At seven o’clock, in some NYC neighborhoods, we applaud outside our windows to salute the essential workers on the frontlines of the pandemic. Tonight, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, after the applause dies down, someone starts singing and playing guitar through a PA system, busting into the national anthem.
Where the fuck is that coming from?
I look out the window and don’t see anyone with a PA or a guitar, only people on their fire escapes, with drinks in their hands, looking in a certain direction, but then I hear: “Mama Pajama rose out of bed and she ran to the police station…”
Oh! This is a show! Fuck it! I’m in!
I refill my gin and vermouth and head to our outdoor space in the back of the building.
He’s just finishing “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.” I sit in my usual spot and return a salute to my neighbors across the way who all raise a toast at my appearance.
This is about everything we know changing forever.
There’s no one that I can see playing music on the fire escapes or on the roofs, but the music sounds close by. Judging by where everyone is looking, he has to be next door, at a point on the opposite roof that is just out of view.
Which is cool. I like it that way. We don’t need to see what a singer looks like. It’s about the songs.
Next up: “American Girl” by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.
“Me and Julio,” “American Girl,” “The Star-spangled Banner!” — there’s definitely an America-New York thing going on.
This guy is definitely thematic because after “American Girl” comes “Only the Good Die Young” by Billy Joel, a nod to it being Easter Sunday.
“You Catholic girls start much too late…”
I get emotional. Not for the song, but for Long Island.
He follows this with “Just like Heaven” by the Cure and the Smith’s “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.”
“Take me out tonight because I want to see people and I want to see life.”
Me too, my friend! Me too!
The lyrics are driving this entire performance, which is why I’m not surprised when he plays “Blister in the Sun,” the ultimate masturbation song. What else is there to do when you can’t leave your home?
The one song he plays that I never liked is “Laid” by James, an overproduced pop song from a certain time that I used to ignore on purpose. Tonight, I’m digging it. This is human contact. This is me being part of a community. This is what live music is about: people.
“It’s the End of the World as We Know It” is an obvious choice to play, but the more I listen, the more I realize, this isn’t about the apocalypse. This is about everything we know changing forever. Things will never be the same in many respects.
He continues with the theme of being stuck at home:
Man, I ain’t gettin’ nowhere
I’m just living in a dump like this
There’s something happening somewhere
Baby, I just know there is.
There was no way Springsteen wasn’t going to make an appearance.
He finishes his set with songs of hope: “Rainbow Connection,” “It’s a Wonderful World,” “(What’s So Funny Bout) Peace Love and Understanding.”
It’s touching and poignant.
I’ve never been a cover-song guy. When I perform with just an acoustic guitar, I sing my own folky-country songs that crack me up. It’s all about me. I realize that now. This guy reaches the entire block. People want to hear songs they know, to escape the anxiety of living during a global pandemic. It’s what everyone needs.
The last thing he says is, “Goodnight, Greenpoint! Wash your hands!”
Kevin Egan is a songwriter and musician who’s been performing in New York City for over thirty years. His past bands are 1.6 Band, the Last Crime and the New York hardcore band Beyond, which is also the subject of his documentary film What Awaits Us, a Beyond Story. He currently performs with the Nefarious Pow and lives in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
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