Real Live Girl

Whether you were born in New York, or came for school, work or love, (or as my new roommate impressively decided, to just come because "you felt like it."), you start your partying in one particular Manhattan neighborhood. This may not be true if you're not a regular partier, or married with kids, but it is true if you came here single and excited about the New York experience. The neighborhood is colloquially known as "The Village" but in reality, we must be very specific. I am talking about the stretch of Houston, Bleecker, West 3rd, West 4th, between Sixth Avenue and Broadway. Mostly South of Washington Square Park. NYU Area.

This is when you were a tourist. Or when you came here as a student. Or maybe even a high school student, hitching a ride with older friends on a Friday night with fake i.d. This is before you moved here. Or before you before you stopped drinking cheap vodka, before you realized further East and the South, the culture got weirder, cooler, hipper, more punk, and so that was the neighborhood to party in. This is before you started refusing to pay cover for anything (except your friend's band), and using phrase "Bridge-and-Tunnel-Crowd" WAY too frequently. Before you became a New York snob, and now you only go there...well, because a friend's band is playing.

I think every city has this neighborhood. Like Bourbon Street in New Orleans, or Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, or Leicester Square in London. You go to this street on the weekend because you think it's hip and happening, until you go often enough and realize that it's actually cheesy and touristy and that real New Yorkers are elsewhere, laughing at your delusions of hipness.

Like everybody who used to live in the neighborhood--I lived on Sullivan and Bleecker--I swear it has gone completely downhill because I left. Or, more specifically, because of the tattoo parlours and fast food chains that have moved in. Everytime I go down there I thank God those little chess stores, used record stores and vintage clothing stores are still in operation, and that even though the four-cafe intersection of MacDougal and Bleecker isn't the same, Cafe Figaro remains. And God bless Kim's Video. The rest feels totally different though, flashy and shallow and kind of lame. I'm waiting for them to tear those nice townhouses down and put up another high rise. That I would probably move into, given half the chance (and twice the salary).

Anyway, though I'm always happy to hang out in Washington Square Park or visit my cousin Siva, I rarely go down there to party. But when my friend Arun told me that his band, Real Live Girl, was playing at Kenny's Castaways, I had round up some people for support. This is the first time that I have heard Arun play onstage--except at Tamil Mandram religious festivals, plays or recitals. Because, you see, Arun and I grew up together in San Jose, our parents getting together every weekend to get drunk and find an excuse to show off their kids' talents. He was always musical--I think he played the clarinet and trumpet--but he was definitely a rocker from the start. As I like to embarass him by telling everyone, he wrote the music column in high school "In Tune with Arun" and was the only one who experimented with his hair as much as I did. Now, of course, he's an investment banker, but he doesn't seem to have sold his entire soul to the devil, as he's plays in rock bands and quite sincerely refers to his guitar as his "axe."

So when he told me about the show, I called some friends and we all decided to go down and pretend we're still 19-year NYU rock groupies who are "with the band." This week, actually, I've been doing a lot of that, but the bands vary in quality. I know tonight's Heather show at Arlene's Grocery is going to rock, because it's my Mad Brit friends Ali and Griff from mock-metal band Satanicde, and I've already seen them play. Some other bands, alas, I can't say as much for. But Arun's band was really good--the best songs had that loud guitar-based garage sound, the sound that kind of wants to make you mosh around, if someone would just start an adult version of a mosh. I thanked God they weren't yet another pretty lead singer/acoustic guitar/sensitive soul-searching lyric band singing about mean ex-girlfriends and moments of solitude. I mean, I was hanging out in the NYU area again, I wanted to rock out a little. And the band was just perfect for that, for remembering when you used to by tickets from Ticketmaster to go see some band (Billy Idol, Lollapalooza, INXS, U2) live in a stadium of hundreds of teenagers, high as a kite, waving lighters in the air.

Now, the sad truth is that I can't be the rocker girl I once was. I can't go out every night, and even if I could, I coudn't go see bands every night. Most of the time I go out, it's just and excuse to catch up the week's events with a friend, and get a little tipsy together. For that, I need to be able to sit down, hear my friend over the music (and it should be good music, btw) and not have to deal with a 2-drink minimum or a cover charge. But you still have to go rock out with the band once in a while. It keeps you young.

And if you do it in the NYU area, it keeps you twice as young, because you remember that time when you first moved here, and were convinced that no one, ever or since, was as cool as you were, seeing a Real New York Band, at a Real New York Bar.