Inspection- Of Intuition, Irony and the Piano Man Plays a Martin Guitar
In 1973, or late 72, I started playing a local bar in Utica, NY called: The Barbershop, around New Years. Called “The Barbershop” because it was the former location of, you guessed it, a barbershop. Unless you count my little kid performances with some famous folks you might know, shows I barely remember, at Hootenannies in the late 50s, my first full time gig was in 71-72 in my home town: Big Moose, at The Little Fox. The Barbershop was my second regular full time gig: every Saturday, a paid for with “free beer” gig… at first. The owner had taken a tremendous risk reopening a bar that had been closed due to fights and drug deals, then kicking the infamous patrons out when they tried to return. He couldn’t afford me, but I liked the place so, as I told him, “What the Hell.”
Within a few months he started paying me. Perhaps it was due to my intense talent, but more than likely it was because I drank too much damn beer. I was costing too much. And sometimes, well let’s just say the third set was very short.
I was still playing there when Billy Joel’s The Piano Man was released as a single and I started playing it at the bar. As one regular said, “Hey! The Piano Man Plays a Martin guitar.” I still have it: a 1972 D18, in case you’re curious.
I swear, when I selected the song I didn’t know there would be any irony. I opened up my very first set with The Piano Man at The Barber Shop. But since I mixed my own songs freely in with whatever was on the radio at the time, every time I played it I was asked, “Did you write that for us?” I had to admit: Billy Joel. But there was more “irony” to the song than just a guitar player playing it. For those who know the lyrics get this…
At the Barbershop the bartender’s name was John. He frequently helped me with “a light” for my “smoke.” He confided in me he hated his job and wanted an acting career. We had a “Davie” who was still in the Navy. And one of my regular patrons was Paul who was into real estate, but wanted to be a novelist.
It’s those kind of ironies in life that seem to make living a fascinating endeavor, I suppose. Ironies like the same movement I was a part of in the 60s, and abandoned, has more power now than they imagined they might ever have back then. Oh, Buckley and Goldwater might have had more than a few wet dreams: to have a Conservative president (2), a Conservative Congress: from mid-90s until 2006. But having the kind of bullhorn only media oracles like FOX can offer, and the rest of the media joining forces with the FOX and few willing to hunt, or confront, the vile creature for its devious ways, extreme Right talking point goosestepping?
I doubt either Goldwater or Buckley imagined that.
Buckley fell off that wagon, several times actually… starting back when he and his brother decided it was time for Nixon to go. Goldwater stalked away from the bandwagon back before the GOP decided that defending your country was not worth it if defending your country included defending it with gays. Another irony is that the present movement is more like the most extreme of radical left in the 60s than those past tense movement icons: willing to do, say, anything to steal the national bullhorn, hold the national stage hostage; or storm it if for a moment they and their causes aren’t front and center.
I think your life being on the line and being sent off to Hell in the form of a jungle might have provided a hell of a lot motivation. And I suspect much of the Left these days is jealous, but unwilling to do whatever it takes to grab the ball back: even when it has been fumbled big time, Jon Stewart seeming to be a current exception.
No surprise: a few of the radical Right were once members of the radical Left. Treasuring the ability to beat on others more than whatever causes they espoused, they just switched to the side more willing to beat, kill, maim in a rhetorical sense… and occasionally, unfortunately, not so “rhetorical.”
In an evil, perverted, dishonest, oh so sick, way it’s consistent, I suppose. They’re into beat downs, not philosophy. To alter the old cigarette ad a smidge: they’d rather switch so they can fight some more. Not everyone into the anti-war movement was all that peaceful, or hippie-ish, though the contrast is stark. Seems a philosophical move to the right can carry with it extra incentive to nastier forms of violence.
They’ve “learned.” They’ve “fine tuned” their efforts, doing the extreme Left “one better.” Instead of planting bombs in toilets to go off late at night and calling in advance to vacate the building, they walk into churches in Knoxville, they drive fertilizer trucks fill with nitrate up to buildings in Oklahoma City, they tie gays to fences in Texas, murder medical personnel at clinics and they slice open the throat of a cabbie because he’s a Muslim.
Ah, “perfecting” the “art,” just like the Brownshirts perfected theirs.
I find it interesting that, for a while, the Conservative movement was, for all intents and purposes, somewhat shut down. This was during the time between Nixon and Reagan, the same time I played The Barbershop. I was shut down myself, not too long before Nixon lost his job through resignation. I “resigned” too. John, the bartender, left… probably looking for brighter fresnels to light his “stage.” The new bartender refused to pay me. I talked with the owner and he paid me. He promised to talk to the bartender. The bartender refused to pay me again, saying, “Nobody told with me.” I told the owner “one more time.” Well, you know what happened.
I have a few memories from The Barbershop…
When I played my biggest fan lived upstairs, which was otherwise empty as far as I knew. Sometime during the second set he would come down to watch. Hovering over my head. He? …was a bat. I always had a sense something I’d rather not be there was watching. I thought it might be an old girlfriend from the lake I lived on who drove me nuts with her “come, here, come here, go away” act.
No, it was a bat. And intuition told me to keep playing despite that awful, gut wrenching feeling. Even after I found out it was a bat. Intuition was right. The bat never bothered me, though a couple times I think I heard a squeal or two of “applause.”
My first girlfriend in college, Debbie, and I had just left. We were discussing politics, I believe. Surprised? To get her home I had to hook a left onto Route 5S and then a right. The discussion was pretty animated. After my left I looked at Debbie and said, “Look at that fool. He’s going the wrong damn way on 5S.” Back to the discussion. I looked up and we both screamed.
Luckily my next turn off was quick: no one was hurt except my pride and a lot of angst. The discussion was so animated I had turned left too soon; I had turned into the right lane: the wrong lane.
Sometimes I make intuitive choices well, despite girlfriends who drove me bats, or actual bats, I continued to play, The Piano Man on my Martin and sing. Sometimes I don’t make such choices all that well: there are always consequences. But politically, since the 1980s, I can’t help but think…
We’re in the wrong damn lane.
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
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