Sunday, January 22, 2012

Lovers Found, Lost, Bought, and Sold

[A reader of this blog said, "It's all good but I want something juicy." I shall accommodate.]

The first lover to rock my world came to me when I was not ready to truly appreciate what I had. That happens to lots of boys I guess. My body wanted physical contact even if my emotions were not developed enough to understand what was happening. She had honey blond features and New York roots and I adored her. We spent our youth getting to know each other and I would make all efforts to steal quite minutes alone. She let me put my hands in places they had not yet been...and it felt good. But eventually her tone changed. I threw the occasional fit and the warmth faded. I told myself she was old news and not as "with it" as the newest candy to catch my eye. Over the years we managed to stay acquainted and even have the rare dalliance but the old magic was not to be found, for we no longer believed in such foolishness. I have not seen her in decades but I heard once that she is surrounded by loving family. Now, as an adult, I miss her dreadfully. I suppose I'm really just missing my own innocence.

 Later in my teens came my grand adventure with a black beauty. Oh my, was she a smooth and mellow number. And were the other fellas jealous? My, yes! The subtle line of her upper curves was enough to make me pop one of those little erections boy-puppies get when you scratch their tummies. My only complaint was, frankly, her size. There was just a little too much of her to move around and it made things awkward when the lights were low and time was of the essence. My skinny white fingers groping all over probably weren't appreciated anyway and we only stayed together for a brief time. But when it was good, it was very good, and I still hear some of our favorite songs now and then and wish I could pull up close like those days.

By the mid-80s, new wave was all the rave and the ladies took notice. Suddenly every school had gangs of Cindy Laupers, Pat Benetars, and Madonnas competing for male attention. I got caught up in the craze with my new fascination for parachute pants and the synth-pop of Howard Jones, the Thompson Twins, and Miami Vice. It wasn't long before I hooked up with the first of many Asian delights I found myself attracted to and we were all about the "new" look. I cut off the long hair, dabbed on my Polo cologne, and we hit the under-18 clubs every chance we could. We had a pretty good thing and often heard compliments like, "you are awesome together." It was all good until one day her parents introduced me to their younger and prettier creation. WOW! Suddenly my hot-thing couldn't compete with an even hotter sister. I'm probably going to hell for it, but I pulled off the switch.

We were slick, quick, and light on our feet. She was so petite I could carry her around for hours without tiring. With her in my hands, I learned some moves I never thought possible and even got some of it on VHS video that I still pull out of the closet to watch once in a while. One day when it was just the two of us alone, I got a little too wild and accidentally tossed her across the room and the vibe between us never worked the same. Eventually I couldn't get any response at all. The trust was gone.

I spent the next couple years sinking into the debauchery of nightclubs, cabarets, and private parties for those who wanted to swing. I'm embarrassed to say much about it now but I spent much of this time involved in various three-way relationships. Roles were clearly established and for a while it seemed like a dream come true. If one ever got moody and misbehaved, there was another to step up and get me through the night. Pretty good deal for a while but the maintenance issues were a drag. Keeping everybody humming along and looking good was proving to be pretty expensive. I started to long for the more conventional kind of company: traditional values and a strong self-identity. It took some time but I found what I needed.

This one was all about class: looked just as fine in an uptown restaurant  or corner pub, was equally at home with Miles or Bach, and was just the right size. And much to my surprise, I haven't done anything stupid to mess this one up. We've been together for years now and my eyes might wander now and again but I'm not letting this one go.

Now if I can just find the same luck with women.

My first love in 1967: an Estey piano built in New York


My Fender Rhodes black beauty, 1981

My first Asian synth, 1985
My new hottie in 1985 (the older sister is sulking behind me)
A three-way at sunset, 1991
My long-term commitment, 2010 and beyond

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Repetition

[When the going gets tough, the tough detach and write in the third person.]

