This past weekend Stretch googled- What to do in New York City this weekend and discovered there was a jazz festival going on throughout the city. So, he bought tickets to some club called Nublu. I was skeptical. I’m always skeptical. If something is easy, it can’t be good. The good things need to be a struggle. We have to know someone who knows someone for something to be truly worth going to. Plus on a wintery January night in New York City the last thing I want to do is venture out to some unknown club on the lower east side, Avenue C to be precise. In my youth, Alphabet City was a dangerous, no-go area, and I haven’t totally moved on from that perception.
I want to stay put, cosy on my upper east side sofa, cosy in my upper east side life, binging on the latest mind escape. White Lotus got me through December. What’s going to get me through January? But being the amazing wife that I am, I put on my coat, hat and gloves and follow Stretch to what I’m sure will be an outing we’ll regret.
How late does this thing go? I ask Stretch in the Uber downtown?
Don’t worry we can leave after an hour. It’s good for us, take advantage of this city.
The Uber pulls up to some nondescript street full of small shops. I don’t really want to get out. Old fears sometimes stick. But there goes Stretch heading to the back of a line of people so I follow.
Did you bring any ID? They’re checking people’s ID, Stretch says.
I quickly scramble scanning my phone for some ID. When we get to the bouncer, he looks at us and our tickets and waves us in. No ID needed. We’re clearly not minors. Fine, I’m old I know it. Then we go inside, and I see a big room filled with people, all in their 20’s and 30’s.
What are we doing here? I wonder. We so don’t belong. My next thought- No way I won’t get Covid. Then we go to check our coats. It’s the honesty system. Ohh Jeez. Goodbye coat, I think. Why did I wear my favorite snuggly coat, plus saffron-coloured cute hat and brown leather gloves? They’ll all be gone by the end of the night.
We go to the dance floor- it’s very intimate- crowded but people make way for us oldsters. Stretch beams at me and immediately starts swinging his hips, getting into the groove and calling me Baby.
Who is this man? We are too old for this. My name is Elena, not Baby.
But he’s not deterred. He won’t comply. He keeps dancing, smiling, kisses my neck. PDA, no, no, no. Not at 60! I turn and face the stage and pretend I don’t know him.
Doesn’t he realise we look ridiculous? We are the oldest people in the room by at least twenty years. I scan the crowd looking for anyone, please someone older than us. Spotted! There’s a woman, full head of grey hair, jacket still on, wearing a mask. And I feel better. The lead singer is a man named Brian Jackson. He talks to the audience in between each song. I’ve never heard of Brian, but the crowd seems to know him. There’s a lot of clapping and whooping when he talks.
One song, Brian says, he wrote in 1973. I was 11 in 1973. Brian couldn’t have written this song when he was 11. Brian is older than us. And he’s good. Before another song he tells us that the media is full of violence and war right now, but we need to remember tonight-
We’re a cool, calm fun community, he tells the attentive crowd. My band, our mascot is the gorilla. The gorilla is a super peaceful animal.
I look around the room. Everyone is having a good time, dancing and chatting, meeting up with friends. We’re all just peace-loving gorillas. No one is interested in stealing my stuff. Everyone here just came out for some fun and good music on a Saturday night. I might not even get Covid.
When did I become so negative? So cautious? So uptight? Age is about an attitude, and I didn’t like mine.
Then Brian talks about it being ok to disagree with your neighbor- and if you want change, you need to change yourself first. I like this guy. I realise as I scan the room that I used to be like these people. Carefree, somewhat adventurous (I’m only a few miles from my cosy apartment after all), relaxed and willing to give it a go. But as I got older I put up walls, got more afraid, resistant to winging it and seeing how an unconventional evening might go. By the end of the set, I am dancing with abandon as is that other older women with the grey hair and the mask.
I realise that it’s easy to come here in your 20’s and 30’s but what’s important is to come here in your 60’s, to be reminded of who you once were. I’m not quite ready for Burning Man. For me, this was adventure enough. I saw glimpses of myself thirty years ago and don’t want to say goodbye to that person. And my coat and favourite hat and gloves, they were right where I left them.
Postscript- when we got home I googled Brian Jackson and here’s what came up:
Brian Jackson earned mythic status among music fans thanks to his pioneering work with Gil Scott-Heron in the 70’s, where his flute and electric piano performances on ‘Pieces of a Man’ and ‘Winter In America’ virtually defined the sound of an era. From the 80s onwards he went on to record with Kool & The Gang, Will Downing (whose debut album he produced), Roy Ayers and Gwen Guthrie among many others, and while many veteran musicians tend to stick with the sounds they know best at some point in their careers, Jackson remains an unusually adventurous, vital and broad-minded artist to this day.