Revisiting the 80s and New York roots
THE SOLITUDE of travel lends to the departure lounge of airports something of the markers along the pilgrim’s way: an atmosphere of excitement and the chaos of amplified and unclear announcements; the lure of dutyfree and the assurance of wellbeing evoked by a whiff of surreptitiously tested Isse Miyake, the incense of secular cathedrals.
Forty-eight hours after my arrival in New York City last week, I was in the company of journalist Tony Karon.
I experienced a sense of the nature of the modern pilgrimage as we drove from my hotel in Manhattan over the East River to Brooklyn, Tony’s home with his wife, Jann, since about 1993.
Tony and I met in 1980 in the days when Observatory was a hotbed of veggie co-ops and the home-awayfrom-home of the white left.
Insurrections were plotted and revised over a “Bonteheuwel briefcase” (a box of Tassies).
Karon – who in those day sported what he referred to as a “Jew fro” – introduced me to the dub poetry of Linton Kwesi Johnson.
He knew all the lyrics of Inglan is a bitch and other memorable songs such as Lorraine.
He did a menacing, off-key but riveting performance of Guns of Brixton.
He did the Clash proud as he roared forth in the commune kitchen When they kick out your front door, how you gonna go? Shot down on the pavement or waiting on death row... I’d join in the chorus with contextual insertions such the guns of Bontas/Crossroads.
We pass by Spike Lee’s production offices, 40 Acres & A Mule. A little tick on my NYC bucket list.
Then we have coffee opposite a block of flats. For years there’d been a rumour Mariah Carey lived in the penthouse there. Tony didn’t believe the rumour to be true.
It could be because of the rainy, cold weather but nobody famous was about.
Anyway, Tony is famous in his family, and now with me, for having interviewed Biggie. It was a gig for the BBC.
I understand he and the vrou also appear in a Salt-N-Pepa music video. On their way from breakfast, they were recruited into a shoot of SaltN-Pepa’s Heaven ’n Hell.
Kids killing kids just for the juice. Now Africa is looking for the truth. But it’s gonna take a while to enlighten the yout.
Two white Mzantsians representing The Motherland. And all God’s angels say: “Amen.”
Monday of this past week featured some physical discomfort in my New York diary. My black dress shoes are best for short walks – the procession from the cathedral vestry to the altar; the car to my mom’s front door. At a pinch even that longish walk down Groote Schuur Hospital’s corridor to the ICU unit.
My selfie advice was to “walk for 45 minutes each day and only take the subway after you do that” .
I did this and then, en route to Strand Bookstore, detoured via The Village. I walked in the general direction of Varrick Street looking for Sweet Basil, a jazz club I occasionally frequented when I lived in the area for about six weeks back in 1982.
A photo for my travelogue seemed a good idea since I had once accompanied Abdullah Ibrahim to the club to listen to Sathima, his wife, sing on a cool February evening.
I just could not find the place. Turns out it had closed in 2001.
An hour and a burrito enchilada later, on MacDougal I saw a tired, weary soul looking at me. He was sitting on a bench opposite an Indian restaurant.
I regreted that burrito because this restaurant was packed with my Ryland Estate peeps, always a good sign. A masala dosa and chai tea would have been so welcome. The burrito felt like an unwelcome guest who seemed to have lost all inclination to head back home.
“I love that beret, man,” he offered.
“I wore one just like that – the same colour – a long time ago.”
I loved the sharing of our sameness, the memoired offering pared of self-interest. It was the desultory kindness of a moment.