He craved numbers. They allowed the illusion of subtle structure in a universe of random foofaraw. He knew better, but convinced himself anyway.
He was a professional pianist and, by some accounts, could have been a classical prodigy. But there was that unpleasantness at the age of twelve when he was scolded for tapping his foot while playing Beethoven. “Who wants to play music you can’t tap your foot to?” he asked his un-amused teacher. No, he was a jazz pianist. Here was his ultimate security. Here was his conclave. Here, the improvised notes only appear random to the untrained. But to him, it was the closest he could come to controlling the numbers, controlling the frequencies, controlling the neurons.
He arrived at his weekly gig and went through the checklist: enter the dining area with a shoulder pack full of music books; greet the employees with the friendly but detached smile (“I like you but we’ll never be very close”); open the piano lid and hope the guy from last night didn’t leave another disgusting cigar butt on the keys (all clear); turn down volume on cell phone and set it nearby so the clock would remind him to take a break after exactly fifty minutes; take books out of bag though he seldom used them; check over his song list to pick an opening tune (which always ends up being "Our Love Is Here to Stay" regardless); and, finally, seated at the piano with wearied posture, place fingers on the instrument to begin.
But this night the ritual was broken, though no one but him cared to notice. The bartender was busy looking at an attractive customer; the waitress was looking at the bartender wishing he would look at her that way; and the couple seated near the piano looked only at each other across wine glasses. On this singular evening, the pianist deviated from the norm as his fingers drifted away from the keys and returned to the shoulder bag. Empty of its heavy books, it flaccidly revealed a weathered photograph: a color-faded Polaroid never meant to last so many decades. With a left hand barely suggesting a hesitant quiver, he lifted the photo and placed it in sight next to the phone.

The first song began and he commenced his beautiful formulae. The ears in the room heard only the harmonically pleasing and technically impressive notes that fell from his seemingly effortless hands. But in his mind, the numbers churned and processed while seeking out purpose, order, and the perfect placement in series. The commentary flashed through his mind: “sevenths resolve down; leading tones resolve up; Lydian dominant sounds exotically bluesy; borrowed chords add a touch of melancholy, don’t overdo the chromatic scale ("the coward’s bitch"); develop a three-note cellular theme and slightly abstract it for each of two more occurrences ("not one, not three, TWO!"); employ a different turn-around progression at the end of each chorus even though they are all just bastard children of the immortal original; a smattering of Bud, a whisper of Wynton, a nod to Duke, and an outright theft of Nat before closing with “Ending Number 28” from Hyman’s big book of “101 Greatest Jazz Intros and Endings (with chords the real pros use!).” These and a thousand other numerical possibilities smashed through his brain until the song’s conclusion.


The polite applause is acknowledged with a slight head bow but no eye contact. (“I’m an artist. I don’t need your recognition. What, no tip in the jar on your way out? Asshole.”)

No one noticed when the pianist stole a few more glances than normal towards his phone. The song list consulted. A second tune chosen. The numbers swim and dodge and flutter. The process is continued. Repetition is comfort. Repetition is home.

At some point in the midst of a song, he thinks back to when he played for a while in an oldies rock band. Solo piano suits him better. He finds group dynamics confusing and the odd quirks of others hurt his brain. He specifically remembers Gabby—a great singer but so hard to figure out. There was the one gig in particular that always perplexed the pianist. On that night, Gabby was strangely subdued before the first set as he sucked a long drag from his Marlborough, prompting the polite question, “What’s up?” “Nothing,” answered Gabby. “My brother’s dying tonight. Family’s gonna O.D. ‘im on morphine.” After an uncomfortable pause, one word is added: “Aids.” That didn’t make any sense to the pianist. Aren’t people supposed to stay home when someone dies? How selfish. Aren’t there rules about that? Isn’t singing “Splish, splash, I was takin’ a bath,” while your brother takes his last breath just wrong?

Back in the restaurant, the songs continued. The evening played out. The calculations delivered their desired results. He was a jazz pianist. And he was methodically good. On this night, he closed with Monk’s “‘Round Midnight:” a beast of a tune but it allowed for the mathematically satisfying whole-tone scale, so the pianist was drawn to it. Coming out of the bridge in what would be the last chorus, his phone lit to a soft glow that caught his eye. The text message displayed only two words:

“He’s gone.”

