Hear yee Jackson C. Frank, an American folk singer brought to my attention by my English colleague Adrian Dannatt, the acclaimed art critic and obituarian. He knew nothing about him, just this beautiful song, but another friend illuminated a bit: He was grotesquely disfigured on the left side of his face in a fire in childhood, so when he moved to England (from Buffalo, NY) in 1964 at age twenty-one (with money he received from the insurance settlement), he was pleased to find that he could drive around in his convertible with his good side facing the girls on the sidewalk, though he never recovered from the trauma of the fire. Paul Simon produced his first and only (self-titled) record in 1965, but shortly thereafter Frank experienced severe writer's block, returned to the States, and was, for a time, committed to a mental hospital. In the eighties he came to New York City to look for Paul Simon, but instead ended up living on the street and then at Creedmor, a psychiatric hospital and "home" in Queens (where Woody Guthrie died). One day, sitting on a bench across the street from the hospital, a stranger shot him in the face for no apparent reason. He survived but was blinded in the left eye. Frank died in 1999 at age fifty-six in Woodstock, New York. I couldn't find a proper obituary.
I ordered the record from Kim's on St. Mark's, hesitating before entering the shop where I had spent so much time as a girl. But there was nothing to fear. The adorable mod-haired boy behind the counter was appalled when I told him I couldn't find the Jackson C. Frank CD. "We always carry that!" he exclaimed. "But I guess we're out. I'll order one for you." Without looking it up, he asked, "Do you want Blues Run the Game or the self-titled?" His hair, this conversation; ignore the fact that Kim's now has three floors, and this could have been 1974 or 1995 or now.
I just recently moved back to the East Village after a long exile to Brooklyn. There are so many things that have stayed exactly the same, and in that mode I feel like Rosanna Arquette's character in Desperately Seeking Susan, right down to the broken black and white tile on my kitchen floor. Other nights I'm a tourist on my own block, watching the youngsters aim at cool in their cute and ardent way. And still others I'm an angry old woman, almost getting into fights. The other night at Botanica, I peacefully sat with a group of friends in the back room. When I got up to get a drink, I realized that the front room of the bar had been completely altered since we had arrived. It was now filled with consultants/publicists/whatevers-with-money. Out of nowhere, one said to me, "Aren't you Hermione's sister?" "Huh?" I said, trying to figure out the name. Had I entered a D.H. Lawrence novel inhabited by sorority girls? She repeated it. I frowned, then said "I don't have a sister," and tried to get past her to the bar. "Bitch," she said, quite audibly. I had a moment to decide what to do, then turned back. "Excuse me?" I asked, somewhat sweetly. "You don't have to talk to people like that," she bitched. God, it's so embarrassing to me when girls act like this. Her boyfriend tuned in. "What's going on?" he asked. "She's mad because I said I don't have a sister!" I proclaimed. He looked at me with a "I know, she's annoying," roll of the eyes and I moved on.
The next night I was at Von on Bleecker with a friend and we went outside for him to have a cigarette. We left our drinks and jackets at our table. When we returned, five or six girls were sitting there, and our belongings had been moved to a bench with no table in front of it. A typical East Village moment, at least from my time-traveler memory, would have meant an apology upon our return and them swiftly moving away, some laughs and smiles. But no. "Your stuff was no where near here!" squealed one with very expensive highlights. I tried my best "You've got to be kidding," glare, but she held strong. I really did consider getting into it with her, then realized that while we were outside the bar had transformed in exactly the same way that Botanica had the night before: turned into a frat/business-people party. My friend and I grabbed our displaced things, and walked over to my still-favorite, mostly empty bar a few blocks away, whose name I won't dare tell you.
(Bert Jansch, who was heavily influenced by Frank, will be playing at South Paw in Brooklyn on Tuesday night (November 14), tickets here. I'll be there if I can find my way back across the river...