It happened like most things—accidentally. Light Fingers Lewy and I, about eight or nine bottles of the nectar in, and the guitars come out, his fingers gone heavy, my voice gone shredded from cigarettes. It never matters. Sometimes the stars align, and it’s a night when you sing with your eyes closed, when your legs can’t sit still while you play, when the scales seem enormous and the riffs like a catcher’s mitt waiting for the seams to hit. For a night, Thursday night to be exact, at the wind down of Lewy’s two-day birthday bash, we were gods of porch rockin’, real hostel howlers.
The staff gathered round us, a few guests joined, gave up their warm seats inside, the mundane conversations about where-you-goin’ and where-you-been, and we entertained. I remember it in glimpses, the guitar riding across my lap in swings and tilts, my feet tapping out time with heavy stomps as my fingers tinkled over strings, Lewy barely steady on his seat as he plucked into the next song, his eyes gone a little weighty in the lids. I love that scene. I love forgetting time and just going. I love when it happens so organically, so ridiculously not at your best.
The next night, two guests, an Austrian and a German guy looked confused when at eight o’clock, the rock stars from the night before were heading off to bed. Christoph, the lengthy blond Austrian one, contorted his face at my “Buenos noches” and simply replied, “Really?” It was nice to feel loved, to feel that adoration from a fan-base of two, but one simply cannot play inspired every night. As far as I was concerned, I wasn’t going to give them a second-rate performance. That was beneath me, like a mattress.
In the morning of the next day, I looked up some new tablature, some Devil Makes Three tunes that I’ve been wanting to learn, and sitting in the corner, I played with a quiet reserve, a more earthly imprecision than drunk and raring through it all. Christoph came and spread across the couch near me to sneakily listen. This time his eyes were closed and mine were darting from chord to lyrics, my brain straining to remember the combination the way I do Tom Waits tracks I’ve been playing for eight or nine years. It was the first time, in a long time, that I wanted to expand my playlist, to attempt to please an audience.
On Saturday night, I tried to drink enough to get inspired. I smoked more than I wanted to tear a new ass-kicking hole in my vocal register, the sort of rip that cracks in unreachable notes but sounds emotionally authentic, so not so bad. At about nine, I grabbed the guitar and invited Lewy, who was being a mortal bartender, to come out and play. I started with “Jersey Girl”, one of my favorites and one of the few songs where I think my voice shines a little. It went well enough, but the inspiration just seemed to wane with each number, new or regurgitated from Thursday. It just didn’t work the same.
I’ve never quite understand that magic, never got if it’s the people listening, the people playing, or the amount of booze involved. I’ve never understood what makes me give in to play and sing above my level, whether or not I actually do, or why can’t do it on demand. I’ve forever concerned myself with being that a-hole who know one wants to listen to, who keeps playing (It brings to mind a guest who stood on the lawn free-style rapping one night until Scott, a big ole’ boy who works here from time to time, finally growled for him to shut the f-up.) No one wants to be that guy.
Regardless, Thursday has renewed me with a fervor that I haven’t had since 1999 (and I’m not talking about Prince). I went for nearly a year without picking up a guitar, and year in Moscow no less, where December through April were more or less spent inside. Emma says I sing better now than before—no practice to produce that, just getting finer with age. I feel new rhythms coming out of my fingers. I feel an old cry calling me. So, I apologize for those who thought they’d seen the last of Jonnie Angel from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He’s turned up in Guatemala, baby.
This blog occurs once a week, the entries being thematically mixed between expat life in Guatemala and life as an NGO groupie. The photos for this blog, website, and my life are all provided by my beautiful wife Emma.