The pianist returned to the task at hand and prepared a delicate cadence melded from several different recordings he had studied over the years. At the last moment he pulled his middle finger from the usual G and chose instead a G-flat. He let the final minor chord ring a touch longer than usual before releasing it into oblivion.

Then the ritual occurred in reverse: phone volume up; books (not ever used) back in the bag; and piano lid shut. That’s when the placement of the photo surprised him. It’s not normally there. Its existence was awkward. He picked it up and stared at the image: broad Teutonic nose, loud short-sleeved shirt, thick-rimmed black glasses like Brubeck used to wear, and a slight smile that appeared friendly enough but not quite present.

“Goodbye Dad,” said the pianist as he slid the photo into a pocket and walked towards the door.

And then, softly to himself, “Fuck you Gabby.”

Repetition is good. Repetition is life. Repetition is.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

More Than Six

[Quesadillas and serial rapists...just another day chasing gigs in San Diego]

          Kim Caldwell moved aside the greasy wrappers which minutes earlier contained her late-night dinner from Taco Bell. It was two in the morning and time for her to finally go to bed. Her Pacific Beach apartment was noisy, like all beach apartments in that San Diego suburb, but she nodded off soon enough. In the dim world of half-sleep, there was threatening sound coming from the window, a dark shadow where there should be none, and the sudden awareness that a masked figure was coming for her. The next hour was spent being raped at knifepoint by the man referred to locally as the “P.B. Rapist.” Kim realized she was in the throes of becoming victim number six to the serial assailant who had been in the headlines for several months. Although she keenly suffered the agony of each moment, Kim was able to accomplish something the first five had not—she saw opportunity to be the end of this man above her. She studied his eyes, his breathing, his speech, his carriage, and when finally free of his clutch, she treated her body as a crime scene not to be disturbed more than necessary. She would not become a number. She would become his ruin.
The area of San Diego known as Pacific Beach
***
            San Diego in the early 1990s was at the center of a growing musical movement in the United States. Tired of making miserable wages in the usual downtown jazz holes, many of the area musicians began playing music that blended the jazz improvisation they loved with the sensibility of the soul and funk music they grew up with. Being more akin to instrumental pop music than traditional jazz, this new genre quickly sprouted a healthy following. Being a year-round destination for tourists and corporate events, San Diego was especially well-suited for the new “smooth” jazz. Soon it seemed every hotel lounge, open-air shopping mall, city park, conference center ballroom, and upscale nightclub in the county featured live music sponsored by FM radio’s “Light’s Out” station, 92.7. Gigs were plentiful and for most of the local performers embracing this new fusion it was the first time they were able to make good money playing music they could still consider jazz.

            Smooth jazz became so commonplace that its practitioners soon needed to find new approaches to market their sound. Reggae music had recently been popular in the area with groups like the Cardiff Reefers, the Trevor James Band, and the Rough Boys filling the beach bars with the college crowd. Vocalist Kenneth Bogard, known simply as “Bogie,” saw the potential for combining the rhythms of Reggae music with the refined qualities of smooth jazz and eventually created a unique style of music with his band “Dr. Chico’s Island Sounds.” This group featured the unusual instrumentation of steel drums, guitar, a keyboardist who played chords and bass lines, drum set, and, instead of the typical saxophone in a jazz group, an electronic woodwind controller hooked up to a synthesizer. They became a San Diego mainstay and worked solidly every week. I saw them several times at some of the nicest venues in town and, being a musician primarily involved with the local blues scene, envied their popularity and remuneration.
Playing reggae with The Trevor James Band, 1989

