when i was sailing along the alaskan coast on a cruise ship for a few months, probably the most fun thing i got to do was play for the weekly talent show. these fuckers thatd come in, you have no idea. it would have been easy to just make fun of them all, but there was something so amazing about the confidence they all seemed to have in their work- were talking about people in their fifties to seventies singing mostly show tunes and sinatra, and just terribly- the tonal and rhythmic acrobatics i had to perform to accompany these guys were...that girl in the olympics who won the gold with a broken ankle or something? and that coach with the moustache? it was like that. anyway, musicality was truly secondary; their stage presence was awesome, this utter surety that they were offering something to the world that was singular and important and moving...and really it was, mostly just because of that attitude. i would leave these shows smiling, mystified by the social distortions that age seems to place on people, thrilled at the idea that soon (well, 30 or so years from now) i would understand that total disregard to social/aesthetic conventions that a life time of life would require of me.
anyway, so now, a harmonica story: there was this guy, and well, this was an ugly guy. midfifties, head coated with a thick mane of perspiration, gigantic gut, tightly sealed in a thin white shortsleeved shirt, shorts and high socks, glasses case nestled in pocket, you know. there at rehearsal with his wife.
so we say, what do you wanna do?
and hes all, do you know moon river?
and im all yeah, i know moon river,
and then hes all, well what key do you know it in,
and im all, well what key would you like?
and then, man, he smiles at me...and he pulls out this case, this beautiful, black leather miniature briefcase, and he opens it up, and there inside are twelve beautiful, shiny, fragrantly glowing harmonicas. each one held in a by a little leather clasp. one for each key, he says, one for each key.
and he pulls one out, and he starts playing, he starts playing moon river in this deserted cruise ship theater. the floor is rocking beneath our feet. and when the first high note, "...ri-ver" comes dancing out it is shiny and alive and oh! it is beautiful beautiful, somehow this man this most unlikely man is making each note of moon river connect into something inside of me, and i feel pain and sadness and joy and some primitive state of just feeling, all that stuff that music is supposed to do to you. but the killer, is, that then he stops, and he says, or what about this? and he pulls out a different harmonica and starts playing again, the same freaking mancini sugardrop that usually makes me numb out, and its even prettier, richer and lower now. and then he does it again. what about this key. oh, eflat, thats a nice one. again and again. he goes through maybe five different keys in all, and i look over at his wife, i look over at his wife, and her eyes are glistening.
in the end we had him play a capella. the crowd was pretty unimpressed.
but for me and his wife, it was divine, seeing that holy music coming out of this poor guy.
this poor ugly guy.