Monday, October 17, 2016

I See Elvis Leave The Building

  • $58.50 Saturday
  • Sunday Visit To Howard

Saturday afternoon, I awoke feeling mysteriously energized, as if my plans to busk outside the Elvis Costello show, had been fomenting in my subconscious and gathering force.

I hadn't crammed any new songs of his into my repertoire during the almost month that I had to do so, after learning that Elvis was going to play on this date, but I had brushed up on the ones that I did know, playing them each at the Lilly Pad. This had been a good thing because I encountered trouble spots that I was able to smooth out, such as a certain chord in "Watching The Detectives," when the bass guitar plays an odd root note, which I had worked into my own arrangement, so that I was no longer "screwing up that part" of the song.

I jumped up and, able to think clearly, packed up my gear and was soon riding towards the Saenger theater, later than I had wanted to be, but resigning myself to the fact that I just haven't yet broken the habit of being late. It's something I plan to work on, later, when I get a chance.... "I can always get them when they're coming out, and chalk it up as a lesson learned if I'm too late..." I thought as I pedaled.

I had wanted to get there a couple hours before the show in order to scope out the scene, basically to decide how I was going to to manage to have my guitar out of the case and around my neck with a tip bucket hanging from it, the case stuffed in my backpack, and the harmonica in place, and to decide which tune I should be playing when I encroached upon Saenger Theater property.

I was envisioning perhaps being there long enough to grab the attention of a small group of people who might enrich my jar, before I had grabbed the attention of the security people, with whom I would have to interact with.

They might tell me that I can move a few feet to where I was off the Saenger property and continue to play, or might repel me further, to at least a block away.

This was kind of the reason that I hadn't expended enormous energy into learning a lot of new Elvis Songs, I was most likely only going to have a short time of it, and would be in the "Hey, pretty cool -playing Elvis songs with a tip bucket hanging from your guitar out in front of the theater where he's playing- I think I can encourage the guy with 10 bucks" business.

The "block away" scenario is frustrating because people arrive at the theater from 3 different directions to coagulate, basically in front of it, though the side entrances do admit people. Being in front, one would be playing for the majority of the concert goers, while, moving off to a block away, one would be theoretically dividing that number by 3.

I had stopped for a Monster Energy drink (zero calories, no corn syrup) which I sipped from across Rampart Street, at the corner of Canal, as I looked across across, getting the feeling that most of the people had already arrived, and had gone inside. It was just a little after 7 PM, almost an hour before the show.

The "Ya Heard Me?" Nation

There were a couple of teen aged black boys at the corner, with their backs to me, apparently preparing to cross to the other side of Canal Street, as I as sat behind them and an older white couple, who crossed over towards the theater when they had the light.

The teens were wearing the uniform of the "ya heard me??" set.

This is what I call their culture which is, in short, a manifestation of how the failure of an educational system which distributes funds to schools commensurate with the amount of tax dollars collected in that schools district, effectively giving the poorest, predominately black, kids the short end of the stick -i.e. the lowest paid teachers, crappiest facilities, scoreboards that indicates the home team losing 7 to 1 when the game is actually tied at 7, because there are a couple bulbs burned out, etc., These are also casualties of the seemingly rampant breakdown of the "traditional" family, which has devolved in such a way as to have to them, along with their half-siblings, being raised by, instead of their biological parents, their mother and a variety of men who all refer to her as: "baby momma."
This dynamic creates inherently half-wanted children who are only half likely to even attend those crappy schools, where they at least would be baby-sat.

They are marked by their, as if hard wired into their brains, excessive use of the interrogative: "Ya heard me??," which intersperses their conversation, uttered after almost every full stop.
The teens in front of me had been "ya heard me??"-ing up a storm, before one of them turned his head towards me and spotted me.

Something was exchanged between them, whereupon they apparently relinquished their effort to cross the street, and instead came closer to me, with one of them, even smaller and skinnier than the first, sitting on a railing a yard behind me, and staring at me, while his brother in "ya heard me?" stood a yard to my left, staring also.

