Neal and Jack and Me

eaPaul asked me how the reading went and I had to make a positive noise. However, I quickly added, the wierdest thing happened:

We had cleared the floor, staggered the loudspeakers, clipped the lights on the sprinkler pipes and painted the pallet black, hoping it would give each reader a sense of presence without giving them an episode of vertigo. They had milled about and worried their work. Z had tracked 60 cycle hums through the system. The cat had climbed into the loft, into the 2-drawer cabinet that was missing its drawers, and taken position in the very back of its recess behind the SCSI cabling.

That’s a show, waiting to happen.

Then Beat Progeny John showed up with a fellow traveler and while no one turned deferential exactly, for that would be a dead giveaway, everyone ratcheted up a bit, while being sure not to. Know what I mean? But John was like so many people I had seen in the parking lot: grandfurther trucker’s lid, face lit up by drink, bad surfer hair, a keen sense of when parties were much, much better but glad for the opportunity nonetheless. A very likeable person, I’m trying to say. One you could count on to give you a bear hug to bring you back down after a particularly unexpected effect from the garbage bag full of nitrous.

And I missed this part of the email exchanges between all the participants: I had been identified as the house drummer. Rhythmatist, maybe. Beat source, if you will. Sonic landscaping, ambient swirl. Drummer had a thunk to it that I couldn’t undo. It was just an unadorned way of looking at things and I dared not protest too much.

So when John and singer-songwriter JB and writer Levi set up and began to rehearse, I acted polite and played my shoe, the way drummers do when passing the time. Then, over the course of the rehearsal, just… layed something small down.

How happy they were! How supportive and encouraging! John kept egging me on, calling me Ringo to make me feel as egged, or egg-y, as possible. I kept leaning around my kit to send wide-eyed alarm looks to Z. Someone is calling me Ringo! the wide eye to the left said, twirling clockwise. The distance between my impression of Beat Progeny (long cultivated) and my experience of Beat Progeny (20 minutes old and rising) is very great! the wide eye to the right said, twirling counterclockwise. Z turned the gain up. Z turned the reverb down. Z scowled at the 60-cycle thing and traced his plumbing for the hundredth time.

Plus!

They were playing a traditional song (sam collins ’31; woodie guthrie ’40; grateful dead ’71 and forward), and I lowered my head to my snare, hoping I would suck bad enough to be left out of the performance.

I didn’t.

So I hoped no one would know how bone-crushingly just it is to have me play this music after years of honing my critical dismissal of it.

Sometimes you just have to finish a gig. No one is interested in your process.

And John just kept talking: first about ’71, then about Ringo, then about his job, then with Levi, then gripping shoulders of friends and posing and taking snapshots, bravely announcing: Just Like Neal & Jack, Huh? I just blinked around the room for confirmation from any of the others, none forthcoming. I thought about what it would be like to be a software engineer with a flagged musical career and a famous dad and a way of drinking dinner on Saturday night. Z headed out to the taqueria with John and JB and got to hear how much wilder Alameedy was in the 60s.

Even with that many authors tossing words from spotlit mouth to shadowed ear, I kept lip-biting over what was happening at my house. This is a good example of what it’s like to be a perfect head case, in case you want to try it out on your own.

And although John referred to the memoir he would someday soon begin writing, he did so almost by way of apology to the skein of published writers slow boiling in the room. I wanted to tell him it just wasn’t necessary. He should just continue to have the best time he could possibly have. He met someone more famous than he, who nodded and told him: I knew your dad. Tell me about him, John asked.

And my feeling changed.

At a certain point, I started to write down everything he said on my hand.

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