Friday, September 02, 2005
Can't help but think about the last night I was in New Orleans a few months back. I walked down Canal to Royal (a block away from Bourbon) and was just looking in the windows of the furniture stores and estate sale stores. As I passed one entryway, an older man spoke up.
"Where you from?" It scared the hell out of me. I just wasn't expecting it.
"Chicago," I said, making it clear I didn't want any trouble.
"How would you like to hear a Chicago song?"
With that, my demeanor melted in the midst of a song I can barely remember. My years of formal music education told me that he knew what he was playing. He was really good -- not your typical street musician.
He finished the number, then explained why this song about New Orleans was really a Chicago song. It was one of many Louis Armstrong wrote while married to Lil Harden, about how much he missed his wife (who was still in New Orleans) while he worked with the band in Chicago.
With my approval, he played me another song.
"Now this is a New Orleans song." We talked for a while. His wife, who was sitting in a wheelchair behind him, bundled up in what must have been several layers of fleece shirts and sweatpants to guard from the chilly night air, advised me on my later-in-life desire to pick up the acoustic guitar and teach myself.
He and I talked about some of his better times in the south central Illinois area, traveling through the state during his career as a road musician.
I slipped him a 20 and declined the offer to hear more. I thought it was time to move on. I kind of just wanted to be alone that night.
I'm sure they're both gone. She was very frail. They obviously were out on the street every night, if not all the time, trying to keep it together.
Might pick up the guitar tomorrow and play a while.