Thursday, May 1, 2008

Arlene Grocery, Pt. 1: Parker Who???

Down in the depths of lower Manhattan is a club called Arlene Grocery. It is so-named because it was actually a grocery at one point. It is tucked away in between Ludlow and whatever is a block over from Ludlow. When it opened it was only one room but it has since expanded to include the next door premises which now functions as a bar/escape from the music.

In the beginning, it was free. It had that kind of New York buzz that happens from time to time. For whatever reason, Arlene Grocery opened and the entire underground music scene paid it full attention.

It was February. I'd just moved out of the Park Slope condo that Maria and I had bought the summer before. I had rented the closest cheapest apartment I could find which was essentially an airless box of a basement apartment in Windsor Terrace. It had two bedrooms but very low ceilings and only the teeniest of windows. I loved and continue to love this apartment with all my heart.

Cousin Timothy was coming through town in the middle of the tour he was on. He was traveling the country in a tricked out van demonstrating digital cameras for Kodak. This was 2000. Hard to fathom that Kodak was trying to convince people to go digital that recently, especially now that they've decided to completely discontinue Polaroids.

Timothy was going to be meeting some of his other friends out on the town and I suggested we all meet at Arlene Grocery. There were always 5 or 6 bands on the bill; it was cheap; and if no one liked the music we could easily duck out and hit one of the 87,343 bars that were in the general vicinity.

I'll never forget this night.

I remember there being snow coming down. But that whole time has snow layered over it because the first night I spent out of the relationship it snowed and snowed and snowed. Arlene Grocery was packed. It had that strange kind of sweaty coziness unique to live music venues in the winter in the Big Apple. Every time the door opens a refreshing blast of cold air comes in. You show up in a coat and end in a t-shirt. I got there before Timothy and watched a band and had a beer. I also smoked cigarettes like they were going out of style, which, in fact, they were, as NYC would ban smoking in bars shortly thereafter.

Timothy arrived and there was much shouting and posturing. I filled him in on what was happening in my life. You have to understand, Timothy was sort of the cousin that got away in the O'Malley clan. His father, my father's brother Joe, passed away from leukemia at age 29. Timothy was 7. His parents had already divorced and his mother remarried by that point so the tenuous connection to the O'Malley clan was essentially severed for the next decade or so.

While I saw the other O'Malley cousins every Christmas, Thanksgiving, 4th of July, etc. etc., Timothy, Marianne, and Joshua crossed my radar on much rarer occasions. This night in New York was to wipe all of that out forever.

Timothy's job was crazy. While living in Boston, he'd auditioned for the gig. The tour was scheduled to hit almost every state and last at least until the following fall. He had put his things in storage at his parents bed and breakfast in Old Orchard Beach and given up his apartment in Boston. He was essentially a nomad.

I asked him if he wanted to rent the second bedroom from me and move to New York once the tour was over. He paused for a millisecond and said, "Yes."

In my memory we didn't belabor it. We toasted to it and knew it was a done deal. Then we set about some serious drinking. A band called 'Parker' was tearing up the stage. I actually called Timothy right before I started writing this to see if he could remember the name of the band. Of course he could.

'Parker' was a multi-racial outfit with a hot black female lead singer and a hybrid sound of R&B and punk and hip/hop. During their 45 minutes, Timothy and I became absolutely convinced that this band was going to skyrocket to stardom. We bought their CD.

Later we listened to it and it was terrible. But they sure put on a great show.

Little did they know they were scoring the beginning of the Pimp Fu/Bomer-B bizarro collaboration that would change how I wrote music, listened to music, recorded music, musicked music.

I'll never forget the look in Timothy's eyes as he pondered his future and said "Yes" to New York City.


Anonymous said...

Why have I never heard this story? it should be an O'Malley classic as far as i'm concerned. as always, fucking great writing bren! this is jean, by the way...

Brendan O'Malley said...

Thanks! Etched in my brain. Except the name of the stinkin' band of course!