Archive

Posts Tagged ‘UPSTREET’

Book 1. Saturday Market and Book 4. Concert Review

February 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Book 1. Saturday Market and Book 4. Concert Review, From The Artists Point Of View

Book 1. Saturday Market 

While living “UPSTREET”my big sister Gale (all of eight and a half) decided that she and I would get up very early (around five thirty) on Saturday mornings so that we could participate in the local Saturday morning custom of going to “de market”.

De Market was an Old Danish West Indian design cast iron structure that once had housed the slave market; it occupied an elongated rectangle in a central, if not center part of town. Charlotte Amalie (or Amalia, both are correct) is built along a shore line running (depending on where you’re standing) east to west, or west to east.

There was a main street that approximately paralleled the shore line. On the south side of the street was a long row of rubble masonry warehouses and red and yellow brick alleys (The red brick arrived as ballast from England and the British Isles, the Yellow brick as ballast from the Mother Country, Denmark) The warehouses ran from Main Street town to the water’s edge. The North Side of the street were mercantile establishments, with second story balconies above and beyond them, fine and even grand homes began to climb the hill sides, their large windows and verandas catching the trade winds while looking down upon ships of every nation rocking gently in perhaps the most beautiful harbor in the world.

 This magical place was made even more magical by the refreshing dewy cool of morning and the golden early morning light. The market square was magical in its own right; ancient mahogany’s lining its cobblestone perimeters. On the west side, the venerable stone and wrought iron of the centuries old “National Bank” and “Christ Church” a Grand old world Methodist Church right out of a dansk dream of Devonshire, and on the north the original Jewish ghetto, now “long row wood houses” and coal pot, communal “yad” heaven for struggling laborers and their families, the rough and tough streets of “Savan”.

To the East, dirt floor and plank barrel bar rooms for the likes of Ben and Raffie dem, who were always drinking rum again, Scruffy customers who would look at home on any skid row in the world, but were certainly too wild, unconstrained and uncontainable for most.

These desperately dinged and damaged men wore a steady path to and from the dungeon cells of Fort Christian. Cursing, shaking their fists (and other parts) and yelling in tongues not known to devil or man. (One hundred and fifty-one proof cane rum, mixed with and chased by the hot hot blazing hot sun will do that to a fellow, no matter what his original religion or disposition)

 On the South side of the market square, towards the sea and the breeze, was the emporium most favored by children, a dark cave like interior appropriately called “The Igloo”. While not a one of us had any idea of the kind of cold that would necessitate crawling inside a house of ice cubes to get warm, we did appreciate the miraculously cool blessing of vanilla and chocolate honest to goodness ice cream.

 However long before we would get to the Igloo, Gale and I  first had to make our way past those things that make these kinds of memory so heady and transporting. We would walk down “Pave Street” past the First Moravian Church, the Park Shoppe, and then the park that the Shoppe was named after Roosevelt Park which in turn was named after Franklin.

It was a kind gesture of remembrance but this little park, originally “Coconut Square” had as much to do with Franklin Roosevelt and his world as it did the King of Siam.

It was a very old fashioned little city block park surrounded by  old black iron gating and planted with Coconut, Baobab, Tamarind, Mahogany and the tallest slenderest (like something out of Dr. Suess) Palms, there was a big elevated lily pond in the middle and winding walkways with actual  old round armed park benches scattered here and there. I loved it; it was like Mary Poppins London via Dr. Suess meets the Belgian Congo. (‘course we had no Dr. Suess back then but I guess that’s why I felt as if I’d been waiting for him for a long long time when he finally did came along)

 Just past Coconut Square the road rose up to the old British Cable Office and divided, the left going directly to the foot of the hill topped by Fort Christian (1691), while straight ahead took us past the Grand Hotel and the very first Church on the Island, The Frederick Lutheran Church

 The British Cable Office was quite an important place in those days run, by a very stiff and important fellow with a pencil thin moustache and a most clipped British air and attitude… He was Mr. Alfred Evelyn, the  Grand father to be of my first wife Patricia, and Great Grand father to my Bix “little Scott”

If  Mr. Evelyn could have seen this in his future as he spied Gale and I pogoing alone down the street at six o’clock in the morning, I don’t doubt for a moment that he would have wrapped us both up in a proper brown paper package, tied it up with string, and sent us off to far freakin’ Calcutta.

 Just along past the Grand Hotel we came to Post Office Square, another absolute treat for the eyes and imagination, up on the right on Government Hill sat the Beautiful Pink, Hotel 1829, birth place of the Arts Colony that had intrigued and brought Mud and Lea and Mud’s boyfriend Justin, to Charlotte Amalia, in the first place.

