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Last Song for Valentine Part 2-4: New York is Full of Lonely People

Jakob Baekgaard By

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

It was late in the evening when Cory left the club. As always, he quickly became exhausted when he left the stage. It was not playing that was difficult. He was comfortable in his own skin on stage and often felt a real connection with the audience. It was a transient feeling and he could not catch everyone, but he played for someone and those who heard understood.

Afterwards, when he met the audience, the feeling disappeared, and words came between them. People clapped his shoulder and shook his hand and told him what they liked and why. A young man had said, "when you played that tune by Bird, I felt as if he returned from the grave. Man, it was beautiful."

"Bird's music is beautiful" was all he could say and then there was silence. Because everything had been said. And then the inevitable, "would you like to buy a CD?" The young man had turned around with a puzzled look, as if he was looking for someone. "Thanks, I'll think I'll pass, but I'll definitely keep an eye on you. Thanks for the music." "No problem, thanks for listening."

The young man had disappeared swiftly. Now he was also outside and that was the real stage. People played a role and it was hard to be yourself, whatever that was. A businessman in a steel-gray suit passed by with glazed eyes. Two women with dangling necklaces were chatting loudly. "Well, I'm telling you, it was just outrageous!" "Yes, I know, some people just lack class." He caught their eyes for a moment and did not know whether to ignore them or smile.

He smiled sheepishly, but was met with a cold stare and turned away. He thought about communication. How easy it was to dismiss and accept people without words. The best way to move through the city was like an empty shell without any signs of life, but he liked the days when he was brave and met the eyes of people, passing through the changing crowds of colors and smells, knowing he had a place in the world and deserved it.

Tonight, he was overwhelmed with emotion and just wanted to go home so he could be alone. Nothing was more difficult than walking the streets with a burden of sadness. People wanted other people to be happy and he wished he could wear that mask more easily and play the part, or just walk machinelike through the urban landscape.

A middle-aged man in a purple shirt stopped and stroked his beard like a cat, and then he proceeded into the heart of the city. The sound of sirens was heard in the distance. Cory heard a bass line in his head and then the silver of Lester Bowie's trumpet emerging from the fog. In the background, bells, triangles and drums. "New York Is Full of Lonely People." He loved that title. It said so much. He felt the mood of the piece.

While he walked the streets with the memory of the music, he could be himself without pretending. He saw people moving about, exchanging quick glances. Sometimes a smile broke through the loneliness of the crowds, but mostly people just ignored or assessed each other. Some were scared, some caught up in their private world, others high on alcohol and drugs.

In a street corner, an old man in rags was mumbling to himself. He smelled of piss and stared into the darkness with bloodshot eyes, emitting a sound between crying, growling and groaning. He was the invisible person that everyone pretended didn't exist.

Cory thought about a story told by the pianist Cooper-Moore. On a train, he once encountered a homeless guy who was talking crazy. While everyone else was backing away, Cooper-Moore approached him and listened to what he was really saying. He touched him and said, "I hear you, I hear you." The homeless guy reacted by crying silently. Cooper-Moore summed up his experience afterwards: "I heard his heart crying and he was a gentle person. For me that was music, too. You know, he was playing, he was playing his horn, and I couldn't help but feel that."

He didn't approach the old man. He was too scared about the situation and wanted to get away. As often before when he met a homeless man, he thought of whether he should give him something or not. No matter what he did, it seemed wrong. By giving him something, he would keep him in his position as a beggar. Besides, wasn't it society that should take care of the outcasts? Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. But nobody seemed to want them.

He felt how not giving made him harder. For a moment he imagined himself in the gutter while people walked away pretending not to see. You could hurt a person by looking at someone in a certain way, but you could also hurt people by not seeing them. The real tragedy was that looks could be misconstrued. They could be denied or received. It was about confirming or denying the existence of another human-being and how you did that.

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