Some Thoughts about Immigrants and Real Live Music Revisited

The United States is and always has been a country of immigrants.  Unless you’re an indigenous person (whose birthright was stolen from them by the original immigrants to this land) or an African-American descended from slaves (who were brought here against their will), all of our ancestors came here, by choice or desperation, to escape turmoil in their native lands or to take advantage of American opportunity to create a better life for themselves and their families.

And yet, subsequent waves of immigrants are inevitably vilified by the ones who came before, like somehow the new immigrants are not as good or worthwhile or deserving as the old immigrants.  Why begrudge them this?  Why not help the newbies?  Are they deemed such a threat to the inroads their forerunners have made?  This nation’s geography is certainly large enough to accommodate more.

Just consider what immigrants bring to America when they come:  talent, labor, FLAVOR. Think of the awesome array of food choices in a place like New York City, with every conceivable culture represented and available for the comestible enjoyment of one and all – not just the denizens of the country or culture from which it came.  What about music, and art, and literature?  I always loved “International Nights” at school, where every kid represented a culture (either their own or an acquired favorite) and they brought a special dish and told a traditional story and drew a colorful flag and learned a little history.  Through those “International Nights” (and parents would also come, some of whom were still learning English as THEIR second language), the intention was to gain an appreciation of our differences rather than to judge and denigrate them.

I’ve always had an interest in doing Ancestry.com and/or DNA research to see what my genes reveal about my make-up.  I know on my mother’s side that we’re Italian, and I can even trace back through my great-grandparents their arrival (or their parents’ arrival) at Ellis Island.  My maternal grandmother’s mother, Petronella, came to New York as a young child from a place my family always called “Fooj” but I have so far been unable to find it on a map.  She never did learn to speak English; I remember teasing her (she passed away in 1990 at the age of 102, and I was the oldest great-grandchild, so I was fortunate to be able to know her pretty well when I was a kid) for the way she said “pock-a-book” and “ice-a-box”.  (I also remember, with vivid clarity, spending an afternoon in the Bensonhurst apartment she shared with my bachelor Uncle Frank, and drawing a picture of her – I must have been no more than 4 – that she tore up in anger because I put in too many wrinkles.  It damaged my artistic confidence for life!!)

But my father’s side is awash in mystery.  My paternal grandmother, Mary Weiss (or perhaps it was Weitz),  was Hungarian.  I think I remember that she and her two sisters came over as children, but I may be confusing the reality with a photo I saw of three Hungarian sisters, shell-shocked and sad-faced, with their battered suitcase on the docks of New York City.  My father’s father, and his father’s father, and his father’s father’s father before him, all died before the age of 50 (as did my father), so their genealogy has been difficult to trace.  They might have come from Austria or somewhere in Germany, and their last name was almost certainly NOT “Lucas”.  My father always used to joke that he was Romany – a gypsy – and had magical powers of clairvoyance and the ability to curse people who did him wrong, but I’ll probably never know for sure.

But my point is this:  BASICALLY ALL AMERICANS ARE IMMIGRANTS.  And every new wave of immigrants brings something unique and interesting to the fabric of American life.  Although their reasons for coming may be diverse, there is one thing they all have in common:  They believe that life will be better here, that there will be opportunity for growth and prosperity here, for their children and their children’s children.  Immigrants generally don’t come here with the intention of going back to where they came from, and some of them are physically unable to do so.  But all this anti-immigrant sentiment, fomented by Trump and his supporters, is ridiculous and, frankly, anti-American.  As the Sam Cooke song goes, “Don’t know much about history,” but I do know this:  Immigrants have always been, and should always be, a vital and valued part of this nation, which in this regard, at least, is already pretty great.  Our forebears came here with the same hopes and dreams, whether one or two or ten generations ago.

* * *

My good friend Sue ruins things for me.  By virtue of her thoughtful and extremely generous gift-giving, she has destroyed Broadway musicals (thanks to a third-row seat to see “Tommy”, where we were so close we were peppered with flecks of Michael Cerveris’ spittle) and Rangers games at Madison Square Garden (where not only did we sit in the first row behind the penalty boxes but we also witnessed the most exciting game I’ve ever seen in person, with the Rangers coming from four goals down to win in overtime).  And now she has ruined music concerts (although, as you may recall, I already have mixed feelings about live music:  see “Real Live Music”, 3/16/16).

