Thursday, June 16, 2016


There's no way to bring things
back, and maybe one shouldn't
wish to, but I can't help wondering
what's up. It remains difficult for
me to understand all that which I
lived; like a Daniel in a lion's den
or a Jonah in a whale. There I was;
at every angle there was a snare
waiting to catch me if I remained
unaware. What was amazing, in
its own way, to me, was that I was
living like a rich man but was as
poor as could be. With nothing;
and what I did have had all just
been taken from me and police-
taped besides. But, like the richest
of the rich, say, only 80 or even
60 years before, I had access to
three mansions, private access to
and through MacDougal Alley, a
gaslit and a legendary place. I
remember that first Christmas
there, as the approaching cold
of November and December
was catching its footing. That
alley became stunningly
beautiful. Gas-lamps, brick,
cobblestones, reflections, a
private, gated entry. In those
days there was a mysterious
sort of silence that would
descend on NYC, or at least
there, in my part of the Village.
With the early dark, and the
cold and snow, and the muffled
sounds of voices and traffic, the
thick coats on the girls and women,
the determined faces of the men,
some sort of glassine charm came
over the place. It was as if Henry
and William James were still
inhabiting their family home on
Washington Square North. And
it was all, totally, charming. It
was one of a kind, to be sure  - 
for me, I was alone in a new
masterworld of derivation. It
almost became wondrous to
me to consider what had been
erected around me, and I never
quite knew how it had come
to be.
In Avenel, I had been a useless
person, one of those listless 'teens'
you'd maybe read about. Externally
anyway  -  and that was because
of the turmoil inside me. I had
no real connections to a broader
world except that which I taught
myself. By contrast, here, a few
short months later, I was in
MacDougal Alley, at the rear
door of the Studio School,
with Philip Guston, one of
the pre-eminent artists of the
New York artworld, and the
world, just standing around
with a few others as he loaded
the trunk of his Rover 2000
for his family trip up to
Woodstock, where thy had
a place. I sat around with the
likes of Milton Resnick
and David Hare, prominent
and famed artists themselves,
just talking to pass the time
of day. Each of these people,
and many others, came with
backstories (we didn't have that
word then)  - the days of wine
and roses, so to speak, of the
old world  -  the genuine world  -
when men and woman could,
or would anyway, still sit around
and argue over the truth, what it
was or was not, and what to make
of it whatever it was and no matter.
The Cedar Tavern, or Cedar Street
Bar (it was called by various names,
and there was no Cedar Street
involved though that was the
name in a make-believe faraway
place kind of way). It was a
big-time artist hangout, 1940-50's
style. All those great and cool art
thugs of the day : DeKooning,
Guston, Jackson Pollack, Franz
Kline. They fought, brawled,
got drunk, and it was all famed
and remembered later. And all
part of a declining world even
when I was a little kid. I didn't
know anything of it, in fact and
on paper, but my greater soul
knew always that there was
something going on and it had
value to me. I was always on
the trail. That's who I was.
I'd walk or take the subway  -
those were the easy days of a
nickel, and then a dime, subway
tokens at the clerk window. The
little glassed-in booth where you'd
speak into the voice-vent and the
tokens would roll out that small
pick-up scoop. It was all real and
tangible, like life had connection
and movement and meaning  -
some sort of real, weird or not,
person was always sitting there
behind that token-booth glass  -
to uptown. At the Art Students
League I'd just go in and start
looking around. Everything was
open. It was a lot like the Studio
School in the respects of working
with chosen artists, lecturers and
resident people. Open studios, all
kind of on-your-own stuff. Great
strides, privately made. The place
had had Raphael Soyer, and at the
time it still had Romare Bearden,
who was pretty cool, in his way,
to me. There was, also on 57th,
and around there, any number of
galleries - the Fuller Building was
an entire 5 or 6 floors of art galleries.
That's still there, though diminished,
but the art-gallery world itself now
is all dispersed around, differently.
Those were good days. When you'd
go uptown, you knew things were
different. You'd see a million 
bobbing business heads up and 
down Fifth Avenue, the kind of 
workday crowds you don't see
any more except at peak-puke
holiday tourist times and big-deal 
weekends and things a round 
Christmas, which has now 
been made to last forever
anyway. Back then it was
like two weeks. Then all that
creeping marketing stuff got
hold of it, and the merchandisers,
yeah, you know, they sort of
flummoxed the goys to fall for
all this shit in the guise of glum
spectacle and religion. Not theirs,
but religion nonetheless. They
want the coin, goys want the
Heaven, and you can boss them 
around too by promising it to 
them. They fall for anything.
All along the uptown streets
this crap was underway. The 
art world had always been free 
of that; now it's a rich racket 
too. But, in those days, mixing 
around up there, you knew 
you were different. You stood 
out. Those other people were
creeps and craps. They smelled
of fragrance and scents and their
new clothes. We all smelled of
turpentine and linseed oil, and
probably of being unwashed too.
No one knew 'what' we were.
It was like Bob Dylan had said
once, when he was asked if people
recognized him when he walked
along the uptown streets, one of
those days of going up to his record
company's office or something.
He said: 'They don't recognize me
downtown; why should they
recognize me up here?' Meaning,
of course, his inner self, his 'me'.
Life has its underlings, and it
has those who ride high too.
Uh oh. Those two classes all
end up in the same place. 
Small World is that!

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