May 19th 2012
“I’m sorry, can you call your friend again? If he’s not here in the next 10 minutes…then we’re going to have to cancel his show.”
Called one more time.
Straight to voicemail.
A few days before hand I had rallied my co-workers, friends and acquaintances (and maybe the local laundromat employee) to a performance downtown at the classic Rockwood Music Hall that very evening. “You guys should really come! A good friend of mine from high school is playing and he’s pretty good. Really good, actually. Sort of like a Dave Matthews meets Ben Harper type deal…okay I’ll buy you a drink if you come. Please come.” They told me that I was ridiculous and of course they would come. They’ve heard me play some of his stuff before and would love to hear it live. Fast forward just a few shorts hours later and – he was nowhere to be found.
The show was supposed to start at 6.
And it was now 6:15.
And the worst part was.
This didn’t make any sense.
No sense at all.
In fact, the last time Kwesi and I had spoken was an hour prior when he told me “I should be there soon! I can see the NYC skyline from my bus.” – and that he was almost there. And as my friends and I sat there sipping our cocktails with complacent faces, I just kept thinking about 2 things.
1. Why the man across the way was wearing christmas socks in the dead heat of june
but more importantly
2. The conversation I had with Kwesi just a one month prior.
May 19th 2012
It was entirely too late. But, it had been entirely too long since I had seen him. Meg and I lounged in my living room anticipating the arrival of our musical guests and watched as the clock ticked to midnight that eventually shifted to 12:36 – then moved to 1:14 and finally rested at 2:06 am at the cue of their arrival. I could hear them outside my window. And it wasn’t the honking horn. A doorbell buzz. Not even a knock. But rather the echoing of my name that trailed down four way intersection on the corner of 3rd ave. I peered outside my New York City apartment and saw him standing there with the his band members. Guitar resting on his back, reveling in his finally completed commute from Philadelphia.
He looked uP and yelled again.
“Yooo Livvvvv can we come upstairs?”
I’ll buzz you in.
His request was this: To crash for a night as they ambitiously attempted to puzzle piece their way into any and every open mic offered and not offered in the city the very next day.
And my initial hesitation wasn’t the request in itself but rather
The man who stood behind it.
We dragged their luggage and instruments up the marble stairs and into the living room, threw a blanket on the couch and prepared for late night introductions and catch up sessions when Kwesi asked me
“Hey can we check out your roof top?”
We made a drink or 3.
And headed upstairs to the very same rooftop I would later converse with my neighbor just a few months later.
flights and opened the bolted door that revealed this on the other side:
Kwesi immediately pulled out his state-of-the-art camera and began to capture any and every artistic snip it that waved past his lens. I watched as he pin-balled from each corner of the roof top, enamored by the candid skyscrapers that effortlessly rested on his display screen. Ready to be his with one simple click of a button. And for the second time that night, I could tell that he just wasn’t the same as he was before.
But not in a bad way.
But actually, in a great way.
We pulled together the 5 mismatched chairs on the forbidden rooftop, opened our drinks and embarked on the perfect Friday night of good friends and good company voluntarily falling victim to any and every snap shot Kwesi could capture with his black buttoned device.
And after a few rounds of banter that traveled from one mismatched chair to the other, we eventually migrated to the semi-stable railing on the latter side of the premises and invested in scattered conversation that floated 4 stories over New York City.
And eventually the drummer began talking to Meg about their hometowns and the harmonica player stood there soaking up the view, and somehow Kwesi and I eventually drifted off to the side, without the railing, laid on our stomachs and peeked over the unguarded edge of the rooftop. Staring straight down to the street he had just echoed down just a few minutes prior.
The truth is it had been a while since we had seen each other and then second truth is, not a damn thing had changed.
“So how’s your writing going, Liv? I can’t believe you’re actually in New York City. Actually I can’t believe we’re both here. What made you come here anyway?”
I told him the story about the man in the business suit across the table. And how he gave me the best rejection of all. And he said “Wow” That he had never heard a story like that before. And that’s crazy. “Are you happy? Taking the risk to come here, I mean.”
I told him that I was very happy. But it was hard. Really hard, sometimes. That I never really expected following my dreams to be easy, but then again I never expected it to be quite so hard. And did you know that not so long ago, I was 77 pages into my novel? And then well, I started over completely. And I couldn’t be happier about it. That doing what I love over and over again everyday, just never really seemed to get old.
