Sunday, November 08, 2009

Tenacious Beej and the Pick of Destiny

We left Club Passim in Cambridge, Massachusetts in a post-fabulous-concert glow at nearly 1 in the morning. As we walked through Harvard Square I held Todd’s hand and he brought my hand into his coat pocket to keep it warm, like he often does.

“I have another surprise for you in my pocket,” he said with a mischievous smile. I couldn’t imagine what else he could have surprised me with, but I pulled out a guitar pick. 

“Ooooh! You grabbed this off the stage for me after the show?” I giggled. “Thanks for not making fun of me for mooning around like a teenager tonight.” I admired the pick. It was the same brand as the one I pulled off of Suzanne Vega’s stage many years ago, but hers was thinner. I wonder where that pick ever went. I never used it.

Back in 1996 was the first time I saw Willy Porter in concert. He had opened up for Toad the Wet Sprocket and The Cranberries. I still love Toad, but am so over The Cranberries. (When I used to perform I did a parody of “Zombie” that went “He’s made of clay-ay. Made of clay-ay-ay-ay. Gumby! Guh-um-by!”) I went to this show with my best friend Sue, her then boyfriend Pete, and the boy who lived next door to me when I grew up in East Windsor, Josh. Pete and Josh were good friends, and Josh is still good friends with my brother Kaz. Willy stood on the stage with his guitar and his fingers flew up and down the fret board as he sang. Josh, who also plays guitar, stood next to me and joined me in my slack jawed stare as Willy played.

Then I sorta forgot about Willy Porter until I recently stumbled upon a song of his on Pandora. It was last fall, when I could still listen to Pandora at work. It was the song “Angry Words” that caught my attention. I turned up the volume and listened closer. His bright sounding acoustic guitar blended perfectly with his slightly gravelly voice. I clicked over to the browser window and saw that it was Willy Porter. “No way,” I muttered out loud. “How on earth did I forget about this guy?” I pulled out my list of must-check-out artists that I had formulated from listening to Pandora all day at work, and scrawled “Willy Porter***!!!” on the very top of the list. Then Pandora was banned at work, and the list of must-check-out artists is growing thin.

But I ran right out and bought “High Wire Live” during lunch that day. And it’s been in the CD player at home, in the car and on the boat for most of the last year. (I took a Willy Porter hiatus in the spring, however, when my recent obsession with Neil Peart erupted and I began to listen to Rush in doses that are probably illegal in several states.) 

Last night we sat down in the very front for the 7 PM show at Club Passim. Luke Doucet opened with a half dozen songs—melodic guitar and gritty lyrics, beautifully executed. Then Willy came on with a full band. He played effortlessly, he sang and joked with his band mates and told hilarious anecdotes between songs. But the thing that struck me the most was his smile. He beamed as he played and sang and made it very obvious that he thoroughly enjoys his job.

At nearly 9 the show ended. We left the club and wandered to the ATM to get some cash for the lot where Todd parked the car. Even though home is an hour and a half away from Harvard Square, I wasn’t ready to leave. I joked with Todd about getting tickets for Willy’s 10:00 show. 

We walked through Harvard Square, Todd leading the way because I didn’t know where he parked the car.

“Hey, is that Palmer Street?” he asked. “So, we’re back at Club Passim? Wow, I just took us in a big circle,” he said apologetically as we stood in front of the club. “Oh well, I guess we’ll have to go back in and watch the 10:00 show.” He handed me the cash he’d gotten out of the ATM so I could buy every CD on the table that I didn’t yet have—4 Willy Porters and 2 Luke Doucets. Then we sat in the front on the other side of the stage than we had during the 7:00 show.

I got up to use the bathroom, which was in the same hallway as the performers dressing room. Willy walked by, and I thanked him for playing “Angry Words,” which had made me squeal in a vocal range I had no idea I could even produce. I told him how that song had been on repeat in the car a lot lately.  Then I cringed and said "Yeah, that probably sounds psycho," and he just laughed.  We chatted in the hallway for a bit about how I rediscovered him on Pandora. He unlocked his dressing room door and I immediately grew self-conscious about having kept him from escaping the milling fans in the hallway.

“I.. um… just so you know I am actually waiting for the ladies room, and not just lurking outside your dressing room,” I said to him. He laughed and said that he figured that. (Ugh! I am such a dork!)

I sat at the table and systematically opened every CD and read all the liner notes until Todd suggested I get one autographed. 

“I’m not going to do that! How dorky!” I cowered.

“Come on, he’s right over there at the bar. When are you going to get this chance again?”

I batted my eyes at him.

“So, you want me to do it?” he asked.

I batted them again.

“Oh for crying out loud,” he laughed and took my copy of “Dog Eared Dream” to the bar. I sat there chastising myself for not doing it myself. Then I walked over.

“Hey, you made it,” Todd laughed.

“I make my husband do my dirty work for me,” I explained to Willy. “But then I told myself to man up,” I shrugged.

“Yeah, she’s been listening to your CD like it’s her job,” Todd laughed.

“That’s not true, I swap it out for Rush occasionally,” I reminded him.

“You’re swapping me for Rush? I love Rush!” Willy smiled.

“Yeah, I am in a full on Neil Peart obsession right now,” I explained.

“Understood,” he laughed. I told him about how I’d devoured all four of Peart’s memoirs in the spring, “Yeah, he’s got nothing to say, huh?” he joked and signed my copy of “Dog Eared Dream.”

Then we sat down and listened to Luke Doucet all over again. Then we listened to Willy Porter and Co. all over again and watched him drop that orange guitar pick.

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Anonymous Taoist Biker said...

That is a damned cool story.

Dys and I are seeing Jonny Lang for the fifth time this week! WOO! :D

November 9, 2009 at 11:20 AM  
Blogger BJ Knapp said...

So, you've seen him 5 times this week? Or is this the fifth time you've ever seen him.

I've heard good things, must check him out. Maybe I'll set up a Pandora station at home. Nah, not bitter about it being banned at work. Not at all.

November 9, 2009 at 12:25 PM  

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