It was probably the "let's see if we can make a white boy nervous" game that seemed fit for their mental capacities which they were playing; or they actually were assessing their chances of knocking me out and taking my bike and my guitar and my backpack.

I wasn't flinching; I knew that, with the concert going on across the street and thousands of people who had paid at least $49.50 per ticket making their way to the venue, that the whole block was being watched by cops.

I started to move, just to distance myself from them, so I could plot my strategy for busking, when the one on the railing grunted: "Hey!," or something, and then repeated it more loudly after I had continued to move away.

I looked at him. "You got another cigarette?"

I looked at him more closely. He was a no older than 16 year old kid asking me for a cigarette.
I was disgusted to think that they, who had been ready to cross the street in pursuit of whatever adventure, had spotted me and made me their mark, hoping to get whatever they could from me, and were settling on the consolation of a cigarette, after having tested me for nervousness.

"What the hell happened to you guys crossing the street?!? I exclaimed. "You were standing there, waiting for the light to change, and then you saw me and came back over here by me. You think people don't notice s*** like that?!? You need to have a mind before you can strengthen it!! I don't give my cigarettes away," I added, and then moved to a spot just around the corner from them, which was in the shadows and kind of out of view, in between some construction equipment and parked cars, but from where I could still see the theater.

The 2 "Ya heard me?"s left. 

A nervous white boy would have headed toward the lights and the parked cop cars of the middle of Canal Street. A crazy vigilante type one who loves to shoot punks and get away with it, would have slunk off into a shadow and out of view (they might think, though I was still very much on camera) hoping they would follow. This "reverse psychology" stratagem got rid of them.

I took a ride past the front entrance, where I heard what sounded like a conversation between a ticket scalper and a couple potential buyers. "...We haven't seen him since Jazzfest two years ago...we're dying to get in..."
I decided to set up a block away on Canal Street, across from the Joy Theater, thinking that there might be a rush of people between 7:20 PM, all the way up to within a few minutes before the start of the show at 8 PM, with the last stragglers going by at a fast pace.

I'm pretty sure that, if I had a ticket myself, I would get there about 12 minutes before showtime, as it can't take more than a couple minutes to find a seat after having stopped for a full 20 seconds to have the ticket stamped or whatever and a metal detector run across your body, or whatever.

It became evident that I had indeed gotten there too late. The "rush" of people never materialized, with most of those passing by easy to profile as not being Elvis Costello fans, but probably those who had been trying to skeeze, sell drugs or scalped tickets to the incoming people.

I was sounding good and, after I had gotten a dollar from a couple non Elvis related tourists, I decided to try to set up near one of the exits, out of which people would have to emerge to smoke cigarettes.

This is something that I had done, with mixed results, when Neil Young had played the Saenger Theater in Mobile, Alabama.

Then, I found one group of people who had stepped out because they weren't enjoying the concert, and who soon were conversing with kindred spirits, first about how Neil seemed "tired," and then about things not remotely related to music, like real estate deals, etc.

These people were proof against any attempts that I had made to busk and to sound not tired.
I had made a few good tips, though, off people who had stepped out just because they were dying for a cigarette.

It was a very similar scene, after I had managed to be able to set my milk crate just off the curb at the edge of the road and set up my tiposaurus and sign, with the marquee of the theater replacing my spotlight adequately and was able to play, without having to stand up, even.

One guy was hanging around who had some negative vibe about him "I don't give a f*** about Elvis Costello, I don't even know who he is," said the guy, who then flipped off someone in a car that had passed, with someone having yelled something out of one of the windows. He went on and on "Come back here and say that....blah blah blah." He was in the middle of telling me "the way things are done" in New Orleans, after having prefaced it with the mantra: "This is New Orleans, dude.." something involving murder.

It often happens that someone like he will start to spin this fabulous yarn about the city, after assuming that I am from out of town (just here to see Elvis Costello -hoping he would autograph my guitar, perhaps) and how much it seems to annoy him after I have given him a while to vent before I say: "I've been here 5 years, I live off Jefferson Davis Boulevard..."

"This is the Saenger, they aren't going to let you play here, are you kidding me?" was his little pep talk to me after I had gone to the other side of the exit, the side where he wasn't and was setting up my stuff.

