Channeling New York

It was sundown in Ed Koch’s New York, and I headed out from my cramped little closet of a room on 19th Street to sample the Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village.

I crossed through Union Square and moseyed in the direction of Christopher Street. Probably I walked past a brick building on Irving Place that might’ve been Washington Irving’s home. After I had discovered its landmark plaque one evening by accident, it became an anchor for my wanderings, along with the Hells Angels clubhouse and various old churches.

Wandering was my favorite way to explore Manhattan, especially at night. Chicago, my previous urban home, also had a robust nightlife into the wee hours, but much of New York was on full tilt around the clock. You could make your way oNYC_Halloween_Parade_-_Tallrodpuppetver to Washington Square at three in the morning, and it would be humming like a midweek farmer’s market.

Anyway, the details of that Halloween night long ago are fuzzy now, but I do recall hovering on the edges of the crowd, gawking like everyone else. Eventually I wandered home again, pondering what I’d witnessed: a spectacle of exuberance and debauchery, silly and sad at the same time. It was just like Lou Reed described in “Halloween Parade,” off his 1989 New York album:

There’s the Born Again Losers and the Lavender Boozers
And some crack team from Washington Heights
The boys from Avenue B and the girls from Avenue D
Tinkerbell in tights
This celebration somehow gets me down
Especially when I see you’re not around

Reed’s music was the soundtrack for my brief sojourn in Manhattan, especially that whole New York collection. The punchy, raw lyrics and bare bones rock resonated with my searching and discernment and figuring stuff out. “Dirty Blvd.” is a prime example. It dishes up a gritty, bleak vision with shards of hope sneaking in on the edges.

Back at the Wilshire, Pedro sits there dreaming
Found a book on magic in a garbage can
Looks at the pictures, looks up at the cracked ceiling
By the count of three I’ll get outta here and fly away

The lou-reed-1732news that Reed died earlier this week brought back a flood of memories — some happy, some wrenching, but all strangely tangled up with his music, and all very real.

But, alas, not so real it turns out. Upon further investigation, once I concluded my reveries, I had to accept the fact that the evocative songs off Reed’s New York couldn’t have accompanied my time in the city. I took up residence in Gramercy Park in 1986, so I was wandering about the Village full on three years before Reed even recorded “Halloween.”

So, just a faulty memory? Did I make it all up? Unlike the movies, where the soundtrack plays in the background as the characters dash about from scene to scene, the soundtracks of our real lives are primarily a matter of hindsight association — we associate a song with a particular event, and that link colors our understanding of both, as well as our memory. At least, it seems, such is the case for me.

No matter. The link is there, and it’s solid. Reed’s musical narratives somehow seeped into my consciousness, fusing with my recollected experiences. New York was a lean time for me, and I’m grateful for Reed’s poetic accompaniment and challenging images — even though they came after the fact.

And today, I’m marking Reed’s passing by revisiting both his music and, through that music, his New York.

Rest in peace, Lou Reed.
________________________

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