Friday, August 22, 2008
When I was right in the middle of the maelstrom of "Hungarimania" (more of a manifestation of my own twisted mind than what was actually any type of reality), every once in awhile, I would receive that little tidbit of validation that would keep me motivated to work 23 hours a day to maintain a 12 piece greasy soul orchestra and a blossoming independent record company. This is an example of one of the larger points of validation in my life, one that would be sorely mischaracterized as a "tidbit".
A little preamble:
As anyone who is in the business of selling records (especially little indies) there is a cycle of inception, production, and most labor intensive, the marketing cycle.
I had just released our double disc set, "LIVE" at Styleen's. All the initial radio packages had gone out (over 4,000 packages world wide), and it was imperative to stay by the phone and computer to solidify relationships with programmers and independent D.J.'s, either by following up or receiving calls as they came in (I set up an 800 number so they could talk to me on my own dime….ended up being a lot of dimes)….
But during this time, the Hungarians were also maintaining a pretty solid schedule of performances…on the particular night in question, we were playing a club in Rochester, NY called "The Creek", a pretty well known routing venue for national acts. We always did very well there, and this night was no exception, as the band was building a big head of publicity steam behind the new record.
As we were doing our patented mass levitation thing, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band (who had played a concert that night in town) walked in, and dug the band so much, they crashed the stage and jammed with us until closing time…. and the liquor was flowing quite freely…by the time I got in my battered Nissan truck to make the long drive to Syracuse…well lets just say driving wasn't an option. I slept for a couple of hours in the parking lot.
I will say that having real musicians from New Orleans grooving on the band put me on top of the world, albeit with questionable drunken equilibrium….and that was adrenaline producing enough for me to eventually make the drive home.
When I got there at around 7am, deader than the proverbial doorknob (drunker than the proverbial doorknob is more like it) I crawled into bed with my sweetie, Styleen. We were both working very hard long hours, and we had to steal our moments when moments became available….this was one of the rare ones.
So at the moment she straddled me and slipped me inside her, of course the phone rang.
"If you pick that thing up, you're a dead man", she hissed.
Now any man rooted in reality would have just let the damn thing ring…but if any devotee of things Little Georgie knows, one thing I'm not is rooted in reality…. especially in a manic phase of selling records. It was my radio cycle; all the DJ's that play independent music do so on public radio on Saturdays and Sundays…. I had to answer the phone.
Now if this moment couldn't get any more surreal, on the bedside table next to the phone was the recently published autobiography of Jerry Wexler, one of my music heroes…and as I snatched the receiver with one hand and assured Styleen that I would lose the call ASAP (Don't move!) I heard a crusty old guy yelling at the other end of the line yelling in a New Yorkeese accent, "Georgie? Georgie, is that you?"
"Who is this?"
"It's me….Jerry…Jerry Wexler!"
I thought it was one of my buddies pulling my leg.
"Yeah, and I'm fucking Ahmet Ertegun…who is this?"
"No really, it's Jerry Wexler…I wanna talk about your records"
And that my friends, was a start of one of the most amazing conversations I've ever had, with a true master craftsman of all the music that I truly love.
I forgot that I had hijacked the master contact list of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation's Board members, and had sent packages to that entire database, including Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, and Mister Wexler....can't blame a snake oil salesman for buckshot promotional techniques, can ya?
This amazing man had taken detailed notes of every bar of music on the two recordings I had released to date, and for the next 3 hours he broke down every ancient reference I had intentionally peppered each record with, in the advent that someone musically erudite enough would read the transmission. Jerry Wexler caught them all.
"The thirteenth bar in "Gut Bucket….you stole that from Freddy Slack, didn't ya?"
I was flying around Pluto when I hung up the phone…that folks, is real validation. Jerry Wexler dug me, the architecture, the conceptual elements, the amazing band…. and on top of that, he got the deeply embedded musical messages and jokes.
Sorry darlin', but that beats morning sex any time…. A big contributing factor in why I have such a difficult time maintaining romantic relationships!
I remained in contact with Jerry through the years, and we exchanged the odd phone call, letters and postcards…. but as I got further away from "the biz", I kinda let this one slide…I have always felt guilty about doing so, but what would Jerry Wexler want with a schmuck that ended up playing "Piano Man" for drunken Tulane co-eds eight times a night at Pat O'Brien's Piano Bar and Plantation Vibe Emporium? I didn't feel I had anything to bring to his table. I had turned into a whore.
