Friday, January 13, 2006

Piano Man

We saw this guy play a little while back at the Circle Bar. It was alternately beautiful, hilarious, and disturbing. He was an old, white R & B cat from New Orleans’s musical hey-day (I won’t name names – one of the many things he told us that night was that he had recently figured out how to use Google), who had slipped into obscurity for many decades and only recently returned to the stage under the guidance of some local music enthusiasts.

He performed solo, singing and accompanying himself on a big, cheesy electric piano. His voice had roughened over the years, but you could tell that it had once been beautiful, and he put every ounce of feeling he had into it.

Then he would talk. Each two-minute song would be preceded by a seven to ten minute monologue, delivered in his thick Mississippi accent. He was incredibly funny, sometimes intentionally, sometimes otherwise. He talked about who had performed on the tracks: the late so-and-so on saxophone, the late, great so-and-so on drums, so-and-so on guitar, “well he’s still with us but recently suffered a massive coronary, bless his heart…”, and the backup singers, “What were they called? The Sugar Lumps or something like that. I can’t rightly remember…” He talked about racial harmony: “Ernie K-Doe and me, we were both born in Charity hospital. He would say to me ‘You’re bonafide and I’m naugahyde, but man, we’re all brothers.’” He talked about the rebirth of New Orleans. He talked about love, heartache, and death, all in near-Biblical terms (at some point we learned that he was Pentecostal). Sometimes, mid-sentence, he would forget what he was saying, laugh, and then launch into an entirely new topic.

Late in the set he introduced a “Christmas song”, preceded once again by a lengthy and confusing introduction about nothing in particular. It suddenly switched gears, “and to every family who has known the pain of losing a child, be she five or fifteen, a child who has been abducted, raped and strangled, my heart goes out to them, for my family has known that pain. I would like to dedicate this song to the memory of my granddaughter.” He played her song (I'm forced to admit it was awful). Everyone sat in absolute, uncomfortable silence. It never mentioned Christmas.

The set finished with a couple of upbeat numbers, and then we headed to the door, not exactly sure what we had just seen, not quite sure if we had enjoyed it, but unified in the conviction that it was definitely something and that we were glad to have seen it.

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