Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Blues

I have gotten pretty far down the last few weeks, hence the lessening number of posts. As a pick-me-up, my wife located a restaurant/bar that featured some local blues musicians; nailed down a sitter for the kids and off we went to drown my sorrows at the brew house, last Saturday evening. The restaurant where they were playing was part of the Santa Fe Brewery, so my initial reaction to the eight-beer sampler tray was a resounding “hell ya”. I’ve heard DWI laws in New Mexico are really stringent (first offense gets you a $1000 fine and an ignition interlock – which means you blow into a breathalyzer to start your car), so I was careful about how much I consumed, despite the tastiness of their seasonal brew. Instead this night, I spent most of the evening filling my gut with hot wings, barbeque sandwiches and sweet potato fries – which was very different from the time I watched Robert Cray perform in a bar on the Mississippi riverfront in St. Louis. At the end of that night, my wife had to carry me to the car after a dozen or so Newcastle Brown Ales and three hours of music in a room of only 100 guests with our table only twenty feet from the stage. That is still one of my favorite memories.

In typical local band fashion, Saturday night’s musicians started their set an hour later than scheduled. Once the Ryan McGarvey Band was onstage, however, the music began to flow and my groove started to improve. That is until I started to notice the dissimilarities between myself and my fellow patrons. As I looked around, I realized I had stepped into an AARP convention. There were exactly three people in the house under the age of 65. My wife, myself and this freaky-ass chick at the bar that was probably no more than 25 and yet desperately trying to pick-up one of our fellow senior citizen patrons (sugar-daddy, anyone?).

A woman in her early seventies, sitting at a table directly in front of me was playing the air guitar, while her similarly-aged husband/companion sported a rat-tale (remember those nasty hair additions from the eighties?) and did a very poor rendition of the now-famous “white-man’s overbite”. After a few minutes, they joined the rest of the over-65-crowd on the dance floor for some extremely clumsy dance moves. Now I’m not saying I’m Fred Astaire, but at least I recognized that fact and kept myself at my little round table with my wife, my hot wings and my microbrew sampler platter.

Now after giving a fairly destructive tirade of his audience, I have to lend lead singer and guitarist Ryan McGarvey some credit for ignoring his patrons and getting lost in some pretty good music. He wrote his own stuff, which with the exception of every song starting with either babe or baby within the first four words – it was good. His dedication to his art, made me question my own. Was this kid, McGarvey, committed to his work because he was barely more than twenty and he didn’t know any better, or was it something deeper?

My first real introduction to the blues came from my very good friend – the bluesman Don Haupt. He’s released two albums and was once scheduled to open for Ray Charles, but the show was cancelled due to an illness with the more famous performer – and a few months later the master died. Now playing for over fifteen years (at least seven of which was professionally), Don is the epitome of a classic Mississippi Delta Blues musician, complete with his National-brand resonance guitar. Then a few months ago I learned that he quit the music business. Granted, he has a rougher way to go than most artists - given his dedication to performing within a classic genre boasting a limited audience; but this guy is truly great at his craft. What could make him just quit? Was he bored? Did he not know how to keep the process of making music as interesting for himself as for his audience? Or was he just tired of fighting to survive? My scroll paintings remind me of his music because of the nature of their rarity. Some days, weeks and even months – I have trouble continuing what I do because I grow tired of having to defend or “sell” something I find myself attached to in such an emotional manner.

Fortunately, my wife knows me well enough to understand that something as dark and moody as the blues is the best weapon in her arsenal for bringing me out of a funk. But it was something else at that restaurant that seemed to work the magic I needed; the hilarity of the audience that night was beyond her control and we spent most of the evening laughing and being snarky at their expense. – DN

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