But I never forgot how he made me feel that first day…. that maybe what I was doing might have some lasting worth…. some lasting value.
Jerry passed on to the other side last weekend…I should have been around, and I shouldn't have hidden from him…. he was all about THE MUSIC: FIRST, and probably would have talked me out of turning myself into a Bourbon Street music prostitute. It would have saved me a whole lot of grief....
And being about music first probably rendered him useless in a business that sells music, but doesn't really concern itself with caring too much how it's created. I know he felt marginalized…. in my mind, a crime against nature, but he was pretty philosophical about it.
If you listen to any of those early Ray Charles records on Atlantic, or the classic Aretha Franklin recordings she did in Muscle Shoals / NY…Jerry was a producer that knew how the process of creating great art worked…I am grateful for his attempt to remind me to stay true to form, and always, be about the music.
Wish him well on his journey.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Any way, these mailers really were a prehistoric form of a my space music page....calendar of upcoming shows, pictures, a little humor (The mast head read: " A comPendiuM of UnRuly CateRwaUling"....if you'd like to see the original cut and paste art, go to my ReverbNation page and look at the "Art and Graphic Retrospective Album")
The other feature was a column entitled "Notes from the Zomboy"....again, an ancient form of blogging....I was just as much into sharing the philosophy as I was into selling the music, if not more...and this vehicle was my little "Bully Pulpit".
So because I have decided to be "me" again, after a long sabbatical...I thought it would be helpful to dig back in the archives to see what that former self was all about....so I pulled out some of the archived mailers, and started to read some of my old "columns"...and the general feeling I got was...."whoah"...that's some heavy shit I was laying out. So every once in awhile, I'm going to publish them here in the blog.
This, from March, 1995:
When embarking on Life's Journey there are potholes, pitfalls pratfalls and booby traps all along the way
What seems as the right choice, in retrospect, potentially can be the worst turn you could possibly make…such is life.
It's seductively easy to focus on an electron, conviently at the expense of the realization that that electron is part of a molecules in the leaf of the tree in the forrest of the town in the county of the state of the country in the continent of the hemisphere of the planet in the solar system of the galaxy, of this one particular universe add infinitum.
The trick is to see the electron and the universe at the SAME TIME…to have razor sharp focus with your blinders off!
When I'm playing with the Hungarians and all these great musicians are firing on all cylinders (and with 13 people …a difficult stage to reach)..and the audience is firing and popping right along with us, something strange occurs.
I'm right in the center of the hurricane, but like some near death experience, I feel like I'm floating ten feet up in the air, checking everything out like some ghostly observer, marveling at the sound and the scene that is taking place before me in real time.
Like a making a movie and watching it at the same time,
Like seeing the electron and the Universe at the same time
Friday, August 15, 2008
K-Doe was married to a lovely woman named Antoinette. He had met her in the early '60's when she was working the counter at a liquor store , and as she bent over to grab a bottle of ripple, evidently she made quite an impression. He married her approximately 35 years after that sighting.
One time Antoinette and Ernie were having a bit of a domestic squabble in the backyard. K-Doe recused himself from the tussle, stormed in the house and slammed the screen door behind him...not realizing that his lovely bride was following close behind. The door sliced one of her fingers clean off, at the first knuckle.
After much freaking, they hopped in the Cadillac and drove to Charity Hospital. When they got to the emergency room the doctor asked for the missing digit, (for re-attachment purposes) but of course in all the hub-bub, K-Doe neglected to project that as a possibility. The finger was still on the back porch.
The Dr. instructed K-Doe to hustle home, grab a baggie and pack the finger in ice, and hustle back to the emergency room.
K-Doe boogied home, found the finger and put it on ice, but by this time he was so frazzled that he decided he was not fit to drive, and decided to take the bus back to the hospital.
Upon his arrival at the emergency room, the Dr. asked for the finger....but K-Doe spaced out and left the finger on the bus!
Lets hope that no unsuspecting rider mistook the finger as left-over lunch.
But I digress.....
By the time the millennium rolled around, the great classic New Orleans
R & B artists were leaving this planet at an alarming rate, and K-Doe probably knew he was one of the last of a dying breed...if he didn't, his wife surely did.
