Friday, November 23, 2012

I'm Always Chasing Rainbows

One of the great pleasures of the last year or two has been performing at long term care facilities. Not only do I get a chance to play nice pianos for a captive audience but once in a while a resident will interrupt the final chorus of "Moon River" to request a song. At the Clipper Home a man as white as a bed sheet croaked up, "Do you know Honeysuckle Rose?" and I really had to work to sight read that one but on the third try I played a passable melody. Today the song was the obscure "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" from 1918, revived by Andy Williams in 1965 and then forgotten...except by 90 year old Texas gentlemen.

Honestly, the request was more like this:
" like that...up...down?"
Oggy thinks, "I need a bit more info, old chap."
"Good song..."
"Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head? By Burt Bacharach? I've got that."
"All of Me?"
"No. The melody..."
"Is it from Broadway? Some Enchanted Evening? I've Grown Accustomed To..."
"Rainbows....Chasing Rainbows..."
"I'm Always Chasing Rainbows?"
"Yes. Do you know that?"
"Not from memory."

It's been 4 weeks of trying to play piano at this place that is directly across the street. I basically ignored any problems with the apartment (rats running like uncaged bats in the attic, bi-curious landlord, no shower, a mattress with springs popping out of the fabric, 30 year old decor) because when I visited the old age home there was a nearly brand new baby grand piano in perfect working condition. I played two notes and my knees melted. It's a $30K piano that the family of a resident who has passed on donated in typical Texan fashion by going to a piano showroom and asking for the most expensive piano in stock. Few instruments make the player better but this is one of those instruments and out of courtesy I tried to get the entertainment director to call me back to no avail. 4 weeks of me going over there every other day and leaving notes with my phone number and knowing no one is playing that fine piano like a beautiful stripper hanging out alone and naked in a bathroom. Finally, I figured it was Friday and I had a day off and instead of getting my driver's license switched to Texas I took my sheet music and put on a clean sweater and marched over there. Of course she took an early day off but the RN took mercy on me and said, "Come back at dinner. 5:15." I nodded and showed up at 5:15 with an arm full of sheet music. I found a whole crowd of crippled men and women with walkers wearing baby blue cardigan sweaters waiting for me. I fumbled around with my books and heard one of the women whisper, "I don't think he's ever played before."
Ok, it would be a tough audience and as my opening song I played Pachabel's Canon in D because I can fake that song all day long and get the audience on my side.

My internet access is too limited to upload video but trust me when I say it was a safe performance. No Jerry Lee Lewis or endless verses of the Layla piano outro. That will come later. Today was safe pieces like "Bill Bailey" and "Weekend in New England" by Barry Manilow. I kept them entertained for a while and tried to remember how to play piano. Some people turn 30 years old and plan their careers and their families. I plotted out how exactly I would play pop piano at old age homes and believe me it required some severe austerity measures considering I could only play one song ten years ago. Like I tell adults when they ask me to teach them to play blues guitar. "You can do it, but it will require total commitment to irresponsibility."

The request for "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" is funny because as soon as he requested it I knew I owned the music since I specifically purchased an Andy Williams songbook for that song thinking I could turn it into an Oggy theme song. "My schemes are just like all my dreams, ending in the sky." Of course it's not a song for solo guitar and I've had no access to a piano because society views me as a disgusting dirtbag, so I've carried this stupid Andy Williams songbook from New Brunswick to Texas but I didn't take it to the old age home so I told him he'd have to wait. Then a woman stopped by the piano to thank me and browsed my books of sheet music.
"Bob Wills?" she immediately exclaimed.
It's hard to imagine these men and women lived during the western swing dance era when basically 100% of Texans would swing dance for hours a day as recreation. Western Swing was invented in San Antonio. This was before Big Red soda crippled the health of the South. It's a rare day when all the handicap wheelchairs are not occupied by wide-assed 400 lb folks at the supermarket with crates of Big Red ("The Official Soft Drink of The Texas Diabetes Society") in their basket. It's pure poison and I'm not in favor of prohibition but this shit is more dangerous than crystal meth. It's bewildering how it is not illegal. I took a sip of someone's soda at work and literally had to spit it out. I've never been so repulsed by something so popular except when it comes to Hannah Montana and Justin Beiber and Twilight.

But I digress. I got my Bob Wills book and looked at the 90 year old woman, "You want to hear some Western Swing?" I felt it would be violating some rules but I quickly acquiesced. "Ok."
And I had never played "Bring it on Home to My House" except on guitar but that song really swings on the piano. I had to sing it because the proper tempo is beyond my sight reading abilities to play the melody. My painfully slow rendition of "You Are So Beautiful" pretty much put everyone to sleep (I actually heard snoring in the dining room), but this Bob Wills song woke them back up. I ended with "The Night Life ain't the Good Life, But it's My Life"

If anyone wants to sing with me that would be great. This is one rainbow I finally caught.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great story! Well done and keep on playing!

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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.