Election Night Sounds Like America

On Election Night, I was asked to go sing some songs down at the M Bar in Hollywood. For some reason, as the day got closer, I started thinking I wanted to play a lot of cover songs. I don’t usually. But as I rehearsed, I kept coming back to the idea that there probably weren’t going to be very many people there, since most of America would be home watching election returns, so why not try new things?

On Tuesday night, then, I played at least a half dozen songs that I’ve never done outside of my living room before. There were Tom Waits songs, Johnny Cash songs, a Glenn Danzing song, one by Dax Riggs (those two were my retro-Halloween mini-set), a Lead Belly song (who no one in the audience had heard of), and a couple more. The expectedly small crowd and I had fun, I think.

Lying in bed that night, after finding out that Barack Obama would remain president, I wondered why I’d played the songs I had. I love election nights, have since I was a kid, and I realized that without meaning to, I’d picked out a set of songs that all reminded me of America. I played songs by legends and by relative unknowns (including me), old songs and new from songwriters of many faiths and no faith, across several different genres. And without meaning to, I think I had subconsciously tried to share the musical tapestry that I see in my mind when I think of American music. It was an interesting night, and interesting insight.

Incidentally, there was only one song I could close with. So I did…

Road Stories: The Russian Dude

After a somewhat crappy show at the Pig ‘N Whistle in Hollywood, I went to the bar and got a beer.  Standing beside the bar, a guy with a heavy Russian accent, a purple shirt unbuttoned to his stomach, and a heavy gold chain complimented our set and I thanked him, then went to watch the next act, Olivia May.

After Olivia’s set, I went out to the balcony/stairs to get some air, and the Russian Dude followed. He told me “I like your drummer. He knows jazz. I like the jazz. I play the jazz. All my life.  Sorry for my English.”  Dude was a drummer, I also was a drummer for many, many years, and I told him so. “This is cause for celebrate. You come. You drink,” he tells me.  We go back to the bar, and he tells the bartender to give me anything I want, on him. I get another beer, and Russian Dude says “Also for this guy and his girlfriend.” He points to Olivia and her boyfriend.  “Also this guy, and…her.”  He picked two others at random, and bought us all drinks.

Talk returns to drumming.  “I play anything. I play seven, nine, eleven. Anything.” These are complicated mixed-time signature patterns that are beyond me.  I tell him I’m impressed, and he says “You want see six? I show you six,” and proceeds to bang out this really stunning pattern on the edge of the bar with his palms.  We head back out to the balcony, myself, Russian Dude, and Olivia and her small entourage — six or seven of us total.  Russian Dude says “Who wants to hear great, amazing music? Complex, great music, two minutes.” Everyone nods and says sure, and he says “You come,” and heads down to the parking lot below.

I follow, and look behind me to realize I’m the only one.  Everyone else had just been smiling and nodding at the foreign guy, not having any idea what he was saying.  So it’s me and Russian Dude, and he unlocks his S-Class Mercedes and climbs in. Knowing this is the part of the story where I will probably get killed, I get in the passenger’s side, leave the door open, and keep one foot on the pavement.

Dude cranks up the car, fires up the stereo, and plays me…Iron Maiden.  As loud as his car can manage.  Which is goddamn loud.

We went back up to join the others, Russian Dude bought us all another round, and we held up our glasses and said thank you, to which he replied “Thank you for America.”  Olivia asked him what he did, and he politely shook his head and said “No.”

Thank you, Russian Dude.  For the drinks, your generosity, your absolutely unique spirit, and for turning a lackluster night into an awesome one by giving me this story.