A perennial performer at the Jazz and Heritage Festival, K-Doe always was forced to perform at, at least in the estimation of his extremely savvy (albeit fingerless) wife, way below market value (Around $2500-$5000 for K-Doe and his entire ten piece band, depending on who you talk to)
So just a couple of years before K-Doe left this earth, just as he was ascending to the stage, his wife walked up to Quint Davis (The head honcho and co-founder of The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival) and demanded $75,000 or K-Doe would not perform.
That year, K-Doe did not perform.
Well the scuttlebutt around the New Orleans musicians community was that Ernie K-Doe was categorically insane for demanding that kind of money....but I say crazy like a fox, or at least brave enough towards the end of his life to quit shuckin' and jivin' and start to demand his true worth.
The Jazz and Heritage Festival is produced under the auspices of Festival Productions. Festival Productions is helmed by George Wein (The founder of the Newport Jazz Festival). Wein is "a little more worldly" than his protégé Quint Davis, and realized that they could ill afford to allow the dirty little secret out that they were underpaying New Orleans musicians for years, and literally built a yearly festival representing millions of dollars in cash flow on the backs of the musicians they were supposedly were in support of. Pissing matches with legendary New Orleans figures just didn't make good business sense, especially if the court of public opinion caught a whiff and decided to pass judgement. So daddy applied the heat, and junior capitualted.
So the next year, K-Doe was back on the Jazz Fest Stage, and a rate of pay that was commensurate with his stature as one of the last men standing from the golden age of New Orleans R&B.
Like he always said..."Emperor of the Universe"! It was nice to see him win one before he checked out.
This is not all The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival or Festival Production's fault however...the "plantation mentality" is in full effect here: All that the producers are guilty of is availing themselves to a system and mindset that's been around for 250 years.
It would be cool if that would change, but don't expect the beneficiaries of the system to all of a sudden grow a moral center...
Monday, August 11, 2008
On the Rampart side of the Treme is a large green space, and within that green space is an area called Congo Square. Things have ALWAYS been a little looser down here in New Orleans, even during the hey dey of the slave trade.
Traditionally, slaves were not allowed to have drums or any vestige of musical expression from their homeland, specifically for the very pragmatic reason (from a slave owner's point of view, anyway) that music, and particularly drums, were a form of long distance communication that could signal a revolt, escape, or a threat to the status quo. Plus the more miserable slaves were, the easier they were to control.
This was not the case in New Orleans...Slaves had Sunday afternoons off. Maybe it was due to the French and Spanish owners, who were a little more "cosmopolitan" than their American counterparts. ...But slaves were allowed to congregate, and more importantly, play music, play the communicative rhythms of Africa, dance the Bamboula, worship in any way they saw fit, and meld and weld the new "European" sounds (and instruments) they were being exposed to in their daily lives to the music they brought from Mother Africa.
I'm not an expert by any means, but it is generally excepted wisdom that that little patch of grass in the Treme was ground zero for several forms of what is now considered original American Music, from blues, gospel, jazz, funk,rap, hip-hop, soul (George Gershwin, for Chrissakes...no Congo Square, no "Rhapsody in Blue", or Aaron Copeland, or Leonard Bernstein...)...you name it...really except for more Appalachian centric forms (country, bluegrass) pretty much all popular music as we know it sprung from Congo Square., in the Treme.
Now bearing this historical "In Utero" period of American musical history in mind, I'd like to talk about the New Orleans tradition of "The Second Line"
I really don't know the total history of the Second Line, but I do know that from the nascent beginnings in Congo Square, it eventually evolved into three basic forms in Modern Times....two types are "planned".
The most familiar is the funeral procession, where a brass band leads the procession (and the onlookers, and neighborhood denizens form a "second line" behind the main procession),playing sad and mournful dirges until the place of internment is reached....on the way out of the cemetery, the band then plays the up tempo music, it gets funky, and everyone dances their way back to the party....its a way of sending off someone's spirit with good vibes as they cross to the other side.
So even if New Orleans is known for putting the "Fun" in funeral, this first form of jazz, the African American spiritual and the improvisational and poly tonal and poly rhythmic freedom found within the form, was solidified during funeral celebrations....deeply steeped in the spiritual context in which it was solidified.
