The wind makes
until it wraps itself in the leaves
of the trees.
And that sound is just
until it makes someone
(kb from ‘Jenny’, 1999)
Without saying as much, we knew that we didn’t want to take it any higher yet. So after a while we unhooked the trio and let Mcshane know that we’d heard him, loved him, and now it was time to move on, because life’s just like that. Out of the corner of my eye I could see that Tony had stood up and was moving, swaying rather than dancing, eyes closed and grooving. Back in the day that’d be bourbon or h slowly killing the singer while the people paid big money to watch ‘em die. An entire industry was born out of that criminal waste of human life. Two centuries of business experience pleaded youthful innocence while they knowingly fed artist after artist to their own demons. In their blissful ignorance some folks still thought those were the good old days. Nothing but bullshit. No, if it’s got to be a choice between alcoholic meltdown and art, I know what I choose. Death ain’t art. No how, no way. To believe it is, that’s a sickness in itself. No, when she worked Tony ran clean, always had. And now she was takin’ it in, running it over her mind, waiting for an invitation.
Then it came. Mcshane brought us back down, we settled, and finally he stood back exactly where he’d started, one note, jangly and dissonant, feedback only, back before the end of the world. I felt the space coming, closed my eyes and leaned back. If it was just me it’d be texture. If the guys felt it too then we’d hit it together. And that was exactly what happened. There. The door in. We all held the space and waited for a heartbeat. The lady didn’t need asking twice.
In that moment of silence you heard her breathe in, and the whole room held its breath. Tony would do that to you. She’d sigh, and everybody in the room would feel exactly the way she felt. That was her art. And that voice.
“She’s nothin’ but gone…”
The words sliced into me, hard and clean. But this wasn’t about me. I had no idea what she was up to, but I was damned if I was gonna let my friend work with anything less than my best. So I put it away and served it hot, Waits opened it up beside me and made it easier. I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather have standing there in that moment. I hoped he knew. We played it quiet and intense, let the voice set the scene.
The whole night was like that. We were all wide open and listening hard. Listening with your heart. It’s a tough place to be for so long. It feels so natural. And so naked. Like someone could reach in and cut out who you are and what you believe, leave you never able to hear like that again. But this night was about trust. And not about losing it. These people were too good, I wasn’t going to let them down. So we kept listening.
At one point deep into the night I realised I’d been staring at the crowd for a while, but hadn’t seen anything, I was so locked into the sound. I came to and turned to check in with Tony to see if she wanted the turnaround one more time. As I moved my mind caught more than my eyes, I almost stumbled as I tried to make sense of what I’d seen while keeping the groove. I didn’t have time to register much before I locked it with Tony. Her face told me she’d noticed a while ago, and was gently amused at watching me wake up. Seems our friend Archer was back.
Funny how much that mattered.
We kept at it. One long song, miles of difference from where we started. And yet. And yet. There is only one song. I guess that’s the truth. We were well over three hours in, probably could’ve kept going, but it was starting to feel like we’d said everything there was to say for the moment. Time to take it home. Mcshane was playing mister wonderful like only he could. I looked at Tony and made like I was asking the question. She nodded. I threw it to Waits and he picked it up. Killer was on it immediately. So now the game was to let Tony decide whether she wanted to finish it or leave it to the band. Suddenly it was out of our hands. Wonder boy hit a note hard and long, and held it, and held it some more. Then he threw it over his shoulder. “C’mon girl!” He was setting it up for her to take it. Decision made. We brought it around again and Tony matched his note, seemed like forever. Then she took us through one more round.
“And she said nothin’!” We rose up to feel it with her. This was where we’d been heading all night. Time to tell ‘em why we’re here.
“But in her eyes you could see…” I wasn’t hearing the words, only the meaning. Play to that, the rest would come. We hit it once. Two more lines. There, that felt like an ending. I tossed it over to Mcshane, he was standing in the space waiting. He wailed and brought us in again. We were all behind Tony but I could feel her pick up on the thought. Drums and bass worked it onetime while I held the groove. Mcshane again, this time in harmony with that beautiful voice. Finally the whole band last time, one bar. Then stop. Wait for it. Leave her space. No, not yet. Trust. Then she took it.
“Only love!” she said it, rather than sing. Quiet enough you could hear your heart beat over top, but you didn’t dare breathe for fear of blowing it away.
