I wrote a few weeks ago about the consolation of knowing that places from one's past are still as they were. On vacation with my family last week, I was happy to see the schoolyard fence at P.S. 131, same as it ever was. But other things were different.
On my old block in Brooklyn, the two-family house where my grandparents lived has been torn down, replaced by a brick multi-family fortress. On the other side of the street, rowhouses are being torn down to make way for further behemoths.
In my parents' town in New Jersey, tidy one-family houses are being replaced by enormous villas. As in Brooklyn, the plots are small, so the new structures look ridiculously out of place. Think of an outsized SUV, barely wedged within the yellow lines of its parking space, making life miserable for anyone parked on either side.
And on Cambridge's John F. Kennedy Street (formerly Boylston Street), the great basement nightclub Jonathan Swift's is gone, replaced (at least for now) by a non-profit thrift store called Planet Aid. Looking through Planet Aid's open door and down the stairs, I thought that I must have hit upon the location of Jonathan Swift's (which I only vaguely remembered). The twentyish employee wasn't familiar with the club, which apparently folded some years back. But he pointed out that there was still a stage at one end of the room. And as I turned to look, the shape of the place came back to me--the low ceiling, the bar along one wall, the small step up to the stage, the door to the backstage area off to one side.
The stage now holds racks of coats and dresses and a sofa. I stepped up and thought of the musicians I'd seen at Jonathan Swift's, almost twenty-five years ago, and where they'd stood. Koko Taylor, front and center, her lead guitarist to her right, just behind her. Son Seals (now dead) singing "How Blue Can You Get" and bringing down the house by adding twenty to the familiar seven: "I gave you twenty-seven children, and now you wanna give 'em back!" And two or three times, the Art Ensemble of Chicago: Famoudou Don Moye in one corner, surrounded by his "sun percussion." Bassist Malachi Favors Maghostut (now dead) in the other corner, a tray of the AEC's "little instruments" next to him. Joseph Jarman and Roscoe Mitchell at opposite ends of the stage, vibes and whole saxophone families to their sides. And Lester Bowie (now dead) sitting in the center, trumpet in hand, head tilted, Perrier on the floor within easy reach.
P.S. 131, 44th Street, Brooklyn
P.S. 131 class photographs
1962–1963 1963–1964 1964–1965 1965–1966 1966–1967
Tuesday, August 9, 2005
By Michael Leddy at 4:57 PM