A Farewell Playlist
Music to accompany two days of mourning and celebration
When my sister-in-law Joy Harvey died on August 30, Carola and I left it to her daughters Jessica and Gwen to conceive the appropriate memorial, and what they came up with was ambitious indeed. As was only kind, they devoted the first weekend of September to helping their bereft father Larry absorb the loss in the old Clinton, Connecticut, house where they'd spent so much family time. And while they were at it they worked out their next move with both Larry's timing and their own love and pride in mind.
Early September, as you may recall, was what they call unseasonably warm, whatever seasonable means as the climate goes haywire. So though they knew the third weekend of October still might get nippy, Gwen and Jess elected to schedule a two-day noon-to-whenever wake for those days, its venue the live-in basement and three-lot back yard where both they and their mother had grown up. One reason they wanted the extra time is so they could deck every available hall and wall with not just half a century's worth of photos but, just as precious, as many of Joy's paintings as they could. Gathering and framing and hanging these visuals was time-consuming work for not just Larry and both daughters and two grandchildren too but their aunt Carola and cousin Nina and even some neighborhood volunteers. And all last Saturday and Sunday some 100 mourners who were also celebrators, many from just steps away and others from California and nearer outbacks, crowded into Joy and Larry's basement apartment and partook of paella and lasagna and cheeses and sweets and sangria and wine and beer under a white tent outside.
Having never closely examined what portion of Joy's art I'd laid eyes on, I found myself more moved and impressed than I'd expected, plus there were the photographs, which included several of the long-married 29-year-old mother of two I'd met in 1972 from back when she'd been a startlingly beautiful teenaged blonde. Often fleshy and occasionally naked women dominated the paintings, which owed a general debt to Gauguin and Rousseau, and there were animals too--a companionable lion, a caterpillar with a human face. But in the later work musical themes came to the fore as Gwen and Juan Fernandez, who Gwen had met in Ann Arbor and married in her Greenwich Village back yard, moved on from the Grateful Dead--a young Juan had frequented the Grateful Bed and Breakfast, run by a a Deadhead from Queens some 50 miles east of San Juan--to salsa, spurred in part by my Christmas gift of albums recommended by world music guru Daisann McLane. Initially this reflected just a broadening of taste, but after Gwen and Juan resettled in Puerto Rico it evolved into a way of life, as the two organized a salsa combo called Mo' Guajiro with Juan on drums and Gwen on keyboards and then started their own club in Old San Juan, which as a New Yorker married to a Puerto Rican they named the Nuyorican Cafe after getting permission from the East Village's long-running Nuyorican Poets Cafe. In business for 14 years, not bad for any club, it was decorated mostly by Joy, who among other feats prepared wooden sculptures in New York City that she dismantled and brought to San Juan in suitcases to be reassembled.
All this was known as the memorial came nigh, when on Friday it occurred to somebody that they'd forgotten something: music. And so I finally had a job I could do under Carola's supervision, especially with my grandnephew Monte handling tech: a playlist called "Joy Harvey" that you too can find on Spotify. It's a bit messy--one track I slotted as Mo' Guajiro is by Guajiro Natural ("guajiro," I determined, means something like "country person"), and although Joy was a fan like all '50s girls too smart for Elvis I should have kept it to one Buddy Holly. Nonetheless, I like the way it breaks down into three categories: Joy's children's specialty salsa, her lifelong home Greenwich Village, and her generational cohort the '50s. The salsa begins with a Mo Guajiro track and closes the playlist out with Buena Vista Social Club's indelible "Chan Chan"; the Village artists are two she knew as a kid, Harry Chapin and her old friend Maria Muldaur nee d'Amato, who sometimes bunked with Joy when she was in town; and the aforementioned '50s, including not just theoretical nice boys Holly and the Everlys but a long-forgotten 1956 nonrock novelty by the preadolescent sisters Patience and Prudence called "Tonight You Belong to Me" (which for the record I found cute myself and still do and Jessica performed at P.S. 3 as a child). And then let me mention one more thing.
In the wake of 2017's Hurricane Maria, Gwen and Juan relocated back to the Village, working as a physical therapist and a soccer coach respectively as their kids attended Brown and NYU. But they couldn't stay away from music, and so Juan came up with another proposition for the Nuyorican Cafe, now relocated from 7th Street and Avenue B to 236 East 3rd Street between B and C--jam sessions the final Sunday of every month, Juan on percussion and vocals and Gwen on keyboards and other musicians that as it turned out regularly included my brother-in-law Steven Levi on trumpet. But the big deal is that stage right stands the extraordinary Cuban vocalist Jose "Pepito" Gomez, whose clear, commanding high baritone has to be heard to be believed. But shit happens, and so the Nuyorican will soon close for remodeling. That means this coming Sunday is Juan and Gwen's--and Pepito's--last show on East 3rd Street, maybe for a while, possibly ever. You know me, I hope. I'm not a guy who raves about singers knocking his socks off in a language he doesn't understand. But as with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, maybe, I'm raving, and not because Juan and Gwen and indeed Steven are family. I'm raving because hearing Pepito in this unprepossessing little bar is enough to make you believe democracy works, and we need as much of that as we can get these days.
Joy Harvey playlist: