Chicago, O’hare Airport
Sometimes the Getting There is the Hardest Part… Chi-Town to New York in Search of Sonny
Fryday takes the suitcase, “follow me, we got this.” She careens off ahead. All dance and determination. Graceful in her hurry. Not so much your flustered narrator. I am no good at being in a hurry. I am two hours early for everything. I am the first one to show up for sound check: “where’s the sound guy?” “Sound guy isn’t here yet.” Story of my life. But Fryday floats and surfs and rides the Lightning. Fryday runs smooth on last minute time. She parts the Red Sea. She side steps the Straights and straight arms my reality:
I say, “No way we make it.” We are late for the checked baggage cut off. My bag will be left behind. There is no doubt about it. I am convinced of this. I follow anyway. Whatever doubts I may have, I have no doubts about Fryday. She has her own rule book. When she gets to the American Airlines check in counter and they tell her she is “too late” to check bags and that there is just no two ways about it, she simply explains the new rules. I am all wide eyed admiration and crooked unbelieving smile. But that’s not true. I believe in Fryday.
They call in a “runner” who hurries off to get my bag on the plane before the departure. We navigate TSA and find ourselves seated and ready for take off. We are up, up and away. I breath in. I order a drink. Double Tito’s and ginger ale. I think about Sonny Santos. An old poster on the bathroom wall of a half remembered dive bar on Chicago’s South Side read: Sonny Santos. 2 Sets. Wednesday. Unfortunately the poster looked to be aged at least half a decade. Wednesdays, I was told, had long been occupied by Disco Karaoke Night. The bartender claimed, “before my time, but I remember hearing about him. Finger picker.” Sonny had been there. I mix the Tito’s and ginger ale. I sip. Wipe my lip and breath out.
South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NYC
Coyote and Hawk in the Heart of Cosmic Reunion…
It’s been a year since I last saw Wild Hawk. But it was one of those long years. Those pack a punch years. We had been partners In San Francisco. He left first. Exile. I should have left right then. Exodus. I held on long enough to get fired. I call and let him know I am in Brooklyn and I need a drink. Skinny Dennis‘ is ready for my arrival. They have queued up the Merle Haggard in honor of the California country boy coming to Brooklyn. Or maybe they always play Merle Haggard and I am creating a fantasy world on the prairies of my imagination wherein bartenders in Brooklyn eagerly await my arrival with country songs and vodka (vodka is a California whiskey drinkers version of “going on the wagon.”) I am creating a fantasy and you are an invited guest to my personal Fantasy Island. “Boss! De Plane! De Plane!” They follow Merle with Buck Owens‘ “Tiger By The Tail” and now I am convinced. Clearly they were awaiting my arrival. It’s happy hour and the wells are $3. Search all of San Francisco and you will not find a $3 well. You will not find an hour so happy. I sing the chorus and order another.
Wild Hawk enters stage left. Our eyes meet and I am up and off the barstool. Slashing toward him. We catch each other two inches off the ground. Lifted. We are exploded. We are Rumi and Shams. We are Keuroac and Cassidy. Bo and Luke. Butch and Sundance. The bartender bows in our direction. The barflies applaud our embrace. A wink and a nod in the direction of the cosmic friendship. We take to a table in the corner of the honky tonk. The world collapses around us. So begins the 10 hour conversation. The opening song of a seven day set.
The bartender queues Sonny & The Sunsets. We roll a spliff and head to the top of the Wythe Hotel. Wild Hawk is in lock step. He knows these streets. He was born in the City. He walks between worlds like a mystic. He closes the deals. Pays for the meals. He is cooler than New York City and New York City knows it. She parts her legs for him. She consents. We talk the state of Rock & Roll. We quote Sensei Dave Mihaly, “I love Rock & Roll, but sometimes it’s just too conservative.” We talk about his forthcoming album. Recorded in Tucson some months back with Jim Waters and I helming the production. Hawk just finished the final mix in New York with John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr, Kurt Vile, Bob Dylan) It is a beautiful record. It is a personal record. It is a midnight conversation with an electric human searcher. We talk Gorilla Ontology. We talk Gorilla Marketing Campaigns. We talk Gorilla Warfare. We are Gorillas in the Mystic.
Lower East Side, Manhattan
A Prayer to Saint Nick, Going Back to God for the Love of the Puerto Rican Street Slingers….