The other type of planned second line is actually a street party that is planned by various neighborhood organizations, called Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs. Several Clubs pool resources, hire the funkiest brass bands in town, and a large parade is thrown, the parade route, and the second line itself, disclosed and promoted by word of mouth....Traditionally, they would take place every Sunday from Labor Day through the Mardis Gras season.
These are HUGE street parties...thousands show up for these events, there are entrepreneurial opportunities galore (People sell beer and Bar B Que out of the back of their pickup trucks) and the bands are literally running as they play, only to stop at a preplanned neighborhood watering hole, so the second liners can catch their breath, and have a cocktail....than, yippee, its off to the next stop.
These street parties are massive, collective, celebrations...but the thing that strikes me when ever I attend one is how powerful it is when 2-3 thousand folks are relieving the stress of their weekly lives simultaneaously...its a powerfully moving experience to be in the middle of that, and again, a spiritual one, even though the music isn't traditionally spiritual, but more poly rhythmic funk.
Last, but most definitely not least, is the spontaneous second line, and that's what I would like to focus attention on...as it is closest to the second line's true origins.
A much beloved neighbor or neighborhood musician passes away...the word spreads from house to house, door to door, or in modern times, cell phone to cellphone....musicians congregate in a central location and start to play spirituals to honor the beloved friend, neighbor, and if a musician, contributor to the culture.
Neighbors hear the music and naturally form a second line behind the band as it meanders on an unplanned route through the neighborhood.
Those who can't dance, sit on their stoops and porches, to celebrate the spirit of the neighbor crossing over...and to sing the old songs as the children in the street need to hear them, and most importantly learn them.
Approximately three weeks ago, one of these spontaneous celebrations popped up in the Treme to honor the sudden passing of a beloved neighbor and tuba player, Kerwin Williams....as the second line grew in size, and the mourners were singing "I'll Fly Away", 20 NOPD Squad cars flew into the neighborhood, sirens screaming, it's passengers outfitted in riot gear, truncheons at the ready.
The crime? Disturbing the peace, and parading without a permit. Two of he leading musicians refused to stop playing.This is what their fathers did, this is what their grandfathers, their great grandfathers...as far as their families can remember, this is who the were, and what they did.
They were summarily hog-tied, thrown in a squad car, and arrested.
Who sends a riot squad in to break up a cultural tradition that has been occurring for well over one hundred years without incident?
This is a very good question...I have some theories on that that I'll share in a later post.
Here's the deal, fellow planetarians: This is not an isolated incident, and its been happening before Katrina ever hit the shores of Lake Ponchartrain.
There has been a systematic strategy employed by the NOPD to crack down hard on second lines and Indian "parading" under the flimsy excuses of parading without a permit or "disturbing" the peace. The collective second line celebrations that are planned by the Pleasure Clubs were shut down by the police charging 500% of their normal fee for procurement of a police detail.
I'm not blaming police here folks. They do their best, but lets not forget that there is a chain of command...most importantly, they do what they're told.
Politically, as I'm sure you've heard, things are a bit Byzantine down here....but I would like to know who's giving that order, that prime directive....I would like to know where the buck actually stops.
Friday, August 1, 2008
As a teen-aged, aspiring piano player in the great frozen tundra known as Skaneateles, NY, I used to take a 35 mile bus ride into the city of Syracuse every Saturday morning to visit Onondaga Music.
Onondaga Music was owned by a rather sour faced man by the name of Howard Gurseny, Sr. Completely bald, with glasses that covered half of his gaunt visage and replete with what it seemed to me to be an amazing amount of bushy growth of hair sprouting forth from his ear canals and nostrils, Mr. Gurseny would crouch over the cash register grumbling as he eyeballed me the entire time I would be perusing the racks and hurl dour toned exhortations at me periodically such as "are you going to buy that record or what? I don't have all day ya know" as if I was buying a friggin' comic book instead possibly the key to my entire future as a musician...but truth be told, I actually liked the grousing. It heightened the urgency of the shopping experience, and part of the fun of my weekly visit was to find new and creative ways to antagonize him. And he had, as I learned much later down the road while in the midst of my piano plunking journey and education, impeccable taste, and one of the finest record stores I would ever have the pleasure of shopping in.