And then he looked at me
and then back
at the deserted street – and told me up that he was proud of me. For even wanting to write a book at all. And furthermore, admitting that it’s not easy. And “How cool is this? You know what we’re doing is rare right? Following our dreams with a side of sacrifice? Taking a huge risk but only because the reward is just too irresistible and just too worth it. It’s nice to know I’m not alone. And I’m proud of us.”
And I paused.
And said that I was proud of us too.
And then I said.
“You know, Kwesi, you’ve changed.”
“What do you mean?”
“Not in a bad way. I mean you still have your soulful personality and I couldn’t be more proud of you for pursuing your music and photography. But a few days ago when you asked me if you could crash here I hesitated. But only because I was so pleasantly surprised that you finally did it.”
“Well, I think that when you got your scholarship for football, it’s what you wanted. It was an incredible opportunity you couldn’t really turn down. And you didn’t. Not at first. But you did eventually. And for what? For this. And when you told me that 2 years ago that music is what you wanted to do, what you actually wanted to do, and moreso, that you were actually going to do it, I was impressed…but moreso intrigued. So you show up here tonight and we come on this rooftop and as soon as we get up here you start running around the entire thing taking pictures of any and every breathing moment just.in.case it got away. And for the second time in a night I suddenly accepted that you really weren’t the football playing, on the guitar for fun, doesn’t take life too seriously guy anymore.
You were an artist.
But not like the “this is fun so I’m going to keep doing it” artist. But the “I don’t want to do anything else, and nothing else seems to make me quite as happy, and I’m going to willingly with no regrets, do this forever” artist.
He smiled and told me thank you, thank you so much. And that he was going to do anything it took do make this happen for himself. And prepared for any obstacle that was coming his way.
June 21st 2012
This didn’t make any sense.
No sense at all.
It was now 6:30 and he was nowhere to be found.
He flew >> threw the door. Guitar on his back and bee-lined straight for the club owner. I could see the anxiety in his face. I think everyone could. The truth is I couldn’t hear the conversation between the two but I could hear a remnants of profuse apology and then a general sentence from the manager that involved pointing to the next band that was already on stage. Hand on the shoulder. And an “I’m sorry, maybe next time” followed by a walkaway.
He glanced over and saw us.
He walked over, slowly but surely. Turns out his bus was 2 hours late, followed by a delayed train, and a cab that never came. “So much for booking the early bus, right?”
We stood there in silence and watched as the 7pm act threaded through the speakers and couldn’t help but feel he felt just a little more defeated with each passing beat.
“Let’s just get out of here” I told him. We caught a bus by seaport He grabbed his guitar and we carried our silence to seaport’s edge took a seat on the steps and looked at this:
And eventually he said this:
“Liv I’m so frustrated.”
“But this is what I want to do. I hate that I need help, I hate that that bus was late and I hate that I don’t want to give up. Not at all. Not even a little bit.” And then he told me that he was putting his heart and soul into making this work. That sure more money would be nice, planning ahead really kind of sucks because as it turns out, buses don’t always keep to their promises. And paychecks don’t always show up when they say they will. But it was just so so frustrating. To practice a song for days and days. And not even be able to play it. And if he was crazy for not giving this up. And then I asked him if he remembered our conversation on the rooftop, not so long ago. And he said yes.
And I told him that as far as I was concerned he was doing exactly what he said he would do, and nothing less. And that I admired that he did 6pm shows and this humbling climb to get there? Well, it really is hard but, it’s nothing that you can’t handle. And if you can’t handle it, well then you probably wouldn’t be here to begin with.
And then I asked him if he wanted to go back to the roof. And he said yes again.
So I told him to grab a guitar, I called up a friend placed the mismatched chairs in a semi- circle and asked him to play. That he came to New York City to play a show, and sure the roof top may not be the Rockwood Music Hall but it was an open mic. Nonetheless. And he played. He played a lot. And really well.
And since that day of mistaken misfortune.
I had never seen him quite so successful.
Kwesi has gone on to be featured in multiple publications and currently working with producers to work on his second album in a studio once housed by Stevie Wonder and Pattie Labelle with a producer that has worked with such bands as “The Roots.” His second album is well on his way, and you better believe he took the well-deserved road to get there.