Johnny Avant Garde - Inspired by the art of Kayt Hester

from by Shayfer James



Kayt Hester:

"March of Crows" is an interdisciplinary collaborative project devised by singer-songwriter Shayfer James. The first "March Of Crows" is collaboration between Shayfer, 16 visual artists, 3 Poets, a director, a Choreographer a lighting designer, and videographer. All based out of Jersey City.

The process begins with visual art. Shayfer has written 16 songs using the work of local artists as prompt. The task was to not only communicate the art through words, but also by incorporating different styles and textures to capture the life of the work.


There was a fellow
Who showed up once a week
At that brothel down on 9th and Erie street
The ladies called him Johnny Avant-garde
Cause he’d pay them each a grand
To watch them play a hand of cards
They didn’t know his name and they never asked
But he always brought his cat and wore a mask
He tore the filters from his Camel cigarettes
But he never touched the girls, or placed a bet

See the brothel it was called the “Golden Door”
Cause they had everything you wanted there and more
The madam opened shop in ‘81
To feed her hungry veins and her bastard of a son
That boy left home when he was seventeen
He left a note that read “dear mama, please get clean"
Every day she hoped that he might come around
But she never put that dirty needle down

The Door was known for legendary girls
And the clients came from all around the world
Some of the requests were rather odd
But none of them so strange as Johnny Avant-garde
One Tuesday he came in about half past eight
And he told the girls he’d like to raise the stakes
He would play against the madam for a sum
He’d give her half a million dollars if she won
But the catch was if she drew a losing hand
She’d give the deed, the keys, and business to the man She agreed without flutter of an eye
Just think of all the junk a half-a-mill could buy
So the ladies gathered round to watch them play
It wasn’t long before she gave the place away
But Johnny was an honorable man
So he handed her a letter with a plan
He would give her back the brothel plus the cash
If she handed him her needles and her stash
And he’d lock her in her bedroom for a week
Until that dragon had forgotten how to speak

So the madam she agreed to seven days
and Johnny sent the other girls along with pay
Then he sat outside the bedroom with his cat
In the hall he’d tried for decades
to remember and forget
See the madam only knew him for the mask
But this was the boy she’d beaten in the past
Through the door he heard her
Scream and scratch the walls
And he thought “life it makes an addict of us all”

Now he made sure she was fed and had a bath
After all this wasn’t rehab prison camp
On the seventh day he bought a fancy dress
A gift for going through all that horrible distress
He dreamed he'd open up that door and show his face
She would smile and they would finally embrace
But he turned that rusty key and went inside
And Johnny found his mamma dear had died

No one heard from Johnny after that
But he left behind the mask, the keys, and cat
But the ladies kept his mama’s dream alive
And every week a hundred other Johns arrive


from March of Crows: Jersey City, released April 6, 2016
Written, performed, recorded, mixed and mastered by Shayfer James
Guitar: Gabe Perry



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