Thursday, October 11, 2007

Lightning in a Bottle

Memory.
Memory of things told you by others that you have accepted as real and gone so far as to build images on.
Memory of things that began entirely in your own imagination/dreams.
Memory of things actually experienced.

At the northeast corner of Fairfax Avenue and Sixth Street in the western aspect of Los Angeles, California, there was a golf driving range, extending at least a block eastward, which is still an approximation because the entire parcel was undeveloped. From time to time the Goodyear blimp landed there. That was then. Way then. Now there is no golf driving range; there is a segment of a large housing development called Park La Brea. When you pass that intersection now, you feel cheated that it is not the golf driving range of your memory. Even though your Uncle Sam, your Aunt Flo, and your two cousins, Buzz and Barbara, lived in that housing development after the golf driving range ceased to exist, you do not think of them. You could go to the very door you entered when you visited there, but you rarely think of it or them, you think of the damned golf driving range and there is that residual feeling of being cheated of something.

Just above the Pacific Coast Highway, as it runs through Santa Monica, California, is a mile-long escarpment called The Palisades, from which splendid views of the beach, the Santa Monica Pier, the ocean, and on occasion, Santa Catalina Island, are visible. You were told so many times by your parents that as an infant, you were wheeled there in a buggy by a maid named Nellie Foley, that now, as you drive below the Palisades on your way to the university, you have the momentary sense of being wheeled along that park by Nellie, a fact that is made all the more real because you do remember and can visualize Nellie's replacement, Vivian.

After you read biographical materials dealing with Mark Twain's time i Virginia City, Nevada, you sedulously began to read books about the area, including Twain's own Roughing It, and also Dan DeQuille's The Big Bonanza, to the point where you had a sense of what Virginia City was like. Then you began to dream you were there, and when your school chums, Jerry Williams and Don Pettit returned from their army days and toured through there, bringing you a facsimile copy of The Territorial-Enterprise, you understood that dreaming of that place and that newspaper was not enough; you had to go there and work for it.

Somehow you came into possession of a document that was a blank learner's permit for flying a single-engine airplane, which yu artfully converted into fake ID, attesting to you being twenty-one and thus able to produce proof should you be questioned by a bartender or waitperson where liquor was served. With such document in your pocket, you drove to Randini's, a neighborhood bar on Western near Beverly, having been told by someone that he never left it alone, nor would you. The first time you went to Randini's, you were not even asked for your fake ID, but that was not the cause for your memory. Your drink set in front of you, you took a sip then cast a eye about the room for she without whom you would leave alone. You did not see her but you did see a man emerge from the rear, leading another man by the arm. You quickly realized that the man being led was blind. He was being led to the piano, where he sat with a immediate aplomb, plunked one gorgeous chord, nodded in the direction of the man who'd led him, then nodded.

He began with and old Irish song, The Kerry Dancers, but after less than fifteen seconds, you knew you'd blundered into Art Tatum.

There are some iconic musicians of our time. Leadbelly. Johnny Cash. Ella. Bruce Springsteen. Eric Clapton. John Coltrane. Not to forget Louis Armstrong. June Carter.

Then there is Art Tatum, who simply tied the piano into long, elaborate knots, untied them, then retied them with even greater complexity and relevance. He appeared to be playing a game of cat's cradle, beginning runs with his left hand, then sending them off to his right hand like a parent sending a kid off to school. He invented, built, conflated, amused. His melodic rushes cascaded over you, dousing you in the relevance of a song you'd only thought to have heard and remembered from before.


During an interview with a
New York Times economist writer, Terri Gross paused for a time-out, during which came music I first thought of as modern classic, then of bebop, the as the hands of a well-educated stride pianist. But then I knew: the song was Cole Porter's Let's Face the Music and Dance, the pianist was Tatum, modern and unique in voice after all these many years, and although I'd heard Tatum on record many times before, I was back in Randini's with my forged ID.

1 comment:

Lee's River said...

A forged ID is the first thing a fledging writer needs to set up shop (we are assuming he already had love of words and love of music - which he did, as the story demonstrates.)