By now shafts of sunlight would be lighting the odd elevated corners, creating splashes of intense color like an impressionist painter might do. And after all, this is where the father of impressionism Camille Pissarro was born and his sensibilities came of age. If you came upon the beautiful pink hued Hotel 1829 first thing in the morning, just as the rising sun is coming over the mountains that ring the town and the golden light has just come splashing into the square, I don’t doubt that you would be an impressionist too, it is simply too real to be real. Ecstatic overload spills back and loops around and around until you, head spinning, stagger on towards “de market”.

Exiting post office square you enter the narrow “commercial district” of main street crowded with shops on both sides, There on the left is Lockhart’s General store, Riieses Liquor Store, and Greaux’s hardware, on the right is 7 Queens Quarter, and The Center Theater where the marquee advertises a double feature featuring Gene Autry, and Jungle Jim,  with episodes seven and eight of the serial “The Insidious Fu Man Chu” stuck in between,

There is the wonderful Apothecary Hall with its enormous bottles of blue, red, green, and gold elixir of the Gods or something, displayed invitingly in the windows. The most indefinable but soul satisfying and reassuring smells waft through it’s open doors reminding us all that no matter what, the Apothecary Hall has the cure.

On the side streets towards the Harbor, the butcher stalls belonging to butcher “White Pierre” and butcher “Black Pierre” are open, goat and pig, mutton and pork is the song being sung back and forth between the Pierres and their customers,  

 Ladies are setting out large baskets of fruit on the sidewalks crossing the gut, Soursap, Sugar Apple, Mango, and we aren’t even at the market yet.  It didn’t take me long to realize that Gale had had another heck of a good idea,  wonderful and exciting.

In that part of the early morning set aside for those people who conspire to be happy, cheery early risers are greeting one another, there is unspoken but palatable pity for those foolish or unfortunate enough to lie unconscious  through this the most beautiful part of the day, these folks and Gale and I are in a magic time and we all know it.  

 As we walk in the shade of the old Mahogany and Tamarind trees, beyond “de gut” there by the Library, The Market is beginning to bustle, vendors have come from every part of the Island, many by donkey cart, or donkey, all have enormous baskets filled with fruits and vegetables or prepared goodies and delicacies, Mabi frothing up and out of it’s rum bottle containers, fresh fish of every color and description, Tanya, okra, hot pepper sauce that could ignite it’s self for spite, sugar cakes (that’s what Gale and I want more than anything) coconut and ginger sugar cakes, a penny apiece.. thyme, chibble, lemon grass, the herbs of Eden (or so they say) my sister Gale loved herbs so much that she developed the most famous herb garden in Pennsylvania when she grew up, benye, pate, papaya, cherries, conch, whelks,  a crazy cacophonous cornucopia of calypso accents from up, down and all around the islands Tortola, Saint Kitts, Anagada, Antigua, Barbados, Culebra, Puerto Rico, smoke rising from the coal pots little samples of the ripest mango, sugar cane, and guava, “come Scottie, come Gale, wha yu doin up an out so early?’ Yu had yu breakfus? Me dear chile, come lemme gi yu sum ah dis”

I don’t recall ever having anything more than a very few pennies to spend, but it seems like we always came away with much treasure from the market. Some of the eating kind, some of the cooking herbs kind for Mother, but mostly the kindness kind which after all, was the kind that really mattered the most. Yep, my big sister Gale  had some really good ideas. 

 Book 4. The  Concert Review, From The Artists Point Of View

As promised, (but only because, even after forty seven years before the mast, I have been able to maintain the semi pristine purity of obscurity of one  “unknown” to the music press), I will review the concert myself. However because I am the artist, and not eyes and ears in the audience, but eyes and ears backstage, and onstage, I will naturally review it from the artists point of view…

First, the synopsis, which is: “Simply wonderful, wish you were here!”

Then to the facts of the matter:

 Our sound check was scheduled for 3:30 PM, however at 3:30 PM, I was bouncing along in the back of Tut’s truck, spiffed up to the max and trying to hold, balance and keep a seventy pound pot of steaming hot Kalaloo from spilling. (This because Tuts is, in addition to many other things, “The King Of Kalaloo” and he promised the Director of the Jarvis Museum that he would make and bring enough to feed everyone..so now he has been awake for fifty hours straight, cooking it, and is close to Kalaloo collapse as one can get)

 We were rushing to pick up Tut’s Cousin Delia, who was coming in to Tortola wharf from Roadtown, also scheduled to arrive at 3:30 PM…Whoops, No Delia. The customs man said “you mean de schuppidy crazy woman wid de big black hat ana head wha cussin’ like a drunken sailah?, No man she done gan up de road” Up de road we zoom, Now Tuts is cussin’ Delia with his head turned to the back seat looking at the kalaloo, in fact and effect driving forwards backwards. It was not a good 10 minutes of driving or, rather let me say, it was the best 10 minutes of driving ever considering, that the only one looking at the road was me, and all I could do was steer with  the hot pot, of steaming  Kalaloo,whilst trying not to spill it.