I went to play a final chord, but somehow I just couldn’t, it didn’t seem right. I looked up, Mcshane was already walking away. Waits hung out a moment to be sure, then unstrapped his bass and moved offstage. I set down my guitar and made off just behind Killer. Tony was still out there hanging over the mic. It would take her a minute to come down, but she’d be along soon enough. The whole house was on their feet and yelling and stomping like you’d never heard. Slowly we made our way back to the stage. I touched Tony’s shoulder gently. She looked up and I noticed she was crying. Come to think of it so was I.
We all took a bow. Then another. The noise just didn’t stop. Finally we left the stage. And still they roared. Later someone told me they’d kept at it for ten minutes. All I knew was somehow we’d made it.
And there was no way we were doing an encore.
I’d set up a sound that had way more nasty in it than my normal. And a bit louder than my usual spot, too. Wasn’t really thinking about it, but I guess I wanted the rhythm to be a little more up front tonight. I could still haul it back easy enough, but we were starting with more edge than I’d usually supply. I could feel Waits shift his tone around to make sense with mine. As usual with him there was no dialling or stomping pedals, it was all in the fingers. Man was amazing. As usual. We played it around twice more to settle it in. It might not be a killer dance groove, but it sure made heads move in time. Let’s stay here for a while, we’ve got all night.
Mcshane’s note had started to make some kind of twisted sense. At first I wondered how he’d held it for so long, thinking maybe he’d set up some kind of recorded loop. But no, like always he was riding bareback, nothing extra between him and his amp. When I could spare a thought I noticed he was standing in an odd position, his back to the people, facing his amp, but not too close. Then I got it. Oh man, he’s playing with feedback. He had hit the note and then stepped just close enough to his amp that his guitar began to resonate to the sound coming off the amp, which set off more guitar ringing, which set off more amp, and still more guitar. It was a loop that could get out of control and scary loud in a heartbeat, trashing everything we’d built so far. Took a lot of control to hold it right there. And he did. His amp had to be absolutely cranked to pull that off. The man was serious. I would have expected that sort of thing later in the night. Much later. But if that was where we were starting, this was going to be some time.
We rolled it around again, giving our man the volume he had to have from the rest of us so his note made sense. He felt the support and leaned in, moving the note from jangly dissonance to something rock solid and on the money. Then he turned away ever so slightly and the note changed colour, the low part was still there, but now there was a sheen that came out, first barely audible, then firm, and finally ringing over everything, taking on distortion as it grew, and you knew this is exactly what the end of the world would sound like. Then just in that moment when you thought it was all going to come crashing down he pulled it out and sent us into a long blistering note of melody, then another. And another. Not fast, only slow and purposeful. Inevitable. Man had something to say, and he was gonna say it. And you were gonna hear it. So listen up.
We stayed in that mode for a while. The groove evolved, but always the same. When buddy has something to say I want to make sure he has the space to say it. I turned towards the drums, Waits did the same, we were gonna hold this place for a while so it was time to make it rock solid. The three of us watched one another move to make the sounds, and moved to the sounds we made ourselves. It locked, hard. And wonder boy made with the miraculous over top. There was no hurry. So we stayed there for a lifetime. Let my man tell the tale.
I took in the scene as I made my way over. Waits, Mcshane, Killer, Tony. All present and accounted for. And everyone cheerful but already starting to focus on the work ahead. Yeah, this was sure gonna be an interesting night. I couldn’t help but grin at the thought. I gave the shoutout, “I hear you guys could use a decent guitar player.”
“Yeah, know where we can find one?” Killer gave the traditional response. Wasn’t exactly a lodge handshake, but it would do. I sat down at the far side of the table to give the man enough room to work. Always bad news to crowd a drummer.
Waits smiled in my direction, “You in shape enough for this old man?” He was exactly a year younger than me but could pass for twentysomething. We all knew, but I wasn’t gonna be the one to say it out loud.
“Look to yourself, kidstuff.” I threw him the finger of admonition that comes naturally when you hit a certain age. Come to think of it, that’d been a while ago. “Tonight’s a long haul, junior. And ain’t no one here been haulin’ it longer than me. I’d be more worried about the bright lights if I was you, they’ll be the ones standin’ in front.”
