Friday, October 2, 2009
HOW I BECOMED A PERFESSIONAL MUSICIANER
I began playing barrelhouse clarinet in the bawdy houses of Storyville while still an idealistic 7-year old virgin, hoping to earn enough in tip-money to buy my beloved great-grandpop a short-wave radio for his semi-retirement years.
Well, not long after buying great-grandpop his longed-for shortwave radio, fate decreed that I'd have to switch to playing slide trombone in the mob-run cathouses of 1970's Chicago, since the coffin I'd have to buy for great-grandpop cost quite a bit more than the second-hand Hallicrafters Shortwave Radio I'd found for him at the Salivation Army Thrift Shop & Rescue Mission Billiards Emporium.
Sadly, it was that very same radio which brought great-grandpop's days in this mortal vale to an untimely fin. He'd become quite distraught upon learning (via news broadcasts) that colored people had been given the right to imagine voting, wink at white gals and earn cash money (rather than candy bars) down in the coal mines. Oh, he'd sit in the parlor mumbling furiously about lapsed moral standards and The Good Old Days.
It did no good to remind him that he himself was colored--or at least not albino.
Great-grandpop became so furious that he removed the back from the radio and grabbed at the glowing circuitry, seeking to destroy the appliance which delivered alarming news of a world where Nothing Was Sacred For Investment Swindles And Overweight, Balding But Obscenely Wealthy Cigar Fanciers anymore.
Great-grandpop did indeed manage to wreck the radio's electronics, but he failed to notice the 'Do Not Remove--No User Repairable Parts Inside'
warning sign. Five minutes after he tossed the ruined radio into the garbage, Warranty Enforcement Personnel arrived and clubbed him to death--in the name of Family Circuit Values. It was a horrible thing to witness, even in the home-videos which cousin Eddy shot of the event. There was blood, gristle and denture glue all over great-grandpop's Lonely Christmas-Eve Sad Little Homely Paperboy sweater, the one he'd cherished lifelong, it being identical to the one Bing Crosby wore in those 'Let's Play Golf' videos Bing had made with the Viscount Of Yorkshire at Herman Goering's private links in Vichy Scotland. Sigh. Great-grandpop really loved ol' Bing--and those lovely regimental uniforms.
So the extra income to be had from trombone playing was a godsend. I only intended to do the gig long enough to pay for great-grandpop's semi-luxurious masonite casket, but destiny had other plans in store for me.
One chilly autumn evening at the gig, Muddy Williams, Jr.--the King Of Western Polka Ragtime Swing--came to a show and took a liking to my sound. "I have taken a liking to your sound" Muddy Jr. said. I was thrilled! I'd listened--secretly--to Muddy's late-night broadcasts anytime great-grandpop was away from the radio, having one of his leprosy spasms. Oh the sound of Muddy's combo! It was like music coming through a radio speaker!!
You can imagine my amazement when Muddy Jr. asked me to join his combo, go out on the road with him and the fellas. I told him I'd have to get permission from Aunt Laverne--being only seven years old. Aunt Laverne, bless her heart, must have seen the eagerness in my eye-sockets (did I mention I was blind, due to a lack of eyeballs?) and she gave me her Blessing. I couldn't believe it! Blessing Trombones are widely acknowledged to be, perhaps, the best made-in-Illinois B-flat trombones ever!! My very own 'pro level' horn!!
So I packed my valise and went to the Greyhound Terminal to wait for Muddy's tour bus. While waiting there, a very handsome man named Harry began chatting with me and touching me in inappropriate places. Next thing I knew my trombone was missing, there was a reek of ether everywhere and I was in the hold of a rusty tuna boat, chugging across the south seas towards Vietnam, Inc., bringing unwanted military relief to an invaded, torched and ruined hostile Domino State of Free Market Gangsterism.
Lucky for me I'd taken Morse Code classes at the State School For The Eyeball Challenged!! I rapped out a distress message on the hull of the creaky vessel and a nearby Coast Guard Trawler's radar operator heard it. Soon help arrived, in the form of a GPS-guided Smart Bomb which blew up the Captain. The crew panicked and I was able to escape undetected from the hold, don a life preserver and doggie-paddle towards Fargo, North Dakota, where Muddy Jr's next gig was.
Muddy Jr. was so understanding! He and the guys chipped-in to buy me a new trombone and soon we had the patrons dancing like all get out. But life on the road wasn't all peaches and skim milk. There was still a lot of prejudice. Many hotels and restaurants had "No Seven Year Old Virgins" policies, so many a night I slept under the bus, snuggled close to Rusty, the band's beloved beagle mascot, for warmth. (Rusty was the inspiration for Muddy's famous hit 'The Bow Wow Shuffle.')