           At the height of Dr. Chico’s popularity I got an unexpected phone call from their singer after he tracked down my number from a mutual friend. “Eh mon, my name is Bogie and I need a keyboardist for a few gigs. Are you interested?” I knew the hard truth—no one confused me with the top keyboardists in town. Guys like Rick Helzer and Shep Myers were a cut above my abilities but I did have a couple aces in the hole; I was young enough to still get better and I could play a wicked left-hand bass. Most keyboardists I knew felt playing bass lines was beneath them and flat out refused gigs where it was expected. Me, I grew up forever trying to musically impress my bass-playing older brother and found I could sometimes do it with left-hand prowess. Playing “key bass” while comping right-hand chords was a skill I became proud of and it eventually earned me thousands of dollars my peers were willing to leave on the table. But, even with my growing reputation for this nĂ­che, the voice on the phone, with a blended New York and Jamaican accent, caught me off guard. Not hearing an immediate response from me, Bogie continued, “My regular guy needs a couple weeks off for medical reasons so we need a sub for some gigs in Mission Valley.” I vaguely knew the keyboardist in question and hoped it was nothing serious. Months later I heard a rumor that penile enlargement was involved but I never put it to the test. If I could land the gig, even temporarily, with Island Sounds, my credibility among musicians in town would quickly rise so I tried to answer in a tone that sounded interested but not desperate. “Sounds fun.”

            A couple days later Bogie showed up at my place with a guitar case slung over his shoulder and holding a small amp. He wore a headband that highlighted his short but spikey blond hair (think lead vocalist of Loverboy singing “Everybody’s workin’ for the weekend”). His grin of slightly crooked teeth bordered on dopey but my first impression was to like the guy. I already respected him as a musician and was quickly drawn to his laid back style so what was not to like? We set up in my bedroom and played through a few tunes from his usual setlist. My ego would love to recall how we easily blended our styles and knew within the first chorus we had found a long-lost musical brother but it just didn’t happen. The syncopation he was used to just didn’t feel natural to me. I plodded roughly through our first rehearsal and within fifteen minutes knew there would not be a second. I started looking around the room pondering how to extract myself from the situation and was moments away from feigning excruciating gas pains when, in a moment of blissful co-understanding, Bogie asked, “You like Thai food?” Within minutes our gear was packed and we were headed over to the Copper Dragon on University Avenue.

            “You’ve got to try the lemon-grass chicken. It’s wicked good.” I took Bogie’s suggestion and also ordered a pot of green tea for us to share. This was working out after all. Even if we weren’t to become serious musical partners, at least we could cross paths in the future with no awkward moments pretending not to see each other. As he hungrily cut into his breast meat we chatted about the local music scene and he referred me to a percussionist friend named Biter who was looking for a keyboardist. After enjoying the rest of our conversation and meal, I took a final sip from the tea cup and we rose to say our goodbyes. He picked up the tab and I laid down a tip. We waved at one another with him pulling away in an undistinguished sedan and me on my Yamaha. Except for some upcoming appearances on local television I never saw the man again.
Around the time I had auditioned for “Dr. Chico”
***
            San Diego State University, usually called “State” by its 35,000 students, was one hell of a fun school back then. Playboy magazine rated it as the third-best party school in the nation which quickly gave rise to t-shirts and bumper stickers proclaiming, “#3 and Improving.” The riotous student life necessitated an active university police force that spent considerable hours patrolling the neighborhood parties sometimes attended by hundreds. The school cops were specifically on the hunt for a flasher who had been accosting lone females as they left parties. He had been nick-named “Zorro” due to the Lone Ranger-style mask used to cover his face. Eventually, one of these women thought she recognized Zorro as a popular San Diego singer but without more evidence the campus police could only watch and wait for the man they now suspected was Kenneth Bogard to make a mistake as the so-far harmless but annoying SDSU flasher.
Playing at one of many frat parties at SDSU in late 1980s

            Meanwhile, a seventh rape victim was in the news. The P.B. Rapist struck again except, instead of his usual ski mask, this time he wore a Zorro mask. At first the city police thought it might have been an inaccurate copy-cat but the SDSU cops thought differently and turned over a name from their pervert files. Using a ruse, police convinced Bogard to provide a saliva swab to clear him in a case he knew he had nothing to do with. Still a new forensic tool at the time, Bogie had not considered that one of his victims had the presence of mind to collect his DNA after he raped and terrified her. “Son of a BITCH,” I said out loud when I saw the news on TV how the police had arrested their number one suspect—the same guy I had shared a pleasant meal with only a month before. Eventually, Kim Caldwell’s evidence and brutally accurate court testimony was convincing enough to gain not only a guilty verdict but a ninety-six-year sentence for the P.B. Rapist, Kenneth Bogard.