Tony looked cool, already getting her head in gig mode, she just shook her head. No worries there. Mcshane shrugged, “We don’t have to burn heavy all night. You guys just keep the heat on, when the moment comes we’ll know it. Just gotta have something to say.”
That was the thing about Mcshane, a man of few words, but he always had something he could say if he wanted to. And when he did you wanted to pay attention. Man was an incredible talent. Good thing he was so nice or he would have been insufferable.
We kept up the jive talk for a while, but the spaces got longer and deeper. I’d never seen this bunch more into the zone. We cabled up and checked it in silence aside from what needed to be said for tech. In some circles the vibe would’ve been read as sullen anger. It was so very cool to know this was all about being ready to do this thing we’d decided to do.
It had started off as a goofy thought that evolved into a dare, then it sat there as a real artistic thing, staring us down. “Yeah, I think I could keep a whole night going.” It had been Tony who was brave enough to admit it first. It would be. “As long as I had enough time to catch my thoughts once in a while.”
“No, count me out.” Josie shook her head. “That sounds way too much like hard work for its own sake. I’m not into that. I’ll come listen though. It’d be neat to hear someone work it out for a whole night.”
Eventually it had come down to the five of us. I really had no idea how it was going to go, what roads we’d run, or whether I’d still be standing by the end. But this was about trust. Trust the players. Trust the process. “Trust yourself.” I hadn’t realised I’d said it out loud.
“I do.” said Tony. I didn’t know whether she was talking about me or her. I didn’t ask. Was good to hear, though.
We’d set it up and had things pretty comfortable. I took a look around the joint. Good house. I guess word had gone around. And a lot more musicians there than you’d usually see on a working night. Funny though, I didn’t get the sense they were looking for the crash and burn. I caught eyes and nodded a couple of ways. No, felt more like brothers and sisters coming down to see what was possible. I didn’t want to think about that too much. I know what I’m doing on a guitar, fair enough. But don’t make me represent the whole tribe. There are tons of way better players than me. More than a few of them were in the house that night. Then again, I was the one standing there at the downbeat. I let the thought go. Thinking would come later.
We hadn’t planned anything. But for some reason we found ourselves making a ragged, funky circle, facing one another, ignoring the world outside. There would be time enough for them. No one said a word but we all looked around and checked in. Tony went head down, looking for all the world like she was praying. Then she came back up and showed us she was smiling wide. One by one we all caught it. She was right, if we weren’t gonna enjoy this there was no sense doin’ it. Woman is so wise.
“Alright.” I said, “Who wants to play?” I had my loopiest grin on, just couldn’t help myself. Waits was strapped into his bass, he laughed and grabbed hold of Killer’s attention. Three notes, slow and steady, by the time he hit four my man had caught on and drums echoed the figure onetime. Mcshane grabbed a note out of thin air, didn’t seem to make sense at first, but I knew better than to ask questions, so I hit up the space between with a rolling three-beat call. We worked it for a few bars, and it settled into a thing, almost blue, groovy yes, but we could stay here for a while. No worries. Tony walked over to the edge of the stage and sat down, very much present and attentive, but making it obvious she was gonna give us the space to let us walk for a bit. So we did.
for poetry is not the words
for life is
one who writes
You see I tripped across the reminder that when it was first invented existentialism became a huge fad in the popular press which led philosophers to accuse the papers of getting it all wrong sacrificing meaning for the sake of business and here’s me thinking I’ll bet the reply was if the scholarly crowd wanted existential accuracy maybe they should go peddle their own Camus.
We had a pretty solid crew that night. The lovely and talented wonder boy Mcshane on guitar, Waits playing bass, that’d be me holding down the rhythm on the backline, we’d managed to convince the good Doctor T to haul his leslie down so we’d have that classic piece of rotating joy with him playing the organ, and you couldn’t ask for anyone better than Josie to be working the kit woman could rock hard and stop on a dime. Most wondrous of all sitting in on sax we had Mister Bill Lennie, Leonard to his friends. He’d been on the road for a long stretch, finally got time off for good behaviour bought a house and settled down. A lifetime playing because he had to to pay the bills, “and now I play when I want to.” Which was most of the time, but every musician I knew understood the difference.
Oh yeah this was gonna be some fun.
