Road blog: Brother Dege on tour - pt. 4

by Walter Pierce

Dege takes New York City by sturm und drang.

[Editor's note: Independent Weekly arts/entertainment writer Dege Legg is in the midst of a month-long music tour up the East Coast to Boston, west across the Upper Midwest and back down to Louisiana. His tour, in the guise of his latest musical persona, Brother Dege, is in support of his new record, Folk Songs of the American Longhair. Dege is filing reports of his experiences from the road throughout the tour. This fourth installment finds our intrepid tripper in Gotham, seeing old friends and meeting new ones.]

From left: Scott Emmer, Dege Legg, Richard Grant, and Brian Fruge

Rolled out of Philly.
Headed north to NYC.
New York is a monster.
A good monster, though.
This is my third time here.
I hit town and traffic was insane.
That's to be expected.
Bumper to bumper from Staten Island to Manhattan.
Inching your way along with everyone else.
It was odd to see the Manhattan skyline
Missing its two front teeth.
Twin Towers gone.
Now it looks like any other big city from a distance.
As you get closer,
The energy and brick-lined vibrancy of the city
Just washes over you like a North Shore wave.
It's a weird magic.
I cut over the river on the Brooklyn Bridge
Cut from ancient stone.
Before planned obsolescence.
Before disposable everything.
The wires and the bricks, taut and tuned
Like a low E string, humming.
All the people.
All the energy.
All the music, pouring out of everything.
Everything in this town sings, squeals, squawks, honks
In song...with the smog of melody.
From the free jazz horn blasts of the taxis
Like atonal trumpets.
To the peep of penny whistle traffic cops
To the hiss and squeal of air-brakes
To the wind cutting up the gash of Times Square
To the flap and squawk of the birds
To the rhythm section of concrete and delivery
Bouncing block to block.
To the metallic chug of subways, rattling dragon's breath
Below the street
To the chatter of footsteps.
To the whisper and scrape of trash, blowing through the streets.
To the drone of a thousand machines over head,
Churning, burping, grinding at once
To the Tower of Babel, speaking in tongues.
To the incessant aria of all of it echoing
Against itself
Even the sky above clangs
Over these canyons of stone.
It all sings at once.
It all dreams at once.
It all screams at once.
It coils around you.
New York City has an energy unlike any other city.
It's tuned to the instrument of itself
Which is what makes it sing
Like no other.

Pulled up to the club.
Open parking spot right in front of the club.
This city welcomes me, like, "We know it was a long drive getting in.
How about the best parking
Spot in the house?!"
Otto's Shrunken Head on the lower east side.
Just what you'd expect but more so.
Hip, loose, dirty, and fun.
I check in with Nell, the bartender and booker.
Let her know I was there.
And I was me.
Bands start around 5 or 6 p.m.
Loaded up my gear.
Not yourr typical singer-songwriter set-up.
Half-stock Double Recto Mesa Boogie head & cab.
Pedal board.
Stomp box.
Cables and all the other s**t.
Turned round and there's Richard Grant.
Hadn't seen him in almost 10 years.
Hadn't aged.
Still alive, still thriving, still creative,
Still doing it.
He's one of the most creative good vibe dudes
I have ever met.
You have to salute people like that.
People who have creative pursuits
Who aren't crazy and jacked up for attention-getting bulls**t,
Looking for a way in, any way in.
He's cut from another cloth.
With a world class sense of humor.
A sense of humor is the quickest manner
To divine intelligence.
And he's got it. Spades.
That guy is freaking genius.
We hang. Meet his friends and girlfriend, Amy.
All really, cool smart people
On their A-game.
You've gotta bring your A-game to the New York City.
If you slack, you get swallowed and sent back to Jerkwater, USAville.
Ticket paid.
Where you can go back to playing the big fish in small pond
While convincing everyone you are hip with the cut of your jeans.
Not that great things don't come from small towns.
They do. They really do.
And they are the most pure.
Just that when you come to NYC
With your tennis shorts and racket and bag
You better be ready for the 100 mph serve, buddy.
Because it's coming
And it will blow by you fast
And give you a funny haircut in the process.
No joke.
So you better be ready.
That lazy-smazy trend-hopping thing that people sometimes do
In their hometowns
Doesn't float in the big city.
They've already seen it and done it.
20x...5 to 8 years ago,
You have to have your game on
And just do what you do.
And do it well.
And do it in a committed way.
These f**kers will blow by you fast.
Because the city moves fast.
And you've really got to be yourself
To keep up.

So yeah, we all hang.
Krishna (drummer in Santeria) shows up late, of course.
But not too late.
He flew in with his wife and some Indian folks for the gig.
Awesome to see familiar faces
After being out in the concrete wilds for a week plus.
Richard Grant plays under the name The Grant Proposal.
I suggested The Grant Minority
But Proposal has a romantic lilt to it that suits him.
I bugged him to do these shows with me.
And he ripped it.
It's like two car garage rock with some rad country thrown in.
He uses backing tracks off a laptop.
He does the backing track thing better than anyone I've seen
While ripping throw some high octane guitar riffage.
Some of it sounds like Joy Divisions guitar player
Back when they were still punk.
Look up "Failures (of the Modern Man)"
It's one of the greatest, badass rock & roll tunes of all time
And it's by Joy Division. Nice!
God, that song rips.
Richard's in that territory, just banging it out.
One-man rock band style.
I knocked out my set
And put it on them.
It's awesome to see people react to the slide stuff.
It's a 3-step process.
First they see the Dobro
With the time-machine hubcap in it.
Then they hear the sound check
And then I blast through the set.
Even if only two people are there,
It always gets a cool reaction
Other than when I suck.
Which happens occasionally,
Usually prompted by whiskey
Which is hard to play on.
Lower East Side was a good show.
I'll remember it for a long time
And I usually forget them pretty quickly
Just because I like to keep moving
And not get nostalgic or pine for the past.
It's all about the future burn cycles
And where they go
And the mystery involved.