The store was a one stop-shopping destination for all things musical. The family store sold sheet music, musical instruments, and records. It was the only place in town that where I could find cool platters, especially discs of solo piano. At the time, I was trying to deeply immerse myself in the great boogie-woogie triumvirate of Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, and Meade Luxe Lewis, because The Rolling Stones had told me to do so (indirectly, of course, through interviews)...ultimately, I figured if I could play like those guys, my eventual gig with Keith Richards would ensue shortly. I had a rich and varied fantasy life at the time.
So to be able access artists like these in the vast cultural wasteland that is Central NY was ...a miracle, really.
As I was pawing through the bins, I came across a record with a series of photographs running down the left side of the cover featuring a wild looking black dude with an eye patch and the title exclaiming "New Orleans Piano Wizard LIVE" or some such nonsense.... I'm embarrassed to admit that at that point in my musical life and bumbling self-education, I bought records more on the basis of what the covers looked like rather than any internal knowledge of the sounds that may be contained within the confines of the shrink-wrapped sleeve.
I didn't know fuck all about New Orleans, and New Orleans music, but I did know that there was something oddly compelling about that dude with the eye patch and the winning smile. I couldn't keep my eyes off of him...he practically shouted at me from the cover, "Buy me, dumbass...you NEED this shit, baby, right now...right now!'
Now understand, my weekly trek to the store was a discipline of high order for me...the bus ride was a drag, and I was a lad of limited funds...my general adolescent mission quest was to amass the greatest record collection in the world, but my paltry allowance would only allow me to amass it at the rate of one record per week.... so even though I didn't have much musical knowledge at the time, it was imperative that I not come home with a dud. So rolling the dice on a total unknown was akin to betting the farm and going all in.
I finally went up to the counter with my risky selection and forked over to Mr.Gurseny the only seven dollars and change I would see until next Saturday.
With an introductory exasperated combination grunt and wheezing sigh, Mr. Gurseny would grumble, "Jeezus kid...are you sure you want to buy that? Or would you rather pitch a tent in the middle of the store and live here? Gimme the money."
He would chuck the cash into the register, slide the record in a paper bag, and carelessly toss it on the counter with a muttered "Here ya go, kid.... now get the hell outta here, and try not to come back."
Secretly, I knew that Mr. Gurseny loved our Saturday morning rituals as much as I did. He just had extreme difficulty in showing it.
I would then purposely clomp down the well worn wooden stairs to the instruments division to artlessly test drive all the latest keyboards, loitering a bit more before I had to catch my bus, and drive Mr. Gurseny's son, Howard Jr., crazier than I had just driven his father. Junior made Senior look like Mary Poppins in comparative temperament, and was a notoriously tweaked individual. Driving him crazy early on a Saturday morning by loudly playing blues licks on cheesy synthesizers, (the latest thing...this was the '70's, remember) wasn't really much of a challenge. I'd eventually get bored and head for the Greyhound station.
Every return bus ride from the Gurseny family store store was a ride filled with hope and nervous anticipation. Each sequential bump, swerve and jolting air compressed stop and whoosh of the pneumatic door flying open and shut that slowly propelled me closer to home escalated the feeling that I was more Jack with a bag of magic beans in his hands than a pimple faced socially awkward teen bouncing around on a highly suspect stained bus seat thumbing the cover of a record jacket. ...Gazing at it, in a dream state, gearing myself for the potential gifts I was about to receive.
The greatest moment of my teen aged week was when I would pull a record out of the bag, slowly tear the shrink-wrap away like Charlie Bucket would to his life-changing Wonka chocolate bar, pull the potential golden ticket of a disc out of the dust jacket and inner paper sleeve making sure to only handle it with my palms and gingerly placing the vinyl platter upon the turntable. Turn the amp on, twist the volume knob up, and wait for that 60 cycle hum.... the final aural cue that I was good to go, countdown will commence, lift-off soon.
And then there's that moment, my favorite part of the ritual, when I would lift the tone arm with my finger tip, hold my breath, crouch to make simultaneous level eye contact with the edge and the needle, and precisely slide (easy now, baby, don't drop it) my diamond tipped stylus slowly into the groove...white noise, feint crackling and the intermittent pop...and then snap. Here we go.
Sorry kids, but finger fucking the flywheel on an I-Pod pales in comparison.
That part of the experience was a constant...but I was wholly unprepared for "New Orleans Piano Wizard, LIVE!'
