Thursday, August 18, 2011

Barography: 9C

So we were talking about bluegrass. Last week I couldn't make a post, I was visiting the family back in the Bluegrass State, Kentucky. The closest I was to a bar there was an Outback where I had one Corona. My mother and grandmother tried and liked the taste of it with a lime. It was quite a moment. But last time I posted I told you about the Bell House and the amazing bluegrass show I saw there. Since then I've been to the Newport Folk festival and saw Thile and Daves again, and they still slayed. (Saw a lot of stuff, actually, but that's for another time.)

I remember around 1995 or so, my friend Brigid (an amazing musician in her own right), told me about a bar in Alphabet City that had a bluegrass night. Well, this was obviously something I had to see. The bar was called 9C, and those of you with a passing familiarity of Manhattan can guess the cross-streets. Every Sunday night, it was Bloody Mary Bluegrass time. From the first time I went, I was in love.

I was skeptical of the sort of bluegrass musician one might find living up here in New York. I should not have been. Whether transplants from other areas or born-and-bred yanks, these folks could play. Every week there'd be a different group of folks, but some would always be there. The two I remember most strongly are the Sheriff and Joel. Obviously you remember dudes that go by "the Sheriff," that is just a scientific fact. But Joel was a special case.

Joel was a middle aged man from deep in Queens, and he had the accent to prove it. But that fella could pick a banjo. It just so happened that I was about to shoot my thesis film and I needed a banjo player. Joel agreed. He played the father of a friend (the family was clearly based on the Pences mentioned last time I wrote) the main character interacts with. The friend was actually played by a pre-Always Sunny Charlie Day. My brush with fame. Anyway, Joel did his best and they played "Blue Moon of Kentucky" and I later realized I couldn't afford the rights so that film died. (It should have died. It was awful, they were the best part.)

Click to see full picture, by Meredith Riley Worden, which for some reason isn't showing up right here.

That's not the point. I would occasionally go back from time to time, but the rest of the next two years were about graduating college. And that senior year was about a girl. So, of course, upon graduation, the First Dark Times started.

My first love was a fucked up thing. It was with a friend who had a boyfriend. Your first love should not be a cheating affair, but I've never been one for doing things wisely. Obviously, this ended horribly. I recall looking down at the street from my dorm as she drove away, hitting the radiator with a chair, screaming "NOT EVEN A GOODBYE?!?!?" Yeah, that kind of end. The kind of end that leads to the Big Dark, that depression that sets in and becomes a part of everything you think, do, or see.

After graduation, my buddy Josh from my hometown moved up to New York and we moved in with my college friend Anna in Jersey City. (My address had the word "Jersey" in it three times. Dark Times indeed.) I commenced trying to cope with both real life and crippling depression. I fared poorly at best. Screaming fights with poor Anna, who had stresses of her own. Josh was working crazy schedules for radio news. Both of us were usually out of our minds.

We had one true respite. Every Sunday, we had bluegrass night at 9C. No weird Path train smells could stop us from our holy day. The owner/bartender, Roger, was my first Favorite Bartender. The one novel I've written so far* is dedicated to him. Those big pint bloody maries were like communion wine for these two protestants from Appalachia. We'd sit and tap our feet and nod our heads and hoop and holler and generally forget the girls and the jobs and the grime and the murk and the confusion that was the rest of our lives. We'd go home happy, drunk, and foolish, but at least we had that happiness. Sad and lonesome as the songs are, it is still impossible to be unhappy listening to bluegrass.

I just recently climbed out of the most recent Dark Times (on a chemical ladder) and so it is with a strange nostalgia that I think back on my experiences back then at my one happy place. The private New Years party Roger invited us to, whereupon we discovered normally the place was a punk rock bar--the weekday regulars bonded with us on Johnny Cash, of course; the time the one new bartender I ever saw Roger try out thought "a glass of Makers" meant a pint of Makers (amazed I remember that one); the Japanese harmonica man that just fucking KILLED it, damn he was good; the general peace I felt getting away from my own head for a few hours every week; all these times, and thoughts are still dear to me.

The bar itself closed long ago. In its place rose Banjo Jim's, a fine bar in its own right. I am sometimes strangely sad, though, when I'm there. It's just not quite the same. Nothing could be. The current owner was apparently another fan/regular of 9C. We waxed on memories one night over whiskey.

I suppose the point is, Dark Times will come for us all, but there will always be a way out. Good friends and good music will almost always be the first step. Booze and the right drugs aren't too shabby either. But when you get out of those Dark Times, hell, at least you'll have some damn good stories.

*-Said novel was a sort of exorcism of Another Dark Time, whereupon I foisted all that was bad or negative or weak about myself onto the main character and made him suffer. This Dark Time was also caused by a girl.


  1. Mr. Rice,
    Discovered the blog via CBR a few months back and figured since I've read every entry since I should comment.Please pass along a hearty "GREAT JOB" to everyone involved!

    You've peaked my interest in bluegrass which I previously ignored because I grouped it along with c&w.Any other recommendations of artists?

    Look forward to the next entry!


  2. Dark days & good time nights. I still get lonely Sundays knowing there's no 9C where nothing else mattered.

  3. Kurt, you have no idea how great it is to hear that. Seriously.

    Josh, man, I know.