Recap: The Park
It started out very familiar: I ran into my fellow performers strolling up Nassau Ave, somewhere around McGuinness. Brian had a guitar on his back, Esther, a book in her hands. It was hot at 10:45, but not that hot. Again, pre-show familiarity: searching the various bodegas (really fruit stands in this neighborhood) for a quick something. On to McGolrick Park.
Most of my experience with this Park is as something to look at while taking a break from playing at the Lutheran Church of the Messiah (on the south side of the park; an ensemble I was in played there monthly for over a year). I’m uncertain if I’ve ever actually entered it before, but it’s been a focal point in hanging out with fellow musicians. I couldn’t have known about the presence of statuary horses, stupid looking or otherwise in McGolrick. When Aliza & I did our more casual Perfect Lives two years ago, we were based the 9th St entrance to Prospect Park, which conveniently features the Marquis de Lafayette and his horse. Everyone looks reasonably intelligent, but also, there is a bench. For this Perfect Lives, it was decided that everything should be in walking distance, and since we had a perfect backyard at Gelsey’s, Northern Brooklyn was our operating area, and this was the most suitable park.
Shade was found in the central structure of the park. The sky was perfect. The temperature too. The birds were singing in a fashion that was beautiful if focused on, or alternately easily tuned out. Gelsey arrived in bright yellow. Brief plans were made involving keyboard accompaniment. Just before 11 AM, Paul arrived, and before him, Alex Waterman with a fold-up bike. I don’t know Alex well, but we have conversed and made music together in the past, and I have tremendous respect for him, I know he knows a ton about the music of Robert Ashley, although he made it clear he was just there to listen. Paul & I wondered about the (long-closed) diner on the north side of the park where you could get a full meal for $3. Passers by. Bikes. Baby carriages.
And so, with an audience of one, we began, with Gelsey giving a firm, steady, deep felt accounting of that particular singer’s state of mind on that particular morning on the road in the Midwest – pouring, dreaming, gripping, being interrupted, encountering permanence. Familiar words, in an evocative setting, beginning to get to the center of my brain. Brian’s casio-work (in D major) set up a deceptively simple plod, as per “Blue” Gene Tyranny – Brian has a wonderful gift for highlighting the foreground vocal activity with something unobtrusive and information-rich. Paul added melodica (he would later take over the Casio when we did a second run), and I was the chorus. The birds were just so. The wind. Everything. This was going to be our day, and everything was very clear.
It was around this point that Bob – the composer Robert Ashley – and Mimi – his wife & manager, Mimi Johnson of Performing Arts Services – arrived. I had contacted them the day before, apologizing for the lack of lead time and informing them of our plans. We were simply hoping they wouldn’t tell us to cease and desist, and much to our surprise and delight, they said they were planning on attending. We begun Episode 1 not knowing when they would arrive, so it was momentarily nerve-wracking to be in their presence, but being such warm people, that quickly subsided. For me, the presence of these two experts on the piece focused all of our activity – not in the sense of being able to execute with greater fidelity to the original or anything like that, just being able to feel the continuum of the life experiences and ideas that went into Perfect Lives and apply them to myself. To really use the piece as a barometer of where my life is.
After we finished, we realized we had quite a while before our 1 PM appointment at the Bank, so it was decided to make another go at it. We convinced Alex to do the lead this time, and he had plenty of his own subtleties to offer as a lead. The second go was farther from the birds, closer to a statue and a bench, somehow less in the wide open field of emotions of the familiarity of this park for me, and more wading into the familiar words of the piece. Getting me more ready for the journey to Indiana and back that was in front of us over the next 12 hours.
After the second reading, Mimi & Bob spoke on the familiarity of the setting: it was just like Galesburg, Mimi’s hometown and where the television version of Perfect Lives was shot. A Tuesday in early summer. The weather just so. The sky perfectly clear. Bob said: this is it. This is the day. A day on which folks would gather to celebrate. A day on which normal activity could turn into art; uplifting, transcendent art. Robert Ashley provided the scenario, all we did was bring it back into physical reality. A simple thing really, something that could be done on any number of summer days. Something you wouldn’t want to happen all the time, it’s not that easy, but something that, when it happens, wakes you up, shakes you around, opens your eyes, helps you contextualize the changes in your life. This is what Perfect Lives was on Tuesday for me.