“Darling when your worries are piling and the rent is overdue. When all we own is battered and worn that once was bright and new. I’m still away with the birds. I’m still wired to the moon. And I’m still in love, I’m still in love, I’m still in love with you”
New York City in the winter of 2010 was a Wild West of limitless opportunity and stifling terror. Every night was an explosion of fascinating, exciting and unnerving possibilities. For every reason I had to move there, there were two votes against. Self-doubt was my roommate that winter and his uncomfortable residence in my small one bedroom made for a tough winter. Not enough space for the both of us, but three months in, he refused to hit the bricks.
The day he started to pack was a chilly Tuesday night in February. Aiden texted me with a grand weeknight scheme: head to Kenny Castaways for a ten o’clock open mic and then nip ‘round the corner to the Red Lion. A local folk musician by the name of Niall Connolly was playing a one AM gig and according to Aiden he was a must listen.
The offer was enticing. Those days, I was a newborn rambler, a wanna-be Kerouac with an unlimited ride Metrocard. Three months into my New York residence and I wanted nothing more than to suck down giant gulps of my newfound liberation. Hanging with brother Aiden felt like a natural branching out of my internal rambler, even if that meant becoming a late night / early morning drifter who threw responsibility to the Bleecker Street breeze. There was magic in those wee hours and I wanted all of it.
The Lion was mostly empty that night. A smattering of West Village drunkards leaned against the dark wood bar tops while a couple necked in a corner booth. Small stage with red walls and a tired drum kit in the back right corner. The advantage of hanging with Aiden was his uncanny ability to make you feel like family and that night was no exception. Bouncers greeted us with a smile, the barkeep was quick with the liquor and the joint felt like home. That’s also the night I met Niall Connolly.
He was scruff and scrawny, a pleasant fellow with a quick wit and firm handshake. He sat on a small stool to the front of the stage, a music stand of albums for sale at his right. $10 for a CD, $15 for two. Niall played a sweet and somber set that night. The cab and night truck traffic provided a murmuring backdrop to the sad folk streaming from Niall’s guitar. Whenever somebody shouted a request for Danny Boy, Niall politely declined. When a half tanked waif in a tiny white dress offered him a twenty to play American Pie, he replied, “Sorry, dear. Can’t do that for you.”
Growing up in the cover heavy bars of northern New Jersey, I realized why New York had to be my home. Real artists playing genuine music. Beautiful moments shared with dear friends. The recklessness of enjoying it all on a school night. And the song that hit me hardest was Away With The Birds.
Simple songs telling simple stories often reap the deepest emotional rewards. Rather than tell you how to feel, the simple chords of Away With The Birds set the stage for your heart’s interpretation. Whether you’re pinning love lost or celebrating who you have, Niall’s final song on his under-appreciated Brother, The Fight Is Fixed, allows you to sink into the sweetness. The song is a quickie, a hair under two minutes, but in that space I had found a musical home in the chaotic carousel that’s New York City.
When I tiptoed into my new one bedroom after the show, I looked around the apartment. Boxes, still packed, sat in the corner against the arm of my tiny loveseat. Light from a York Avenue beer hall glowed soft through my naked windows as those lovely lyrics played in my head. Despite the daunting rent, the well-worn clothing and Self Doubt’s unwavering tenancy, I needed to be wired to the moon, coursing through an ocean of unknown. Way up high with only my instincts to guide me. Sometimes it’s best to be away with the birds.