prices kept rocketing upward until the idea of being able to live in Manhattan – at least with any degree of space or comfort – seemed first a stretch and eventually a wildly unattainable fantasy.

At that point I started – reluctantly – considering Brooklyn. A number of my friends had moved there, and while it still looked decidedly shabby and second-rate by my snobby standards, I began to find certain neighborhoods about which I could say, “I guess in a pinch I could live there.” But my dithering and procrastinating continued while Brooklyn rents began to soar astronomically as well, and by the time I finally made my decision even Brooklyn was a stretch in terms of affordability.

I did give some consideration to Astoria, especially since so many of my favorite people live out there, but those are the operative words: out there. It may be only a couple miles north of here, but it feels colder, more remote. I know, Astorians love to assure you that “We’re only 20 minutes from Midtown,” (if and when the N decides to run reliably), but who the hell wants to go to Midtown? All right, people with jobs often do, and maybe people showing out-of-town visitors around, but apart from that, what use is Midtown?

No, outside of the occasional trip to Macy’s or the multiplexes near Times Square, 90% of my life is conducted below 23rd Street (See how liberal I’m being, though? Conventional downtown snobs usually put the line of demarcation at 14th Street), and living on the once-tragic but now pretty darn reliable L line, which deposits me smack in the middle of all that, suits me just fine.

But why am I going on about all this? Not for the sake of annoying New Yorkers from other neighborhoods, though it surely will. All I really meant to say was how much I enjoyed my journey to Greenpoint last night, conducted partly on foot and partly by the still, ahem, slightly unfortunate G train. Oh, and to point out that while I initially moved to this neighborhood as a matter of practicality and affordability, I’ve grown to love it so much that I’m not sure I’ll ever want to leave.

And while I chose it at least partly for its proximity to downtown, the longer I stay here, the more I realize that I often don’t even have to make the short commute across the East River; increasingly, downtown is coming to me. This is especially true of the music venues that I tend to patronize. Five years ago seeing a show almost always demanded a trip to the city; now, most shows are in easy walking or biking distance.

True, not all venues are wholly salubrious, even by my minimal standards, Tommy’s Tavern, the scene of last night’s hijinks, being a case in point. It’s one of those old school bars that was actually made less pleasant by the smoking ban because for the first time people realized what it actually smelled like (they’ve more or less successfully addressed this issue now by burning hippie incense), the “performance space” is a unventilated back room slightly larger than my kitchen, and the “sound system” is outclassed by many of the cars that like to go boom past my house on a regular basis.

But when some good bands and some good friends get together there on a Friday night, hey, where else in the world would you want to be? Last night’s event featured the Challenged, who I missed because – well, I could blame the G train, but it might be more honest to blame myself for not leaving in time – and Nude Beach, who I also missed because somebody kept talking to me about something that seemed important at the time.

But I did get to see (the) Sandworms (apparently they’re one of those bands with the annoying affectation of not wanting an article used before their name, but they’re lovely people and musicians nonetheless) and the Copyrights, who, the last time I saw them were playing on a big stage though a pro sound system and wowing a crowd of a thousand or so at the Insub Fest. It’s not that they’ve come down in the world; they still play the big shows and no doubt will be playing many more. They’re just one of those bands who simply love to play, wherever and whenever. They may not have made enough last night to cover their gas money, but you would never have guessed it from the show they put on for the 50 or 75 people that managed to cram into Tommy’s back room.

Fletcher from the Copyrights lets the microphone know what's up.
Fletcher from the Copyrights lets the microphone know what's up.

But of course the music isn’t the only point of get-togethers like this; they also serve as regular reunions of the increasingly far-flung (okay, three boroughs plus Long Island and Jersey) PPMB crowd, many of whom have been supporting the Copyrights since the band first tentatively crept into the big town (okay, it was actually Jersey City) some four years ago. Michelle Shirelle, now lending her skills to (the) Sandworms, is pretty much a charter member of the gang, and while her bass-playing abilities were often the subject of (mostly intentional) comedy when she was part of Astoria’s Steinways, she somehow seems to have metamorphosed into a first class musician and performer with the new band. Well, she was always a great performer – why else do you think the Steinways always had her stand in the center of the stage even though she only sang on a handful of songs? – but now she can really play, too!

Other highlights included the typically stolid Chris Grivet breaking into a bout of hip hop and disco dancing and the ineffable Chadd “Costanza” Derkins getting into a bit of a brouhaha for allowing a bar employee to confiscate the blue plastic bottle (I actually thought it might be a bong) that one of the patrons had used to bring in her own liquor supply (which I’m guessing was probably superfluous to her needs). Chadd is a master of saying, via both gestures and facial expressions, “Well, what was I supposed to do about it?” and he did indeed say it to great effect last night.

Chadd does his best to explain where the blue bong-cum-liquor bottle has gone.
Chadd does his best to explain where the blue bong-cum-liquor bottle has gone.

You might be curious, by the way, how a non-drinker like myself can manage to enjoy festivities like these, where alcohol plays such a large part in the proceedings. Simple: I just let other people do the drinking (and suffer the hangovers) for me. When I was newer to this whole teetotaler thing, drunk people sometimes (often, to tell the truth), got on my nerves, but now, unless they’re starting fights, vomiting on me, or otherwise making their presence unbearable, I can actually enjoy their antics.

Not that anyone was particularly drunk last night, though Dirt Bike Dan did make a run at it, giving him just enough of an extra push to rally the crowd into successfully demanding an encore from the Copyrights and conducting what was apparently a half hour discussion on winter hats with the astute and very sober Patrick Smith.grivetdancing
But all things within reason: when the gang departed at 1 am or so to head toward another bar, I walked them there but didn’t go in, taking instead a leisurely homeward stroll down Manhattan Avenue, marveling the whole way at how everything looked different than it did when I last saw it 12 days ago, and marveling even more at how much I love this place and these people.

That being said, I’m now off to Jersey for the evening. We’ll see if I’m still so chipper in the morning.

4 thoughts on “On The Brooklyn Beat

  • November 8, 2009 at 3:26 am

    i am so glad that things worked out and you ended up subletting my apartment back in 06! it was meant to be i think.

  • November 8, 2009 at 6:34 am


    I thought I’d check out the Copyrights (online of course, kinda takes a while to see anyone in this country, but anyway) and I loved them! Reminds me a lot of Screeching Weasel…

    So, Thanks!

  • November 15, 2009 at 11:38 pm

    I’ve read all the Lookouts I could find, and I always read your blog…

    Anyway, I’m visiting Brooklyn (from Idaho, ha) for about a week (starting tonight), and I was wondering if there were any good shows that you know of during that time? I’d really love to see one around here!
    And if you could recommend a good place for coffee…that would be pretty wonderful also. Thanks so much Larry!


  • December 3, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    Yea to Brooklyn. It blows my mind to realize that I’ve yet to go to any real shows around here (four years and counting), although I do hit the bars, and I’ve seen Aaron on the streets once or twice, but not you.


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