Silky’s in the Days Gone By

Silky’s in the Days Gone By

Once upon a time in pre-bike lane Brooklyn, there was a place called Silky’s aka the Back Yard and it was reigned over by a benevolent goddess named Diana. It stayed open all night long Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. Heavenly music filled the space and singers and players of instruments, famed throughout the lands, came to lend their voices to the chorus.  The scent of roasting herbs and the finest fishes perfumed the air. The ambrosial nectar of white rum, Red Stripe and Guinness flowed as a waterfall and all was good throughout the borough.

Unbeknownst to all, dark clouds were gathering on the horizon.  The forces of greed and avarice, so long focused on the beloved island of Manhattan, Williamsburg, Park Slope and Cobble Hill, had taken notice of Dina’s lands and bit by bit they unleashed their minions with briefcases of cash.  They seeded the fertile lands with fair trade coffee, artisanal mayonnaise, craft beer and fancy restaurants and soon the plagues of noise complaints, harassing police and rent spikes came to Silky’s…and like that, it was gone forever.

All that I write is true.  There was a Silky’s and it was presided over by the warm spirit of Diana Klaseek. It was in the backyard of a cultural center in Crown Heights.  A tent covered the space, kerosene heaters kept it warm in the winter and big bass bins kept the music rolling all night.  Silky, a light-skinned dread, headed up the kitchen serving  Fish Tea and Steam Fish. Heineken, red stripe and white rum were sold along with handfuls of weed and fronta leaf.

It was my place of happiness. My people and I would come with a box of records and play all night till the sun lit up the dark night.  We would play Studio One, roots and foundation and always dropped a special Burning Spear set for Diana.  There were always artists showing up and touching the mic. I once watched Frankie Paul sing from 1am to 5am and never repeat a lyric.  If we were particularly on point, customers would bring us six packs of beer and grips of weed.  Veteran sound men would drop knowledge about the first time they heard a tune or that electric moment when King Tubby first dropped a special and the vocals transformed into the wail of echo.  Old Spanglers would don their mesh ganzies and Arrow shirts and spin the mythic tales of bad men gone by. Under Diana’s gaze, things were mostly peaceful, arguments about politics hushed with a few kind words.  Very rarely, the white rum would come alive with the roar of BUMBACLAAAT perplexing Silky’s tranquility along with the dreaded “tschock” of a ratchet blade opening.  That too would be handled in turn and I never saw blood spilled.

Like all things in New York, Crown Heights began to transform.  Cops who once turned a blind eye, began to come around with tickets in hand.  New neighbors weren’t thrilled with the rumble of bass at 5am. Old stores began to be replaced with gussied up bars serving craft beers and $12 cocktails.  Spaces once long vacant became valuable property.  And all that gentrifying pressure  bore down and things became more edgy and gradually Silky’s shut down. The bass bins tucked into a dusty garage. The spirit sucked away.

But I remember.  Whenever I dust off a copy of Burning Spear singing “Swell Headed” in that Delta Blues meets Kingston style, I give thanks to Diana and her welcoming goodness and joyous spirit that granted me, for the time it existed, a little glimpse of heaven.

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