Krishna got us all a room at the Grand Hyatt on 42nd Street,
Right down the street from Times Square.
Very fancy.
I hadn't slept in a real bed in a week.
They valet parked their rental.
Then it was the Black Bayou van's turn.
This was awesome.
Those hoity valet guys didn't know what to do
With that old van
With all my clothes, skateboards, jugs, books,
Guitars, and crap laying around inside of it.
It the Time Square Bomber guy had blown up my van
It would look like somebody was having a yard sale
Over the street.
The valet kind of turned up his nose at the van and sniffed.
But then Krishna tipped him and he changed his tune a bit.
I had to coach the valet on how to start the van up.
There's some hokus pokus where you have to
Jiggle around the gear shift and shake the keys.
He looked up at me crazy.
I just nodded, letting him know
This is just how it is, buddy.
Not every car is a Jaguar, you know.
We walked round Time Square.
Ate some street food
Then crashed on an upper floor room
High above the city.
Floating about the clang.
But still, wanting to walk back down
And dive back into it.
Because it never ends.
And New York is that kind of city.

I walked around Central Park alone
Laid in the grass. Read. Chilled. Watched people.
Los Angeles doesn't even come close to this place,
Energy and vibe wise.
I realized partially why NYC is so cool.
Because the people HAVE to be in close contact
With one another on a frequent basis.
Even if you're Donald Trump and live in a high rise,
You've got to come down to the street
Amongst all the street people to get
Where you have to go.
It's not like you can stay holed up there forever,
You've got to come down and put foot to concrete
Where the stock broker walks shoulder to shoulder
With the street bum and homeless man
Or the hip hop kid or the punk rocker
And the Lebanese baker and everyone else.
It keeps everyone grounded.
It keeps them real.
It keeps their survival instincts
And social skills primed.
You stay grounded and true.
You can't hide in the gated communities
Like you do in other cities
Where you shoot in and out
Within the confines of the locked doors
Of your automobile.
Here, ground zero is your feet on the sidewalk,
Stepping along in push and pull of foot traffic.
It's awesome.
It's good energy.
I dig it.
In other cities,
People lock their car doors when you get to close to them.
Here, you are an arms reach away.
It makes the human's behave.
Each gives the other an unspoken respect.
Dumbasses don't act like fools in NYC
Every time they see a beautiful woman on the street.
They leave her alone.
There is less distance.
Fewer walls.
But strangely, less fear.
And more eyes, faces, and souls
Silently checking one another.
Keeping the balance.
Trueing the heart.

Crossed the river back into Brooklyn.
Brooklyn has magic.
All the old brick and brownstone
And clattering steel of elevated rails
Rumbling around you.
Everything looks like a matchbox
From the 1920s.
All the fonts on the advertising
Have a weird sort of character.
The endless buildings, brownstones, tenements,
They're all awesome.
You could explore this place forever.
You could hide in this city for years
And no one would know you
Were here.
It's so big.
So dense.
So labyrinthine.

Rad club.
Cool people.
Scott Emmer and Brian Fruge's new band, Dinner
Is playing tonight.
Old school Lafayette guys
From Sau Pakus and Urbo Sleeks respectively.
Good dudes.
I miss not having them around.
But they've gone on with their lives
And are doing great things up here.
Living, working, living, doing it.
Dinner is rad.
It's like Bubba Daddy meets some C3PO Casio blips.
Good stuff.
Those guys always pull cool music
Out of themselves.
It's never square or trite or predictable.
Same with Dinner.
The Grant Proposal plays a set. Rips.
I play.
There was also a cool duo on the bill, Malachi.
Longhairs from Pennsylvania, playing archaic neo-hippie folk.
Now living in Brooklyn.
Good s**t, too.
I gave them half of what we made at the door
So they could eat.
Check them out.
They are American Longhairs through and through.
And look like they just walked out of Woodstock in 1972.
I make plans too crash at Scott Emmer's
But parking is so insane in his Brooklyn neighborhood,
I had to park 12 blocks away
In a hood that felt sketchy.
I opted to crash in the van
I camped out in the city streets.
Floated off to sleep
With the ghosts of Brooklyn
Swearing all around me.

(Brooklyn folk duo, Malachi)

I play one last show at Don Pedro's in Williamsburg
With The Grant Proposal and Dinner
And another kind of indie, agro folk guy name Francis or Dan.
I can't remember which he goes by.
He was intense.
Kind of like Nick Cave on roids.
He opened the show and was good.
The rest of us played
And it was the best sounding show of the three in NYC.
Good sound PA
And good sounding room.
Half the battle is the room
I got to reconnect with more Lafayette exiles
Living in New York.
And it was good.
All cool people who I respect a lot.
I say goodbye to everyone.
Thank them.
Roll up the road to Grant & Amy's place.
Take a shower.
Then I spend a miserable night in the van
Because I parked on a busy street
Where the traffic whipped by the van pretty fast
And shook it with each passing.
Plus it was cold.
I barely slept.
Woke in the morning
With Monday morning work traffic sounds swirling
Around me.
I brushed my teeth on the sidewalk,
Cranked the van
And slowly rolled out of the beautiful monster
That is NYC.