 By the grace of what must be a Kalaloo (or perhaps innocent tourist) loving God, we arrive at the concert site with minimal spillage of soup or blood…Thank goodness we are finally able to get it inside and out of our hands.

At a quarter to four, I am able to start setting up for our sound check… at four fifteen the first lady (no not Mrs. Obama) the first concert goer/comer arrives, takes a seat right down in front and immediately begins to gaze adoringly up at yours truly. God bless her, she has come early because “she doesn’t want to miss a ting’”

 She is a mighty Purdy lady, the color of spun honey, in a wonderfully low-cut yellow sun dress, with a bright and sunny face. (Did I mention that she is sitting right down front?) Fortunately, I am more than warmed up and ready to sing, so the sound check is not an embarrassment, in fact it turns into sort of a mini concert just for her, complete with little squeals of appreciation and charming effusive complements. In years past we might have called the concert “jazz” right then and there, and gone off together to make a life in Brazil or St. Croix, but I’m almost grown up now and I am here on serious business.

After all,this show and concert is part of “The Second Coming”  and this time there will be no…well…a lot less…well.. a little less… hanky panky. But no hanky panky today.

This means a lot to me. I will be singing a one hour concert presentation of my new Musical, “The Virgin Islands Songs”, to and for an audience of local, honest to goodness Virgin Islanders, not a bar full of drunken visitors who think they’re in the  Bahamas and want to hear “Who Let The Dogs Out” Or “Chiquita Cheeseburger”, nor a room full of wealthy white folks wintering in the Islands and wanting me to play those “steel pots ‘n pans or whatever you call them” but de real ting’ mon…and if I don’t do it right, right here, right now, t’will be best to  leave the equipment behind and beat feet, straight for the airport… Continued…

 

Advertisements

Book 4. and Book 1.The Concert, and We From UPSTREET!

January 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Book 4 and Book 1. The Concert, and We From UPSTREET!

I’m writing from St.Thomas, having arrived yesterday, Sunday, January the 24th. (One of my very favorite days of the year, by virtue of the fact that it is the Birthingday of my beautiful twins Lelia and Archie)

I am here to do a concert performance of The Virgin Islands Songs, for “The Virgin Islands Cultural Heritage Institute” and the “J. Antonio Jarvis Museum and Learning Center”.

Tuts and I have just returned from meeting with the Director, Myron Jackson and his extremely talented assistant Yvette Finch and taking a look at the performance area. 

The stage will be set up under a tent on the grounds and I will be looking south, directly at the hillside location of the “Bandmaster Alton Adams” family home. Alton Adams is the most highly regarded musician to have come from the Virgin Islands, he was the bandmaster of a local Virgin Islands Brass Band that was so good, that the Navy enlisted the whole Oompa kit and kaboddle, and sent them all around the world representing the USA. They were gentlemen of color each and every one, whose sense of possibility and self had not been saddled with the innumerable and onerous burdens of segregation. They represented themselves, the Islands and the Country well, and made beautiful music for many years.

Bandmaster Adams is considered second only to John Phillips Sousa in quantity and quality of Marches composed, and authored our own “Virgin Islands March” the Official Anthem of the Virgin Islands, which is a wonderful song. His Grand Daughter is the afore mentioned extremely talented Yvette Finch who on top of everything else, is a brilliant singer, and his Grandson is Cliff Finch the extraordinary Bass player on most of my album “Dreams Should Never Die” (The Virgin Islands Songs Vol. 2) which songs make up one third of the score of “The Virgin Islands Songs”. If ever I had occasion for inspiration it is certainly this coming Sunday. As I will be (from the stage) looking directly up at Bandmaster Adams familial home, with his granddaughter looking directly and me and his grandson’s wonderfully melodic bass leading us away from staggering off one musical precipice after another. Yes indeed, this ought to be stimulating and fun.

Since the Second Coming has not yet impressed any journalists (or for that matter anyone other than those still impressed by the first coming…well not true, some folks are saying some very nice things about my singing and treating me like I’m the greatest thing since freshwater, but they’re way back up in the states), I will probably have to review the concert for you myself.