Kim Caldwell testifying against Bogie
           About a year after the conviction I picked up Biter so we could share a ride to a gig playing in a musical theater pit band. I had followed up on Bogie’s recommendation and Biter and I had played several gigs together before this one came along. As we drove south on I-805 towards Chula Vista I turned on the radio to hear the top-of-the-hour local news. The announcer commented how Kim Caldwell was continuing the fight for rape-victim advocacy and would not allow herself to be a silent statistic. During the P.B. Rapist case she had fought hard to embarrass the city into creating a rape task force and now she was using her clout to further the rights of women often too afraid to speak out for themselves. I thought to myself, “How could anyone not be awestruck by this woman?” and was about to verbalize my thoughts when Biter vehemently interjected, “Fucking Kim Caldwell! I wish that bitch would just shut the fuck up and go away. I can’t believe what she’s done to Bogie.” I asked him to explain how any of this wasn’t Bogie’s own fault but his response was only a decrescendo of hate-filled muttering. The rest of our drive was spent with me in stunned silence. Biter’s views were, I hoped, not in the majority but I knew in my heart he wasn’t alone. There were others out there saying the same thing to those who would listen. After all, what was not to like about Bogie? He was a cool guy and sang in a cool band. So he had a problem with women—what man doesn’t? Can’t we just let the man serve out his time without further trashing his reputation?

That was the last gig ever I played with Biter. As for Bogie, he will be 82 years old before he can be considered for parole. Good riddance, “mon.”
Kenneth Bogard facing conviction


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Playing for the King

[All of this happened exactly as described...sort of]
“Good news guys, you got the gig opening for B.B.” We’d been hoping to hear that announcement for weeks and congratulated ourselves for beating out the other San Diego-based bands. It seemed the management at the Bacchanal nightclub finally realized we could outplay the competition. And why not? The drummer, Don, was always solid. A bit too easy to piss off but it never kept him from playing a strong backbeat. The bassist, also named Don, had great rhythm and the audiences always seemed amused by how he played with his mouth half open and jaw shoved off to the side like he was perpetually prepared to catch rain water. Our sax player was an ace mercenary in the local blues scene and wore the nickname “Johnny Fucking View” like a precious scar. He eventually left the group when he couldn’t put up with the bandleader anymore. That leader, Willie, was our guitarist/vocalist out of Texas which gave him instant credibility as a more authentic bluesman than the rest of us could ever be. He didn’t sing so great which, unfortunately, matched his guitar chops, but he had a certain style and charm about him; he could win over hearts with a wink and a smile before we laid down the first twelve bars. And then there was the keyboardist—me. I willingly fulfilled the stereotype as the trained musician who over thought most things and threw a snit if rehearsals started ten minutes late. That was us in 1989, the Willie Jaye Blues Band, and we were opening up for the greatest bluesman alive.
Me with the Willie Jaye Blues Band at Winston's in Ocean Beach, 1989
        
When word first spread that the Bacchanal would be booking the opening act for the B.B. King show all the local blues bands took note. We had yet to play that room so our manager quickly pulled some strings to get us the opening slot for a popular regional act, Coco Montoya. We did well enough that the club’s booking manager gave us our own headliner gig on an off night. For that show we worked our asses off to pull in all our regular crowd from the small bars we usually played: Winston’s, Patrick’s II, the Sunset Grill, McDougal’s Pub, Blind Melons, the Catamaran, Tuba Man’s, Ingrid’s Cantina, the Stadium Bar, and a few others that time has mercifully allowed me to forget. Besides our regulars were the girlfriends. There was the sugar-mama divorcee who took care of Willie and always brought a crowd of she-friends to admire her “special young man.” The bass player had his steady lady that dressed like a Stevie Nicks yard sale. I once seriously asked her if she and Don were witches and her response was, “Pretty much, yea, but Don prefers the term warlock.” Then, taking a hit off the reefer being passed around, casually added, “Let me know if you ever want a threesome.” Drummer-Don’s girlfriend was a lock to come. She made all our shows, got drunk and yelled at no one in particular how we were “so mush bedder ‘an Canned Heat.” With no steady girlfriend at the time, I did my best to encourage a crew of rowdies from my recent stay at San Diego State to make the show. They could usually be counted on to ring up an impressive bar tab. Through our combined efforts we managed to bring in a good-sized crowd that night and from the moment we were introduced as “kickin’ ass and takin’ names,” we swung hard for the fences. When the set was over and the crowd called out for more Willie turned to us with that sweet grin and said, “The gig with B.B. is ours, boys. Now let’s send ‘em home wet.” Then, loud enough for all to hear, “CHICAGO SHUFFLE, FAST FOUR, HOUSE KEY,  a ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR…” and man, we hit an A7 like we were the first ones to ever think of it. Loud and proud, baby.
At the Bacchanal around the time of the B.B. King gig, 1989