Alphabet City serenade. The Puerto Rican kids got style for miles. Tight corn rows neatly protruding from the back of brand new ball caps. Sneakers, BMX bikes and wide smiles. The smell of America’s herb fills the air. “Whose got the Weed? Where can a California cowboy score some pot on these alphabet streets?” I break the ice and cut to the chase. The kid comes back, “You ain’t no cop? Just got to ask?” We cut the deal. Sweet street dime bag and it’s up the block to find a place to roll a number. I spot St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church. Magnificent and it’s stone steps seemingly as good a place as any to sit and roll a spliff. The day is perfect. The sun is acting sensibly. I sit on the steps and begin rolling said spliff. Behind me I hear the creak of the big church door opening. I have a moment:
I am back in Catholic school. I am in fourth grade and Richard Salemi has convinced me to slip out the back door of the church during our weekly Wednesday service so that we can share a cigarette that he has copped from his older brother. I drag and cough. Every little noise has me jumpy. We are sure to be caught…
Back at St. Nicholas and I turn toward the creaking door, jumpy. Guilty. I utter something vaguely ridiculous to the man who now occupies the doorway. He is a Gatekeeper of some sort. He invites me in to look at the church and to show me the ballroom, which is available for rental. I take him up on the offer of a tour. I check out the ballroom. I pace the stage and examine the layout. I take his card and we head upstairs. An altar to old St. Nick calls to me and I go over and kneel down in front of a painting of the patron saint of fuck ups. The prayer is written there at eye level because fuck ups don’t always have time to memorize but they always have time to pray. So I kneel there and recite the prayer:
“…and look out for the Sailors,
For the orphans and the
Mad ones… Yada yada..
When I am finished praying, I rise gingerly and turn toward the doors of the church. The Gatekeeper looks mildly curious, or else mildly amused. I feel slightly lifted and spiritually infused. He leads me out onto the steps of the stunning cathedral and thanks me for the visit. I thank him for the tour of the grounds and his kindness. As the massive door is closing the Gatekeeper gets out one last blessing, “I hope you find what your searching for, sonny.” The last three words all glued together in my mind. “Searching for Sonny” hanging in the wet Manhattan air.
11th Street Bar, Lower East Side
Finding a Pulse in the Lower East Side. Continued Conversations with the Hawk. Sonny emerges from the bowels of Fashion Week…
The City shifting shape on all sides but the 11th Street Bar remains. Public house as time machine. A non linear unbroken chain. The owner, on road worn legs, tends the bar. Snack Adams is on the makeshift stage with a ragtag collection of well traveled rock & roll folkies. Hints of Gram Parsons. A splash of The Byrds. Wild Hawk’s in the corner picking a Poets brain. I join the pair and make it a trio. We start vamping on a standard but soon we are off on an improvisation and the conversation moves. Swings. The Poet takes his leave. Exit stage right. Hawk and I pick up where we left off on the roof of the Wythe, minus the $18 cocktails: What does an Album look like? What does Art and Rock & Roll look like? What does love look like in the Time of Digital Device?
My digital device is vibrating my seat. I check my phone. Message from Fryday. She is working another angle in New York. Fryday is undercover in Manhattan’s cutthroat fashion industry, and in the throes of Fashion Week. The text message read: “not gonna believe this but sonny santos is playing the VOZ party on Elizabeth and Bleeker right now!”
And then, “Impossible to get in… just saw Anna Wintour outside. invite only.”
I grabbed my bag, paid the tab, and hit the door with Wild Hawk in tow. I hailed a cab. “Elizabeth and Bleeker. Step on it.”
VOZ Party, NYC Fashion Week, NoLita (Lower East Side)
The Sting of the Near Miss. Fryday, I’m in Love and Sonny Slips away…
The cab pulled up at the corner of Elizabeth. I could see the entrance to the VOZ party. Security thick. The Paparazzi thicker. There was Anna Wintour of Vogue. Somebody was saying that Rosario Dawson was inside. What I wanted to know was, “Where was Sonny?” I looked around for Fryday. I asked a couple leaving the party if they had seen Sonny inside, “..the guitarist.” The female of the pair answered first, “He was playing earlier. Finished up maybe, five minutes ago?” Turning to her male companion now, who looked totally confused, she explained “the finger picker.” Fryday emerges from the interior of the party. She had gotten in. Clearly. Before I can utter the words “Where’s Sonny?” Fryday beats me to the punch:
By the time Fryday had worked her way into the hearts of the security detail and through the front door of the party, Sonny Santos had left the building. He had slipped out the back door. A cab had been waiting in the alley as his set was finishing. A condition, we were told, of his contract. We had also been told that he was dressed for the occasion in a fabulous African long-shirt furnished by Rosario Dawson’s Studio 189 brand, and that he had worn it well. Also, that he had said not a word. That he had sung not a verse, but rather, “…just sat on an altar in the corner of the party, finger picking.”
Fryday flutters off, back to her undercover work. Outside the party, the sting of the near miss still fresh, Wild Hawk and I are strategizing our next move. I hear my name being called, “Mark… Hey, what are you doing here?” The Grammy worthy voice belongs to one Jordannah Elizabeth, a Rock & Roll writer and singer from the mean streets of Baltimore with great range and a knack for melody. I give Jordannah the breakdown and she immediately breaks into laughter, “Shit, I was trying to catch Sonny too… Guess we both missed him.” We re-strategize. It is decided that Jordannah will accompany Wild Hawk and I to Casa De Lizzette, a private Southwestern themed Conversation Club in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint. Wild Hawk is a long time member in good standing. We will be his guests. He will vouch for our ability to add to the never ending conversation. We will try not to let him down.
…To Be Continued