Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Out and About in the East Village

In this weekly feature, East Village-based photographer James Maher provides us with a quick snapshot of someone who lives and/or works in the East Village.

By James Maher
Name: Andru Cann
Occupation: Musician
Location: Houston Street between Avenue A and B
Time: 3:30 pm on Monday, Nov. 30

I’m from Manchester, England. I was 24 years old when I came here. Music brought me here. I found I was able to play the kind of music I wanted to play. I came here mostly to study jazz and play jazz, which is what I continue to do, although I expanded to classical music and also incorporated that with film making because films require music. I was able to go to college and I was able to get four degrees including music composition and education. I was going to teach in the school system, but that was just too intense for me.

I don’t really make much money from the music but I get by, which is very nice because a lot of people come here and are never able to do that. There have been ups and downs. I’ve had many, many regular day jobs. I’ve worked in offices, washing cars, selling this, that, and the other, working in stores, and teaching. It’s good to do it privately, part time. That’s a good day job. It’s still a lot of fun. Not too much of any one thing, that’s the trick.

I’ve lived in the same building the entire time I’ve been here, since 1980. The neighborhood way back when I came was more or less abandoned. The hippie period had ended and then the punk rock scene had started, but that [scene resided] more in the East Village, whereas as you got to the Lower East Side it was mostly struggling families.

After being here for awhile, it became the center for cocaine, heroin, then later crack. Everyone from the whole city would come down here. There was a constant flow of people. The crime rate and the break-ins ... I came before that and I saw it turn into that. There were some major streets that were the no-go areas because it wasn’t worth going down them – you would be hassled too much.

That lasted about 10 years and then all of a sudden, like almost overnight, the police and the mayor decided to have the war on drugs. So they came to clean it up. Even though the most I ever did was smoke pot, but I even stopped smoking pot. It was just too dangerous to smoke on the street because you could get beaten up or taken in. I would be on my roof and cops would come up with their guns out saying, ‘What are you doing here?’ I said, ‘I live here.’ And they said, ‘This is a paranoid area. You have to be careful. Stay indoors.’ And that’s understandable, because it was a paranoid area.

One time I was walking right on that corner there, Norfolk Street, and a cop said, ‘Hey pick up your property.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ ‘Don’t get funny with me,’ and he started going for his handcuffs. He said, ‘It’s right there; that vial down there.’ So what am I going to do? I thought if I run, they’re going to probably catch me, so I’ve got to talk my way out of it. The best way I thought would be to get on his side. I said, ‘Hey, listen. We love you coming down here to clean the area up. I’ve lived here a long time.’

And somehow that word love, it calmed him down. He eventually let me go, but even then he said, ‘Oh before you go, can you pick up that vial and throw it down the drain?’ And I knew what would happen if I did that. Even then he was still trying to get me. I said, ‘No, that’s not my job, sorry,’ and walked off. I could have been in jail now for having crack cocaine probably. And that was unfortunately the modus operandi for some rookie cops who came down here. Their mentality was that anybody walking down here would be scoring drugs, so you might as well bust them anyway.

We’ll go to the happy stuff because I could talk about the other stuff… The happy stuff is that for the 35 years I’ve lived here, you’ll walk around and see the same people, the familiar faces, and even though you might not say hello to them, you think in your mind that they’re still here. You’ve grown old together. It’s a neighborhood.

I’ve also said goodbye to a lot of characters in the neighborhood too. Antonio who lived down here. He was a Cuban artist. I actually worked in an office with him one time, and in his apartment there was like a 100 paintings of fruits, apples, oranges, grapes. And he can’t understand why nobody wants to buy his art. I didn’t have the heart to tell him, well maybe no one wants a picture of an apple. There was a guy named Fred, his mother lived in the same building, and he died of AIDS. These were happy people to hang out with.

In the building on the first floor there was a guy called Lenny who was a screenwriter. He was like Lenny Bruce. His name was Lenny, but he came from the Lenny Bruce period. He had a lot of jokes like Lenny Bruce. He used to sing this song, which I recorded him singing it. I’m going to sing it for you right now so that he’ll become famous from that song. It goes like this:

Night after night, the taxis brought me home.
Down East Houston, to the home I’ve never known before.
And there goes Harry and there Bob
And there goes Dick and there goes Rob.
But in the middle of my story, there was grief.
In the middle of my story, there was crime.
Night after night, the taxis brought me home.
Down East Houston, to the home I’ve never known before.

That was his song. He used to love singing it. He was a very good singer. There you have it. There’s Lenny’s song.

James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.


Anonymous said...

fantastic interview and great photo!! thanx for posting!

DrBOP said...

"Not too much of any one thing, that's the trick."


Anonymous said...

love this interview, love this guy's worldview, love this series! thanks grieve!