In between feasting on Punjabi dishes on forlorn doorsteps and running through the deserted streets in the wee hours of the morning, I had a most singular experience with a group of bohemians so out of step with their time. We spoke for hours on end, sitting on mattresses and mis-matched chairs in their living room, listening to hand drums and undulating voices wafting from the stereo.
Smooth and lilting, her voice rang out through the room, accompanied by instruments both modern and archaic. It was nearing midnight, and I'd found myself sitting and enjoying a quite late repast. The trio on stage swayed, saxophone murmuring, violin moaning and keening. Their set went by in a whirlwind, and before I knew it, I was sitting in the now almost deserted back room of the Sidewalk cafe, the mysterious singer materializing into a woman named Larkin Grimm.
Larkin and her saxophonist companion Devin explained to me that they were bohemians. Lost travelers wandering in search of something unexplainable. Romantics in a post modern age. Larkin was born on a commune, Devin, a West Village brownstone. They met as I'd suspect most musicians do; at a show. They play together now, their breezy ease creeping into the notes blown and sung.
That same breeze carried me off on a long evening walk back to Devin's multi-generational home. We walked carrying speakers and instruments, all deciding the open air was much preferable to a cramped taxi cab. We stopped only for a quick bite, enjoyed on a quiet doorstep in front of the postage stamp sized Punjabi place from which it was procured.
How did such free spirits come to reside in a place like this? A place where buildings loom in every direction, pressure building in the waves of humanity. The intensity of this city is incredible. It sets a tempo spiraling ever upwards. The fact that they find the quiet necessary to create is astounding. Perhaps they find a kind of rhythm within the chaos, a kind of inspiration in the rushing crowds. Or perhaps it's merely the great melting pot of creativity, the gathering of so many who see the world through such a different lens.
As I speak to Larkin, I suspect some combination of the quiet and the chaotic eventually brings her to a place of balance. She speaks of time spent walking in the wilderness, a wise-woman having shown her a very different way of thinking. She speaks of Nepal, of it's heights and it's people, of the change she hopes to effect there.
Within her there is hurt and heartache, a deep sense of something lost. Yet there is still a great hope, a deep and abiding love for creating.
Devin is much more the musician than the lyricist. He communicates as much through gestures and glances and suggestions as words, deftly working his face and his hands as he would the keys of a saxophone. The tics and glances that make up so much of his speaking are homespun and warm and gentle, a different stroke altogether from Larkin's moody, mysterious poise, and yet somehow thoroughly complementary.
This evening is a microcosm of New York itself; a collection of sheer luck and plucky determination fusing to introduce me to this wonderfully different pair of people. They are together both imperious and unassuming, bombastic and mellow, verbal and physical. Larkin drowsily tells stories as Devin plucks away a simple rhythm, artifice fading as the night deepens.
I can't seem to recall just why I decided to embark upon the series of events that led to my darkening Devin's West Village door. I suppose it was simply running out of ideas. I was assigned to tell someone's story, and after two nights of walking the streets of New York, I'd somehow managed to fail. It was only in giving up that I managed to stumble blindly into such a remarkable pair of creative souls. There's a lesson in there somewhere. At the end of strife is peace and fulfillment, perhaps. Or maybe just that I shouldn't try so hard to control everything.
The moon sets and the tides of time shift, and as their conversation recedes, so do I.