I made about 8 bucks off of about 5 enthusiastic people; the rest of the people all seemed to be there so that they could say that they had seen Elvis Costello. There used to be people at the Grateful Dead concerts for the same reason. "They're such a big part of 60's culture that I just wanted to witness the scene," said one such.

I was playing "What's So Funny (About Peace, Love And Understanding)" in a pretty heavy rotation.
More than one person, upon stepping outside said: "That's what I came here for," in reference to the fact that I was doing one of the "rocking" songs from Elvis' early career. That just about told me that he was inside doing his jazz ballads, accompanied only by a piano, perhaps, or unplugged versions of almost every flavor of music except rocking flavor, that he could think of, bless his heart.

It seems like Elvis follows a formula something like: 25% of the audience should be hearing something that they aren't ready to accept, 50% starting to like his new style, and 25% loving it so much they don't even tear themselves away to go smoke a cigarette outside.

That was the downside. I am learning that the Saenger Theater, both here and in Mobile, can be like a musical museum, where people go to see musical curiosities, for posterity, perhaps. Kenny Rogers had played the previous week, add that to your list of accomplishments -seen one of the most commercially successful musicians of all time -check!

Then, after the place had emptied enough so that they closed the particular gate that I was almost in front of, I played a little longer, thinking that the people who were still hanging around might be the truest fans, too excited to go home, wanting to hang out and share their impressions with other like minded fans.

No, they were waiting for Elvis to come out the side door, hoping he would autograph something or pose for a picture, either of which they could have posted for sale on E-Bay, right next to the ones of Kenny Rogers, within minutes.

I had pedaled a few blocks away, when something made me spin around and go back.
There was a bus idling in front of a certain door where no more than a dozen people stood around.
A door opened and Elvis Costello came out.

With quick, jerky motions he waved and thanked, gave a few quick nervous laughs, signed I think at least one autograph. He was wearing the very same brown hat that I could find through Google and post, and basically the same outfit. His face looked smaller than I would have expected. He is kind of short and small. He put me in the mind of Rick Astley, the singer/songwriter who was on top of the world for about a half a year back in whatever year that was; and who had a deep booming voice and about whom people said things like: "I couldn't believe how short he was; he was a little runt; you wouldn't expect that kind of booming voice to come out of him; he must have an abnormally large chest cavity."

Then, I had kind of like a little head rush, from seeing something that looked so familiar that I had never actually seen before. I was trying to connect the guy whose voice I had listened to for half of my life, at times hanging on every nuance, with this nervous, frail looking guy who seemed totally uncomfortable, and who, after having been cajoled by a particularly large security guy to pose for a picture with a particular young lady; perhaps with the words "This young lady said that she has every one of your albums," and after having place his head a mere foot from hers and put a smile on its face for at least the 1/60th of a second that the shutter was open on the camera; sprung onto the bus, which pulled away less than a minute later.

He is a guy who could make a whole song about just posing for that picture, one which paints a clear "picture" of just what it means, in the grand scheme of things, to be able to hang a picture in your house and say: "Here I am with Elvis Costello" It would be multi faceted and through they eyes of everyone involved, including the guy sitting 25 feet away on a bike with the guitar on his back.
He could do it in his hotel room that same night, and have it recorded a week later.

There is no way that that guy is going to feel comfortable around strangers, vying for his attention and saying "you sounded great tonight" (especially if he had thought the sound had been a bit off that night) and I believe that, after a long career in music, he has determined that coming out the door and hopping on the bus as fast as he can is his best coarse of action.

How can the guy who wrote the line "I was just a boy, when men were men" (about how men were depicted in the black and white movies he saw as a kid [from: "Black And White World," off the album "Get Happy" album]) and hundreds of others; not feel uncomfortable around those superficial enough to want to have a picture of herself with him; or who probably desire the autograph for its material value?

That is why I gave Elvis a pass, for not having mingled with the dozen of so of us who were standing by his bus...
I am thinking about trying to e-mail him; perhaps polishing the above account into some kind of story that actually something and sending him a link to it.
 

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