When I first moved to the US in late 2009 – settling on New York rather than Nashville or LA – I decided, like many other muso (musician)/arty types, to live in Brooklyn.
I landed in a place not even a stone’s throw from the entrance to the Bedford and 7th Ave subway stop, right in the middle of “hipsterville” – Williamsburg.
One of my newest New York friends, a lovely lady called Shira, questioned whether I would really dig the vibe there. I was initially like “Are you kidding? These are my people”. I soon learned that this wasn’t quite true.
Overall I enjoyed my time there, and I certainly do miss my muso friends – most notably the lads from Mon Khmer and the lovely ladies from Desert Stars; but I was glad to “escape” the home of unnecessary beards and one too many vacuous conversations.
One thing I learned is that the place has too many trust fund kids who look the part, but really have no idea about what being a punk, or a rebel, or an artist is really all about. It’s a cliche, but unless you’ve suffered at some point in your life in your pursuit as an artist, then you’re really not going to cut it or even understand just what it is you’re doing.
I think my location, right “in the thick of it”, didn’t help my perspective. I would go to my local coffee shop, deli or bakery in the morning and watch these dilettantes suffer over such hard decisions as to where they were going to shop today, buy their coffee or have their shots. I would notice them sit around and talk about being an artist; not actually being one.
I realised of course, that I too looked the part: I sometimes wear skinny jeans (but being an old school mod/punk I think that’s okay!), have big-rimmed glasses and play in a band. But as one of my friends pointed out: “They’re all trying to be what you are naturally”. So I took that one, he he!
On top of that, the place I lived in was a converted basement, tarted up to look nice, but put together in a very slap dash fashion by what seemed to be a number of people not actually qualified for their trade. Almost every week there was someone traipsing through our place fixing a problem for something that was either installed incorrectly, not connected properly, or just plain didn’t work. We were the landlord’s guinea pigs for an area of his building that had never been inhabited before, at least by humans! Oh and any problems with the building’s sewage (of which there were many) need to be fixed by opening up the floor of our front entrance each time! As we say in Australia, it was Dodgy Brothers all over!
But it seems this kind of experience is a necessary test to living in New York. Pass through a series of suspect experiences and/or rip-offs and you get get your New York “stripes”. But enough of that!
My Italian guitarist Andrea, who I met through mutual friends from Australia as he studied there (my Aussie bass player AJ Hall), was continuing studies at Queens College, and as he was looking for a new place to live, suggested I look at sharing a place in Astoria, Queens. Initially, I had the same reservations as some other New Yorkers: that Astoria wasn’t cool, wasn’t happening, and was the next worse thing to living in Jersey (and God help you if you come from Jersey, ha ha; but hey it worked for Bruce Springsteen)!
Anyway, I immediately fell in love with the place for two reasons: the lack of intensity (like Manhattan), and the lack of pretension (like Williamsburg). Soon I realised that Astoria was a lot like Melbourne: lots of Greeks and Italians, which equals lots of great food! But it doesn’t stop there: there are also a lot of people from Morocco, Lebanon and all around the Mediterranean, from the Balkans/Eastern Europe, from South America, from Asia, and all areas in between. Queens is considered New York’s most culturally diverse borough, and Astoria its most diverse hood, so it’s really like living in a microcosm of the whole world. And unlike politicians and religions would like us to believe, everyone here gets along!
As a result, food is varied, fantastic and cheap, and right now so is rent (much cheaper than my hometown of Brisbane for example), although as it becomes more popular, that is likely to change. Down near 30th Ave and further south to Long Island City, you can see the slow but steady influx of hipsters migrating north. But something tells me that Astoria will never get as stuffy or as pretentious as Williamsburg. Even though it’s only 10 mins on a train from my house to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, that’s still a little too far from the Lower East Side for most dillettantes/trust fund kids! Thank God for geography; you just can’t change it unless mother nature (or perhaps terrorism) decides different.
There is a growing army of people like me here: those who can’t deal with Williamsburg, don’t want to live deep in the heart of Brooklyn, can’t afford to live in Manhattan, but still want to be part of a “scene”. And there is a growing scene here, thanks in part to the continuing efforts of groups like the Astoria Music and Arts organisation. There are more and more bands proud to say they come from Queens, and my band is certainly a part of it; we’re all Astorians! There are plenty of open mic nights in pubs in the area, and live original music happening in numerous venues. I have also come on board to help organise the 4th annual Astoria Music Now! arts and music festival, happening on the river under the Triboro bridge on August 21. Bring it on Queens!