Excerpt from Linda Danz's collection of short stories: Breath Visible, published by Bookbaby, December 2017
Dan re-shouldered his guitar, clicked the off button on his e-cigarette and headed west for the weekly jam session across town. The rabbity unease that sent believers scurrying to rapturous predictions from religious leaders of all stripes was not evident in Dan’s crowd. Music, alcohol and pot pitched them—at most—into gauzy, freewheeling what-if scenarios. Dark humor poured from them like the rich, chocolate-colored pints of Guinness that went down so easily.
He sauntered across Bleecker—the street where music used to spill from every crevice—now awash in the kinds of shops that made New York City the Big New Anywhere. Who didn’t enjoy battling tourists jostling for position outside the artisanal gelato shop, or need fresh baked cookies delivered at two in the morning?
The former home of Phil Ochs was still a soulless cavity between tenements the color of blood. Choga, now shuttered at the top of a steep flight of stairs, had been a gathering place where musos, oiled by multiple rounds of sake and Japanese beer, spilled their stories in song. The Gaslight on MacDougal Street had finally given up the ghost of Bob Dylan. The stage was gone. Shiny red banquettes lined the narrow, bloodless interior. Anemic international sorts crowded the bar, looking both wounded and entitled. The menu boasted signature snacks. Cocktails had names that sounded like book titles written by terribly hip grown-up children: “False Witness in the Old Fashioned Flask” and “Vampire Attack.”
The Bitter End would hang on until the bitter end. Owners of most venues still standing had mastered the art of making the artist pay to play. “Just a reminder,” they’d scold. “This is a business, so bring your hungry and thirsty friends and have a few rounds, or the music goes away.”
Omar—a black-suited refrigerator of a man—emerged from the doorway of The Red Lion. He nodded to Dan. “What’s up, bro?” His head swiveled left to right and back again like a cannon, scanning for potential troublemakers on a drunken lark in Greenwich Village. “Good crowd tonight.”
“Hey, man,” Dan replied, ducking past him.
The Bitter End and Terra Blues had nostalgia cachet on Bleecker. At the Lion drinks were cheap. The menu was non-threatening. The bar had a steady roster of musicians who played to regulars, students, tourists, and the homesick, who felt mercifully at home with a properly poured pint soaked up by battered fish and chips.
On Sunday nights, Dan played in the jam at the Lion. There was no metal, thrash or stand-up on those nights. Folkies slid in alongside a familiar gang of seasoned blues musicians. Among them was a spirited blonde. She was a looker, right out of a Raymond Carver story—forty-something and ballsy everything. She sang with a voice that stopped seasoned hearts in their rutted tracks. For those in the audience who knew how to holler back, Dan always covered a Hank Williams classic, “Mind Your Own Business.” He followed that with more crowd pleasers, growling through “Shine on Harvest Moon” and “Walking Stick.”
Old Jack was a regular who wore a battle-scarred, mouse-colored Stetson and shamelessly channeled Bob Dylan onstage. He needled Dan with the same damn accusation, every damn time.
You ain’t old enough to know who Redbone is.”
Dan was old enough. He knew who Leon Redbone was. No one at The Red Lion gave a shit about the moon.