It was the end of this past December. A friend had invited me to a “First Night Celebration” in New Hampshire. At first, I was eager to go. I had no plans for New Years Eve and I was happy to be invited anyplace at all. I tried to push down the fact that I was ideologically opposed to the concept of “First Night.” I am a firm believer in the importance of the Dionysian impulse as an integral part of the human experience, and there are few opportunities we have for fully exploring those impulses. The trend away from “New Year’s Eve” celebrations to “First Night” celebrations strikes me as a puritanism as misguided as Prohibition. The only reason I considered it at all was the source of the invitation. I hadn’t seen my friend in a while, someone I’d known since I was sixteen.
Meanwhile, some exchanges on the internet put me in mind of a band I hadn’t thought of in a long time. I typed the name into a search engine and came up with a list of videos. One was of a song I once knew but hadn’t heard in a long time. The video that’s online for the song “40 Shades of Blue” has footage of the East Village as I remember it when I first started spending much of my time there at the age of eighteen or nineteen and into my late twenties. The video opens with a shot of the Bowery Mission, only a few blocks away from where my boyfriend grew up in the housing projects on Pitt Street. His bedroom window faced north and from there we could see a line of buildings along Second Street that were nothing more than shells. My boyfriend told me about how one summer in the seventies he felt that he watch building after building going up in flames, usually a result of arson. That big bad New York of the past wasn’t in the past yet. Crime was still at an all time high. Those shells of tenements feature prominently in the video and I recognized many of the other locations. I even remembered some of the graffiti. I started feeling, not only nostalgic, but homesick.
Part of the East Village was a Ukrainian neighborhood and Luscious’ parents were living in a building on Tompkins Square Park when she was born. By the time I knew her, her mother had died and her father was long since living out on Long Island and she lived in Chelsea. Sometimes we’d end a night of bar hopping at Veselka Coffee Shop, or another place whose name I’m forgetting, and argue about the right way to make pierogi. She was, as I mentioned before, a rock and roll obsessive. She would phone me dramatically declaring that there was some band we “had” to go see. She was tall, beautiful and flamboyant and I felt it was almost a privilege to be her little sidekick. I was very aware that without her I would not be half so aware of what was going on.
So one day she called me and the band we “had” to go see was named Black 47 and they were playing at some bar I’d never heard of with an Irish sounding name. She knew it, she said. Of course, she knew every place. When we walked into the place we were early, which was unusual for us, and it was crowded. An older man in his mid-thirties, looking like he had taken off his jacket and tie before leaving the office so he wouldn’t stand out too much, asked Luscious if he could buy her a beer. She smiled slowly and broadly. “I’ll allow you to buy me a drink only if you buy my friend here a drink,” she said gesturing to her faithful sidekick. She took the beers from his hands, passed one to me, and promptly turned her back on him. She was a bitch and I loved her for it. She spun me around and pushed me toward the stage.
Black 47 was based in New York and played pretty much all the time. We went to see them a few more times. A few years later I moved out of New York. Eventually, I drifted back, but by then I had no idea what had become of Luscious. The friends I was still in touch with didn’t go out that much anymore. Some of them did things like jogging on New Years Eve. As everybody knows by now, a few years ago I left New York yet again, pushed out by rising rents and stagnating income.
As I’ve been writing down my memories, one challenge has been to figure out when certain events happened. Usually there’s a clue that places it in a window of time. Sometimes larger, sometimes smaller. I probably would have put that night with Luscious down a couple of years too early. But I poked around the internet some more and I found out the, much to my surprise, Black 47 is still around but they’re planning on disbanding on the 25th anniversary of their first performance. I also saw that they were playing on New Years Eve. I thought to myself, “What the fuck,” and bought a train ticket to New York.
At the last minute, I began to wonder if it wasn’t a dumb idea. Perhaps they wouldn’t be as good as I remembered and I’d feel let down. I needn’t have worried. I don’t have the knowledge to make this a review of the show. They have a hell of a lot of energy for guys their age… um… I mean my age. They have a lot of time under their belts playing live and it shows. There’s nothing on earth that I enjoy more than a live band in a small place, except the obvious. It felt good to be back in New York.
So, apparently they’ll be around until November of this year. They’re really good live. If you’re in New York you should consider seeking them out.