Beat from the street (Nov. 8, 2016)

Many stories lurk throughout Asheville, whether they are behind the Vaudevillian jazz-folk played by buskers around Pritchard Park, the colorful businesses decorated with funky, hand-made crafts or the laughter echoing from a patio as locals and tourists alike enjoy delicious beer. 
Jesse Cohen and Ashley Beach come to Asheville for the mountains and the culture. Photo by Karen Lopez.

Jesse Cohen, 25, home health aide, originally from New Jersey

Ashley Beach, 34, musician, originally from New Orleans

What would you say, out of your travels, has been your most favorite place so far or is that a difficult question?
A: “I mean, Thailand, but we didn’t go there together. I don’t know.

J: “Anytime I’m just getting picked off the road from a hitchhike and I’m sitting right there and I’m talking to whoever that is, that would be my favorite place.”

I like that a lot. That’s awesome. So, do you guys have personal life mottos that you live by?
A: “I mean, like, a motto, distilled down into a sentence?”

Not any sentence, it could be an idea, like a thought, just something you keep in your brain at all times in case things might not be going your way. You keep that thought at the forefront of your mind.
A: “I guess live the life that you love, unapologetically. So many people live sort of in fear and they act out of fear, and I recently was reading about a woman who takes care of terminally ill patients and she sees over and over again people who regret not just going for it, just doing it.”

Yeah, living in the moment.
A: “They’re living in a manner which promotes security, promotes stability, but it doesn’t really feed the spirit necessarily. I live by that motto. I shouldn’t spend any time — ”

Wasting time.
A: “Wasting time.”

J: “Waste in general is not the best. I keep finding myself realizing that once you get food from a place where somebody’s rejected it, it becomes holy. Once you rescue something that was deemed useless and you make use out of it, there’s pleasure in that. There’s rebellion in that and there’s rejoicing in that, so finding ways to eliminate waste, supporting people and feeling good with what they have.”

If you guys were to describe creative influences that you have, like music, art, anything that you look up to?
A: “That’s like trying to ask me what kind of music I play.”

What kind of music do you play?
A: “That’s the $64 million question. I give people a salad bowl and I say, ‘Well, you fill it with all kinds of different things.’ There’s some Brazilian stuff going on there. There’s some New Orleans stuff going on there, both modern and from the 20s. There’s ska. You know, there’s a bunch of different kinds of stuff in my music.”

It’s a potpourri.
A: “Yeah, I can do a swing set. I can do a reggae set. But I tend to err on the side of eclectic. But, my goodness, something that I draw a grand amount of inspiration from is kind of funny if I pick certain things, right?”  

J: “How funny?”

A: “It’s kind of funny how my brain would immediately go to certain pieces of music.”

J: “Yeah, I mean, what needs to be played comes out. The inspiration is the moment.”

A: “Wow, yeah. I can’t really distill it, you know? I mean, I listen to everything from Antônio Carlos Jobim to Primus. It’s a pretty wide range. The music festival that I just went to was dope. It was the String Cheese Incident music festival and that was really lovely, really lovely. I saw Sean Lennon, John Lennon’s son, perform with Les Claypool of Primus.”

I bet that was a spiritual experience.
A: “John Lennon’s son sings ‘Love is all, love is all there is. It is growing. It is growing.’ It was one of the most phenomenal moments of my life. So, yeah, I don’t know what to tell you.There’s so much. I’ve been listening to a lot of Ani DiFranco lately. There’s a lot politically happening right now in the world that’s pretty charged. I’ve been listening to comrades, who I’d consider comrades. They’re a pretty big influence and stuff.”

What would you say inspires you creatively?
J: “I’m singing in the West Asheville Community Choir right now and we focus on music that would be sung in community, by community, for community, so any folk music that is designed to engage everybody. So to be approachable, whatever does that influences me, to be OK with who you are. It’s like, ‘Yeah, you can sing! You don’t know how, but you can sing. You can dance. You can do it.’ Whatever has that sort of going for it influences me.”

Yeah, it’s a communal experience.
J: “Yeah. Approachability and just friendliness, anybody with a big smile.”

Aw, yeah. If you guys were to describe yourself in three words, which three words would you choose? I know that’s a tough question also.
A: “You go first.”

J: “I just took a personality test so the word that came up was campaigner. So I’ll use that one.”

Appropriate for this time of year.
J: “Yeah, yeah. I haven’t been too politically active. I’m going to be voting for a guy who wields a giant toothbrush and sticks a boot on his head.”

A: “Free ponies for everybody.”

J: “Free ponies for everybody. His name is Vermin Supreme.”

A: “Yeah, vote for Vermin Supreme.”

J: “Vote for Vermin Supreme. Write him in.”

A: “Standing on good oral hygiene. The only candidate with a good zombie apocalypse preparedness plan.”

That’s integral to have that.
J: “Metamorphosis would be another word that describes me and listen. Bam. Triple. Triple hit.”

A: “Whimsy comes to mind, like taking things as they come, playing to the heart’s desires. Whimsy definitely comes to mind. Wow. When you come up with words to describe yourself, it’s really fascinating. Frequency, not frequent but frequency and interdependence.”

What makes you say that?
A: “The notion that we’re all connected and all part of this giant organism. If one part of this giant organism is affected by something, everything is affected by that something. There’s no separation between anything, right? Something that affects you will affect me in a way.”

J: “I thought of some words to live by, something my dad told me. Connectivity is implied. You go into any situation assuming that you have something in common with somebody and that way you have a basis for interacting well with them.”

A: “You win!”

So if you guys could say one thing you like about Asheville and dislike about Asheville, what would you say and why?
J: “It’s in the mountains. We come from the flatland. Dislike about Asheville? A lot of people find it hard to find work and be supported here but that’s something to like about it, too. You sort of feel accepted. If you make it, it’s sort of like, you know, ‘Mama Asheville, she let me stay.’ You know, it’s sort of like a rite of passage to be here. But I think it’s a plus and a minus, sticking to it. Zip.”

A: “Wow. So I’ve been coming to Asheville for 11 years now. I’ve seen a lot of things change and something that I love about Asheville is its love of culture, cultural richness. It really loves to dig down to the arts, to creative energy, to doing things and to homesteading and to a sense of community. Something that, the 12 things balance, that might be something in the three-word process of describing myself because there is no light without shadow, right? I’ve seen Asheville become what happens when gentrification is a ‘successful’ thing.”

If it can be successful.
“You know, nobody wins. But I mean, you take a walk around here and notice the amount of candy shops and lovely things but inaccessible things. So, it’s now within the context of the people, the community, the pockets around here, there’s a lot available for people to access. But in terms of commerce, it’s not accessible and you see most folks that are living in lower-rent housing, it’s much harder for them to get into the city because lower-rent housing is falling away and the bus system is not there.”

No, it’s horrible.
“Yeah, so that’s definitely a problem I have with it and I’m watching it happen almost everywhere.”

The original version of this article was published in The Blue Banner.