Try to think that love’s not around
But it’s uncomfortably near
My old heart ain’t gaining no ground
Because my angel eyes ain’t here
I’d already fucked up once that night, mistaking a soprano saxophone for a clarinet, and I couldn’t afford another blunder. Cats around here take themselves way too seriously – I always knew that – but I needed to show my worth to get an invitation to stick around. He was a bit of an ass about the clarinet-flub, but when I couldn’t name “Angel Eyes” from just its theme cascading from the bell of that damn soprano sax, Eric didn’t say anything. Instead, without hesitation, he began to quietly mumble along under his whisky-tinged breath, eyes locked on the gleam of the horn in the low lighting of that subterranean club. Three hours of sardonic giggling later, we emerged street-level: me, flushed with red wine and butterflies, him, still humming the “Angel Eyes” tune, his gaze fixed on the black swaths of pre-dawn sky.
The patchwork of streets in the West Village beg for lost wanderers, a prospect I was happy to entertain with his arm around my waist and the bath of warm August air. I wasn’t keen to part ways, but with the universe’s tug at my elbow, I knew, that in a little faith, we would ourselves together again.
I meandered my way home – alone – in the early light of the morning. The “Angel Eyes” theme now caught on my lips, it ran circles through my head – the gentle soundtrack to a soft, sweet night.
Angel eyes, that old Devil sent
They glow unbearably bright
Need I say that my love’s misspent
Misspent with angel eyes tonight
I went back a week later: same night, same time. My faith in the universe could only go so far, and I wanted to increase my chances of running into Eric as much as possible…I’ll call it “trust,” with a little push in the right direction.
Descending the rickety staircase, I scanned the haze for his flop of blonde curls. No curls in sight, I worked my way over to an open seat at the bar, and perched myself on a stool for the next half hour. I waited and scanned, waited and scanned, hoping he’d show up for the open jam after the last set. Well, last set came and went, and still no Eric. I settled into my seat, surprisingly content with the outcome of the night – the music was what I was here for anyway, and damn, they were killing the set. Something about the ‘post-bop to standard and all the coolness in between’ sound of these buried clubs consumes me like a fever. I blame my dad, who first introduced me to the likes of Dave Brubeck and John Coltrane as an impressionable 14-year-old, and who instilled in me the love of jazz his father, like his father before him, instilled in him. For the last half-decade, it has been my everything music: where I turned in sorrow and elation, in pain and pleasure – the only alternate universe I knew. It was my “place,” my favorite shelter for when nothing else in reality made sense.
So drink up all you people
Order anything you see
Have fun you happy people
The laughs and the jokes on me
I was fully steeped in the music when Kevin swiveled around to me. He broke my trance, along with my sight lines to the four guys wailing away amidst the carpeted walls and suspended mirrors. He was a mid-thirty sax player who part-time managed Mezzo – the sister-club to this spot – with a red scruffy beard, and an intense dedication to preventing me from focusing on the music… not that I wasn’t enthralled by our conversation about his adult beach volleyball team. Spoiler alert: I wasn’t. But it’s a bit hard to refuse gifts of wine and compliments; I’m a sucker for the kindness of strangers.
Things got a little more… boorish as time went on and drinks went down. Taste this, taste this he demanded, shoving Wild Turkey whiskey under my nose with a lurch in my direction. Irritated more than anything, I wanted to be left alone.
Eventually, I’d had enough of him telling me how to mix live sound, and I felt it was the right time to make my exit. Let me walk you out — I obliged, unaware of how to tactfully refuse. We ambled along, me fretting over how to lose him, him working over how to lose my clothes. I have keys, I have keys to Mezzo, he slurred as he pushed me into the corner of the closed garage nearby. Well, I kissed him back, unsure. Did I want this? Or was I just too afraid to say I didn’t? Spoiler alert: I didn’t – which I discovered the second I simultaneously felt him unclasp my bra and the rub of his vienna sausage of a cock against the skin of my belly button. (I’m still angry, I’m allowed to be a little cruel.) The words bubbled up like vomit – slowly, then tumbling all at once with a life of their own. No, stop, no, no, stop, I croaked out, gaining force with each repetition. It didn’t matter, he was completely deaf to my cries. My voice stolen, I pushed him, once, twice, panic rising in my throat as bile, and finally rolled past him into the street. I felt the eyes of the deserted block on me as I straggled away, disoriented, half-clothed, and wildly pulling at the hand that caught my wrist seconds from freedom.
A cab. Yes, let’s get a cab! No, I’m getting a cab. Yes, let’s get a cab. NO, I am getting a cab.
…Thank god for the yellow steed that flew to my outstretched arm. A flash of his leering, unfocused eyes was the last I caught of Kevin after I peeled his body off mine with the edge of the door frame, and sped off into the night, stunned silent. I asked to be let out a few blocks later and tumbled out of the confused driver’s car. I needed to walk.
Funny, nothing gets the creeps out howling on their stoops like a 4 am moon and the sound of a young girl’s exhausted sobs.
He texted the next day – i’m sry, i think you got the wrong idea, that’s not me, i’m not normally that pushy, plz give me another chance, i don’t often meet beautiful jazz engineers, i’ll take you out for coffee.
I politely declined. He pushed further, texting every day for the next week. I tried to keep up my chilly civility – the scene is small and highly interconnected, and I couldn’t afford enemies, let alone enemies who manage the spots. Rather than confront him, I eventually evaded him to a point where he was frustrated enough to leave me alone. He gave up, and I was sure I’d someday fade to the back of his mind, then the back of his memory, then to nothing at all.
Pardon me but I got to run
The fact’s uncommonly clear
Got to find who’s now number one
And why my angel eyes ain’t here
Oh, where is my angel eyes
After a few weeks, I went back to the Rag with a steeled determination – no one tells me where I go, when I go, or what I do. It took a few circles around the block to grit my teeth, but I went back. It was packed, muggy, and reverberating with scrumptious sounds that cushioned the slap of seeing Kevin standing in the stairwell. I pushed past with my head ducked low, hoping a recent haircut would help mask me. My phone pinged 2 minutes later — i thought that was u over there. He worked his way over, but I brushed off our 30-second interaction with stinging coolness. I desperately clung to the music to push his presence out of my peripheries – laying into the wild train of changes, speed, and time – and drifted away into the sound.
Excuse me while I disappear
Angel eyes, angel eyes
Eric was nothing more than a passing fragment of that long, hot summer, but I ached for the arms of my old love: the Coltrane-ean, Miles-ish, Bird-y vibrance that pours from these West Village basements. I struggled hearing that old school jazz for a long while afterward…flashes of that night haunted me with every thump of the bass, crash of the cymbal, and wail of the trumpet. Instead, I dove into the “new generation” wave: where hip-hop, funk, soul, and electronic musics meet at the corner of jazz. It is phenomenal stuff, built from the bones of jazz’s lineage, but I missed the house I grew up in. After about a year, I found my wounds healed just enough to ease back in at a sputtering float, but not quite drowning. I swim better these days.
Excuse me while I disappear
Angel eyes, angel eyes
“Angel Eyes” isn’t a common tune. For every time it gets pulled out of a Real Book, there’s a hundred other “My Funny Valentine’s” that get played first. But every time it crops up, whether that’s in a shuffle of jazz tunes, or overhead at a restaurant, or even at the infrequent gigs I now attend, I count a soft, sad beat added to the regular rhythm of my heart; not quite spiteful, it’s nothing more than a gentle reminder that the music will never be the same.