The slow fade in increasing volume of enthusiastic, hearty applause.... look out, here it comes, that five note descending pickup to "The Sunny Side of the Street".... then the deep as a ditch groove, the artful bending of the melody and phrasing as he establishes the head, the slight ramping up of emotional investment in his playing as he transitions from the bridge back to the final statement of the head before the solo.... Christ, it not only sounds to my virgin ears like he's got hands the size of Virginia hams, its sounds like he's playing with three of them.... the mind wrecking, stratospheric careening-around-Pluto-without -any-brakes solo (holy fuck!)...And then, that voice.
Some have said in retrospect that Booker was a singer of limited ability. They clearly not only have ears of stone, they are stone deaf.
He saved the best for last.... that freaky melismatic, rhythmically powerful yodel
(aahhyifff ahhh nevah, nevah, evah ) a combination preacher, a sand papered seasoned, nakedly emotive tour de force vocal performance that actually focuses your head in real time to the fact that these words that he's singing are not only important, but very possibly the last lyrics on earth that he will ever sing kind of important, so listen up, ye non-believers...he really don't halfta worry, cuz he's got golddust at his feet, ( see what I'm sayin'?), on the Sunny-unny-unnysaaahhheeed.. .Sunny Side of the Street! Yes, babies, A-friggin-men! You can actually sense the energy of what seems to be thousands of people simultaneously orgasming and falling in love through the speakers, but they aren't making a peep....
The teasingly humorous, repetitive ending tags (He's not done with me yet, that rascal). A nanosecond of stunned silence, and then the nuclear explosive sonic mushroom cloud release of love and applause, AAARRGH, all triggered by a single individual, just a man and a piano. Talk about white noise.... are you kidding me? It's the sound of collective humanity that in a split second has all just realized they have witnessed and been in the presence of true greatness. They all just had the collective religious experience of the re-affirmation that there truly is a God, and He has decided not to bestow his works in mysteriously strange ways this time...He had decided inexplicably to whack them directly between the eyes with a ball peen hammer, manifested in the form of James Carroll Booker, one of His more inspired creations.
And as I realized that when I exhaled that during the running time of side one, track one, that breath that I had held when I connected diamond tip to greasy vinyl, I had held through that entire emotional two and a half minute roller coaster ride of a performance. I hadn't bought just any record in Mr. Gurseny's store. I had stumbled upon the Ten Commandments of Art.....I felt like I had found the Holy Grail....by my own fortuitous ineptitude! My life officially changed, radically, right then. And I totally knew it.
See ya later, Keith Richards...I now had better fish to fry.
In my life's journey, Booker has always been my runnin' podner. Sometimes he maintains a low profile for long periods of time, but he's always there for me when I need him. I never met him, and I never saw him play. He died around fifteen years before I got the chance to finally leave the confines of Central NY for good and live as a resident in the city that care forgot.
Life doesn't always end up as a fairy tale, and mine has turned out to be no exception. I mistakenly and naively thought that if you worked hard enough, greatness could be attained, delusionally cutting God out of the equation. Bad move. But no matter how hard I worked, Booker would always have more talent in his big toe nail clipping than I would ever possess in my entire body.
After scuffling to make a living for about eight years, finally establishing myself enough to make an actual living as a musician in New Orleans and then losing the carefully crafted, arduously attained second chapter of my life as a New Orleanian all courtesy of hurricane Katrina, I found myself in the fall season of 2006 back in Central NY.
After the storm I had to clean toilets, scrape paint, gut houses, and sling a hammer to make ends meet in New Orleans, trying to keep the life I had built intact on a quarter of the money and 5% of the self esteem I had access to prior to the levees breaking. My first straight totally manual labor gig since the day I heard Booker and decided to play piano and be an artist, not just a working musician.
My father was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and since my siblings had actual lives, and mine was currently discombobulated, I went back home to the place of my birth, the land of lakes, where there are actually four seasons (the longest one being winter, of course), to take care of him and assist in his care.
It very possibly would be the last chance I would ever have to spend an extended period of time with my best friend, my Pops, so it wasn't that hard of a choice.
Since his chemo and radiation schedule was going to last from late August through December, I decided that it might be a good idea to go back to college and finally finish my two year degree and score my GED in the process (I dropped out of high school they day I heard Booker to enroll in a community college and study classical piano. No Chopin equals no Booker).