Actually while I would have real difficulty reviewing the performance from the audience prospective while at the same time swacking the guitar and screechin’ on stage while saying nice things about how well and goodly handsome myself are, it probably couldn’t be much worse than what you may have read about me already. I suspect that some of you are aware that the lasting echoing journalistic statement of the entire forty five years of the first coming, is the oft (really oft, irritatingly oft) dismissal of me as “Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Field’s father, who did an album for ATCO in the 60’s, the obscure folk singer Scott Fagan ) 

If however (for reasons known only to me, until I finally spill the beans in perhaps book Twelve and a half) there are no post concert comments coming from yours truly, you may feel absolutely free to make up all kinds of stuff yourself…because even though I am with out question a real high ball, Ah, I mean a real high brow, ultra double artsy dude, there is no business like show business, and my dear dear friends, in spite of the best intentions of mice (“mike men”) and musicians, you just never never know.

P.S. Am I anxious? Yes I’m anxious…but I will do my best, to do my best, and then I will do my best. 

 We From UPSTREET

Yesterday after our meeting at the Jarvis museum, I pointed out to Morita (Morita is Tut’s ex-wife, the Mother of his fourth child, daughter Jamaine. She is also the Grand Mother of Tut’s Grandson “Nikell” who is the cheery little round headed fellow riding along in the truck with us. Morita is also a former class mate of mine to whom I carried sweet messages of young love from Tuts, at Charlotte Amalie High School) The “wall house” (concrete block) at the head of “pave street” (the century old name for Main Street) in which I used to live and which qualifies me to be accepted as a member of the “We from UPSTREET” organization. Whew!

 “We From UPSTREET” is a neighborhood organization very similar to the “We From DOWNSTREET”neighborhood organization in fact they are almost exactly alike except they are on opposite sides of Charlotte Amalie, UP on the East and, DOWN on the West. Each is convinced that their “We from” is best and better than all the rest (and there are many, ie. We From DOUNDEROAD, De SAVANEROS, We from ROUNDEFIELD, Dem from SILVAHDALLAH and so forth). Which is of course quite true in every case. Yep,

 When I pointed out the house and told her that I had lived there, and that that’s what made me a member of “We from UPSTREET”, she said “Man you live all over the place, you mus’ be a part of everyting” I said “Yes, that’s right, I did, I am” while Tuts chimed in “Yes, that’s why everybody know Scottie.” 

It was true and it was a very interesting reality, an interesting alternative to actually having a home and belonging somewhere. Was belonging (to a degree) everywhere. I am really grateful for that, as it allows me to feel at home just about everywhere I go, at home and all over the away.

 The “smoke truck” (a mosquito eradication truck, spraying what was commonly known to be DDT, out of a high pressure nozzle mounted at nose level for leaping, laughing, gyrating children) came to visit UPSTREET once or twice a week just after nightfall. When that high pitched hissing, the crazy flashing lights, and those billowing clouds of smoke arrived, it meant hysterical fun for all the children in the neighborhood. We would disappear into the thick white smoke, leaping and laughing dancing and carrying on to beat the band, for what seemed like hours on end.

More than once I realized a certain odd power as I emerged staggering, oiled to the bone, from the cloud and bystanders (who had no reason to suspect or way of knowing, that the pale apparition was one of two white children  (Gale and I) who had moved into their part of town), would cry out in shock upon seeing me “Oh GOD! Look a Jumbi! It was great fun.

 I learned or (began to learn) a great many things in our time living  “UPSTREET”. Among them, that even “good” children could be “taken away by the government” never to be seen or heard from again.

 When we first came to the house at the head of “Pave Street” I was befriended by two brothers, Tony and Joe, who appointed themselves as my protectors. They lived with their father in a very interesting old wooden structure on “The Beljan Road”. An actual “Sail loft” left over from the days of the massive canvas square riggers and the great Clipper Ships. Tony and Joe were bright, alert, friendly and kind boys (maybe nine and eleven years old) that for the most part, (when not taking care of me, seven going on eight) took care of themselves.

Their father was a large silent shambling man, who (in retrospect) was not able to properly care for them. One day they said goodbye by announcing that they were going to be sent to the dreaded Mandahl.

Gale and I had been in the Islands long enough to have heard one and another teacher, parent, or grumpy citizen threaten a child with “Ah gon sen yu ass Mandhal if yu don behave” We knew that being sent to Mandahl was akin to being delivered to de “Ol’ Man stinkin’ toe” who stuffed disrespectful and naughty children in his crocus (burlap) bag and took them away, most likely to cook and eat them for supper. Tony and Joe hadn’t done a thing to deserve such a fate…but the day came and they were gone. 

In reality, the dreaded Mandahl was the only resource that the system had for children without the benefit of parental or familial care givers. While I never saw them again, from time to time I would hear that they were fine and doing ok. I hope that their’s is a tale that ended well.

Years later, while still a minor myself, I watched helplessly as social services put my younger brothers Larry and Lonnie into foster care. But that, (and how I managed to avoid being snagged by the system myself), is another story… which soon come…