Wednesday, November 15, 2017

New Orleans Part I



Some kind of ambient noise on the plane in the key of B, complimenting the feedbacking guitars at the end of this song. I don’t know which town I’m above - that big, bright cloud could be over any number of states in one of two time zones. My body and mind were having none of this early morning travel, Bucks County to Newark, Newark to New Orleans, so I tried to listen to them and satisfy their needs. I calmed myself as well as I could with Pepto-Bismol, meditation, and a podcast about Bela Lugosi. Or was it Pepto-Lugosi, meditation, and a podcast about Bela Bismol? It’s very early.

Having awoken together at 3:30 AM, I shared my first smile with Nicky at about 7:46 AM. Settled into my window seat, one photo of a fantastic sunrise over North Jersey recorded onto my camera, the day’s second medication pumping into my ears - Year Of The Horse by Neil Young & Crazy Horse. The kind of person who gets nervous when he’s not the one driving the car, it can sometimes take a while for me to become comfortable on a plane. I needed The Horse and The Horse came to me.

Having felt satisfied with the songs I performed at the Count The Colors Debut Performance, I have found myself starting songs about any past experience that I recall with that shiny, gold patina that the best memories have. Some of my top-shelf recollections involve rock & roll pilgrimages I’ve taken with my Aunt Donna.

The evenings that stand out the most, I’m at both sides of twenty. I know who I am, but in the way that a twenty-year-old does. Donna was one of those figures who shows up to provide you with the kind of rich, unique, sometimes wild experiences that no one else can, when you’re still young and impressionable. The freewheeling, fearless extrovert to my quietly observing introvert. A tall lady from New Jersey who raised two kids, has seen it all, is all fucked-up on Dunkin Donuts coffee, and is not gonna take any of your shit.

YOU, specifically. Your shit! None of it.

A summer night in Manhattan. Neil manages to own the room while playing a set of all-new songs. When he follows this first set with a set of the old standbys, it’s mass euphoria. Gleeful garage band hands attack screaming guitars. I sneak down from the nosebleeds to make use of a section vacated by high-rollers who couldn’t take the heat and left before the party went into high-gear. I gesture to Donna, but she motions me to go - she and her brand new Sri Lankan friends are settled into their seats, enjoying a more-than-a-little-funny cigarette. Although she’s not a guitar player, she points to Neil’s big red pedal board, noting that it seems to have all its lights on at once. A guitar so loud that you could imagine hearing it underground in Penn Station.

For reasons lost to time, I am wearing Donna’s purple backpack backwards, a backpack with peace sign and LSD patches sewn onto it. I’m among the thousands cheering, but I’m so close to the stage now that Neil and I had locked eyes and were sharing beaming smiles with each other for so long that I found myself imagining what I would say to him if he could hear me.

Donna was my gateway to this experience and lots of others that have retained their golden glow even after the significant passage of time. The best news is that there is more to come.

From the plane window, a huge lake in distance - which one is it and is it mentioned in a Lucinda Williams song? Dipping into some clouds on our descent, my music-enabled calmness might be tested. So far, so good.

Bob Dylan wrote in Chronicles about the heavy spiritual presence in New Orleans. A well-known liar, I’ve come to appreciate his manner of telling the truth. I found myself in the same room as him last weekend. I didn’t really have the cash, but Tom Petty’s passage encouraged me to make it happen.

The things I’ve seen Neil Young do with his black guitar, the things I’ve seen Patti Smith do with words, and the things I saw The Everlys do with their honey-glaze harmony will be with me forever. And now I’ve seen an inspired Bob Dylan alternately crooning with a silver microphone stand and spouting street poet foam-mouthed madness while pounding a piano in an old vaudeville theater in Philadelphia. Even without a photograph (Bob runs a tight ship), that image isn’t going anywhere, hanging in the massive gallery of rare and beautiful sights on the walls of my mind.

I’ve followed Bob from a distance, appreciating the old, new, and new-old records at my own pace and admiring stories of his charming strangeness like the night he was picked up by the Long Branch, New Jersey police for wandering around on a rainy night. Somebody asked me if that really happened. They said he looked like a stranger. He feels that way to me, too. Yet I feel that I’ve taken him in now. A scrawny kid who wanted to walk on-stage and play some rock & roll.

Landing in New Orleans, the floaters in my tired eyes flickering like stars, adding bonus sparkles to the already-glistening water below.

Riding the tram on Wednesday morning, my now-thirty-year-old girlfriend by my side. I didn’t bring as much money as I wanted to, but I did bring the clothes I wore to last month’s Count The Colors concert. In my dress pants and jacket, I look more like the town’s older men than younger men.

I’d slept from 7:30 to 7:30 and then stepped out onto our second-floor balcony of this nineteenth-century hotel to drink my first coffee. Coffee with chicory is how they do it here. Listening to R.E.M. and gazing at the gorgeous, empty courtyard with its palm trees and fountains, I found myself in one of those rare, perfect moments that you instantly recognize as such.