I rode up to the Peet’s at Vine and Walnut to buy a pound of coffee early this evening. I got a free cup of coffee and sat at an outside table. A guy with an acoustic guitar, and an open guitar case to receive the offerings of passers-by, had taken up a position on the corner. He played halfway decently. I heard a couple of lines from a song he was singing in sort of a scratchy bass monotone and recognized it as “When You Awake,” an old favorite that The Band recorded in 1969 on a brown-covered album called “The Band.” It’s sort of a winsome remembrance of childhood. Rick Danko sang it in a pure, lonesome tenor that I could instantly hear when I realized what the streetcorner troubadour was playing. I got up, walked over to where he was standing, and dropped a bill into the guitar case. “I love that song,” I said.
Then I went and sat down. He started another song. “Time to Kill.” I got ready to leave, and walked over to him again. “You’re partial to The Band,” I said. “Yeah. Especially that brown album,” he replied. Then he said, “How about this one,” and started playing the song “Stage Fright.” I couldn’t help myself. Having sung that song thousands of times along with the record, I joined in. A couple strolled up the street, and I wondered how much I might resemble one of the corner denizens hustling change (I’m convinced that in my well-worn shorts and flannel shirts I look more and more like a panhandler as I get older). Never mind. I kept singing. He took a short cut past my favorite part of the song —“Now when he says that he’s afraid, better take him at his word. / For the price this poor boy has paid, he gets to sing just like a bird” — because he said it was too high for him to sing. We got to the end. I thanked him, and he thanked me. As I walked away, he started into another favorite, a gloomy romantic number called “All La Glory.” I was tempted to try a duet on that, too, but went on my way.
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3 Replies to “Troubadour Moment”
Beautiful. It would have been hard not to sing along.
It’s funny, yesterday I listened to a Band concert I hadn’t heard before, King Biscuit Flower Hour broadcast from 76, just a few months before The Last Waltz. Aside from the ravages of Manuel’s voice, the performances were very good, and they did some songs I hadn’t heard live before, Twilight, Forbidden Fruit, Ophelia.
Remind me some time to tell you about the night I met Garth Hudson, if I haven’t already.
Steve, I thought you’d like that. I’d love to hear the Garth Hudson story. Maybe I can meet you over at The Pub one of these nights. …
What strikes me most about that nice story is how much we may or may not have in common with our parents. Similarly to something I was talking to you about last weekend this is one of those things that I have nothing in common with either you or my mom. I would be way too self-conscious to sing along, no matter how much I may want to on the inside.