Amy's daughter Hazel called us from New Orleans last night where Mardi Gras was in full swing. They don't have Mardi Gras here which is a shame because we could do with cheering up, but we remembered a Mardi Gras experience from four or five years ago in Cleveland, Ohio. I've lifted the whole thing out of some damp corner of my website. Hope you enjoy it.
Amy and I took a drive round downtown Cleveland the other night, looking for something to eat. A bit of a mistake at 11 o’clock at night because Cleveland just isn’t that sort of place. There wasn’t anything, or if there was it had already closed.
We drove round a corner and heard music coming from a large, glass-fronted bar. There was a band set up in the window - a boogie band - old school r‘n’b at its very worst. We were powerless to resist.
Once we got inside I knew exactly what had happened – we’d obviously been hit by a runaway truck as we came round the corner, and now we were dead. And as dead musicians this was where we had to go while the celestial authorities sorted out what to do with us.
It was the final day of Mardi Gras – Mardi Gras in Cleveland?? – so there was much drunkenness. Drinking had been going on all day, since 11 o’clock in the morning, and the staff were busy sluicing the floor in between the dancers. I had the impression that they were trying to wash away a lot of vomit.
People were festooned with cheap plastic Mardi Gras paraphernalia and due perhaps to a trick of the light, their faces had a subtle green tinge.
But that was no trick of the light – the green tinge was because they were dead, they were zombies. I looked at Amy and she was the same colour as I hoped I was but I knew this was probably about to change.
The band had been dead for longer than anybody else. That must have been how they got the job. They presented a terrifying spectacle. They were fronted by a woman in her fifties with wild blonde-from-a-bottle hair, a would-be Janis Joplin from the trailer park in a grubby black T-shirt and ill-fitting jeans. The guitar player was nondescript, grey with an unhealthy suntan, blanding out on a Fender Strat with custom pick-ups. The King of the Zombies was on bass - pastel green face and protruding chin, set off with a little white moustache.
And here I’ve noticed a phenomenon – the simplicity of the musical form offends the sensibilities of bass players in bands like this so they compensate by adding another string – it’s the truly dreadful cult of the five string bass. It’s just what The Blues needs, an extra low note here and there.
But the keyboard player was the star of the show - a blonde woman in her sixties, wearing a black stretch trouser suit. Tall and bony with extremely long legs, she perched on a bar stool, one leg launched into the air at an alarmingly acute angle, knee at chin height. The other leg stretched out in front and over to one side in a long, straight line. Her feet were encased in huge black platform trainers. She had a pronounced chin. A lantern jaw. They all had lantern jaws (except the singer – she didn’t really have a chin). They must have all been related. Or maybe it was just a side effect of being dead for a long time.
The first number bumped and ground to a finish and the singer burbled some semi-intelligible stuff into the hubbub – something about a busy schedule and checking out their website. Amy and I looked at each other open-mouthed –they’ve got a busy schedule and we’re hanging around trying to get our kicks in Cleveland.
Then they launched into a slow blues. The keyboard lady sang while the singer wailed on a thankfully almost inaudible harmonica. It was a masterpiece of the genre in that it seemed to encompass a snatch of every famous blues song ever written without actually have any form of its own. When everyone in the band except the drummer had taken a solo or two and we’d woken up this morning, walked all the way to Chicago and gambled our existence away in a whorehouse in New Orleans, the first lady of the keyboard brought the number to a halt by thrusting a bony fist into the air. The band stopped, she pulled her arm sharply downwards and the tune went into a swirling, gurgling finish. I was thrilled to bits – she’d flushed the song down an imaginary toilet.
They couldn’t possibly have topped that, or if they could we didn’t need to know about it, so we left.