It took a while to get everyone set up with enough room to work, but this was a cheerful bunch so eventually it sorted out, with much laughter in the meantime. There was a buzz in the room no question. I nodded to Josie. Always thought it was a good thing she liked me, otherwise she’d have me for breakfast.
She grinned. “Haven’t seen you in a while, you ever learn how to play that thing?”
“Just as bad as ever. Happily they let me stand back here with the real musicians, so everyone thinks I know what I’m doing.”
“Your secret is safe with me.”
I laughed and turned to my amp, dialled in a sound, mellow and round, with just a hint of bite, there’d be time to step it out later, and checked in with the rest of gang. Mcshane was ready to crank the guitar on demand, but for now our man of infinite solos was hanging out with the rest of us workin’ stiffs on the backline. For the moment we weren’t looking to the singer neither, she was off the side and ready. No, it was up to the divine Mister B to set the tone. And he didn’t disappoint. The man waited for us to pay attention, took one slow turn around the stage, finally came to stand in the centre facing us with his back to the crowd, closed his eyes for a second. Nobody moved. Felt like forever. Then it came.
“Three shots, hit me!” Bam. Bam. Bam. Ain’t nothin’ like a whole band whackin’ you upside the head to get your full attention. Leonard played a mean sax, and like tenors throughout history he made you sit up and take notice from the word. And the word was wail. We set up a tight groove, red hot and rolling, and the man whipped around and rocked the joint. Two bars in and the people were howling with delight. We’re on the move, let’s open ‘er up and see what she’ll do. This was not gonna be an easy night, nope, long and hard, but worth every minute.
Leonard ran us through the changes twice to set the tone. Then like a true gentleman he made perfect space for Tony and that amazing voice stepped into place, effortless and right on time. “What you want?” The focus was on the vocals, where it belonged for now, the man went and stood beside Mcshane so they could do the horn shots together. “What you need?” Sax, guitar and organ answered two times. “What you want?” Two more hits and we tightened up the groove even more, impossible not to move the crowd started jumping. “Tell me!” Sax hit it hard and wailed in the space, seamless and everyone into the shots again, two times. We took it around the turn and rode it head down and rockin’, then came the payoff. “What you need?” Full stop, everybody, no count.
“Respect, yeah!!” The people roared and we took off at full throttle. Let there be freakin’ light.
It just wasn’t possible but somehow we kept that energy going for what seemed like forever, maybe more. Hot grooves, wailing sax, righteous sounds. It was a wild night. Leonard and Tony pushing one another harder and higher. And just when you thought there’d be a break so you could breathe Mcshane would step up to the plate and send out a solo make you scream with joy. I remember looking up at one point seeing a houseful of happy moving to a groove supplied by a bandful of some of the finest people I’d ever had the privilege of playing with. Yeah, I thought, I could die now and be content.
But first, maybe just a couple more tunes.
art is nothing but the future calling
history is nothing but the past declaiming
today is nothing but the present
(kb summer 2002)
Intermezzo andante teneramente
Amy was mostly sky blue. Especially when she laughed. And she laughed often enough that you knew it was part of how she saw. Joy to share. Sky blue.
One long line of laughter and he was gone. Nothing else but to write it down. Nothing else.
Problem was, in the writing it down, it stopped wandering. And she went tired of the adulation. A couple of weeks later he was out. Vagrant.
“I’m sure that sign said Waverly.”
“We’re nowhere near anything called Waverly.”
“Coulda been a sign.”
“Coulda been a cow.”
“They’re doing amazing things with genetics nowadays.”
“Point.” then, “never did tell me a story.”
No. Never did. “We’re almost there.”
“You said that an hour ago.”
“Was also true an hour ago.”
“We’re that lost?”
“Hard to believe.”
“I thought you were from around here.”
“No one’s from around here in a fog like this.”
“Should we call someone?”
“No service out here. Besides, what’re we going to say? ‘We don’t know where we are, and we can’t see anything around us. Can you help?’ ”
“Point.” then, “so I take it we’re not there yet?”
“There is the one place I can say with some authority that we are not.”
And that’s the story really, the one that wraps the others up in one long line of listening. And when it’s done, there will be no more tales to tell, no chord, no pulse.
But until then, there would be stories worth singing.
|Copyright © 2009-2010 Leaving Home, Coming Home - All Rights Reserved|