For my most recent birthday, she got us tickets to see ’80s goth icon Peter Murphy at City Winery.  The concert was this past Sunday night, and it was remarkable, and I will never EVER be able to enjoy a live music venue again unless I am sitting as close, and unless I have the level of interaction with the artist, as I did for the Peter Murphy show.

First we had a yummy dinner at Tinys and the Bar Upstairs (of which King Henrik Lundqvist is part-owner), and then we walked through Tribeca in a light first-of-the-season snowfall to get to City Winery in Soho.  I had never been to City Winery before, although Sue had, so I had no idea what to expect.  Long rows of tables radiated out from the small stage, the height of which was basically at the top of the tables.  The host took us to our seats – one four-man table in from the stage!!  Literally the width of two large humans away!!  It was like we were practically on the stage.  We saw everything in fine detail:  Murphy himself, thin and regal, high cheekbones in shadowed relief, stalking the proscenium – almost stumbling a couple of times over various pieces of audio equipment  – and leaning out over the edge of the stage.  His bassist/electric violinist, Emilio “Zef” China, all in black, his face outlined by sinewy strands of hair escaping from his man bun, kept up a masterful drone; his guitarist, John Andrews, with his wide bandanna and samurai-style ponytail, effortlessly provided the lead.

The sound level was a tad loud, being that close, but we soon became accustomed to it.  At the tail end of a long worldwide tour, Murphy’s deep golden baritone was a little raw at times, but he still sounded fantastic, especially on the bone-buzzing low notes.  But the absolute highlight – maybe of my musical life – came when he was singing a shimmering acoustic song, stripped of any ambient sound other than Murphy’s and John Andrews’ guitars, with which I was not familiar called “Strange Kind of Love”.  While he was singing the dreamy lyrics (including “Perfect taste choice and meaning/A look into your eyes”), I was absolutely mesmerized, but then I could swear he started looking RIGHT AT ME.  You know that sensation?  You can FEEL it – it almost makes you a little giddy – when someone looks straight at you like that.  At first I thought he must be looking at the woman behind me, who had earlier called out some semi-inappropriate and slightly suggestive exclamations; while I didn’t get a good look at her I knew she was wearing a spaghetti-strap top and leather pants and without a doubt was more attractive than I am.  But because I had that feeling that it was actually ME he was looking at, I smiled.  AND HE SMILED BACK.  I felt a little shiver but kind of shrugged it off.  Why would he be looking at ME?

A few moments later, he looked at me again, longer this time, and I cracked another smile, and he smiled back again.  At that point, I KNEW he had been looking at me all along.  The second smile in particular was quite charming and made me feel all warm inside.  I also realized that other people must have seen him looking at me (well, at SOMEONE), too.  When I asked Sue about it afterward, she said it seemed like he had been looking at me, although the girl behind me was probably equally certain that he had been looking at HER, but it was quite clear that he had been engaging with SOMEONE in the near audience.  When I explained to her about my smile test, she had to agree that, yes, indeed, it must have been me to whom he was singing that glorious song.

Perhaps he was thinking, “Let me mess with that chubby girl with the man hair and glasses sitting down front.  I bet she’s a little freaked out that I’m looking at her.”  Or maybe he just appreciated my rapturous expression while I was enjoying his gorgeous song in such close proximity to the artist.  Whatever it was, it was certainly a pinnacle of my musical lifetime experiences.

Of course I downloaded the song as soon as I got home (the studio version, although the live version was available – I wanted to best capture his impossibly pristine voice) and then I found the video, during which he stares intently into the camera with his piercing and colorized “indigo eyes,” right into your (MY) soul.  I must have watched it twenty times since Sunday night.

So of course I am wrecked for any future musical act, unless, of course, we can get the same (or dare I say even better?) seats and a dreamy singer decides to give me a thrill!!  THANKS A LOT, SUE!!  I can’t wait to see what other entertainment experience you can ruin for me!!

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