A couple days later our manager told us it was a done deal, the gig was ours. “Not much money,” he added, “but the house sound man will set us up with his best gear and we can even use the Hammond B-3 being brought in special for B.B.’s keyboardist.” For a broke, just-out-of-college kid like me this was huge. The B-3 organ is legendary and to that point I had only ever seen a couple and never gotten to play one. The thought of sitting in front of those dual manuals, foot pedals, and a console full of knobs and switches was comparable in my mind to flying a bomber loaded for action—devastating power at your fingertips. “Congrats,” said Johnny, “you’re gonna play the crap out of that thing, my brother.” I gave it a shot to cover up my thoughts of “damn right” with a twitchy smile. He knew.
            We refined our set over the next couple weeks at our regular gig in Ocean Beach. The bar owner was a complete junkie drunk who had long ago lost the ability to distinguish the scent of thin beer from the piss stains in the bathrooms he never cleaned but God, how he loved live music. If we caught him early in the night he often gave good advice on how to improve our show and keep the crowd excited enough to stick around and order more drinks. We’d thank him for taking an interest and then a few hours later see a disheveled waitress run crying from his office and be reminded of what a son-of-a-bitch he became by last call. For bands like ours that was our school. That was where we honed our trade. That gig and the hundreds before it were where we earned the right to play in front of the man named Blues Boy King.
B.B. with his guitar Lucille

            The night arrived—a sold out show. In our dressing room just before taking the stage, drummer-Don, already a six-pack in, got annoyed by something forgettable and told our manager to screw himself—everything seemed right on schedule. We came out to bright lights and a steamy, cheering crowd. I saw hundreds of unknown faces mixed with a handful of familiar ones: crossed-armed guitarists in the front row with their “you ain’t so hot” stares; the girlfriends at the tables just off to the side trying not to look too obvious in their new black boots; dudes I knew from the beach bars grudgingly handing over cash for overpriced beer; single chicks in spaghetti-stringed halter tops I’d have zero chances to lay, and one or two I never should have laid in the first place. A great crowd, an absolutely perfect crowd, and we set out to dominate every soul in the room or sweat to death trying.
            Some of the night is forever lost to me but amid memories of avid yells and piercing whistles I have a misty sense that I never played better. In the daze of light and sound I became drenched in each brief embrace of the music as its storming pulse tore through me before casting itself over the room. For a brief moment I rose above the stage to look down on my svelte, long-haired and not-yet bald self as I slayed the beast in front of me one conquering riff at a time. With an arsenal of tremolos, flatted fifths, crushed thirds, and rotating Leslie horns I plunged into the great musical abyss to be ultimately rewarded by the sweetest of all gifts offered by the blues gods—a moment of pure bliss, purpose, and power. I lingered as long as I could—and then it was over. I blinked—and was mortal again.
Playing the blues in 1989

            The evening continued with uncounted free beers, congratulatory back slaps, and suggestive cheek kisses. And later, the grandest handshake of them all—“Good job,” B.B. told me as he engulfed my hand in his sausage-sized fingers. As I stood attempting to mutter some form of appreciation he moved on towards the tour bus where his beloved Lucille patiently waited to be driven to the next town. I finished out the night with friends and booze, enjoying the company of both and yet occasionally slipping off to ponder what that singular and slightly terrifying moment of clarity had done to me. Would I ever know that feeling again? Should I ever try? Did I truly play so beyond my earthly abilities?
In good company after the show, 1989

