by James Avatar

Those who know about are well aware of the fact that I'm a native New Yorker. Born in Harlem during the Motown explosion, raised in the Bronx during the early days of the Hip Hop and returning to Harlem during my middle aged years after bouncing around from borough to borough.

Some of my friends have offered my tour guide assistance to visitors, assuring them that they are destined to receive the "off-the-beaten-path" tour under my watch.

"This guy knows New York like nobody. He's the one you want."

And, yes, I was more than happy to acquaint cheerful tourists with the current goings on of this great metropolis, taking them to glorious dive bars, hidden ethnic restaurants, underground parties and events...even found them affordable places to shop.

At the end of the day, (A term greatly overused, excuse me) I felt positive with a lift in my spirits from the glowing faces of the new friends I had just made. They seemed genuinely entertained and impressed at New York's vast array of activity. They seemed to view me as an elder statesman and an embassador of fun and good times.

I felt like I had established myself as a true New York historian with the ability to articulate the wonder of this great city though the hundreds of true stories I had acquired throughout my personal journey.

And then my heart turned over.

I hate to blame it all on one event or person, but the city changed a great deal after the policies enforced by then Police Commish Howard Safir and Mayor Rudolf Guilianni.

Changes like the "Unnecessary noise prohibited" law that restricts you from banging a drum, singing loud or walking around with a boombox on your shoulder. Yeah. I'm spoiled. I used to play conga in the park on warm summer nights. I sang a mean barritone during street corner doo-wop sessions. I held down a dope beatbox, spit mad verse in vintage Bronx cyphers and blasted my mix tapes at block parties. All of a sudden the sonic textures of the city had been silenced like someone pulled the plug on one of the world's greatest soundtracks.

Talented singer/songwriters went into hiding, feared of being arrested or fined for playing in public without papers and having their equipment locked up. Even mimes disappeared. Not because they were loud, but because frustrated singer/songwriters kept beating them up.

The drug scene changed. No longer could one fine an small & inexpensive amount of "herbal incense" to aid in the tension of city stress. New drugs (based on drugs previously administered during childhood) flooded the market, causing the price of "herbal incense" to skyrocket. These new drugs caused bad press for dance clubs causing them to shut down. No more huge parties below the radar. No more street corner symphonies. No more toke-toke-pass-let's-sing-Bob-Marley-till dawn nights of bonding with cool Euro's or elder hippies.

The city's landscape changed. Escalating rent shut down most mom-n-pop stores. Clubs were replaced by bars with Jukeboxes blaring music you heard on the radio or on your iPod on your way to the bar. Seeing a live band included a cover charge, hefty for those on hard times. At one point, it seemed like the only way you could hear FREE LIVE MUSIC in Manhattan was to hum a tune in the friggin' bathroom at the McDonald's on 42nd St..

 You see where I'm going with this?

New Orleans is a vibrant, lively city where amazing  brasswork and expert drumsmanship inhale the sweet, warm air and scream an exquisite duet of joy and passion. It is the watering hole for hundreds of muses, drunken with happiness, seducing you with excess in the spirit of abandon. It is where life is celebrated and the human condition is still human.

Yes, there are problems. But even though I am not well traveled, I think it's safe to say that there are  problems in every city. N'awlins strikes a chord in me and it is sweet music to my soul. To be living in a place where live music is so commonplace is truly a blessing. And the fact that  it's SOUL music is a plus. Signs that say "NO COVER" are all over the place. Free is good.

Performers are everywhere while visitors walk around smiling, carrying plastic cups of booze. And a marijuana alternative called "Herbal Incense" and is sold over the counter.

Beautiful women of all shapes and sizes stroll by, comfortably wearing their clothing. The scantly clad ladies standing outside the "Red light" shops on Bourbon St. remind me of a pre-Disney 42nd St. near 8th Ave. They stand in all their glory as street goddesses and sexy barkers, catcalling any handsome beefcake that strolls by. In the distance, a trumpet pierces the night air followed by the klip-klop-klip-klop of a horse-drawn carriage nearby.

These are the sights and sounds of my dreams, a welcome home-cooked meal for a hungry soul weaned on the breast of "record store" DJ's, 3-part hallway harmony, free night shows in Washington Square Park and the squeak of the conga skin in Central Park.

I no longer love New York.  I MISS new York. And I am truly grateful to be in a place now where I am able to fashion new memories from live musical performances, diverse celebration, southern decadence and herbal incense.



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