So yesterday I was riding the bus, which I only do when I need to tote both my guitar and amp downtown. The two-plus miles is just a little too far for the ~60 pound carry, especially given an injured shoulder and wrist, and sidewalks that are a mess from a foot of snow last week.
A couple of stops after boarding, on steps a guy with a very tattered beige coat, like something that might have been involved in say, some street fights, or use as a dog’s bed. He was dragging a heavy-looking plastic bag full recyclables, and sat down next to me.
“Play the guitar, eh?”
“Yeah” says I.
“What kind of stuff you like?”
“Acoustic 12…a lot of Bob Dylan, but also John Gorka, Chris Smither, Greg Brown, the Dead, some Zeppelin…some of my own stuff too.”
In the five minutes before he got off, he told me the abridged version of how he once played a lot, both guitar and keyboards, apparently as a professional musician, including a lot of local shows at various venues, with a band was busy and popular, mostly back in the 1980s and 90s I gathered. He said he made good money at it and even shared the bill with some well-known bands/acts, such as Mitch Ryder, Steppenwolf, and (I think) Dave Alvin’s band (The Blasters?). About how Ryder once got quite upset with him, when his band was supposed to be opening his show but he was instead drunk in a local bar, having completely forgotten about it. His band mates had to track him down, and the resulting delay caused Ryder to open for him, instead of vice-versa. He smiled at the memory.
I asked him if he was still performing or playing. He talked for a couple of minutes–about how that’s all gone now. He lives on disability and food stamps, supplemented I guess, by whatever he gets from collecting and hauling recyclables via foot and bus, and street begging, which he said he makes some money at.
“Yeah, I could…but damn alcohol…” he said.
As he got up to get off, I invited him to bring his guitar and we could jam together on the street. He said that would be cool, and would do so. There wasn’t time to get his name or number. Hope I see him again.
Now you would not think, just to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row