            Weeks later I took a day away from my usual scene and went to lie on the sand at Mission Beach. I spread out my towel and soaked in the sun while pink-skinned tourists carefully worked their way along the crowded boardwalk behind me. I found myself watching a pair of cops on mountain bikes hassle some shirtless locals about their open containers when a voice next to me said, “Hey, buddy.” I squinted in the brightness to see a scrappy-haired man with cobra tats up his freckled arms and smoking a cheap-smelling cigarette. I prepared myself for the usual variation on “Could you spot me some change so I can catch the bus back to where my car broke down?” but instead heard a very different question.
The boardwalk at Mission Beach, CA
“Didn’t you play keyboards for the B.B. King show?” Before I could respond he continued, “Yea, I thought so. I’m the sound man who ran the mixing board that night.” Starting to recognize him I said, “Right. You did a great job making us sound good. Thanks.” He took a final, deep drag off his smoke before flicking the butt away, nodded his head and said, “Well, it was pretty clever the way you guys landed that gig. By the way, did anyone give you a recording of your set?” This was before the days of cell phones and hand-held digital recorders so having a decent recording of a live gig was a sought-after rarity but I ignored the question. I was much more aroused by the flippant way he seemed to think I was in on some sort of deception. “What do you mean?” I asked. “We fought hard to earn that gig just like everyone else and came out on top.” “Well I suppose,” he replied, “but your manager offering to rent the Hammond, pay for its delivery and everything…saved the club a bundle. None of the other bands thought of that. So listen,” he continued, “I ran a mix of the whole show onto my personal recording deck. Would you like a copy so you can hear for yourself how you sounded that night?” I turned towards the surf line and noticed a young boy scrambling after a ball only to stumble to the sand as the gray-blue water eased up around his legs. His face looked perplexed as if he hadn’t decided yet how to feel about the fall. A woman rushed to pick him up, and seeing her he quickly made up his mind to cry. I sucked in the brittle air and put my sunglasses on. “No thanks,” I said.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Wednesdays With Mrs. Pervus

[My take on my first piano lesson. I'm sure it happened exactly this way.]


“I won’t tell you again, now GET IN THE CAR!” At the time I heard this command I was an eight-year-old boy on the receiving end of his mother’s scowl. All my delaying tactics had failed. It was now inevitable. I was going for my first piano lesson and was not happy about it. I’d heard the stories from other boys at school: knuckles rapped with rulers; having to wear a tie and stiff shoes at recitals; and the fate worse than death—being forced to play duets with silly girls covered in poofy dresses. Mom now had me in her clutches and as she strapped me in the family Ford Pinto I prepared for what was sure to be the worst day of my life.

As we pulled into the driveway of our destination the previous hour’s hapless victim was walking out to a waiting car. The grin on his face didn’t fool me for an instant. It had to be a clever ruse to hide the horrors of what was surely inflicted upon him every week. I walked to the door to be greeted by a thin, charcoal-eyed, colorful shirt-wearing woman that was older than Mom but younger than Grandma. She smiled, pat me on the head, and complimented my manners—I hated her already. As I entered the living room I faced immediate and thorough inspection by a succession of four dogs, each bigger than the previous. Being found clean of explosives I was allowed to proceed to the piano bench.

In an obvious attempt to lull me into her web of musical torture I was told to, “Be a dear and play a little something.” With one eye on my antagonist, one on the keys, and two feet dangling, I began to play the only song I knew:

Mar-y had a lit-tle “oops,” lit-tle “darn it,” lit-“fudge” lamb
Mar-y “rats” a “doh”-tle lamb, her “grrr” was white as “arrrgh” snow
 That was the best I’d ever played that song! “Not bad,” I thought, “Any intelligent adult will certainly realize I don’t need lessons when I have already mastered all the nuances of Mary and her Lamb.” I proudly turned to Mom for confirmation but instead found her digging a checkbook from her purse as she said, “I suppose we’d better pay for the whole month up front.”

The next four years I spent 30 minutes nearly every Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. with Mrs. Pervus and her four dogs. Some days her 5 p.m. victim might have even seen me walk out to the car with a slight grin on my face.