New York is a beast. A monster that chews you up even on a short stay. I leave every time feeling battered and dazed, yet I go back time and time again. That’s because of that magic you always hear about. I’ve had a lot of magical New York moments. Most of them came at the most random, unplanned times. Once I ended up having dinner with Michael Stipe and Joseph Arthur. Another time I watched a Robyn Hitchcock show next to Anne Hathaway, and then there was the Moby show next to Heather Graham. I once passed Ron Perlman walking a very little dog, and then crossed the street and ran into Hugh Jackman walking with his daughter. I’ve interviewed Jack Johnson at the Bowery Hotel and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. at Electric Lady Studios. Celebrities are not always part of my New York moments. But when they are, they make them a lot more memorable.
There are also the locations that make it fun. I usually stay in a hotel called The Jane, which was used as sailors’ quarters in the early 1900s. As such, the rooms are only as big as the single-occupant bed, but the character of the place makes it all worth it. There’s also Crif Dog over on St. Mark’s, where you can get some of the city’s best hot dogs, and then go through a secret door inside a phone booth, and you’re in a windowless speakeasy cocktail bar. There are actually a lot of those around the city if you know where to look. It makes the whole trip feel like a big game.
I try to go a couple times a year, but it’s always tied to work. I should say “work.” My work in New York usually consists of me visiting record labels, managers, promoters and artists. Sometimes I do interviews if the opportunity is just too good, but it’s one of the few trips where I try to get away with not taking a recorder. It’s nice to occasionally do a trip where I can visit with my friends without doing research on what we’re going to talk about first.
This latest visit was tied in with our third wedding anniversary. I asked my wife that if she would be cool with seeing record label folks by day, we could do whatever by night. Romantic, right? To my complete surprise, she said we should go see Lee Ranaldo (of Sonic Youth) do a short set at Rough Trade on our actual anniversary night. Seriously, I hit the jackpot with her. And Lee was great. I looked over to Jenn at one point to see her eyes locked on his set as if in a trance. I believe she used the word “spellbound” afterward. We said our quick hellos when he finished and took an awkward photo with me lumbering next to him, and he with that same boyish smile he’s had his entire career.
We were up early the next morning at the invitation of MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough to watch a live segment of his show “Morning Joe.” Joe has become a new friend over the past couple months, though I will say it’s one of the more surreal professional connections I’ve ever made. He is a former U.S. representative, and more recently, a former Republican, after all. He’s also been releasing his own music, which is fun and reminds me of Green-era Weezer, The Cars and, sometimes, The Psychedelic Furs, and he’s a music nerd like the rest of us. And with the power of Twitter, we had a few nerd conversations. So with the invite, we rode the elevator up 30 Rock where we bumped into Ken Burns, who just happened to be the guest on the show that day. I freak out a little and tell my wife that I might cry if I get to talk music with Ken Burns. And sure enough, after the segment is over, Joe ushers Ken my way and says, “You gotta meet my friends from Louisville.” I think I stared at Ken Burns for a good five seconds before my brain kicked in enough to gush about his jazz documentary and our obsession with his more recent one, “The Roosevelts.” He assured me the new Vietnam series was his best ever and that the soundtrack was incredible. And then he was ushered away. And just like that, without warning, New York does it again. A little magic in every corner and opportunity of The City. But it’s no Louisville.