Saturday, April 24, 2010

New York City Hard Time Blues (Miguel Pinero)

(Benjamin Bratt in the movie "Pinero")

Miguel Piñero was a Puerto Rican who lived most of his life on the Lower East Side of New York City. His father abandoned the family when Pinero was only 8 years old, leaving Pinero's mother to survive on welfare with five children.

As a young man, Pinero got into gangs and crime, and was repeatedly convicted of juvenile crimes and imprisoned in juvenile detention facilities. As a young adult he continued with his criminal activity, eventually being sent to Rikers. During this time he also became a drug addict, a problem which would lead to an early grave.

By the time Pinero was 25 years old, he was in Sing Sing Prison. That is when he began to write, plays and poems, as part of an inmates workshop. People in New York began to hear about this talented young man, which opened doors for him when he got out of prison.

His play "Short Eyes" was about Pinero's experiences in prison. When he got out of prison, that play was presented at the Riverside church. Joseph Papp was there, and liked it so much that he arranged for the production to be moved to Broadway. It won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award as the best play of the year.

Also in the 1970s, Pinero was one of the co-founders of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, a place for performing poetry relating to the experience of Puerto Ricans in New York (Nuyorican). (The cafe has survived: The cafe was located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a fairly run-down area at the time known for an abundance of junkies, slum housing and crime. Most people called the area the Lower East Side. The Puerto Ricans called it Low-Eas-zide and called Puerto Ricans who lived there Low-eas-Ziders. It was a neighborhood seemingly drenched in urine because so many junkies collapsed in alleys and stairways, urinating all over themselves. But, in the midst of that poverty and despair, creativity began to bloom.

Pinero's play Short Eyes was later turned into a film. Pinero got an acting role in the movie, as well as in other movies including Alphabet City (which was the name for Avenues A-D on the Lower East Side), Fort Apache, The Bronx, and Breathless. Pinero also wrote for the TV series Baretta and Miami Vice.

Piñero was considered a talented writer with a personal and intense way of depicting problems in modern society.

Pinero continued to write poems and plays. His play The Guntower premiered at the New York Shakespeare Festival.

Miguel Piñero was a drug addict for most of his adult life, and he died of cirrhosis in his young 40s. His ashes were scattered across the Lower east Side, as he had requested at the end of "Lower East Side Poem":

Just once before I die
I want to climb up on a
tenement sky
to dream my lungs out till
I cry
then scatter my ashes thru
the Lower East Side...."

(Benjamin Bratt in the movie "Pinero," poem "Seeking the Cause").

New York City Hard Time Blues (Miguel Pinero)

Big time time hard on on me blues
Big time time hard on on me blues
New York City hard sunday morning blues
Junkie waking up
bones ache trying to shake
New York City sunday morning blues

the sun was vomiting itself up over
the carbon monoxide detroit perfume
strolling down the black asphalt dance floor
where all the disco sweat drenched Mr. Mario's
summer suit still mambo-tango hustled
to the tunes of fiberglass songs
New York City sunday morning means
liquor store closed
bars don't open 'til noon
and my connection wasn't upping
a 25 cent balloon
yeah reality wasn't giving me no play
telling me it was going to be sunday
24 hours the whole day

it was like the reincarnation of the night
before when my ashtray became
the cemetery of all my lost memories
when a stumble bum blues band
kept me up all night playing me cheap
F. M.
of hard time
sad time
bad time
hell we all know times are
all over

... yeah
the morning will be giving up to the noon
and soon I'll hear winos and junkyard dogs
howling at the moon
made the shadows
at jake's juke saloon
as a battalion of violet virgins
sang tunes
of deflowered songs
men poured their
fantasies of lust into young boy's
car stolen
whizzed by
crying hard luck tears in beers

...New York City december sunday morning
was whippin' my ass in a cold blooded fashion
treatin' me like a stepchild
putting a serious hurting on me
watching me bleed
thru my sleeves
as I tried to get high
shooting up caffeine without saccarine
that some beat artist sold me down
on eldredge st.
but that's the ghetto creed
that the strong must feed
everything was happening faster than the
speed of sound

my whole seemed like it was going down
I wonder who ever wrote that tune
about being back on top in june
nigger forgot about september and december
now that's a month to remember
when each cold day becomes like a brick wall
and you're the bouncing ball
yeah I kept seeing my fate being sealed
by the silk smooth hands of the eternal bill
who keeps rattling my door knob
pressing my avon ding dong bell . . .

my pockets were crying the blues
telling me that I ain't fed them a dollar in years
and was it clear that they couldn't hold
anymore unpaid debts . . . traffic tickets . . . or promissory notes
and hey that was when I wished I was back in
L. A.laid back
L. A.
kick back
L. A.
smog town

hollywood . . . driving down to malibu
hollywood U. S. A . . ..hey hey USA hollywood
seedy looking film producers smile at you
over a burrito with taco bell breath
explain the plots to fellini movies
they aint ever seen
hollywood . . . down to malibu
at two a. m. if you get tired
of cal worthington shit-eating grin
you walk out on him hit santa monica blvd
and watch the manicured thumbs caress the
homosexual airs of rolled up jeans and silver buckles
as westwood camaro rides very slow very low
down western ave

...go into some bar on alvarado
and temple listen to some mariachi music
or stroll into some dive joint off sunset
sit in some naugahyde booth
with some dishwater blond
with sagging breasts
wearing a see thru blouse
and listen to all her 1930 starlet dreams
as she smokes all my cigarettes

but i'm in new york city
crying the junkie blues
welfare afro hairdos sprout out
of frye boots
yeah punk rockers hitting on you
for subway fare three times
soon the mohair slick lines
at penn station are getting impatient
wanna get home
to alone
make the scene with a magazine
or with a plastic doll
'cause the missus got another headache
gaze at the farrah foster poster
that adorns his horny teenage son's walls

I wish I could cop a bottle of muscatel
stroll thru the bowery with a pocket
full of wino dreams

but sunday morning in New York City
for the junkie there ain't no pity
we just walk the streets with loaded dice
and hear people say there goes miky
miky pinero
they call him the junkie christ . . .

At some point in his brief life, Pinero partnered up with a young artist from the West Coast named Martin Wong. Wong had come to New York, and ended up spending time with Pinero on the Lower East Side. Wong himself died young, at the age of 53. Much of his art displays the conditions of urban life that he witnessed while with Pinero in those years on the Lower East Side, before Pinero's death.


  1. one of the best poets of our time,describing what was,what is and is to come.i can see what awaits us if we stay silent because the couse is still is what it is but it doen't have be.

  2. thanks for the beauty