Read an extract

The Heart of the World by Nik Cohn

Read an extract from veteran rock journalist, Nik Cohn's The Heart of the World, a unique account of travelling the length of Broadway

At the corner of Broadway and Canal, a sheet of stray paper snagged my trouser leg and would not let go. On it I read a life history, neatly typed in single spacing: "Well this is the story of a young girl by the name of Carmen Venus Colon, she’s 8 years old, very pretty living with her mother her name is Felicidad, brother his name is Hector, and mother’s boyfriend Charlie.

"This is the year of 1981, this young girl is very trouble. This is a real life story, this is very emotional, this may have been your own life story, but this is an ordeal for a young girl that wants to be the best that she can be, but she had to go through all the obsticles that got in her way.

"So please enjoy the book.’"

It was early January. The morning was bright but bitter cold, far too cold to stand reading life stories on Broadway street corners. So I tucked the page into my overcoat pocket, took shelter inside the Plum Blossom, and called for duck soup.

While I waited, I locked myself in the bathroom and took out Carmen’s story, spread it flat across my knees. "This all started in the Bronx, NY. Well I guess I use to be a good student but after I was seperated from my big brother Hector I was always in my own little world. Well I guess you can always say every kid was in their own little world but I was different, I was the real weird one. I loved my mother alot and also her boyfriend Charlie, the best friend and boyfriend in the world, but I was constantly beat on. I didn’t know what I did wrong, it seemed to make no differents. Then by the age of 9 also I was sex molested by Charlie. This really had me in the dumps. But after awhile I got use to it. I mean love comes in all shapes and sizes, you just take it as it comes."

Sasha Zim was the very man. He drove a Checker cab by day, played drums at night, and he was in love with streets, all streets, but Broadway above all streets


There the manuscript ended.

When I came out into the restaurant again, my soup was waiting on the table but some other man was drinking it, and this man was Sasha Zim.

Alexei Alexandrovich had sent him. If I meant to walk all the way up Broadway and live to tell the tale, he’d said, I would need a guide and minder, and Sasha Zim was the very man. He drove a Checker cab by day, played drums at night, and he was in love with streets, all streets, but Broadway above all streets. "So where do I find him?" I’d asked.

"In my bath. With his drums," said Alexei. "They’ve been sleeping there for weeks."

Neck-deep in my soup, he looked about twenty, a loose-limbed and gangling sort, big-boned and reddish blond, with a tangled mop of hair spilling out from under a cheese-cutter cap. "I am sorry abusing your duck but I am tired, very starving," he said. "In my taxi, crazyman goes crazy, declaims he is Trebitsch Lincoln, Abbot of Shanghai, master spy, second coming of John Baptist, and I have to take him to Turkish bath, steam away sins for all mankind. Oh, brudder. Turkish bath is closing during AIDS, so now I have to take him to bar, drink away sins for all mankind. Bar he is in Passaic, New Jersey." He wiped his lips; he shook himself.

"So when do we Broadway?" he asked.

"Any time you’re ready."

More about the author

The Heart Of The World

Nik Cohn

Nik Cohn had planned a trip around the world, but when a friend told him that Broadway is 'the world within itself', he started walking up the Great White Way, from Battery Park to Times Square. Escorted by a drum-playing Russian taxi driver, fuelled by duck soup and whiskey and sleeping in crackhouse hotels, Cohn encountered pickpockets, dancers, old magicians, disgraced politicians, epic storytellers, part-time messiahs, and an unforgettable transvestite called Lush Life. Hallucinogenic history, rogues' gallery, personal odyssey, this extraordinary saga is also an extended love letter to a dream of New York now lost.

Related features