Monday, December 6, 2010

Make Something Up

Years ago our band was playing music in a seedy nightclub, the kind of place you'd never ever go--an ugly concrete box on a dirty street in a mean section of downtown Little Rock where only bikers and construction workers felt at home--when, just as we were playing our last song, my roommate John T. came into the club followed close behind by two girls and a guy, the three them huddled closely together.

John had met these three at a college party and discovered they were jazz lovers, so he convinced them to come with him to see us play. In particular he told them several lies about me--how I was such a great jazz player (when I fact our band just played cover tunes and I could not play real jazz piano at all). John was a first-class liar.

I could easily have set the record straight but it was late, I was depressed about the dull, sad state of my life, and I was a little jealous of these brightly polished people out on a break from medical school and never before in a nightclub and certainly never in a place like this. Why not let them like me a little? So we all talked jazz, how we liked Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson, and I was very cool about it.

About an hour or so later, 30 or 40 people had gathered in my house for a party, yet another party fueled by John's excessively enthusiastic personality. I had my grand piano in the living room. The three students were there, still stuck closely together and now sitting on the couch a few feet away from the piano. An assortment of drunks and other musicians wandered about in their normally stupid fashion.

John and I stood at the far end of the room, far away from my piano. "I told them you were going to play," he whispered into my ear like a kid on Christmas morning. He didn't have a clue about jazz or my inability to play it. In Vietnam, John was a general's assistant, so he never saw combat. "Vietnam was a big party for me," he liked to say.

"They're going to leave," John continued, still grinning his goofy grin. He was always smiling. "Play something."

"I don't know any jazz, John," I said. "That's the problem."

"Crap, make something up."


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