So on a crisp day in November, I was in a computer lab, finishing off a PowerPoint demonstration for my Astronomy class. I had just gotten off the cell phone, having had a conversation with my girlfriend (who was keeping our life together back in NOLA). And fellas, you know this particular conversation.... the first tendrils, the initial feeler, of the prolonged, passive-aggressive, "shit-on-his-head-until-his neck-breaks" dumping process. Not verbally expressed but more in tone and tenor...the conversation where you know that the woman you love has given up hope on your sorry ass but she's not going to tell you she has, the one where you know in your heart that she will never be capable of telling you the whole truth and nuthin but the truth ever again, and has just become your future ex-girlfriend but the official be-heading is months down the road.... and when it finally happens, it will suck.
Note: The one advantage of getting old kids, is acquiring the vision to see shit like this coming from a mile away, rather than getting surprised by it. The disadvantage is, other than getting old, is the realization that if you have any type of moral center and integrity, you have an obligation to let it organically play out, and its going to be a six-month, tooth extracting, Mexican pissing match, resulting ultimately in heartbreak...and no matter how much time you have to prepare for it, heartbreak will always take you by surprise. You will be hurt, and there is no way to avoid getting hit by that bus. All you can do is prolong the moment of impact to fully prepare to gird yourself for the eventual smash-up.
I don't know what possessed me, but at that moment I flipped the phone to its closed position, I stopped working on the demonstration, googled youtube, registered (my maiden youtube voyage), and typed in the search box "James Booker", as if in a dream.... I'd like to say it was an act of cognizance on my part, but it was more like moving the "cursor" on an Oiija board.
Amazingly, several video choices popped up. I had never seen this major influence on my entire being actually perform before. I threw the headphones on, plugged them in, and clicked onto "Send Someone to Love", not surprisingly due to the content of the recent phone call.
There was my old, old friend. Hello, James...its been awhile...where y'at? I been knowin you been 'round, sorry I haven't checked in on you lately.
I sat in that dingy computer lab a middle aged, balding, 60 pounds overweight, totally depressed to the point of suicide, soon to finally being diagnosed as Bi-Polar man (as some have surmised James was himself), with a dying father; an about to be unceremoniously dumped in six months schlub working towards a high school diploma at the age of forty-seven (how absolutely and completely pathetic). I was finally witnessing the moving image of my muse, the manifestation of what I once thought to be definitive proof of the existence of the graceful greatness of God.... and as I listened to his sorrow drenched voice plaintively pleading and praying, "and if it's not asking too much.... please.... please send me someone to love".
That's it folks...pretty much as close to rock bottom as a man can get. Or so I thought...it is possible to get closer.
As I sat in that lab occupied by twenty 18 year old students at their digital stations standing at the cusp of their adult lives, filled with hope for their bright futures to come and unwittingly assuming the sitting position for their eventual slide down the razor blade of life... I openly wept. Tears streaming, snot running down your nose weeping. I cried for my loss of hope and the loss of my dreams, I cried for all the people in my life that loved me and that I was incapable of loving back; I had driven them all away. I cried for the upcoming mourning and the attendant pain and processing that I was about to go through. I cried for the ghosts of folks that haunt me daily, even the ghosts of those who haven't died. I cried for my crippled adoptive city, a place I jokingly used to refer to as "the vortex of lost souls", but really was the only place I ever felt "found".
I cried for James Booker's lifeless body, dumped in a chair in Charity hospital. I cried at the power and divine beauty of the soul shaking music that was digitally streaming into my heart through the portals of my water filled eyes and headphone muffed ears; if the existence of a Booker proves there's a beautifully benevolent God, than why has He forsaken me? I cried because Booker knew me, he still spoke to me... he still loved me, and Booker never gave up on me. He never abandoned my soul. He's right there on that computer screen, and he was there at the start of my adult life, and he will comfort me now at what seemed to be a logical time to start planning to end it.
And I thought...I can't think of a better person to have function as the "Booker" ends of my life.... and I laughed at this incredibly horrid pun. And felt a little better.
Because I felt a little better then, I'm still here on this planet feeling better still.
It's so swell, when you're well.... words of wisdom. All you need is love? Maybe, but I'm not entirely sold on that philosophy. But I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt that most assuredly, if love is all you need, you still need a little Booker too.