Saturday, September 16, 2006

life in the off-beat

Keep the lights low so the patrons don’t see the grime, so the patrons don’t see each other. An age-old trick utilised by barmen down through the ages; illusionists, all of them. Building a haven from a hovel, a sanctuary from a shack. Keep the lights low so nothing is seen for what it really is: a wooden crate of cast-offs waiting to be picked up by the rubbish collectors.

“You always gotta play that jazz here?” Clive asks roughly, his eyes not budging from the paper in front of him.

I stop before him, resting on my elbows, leaning across the bar.

“What would you prefer I play, Clive?”

He looks up at me with bloodshot eyes over his bulbous, red nose. “Something with words,” he says, “I dunno – anything.”

“There are words,” I say. “Just have to listen for them.” I straighten up and begin tapping out a rhythm down the bar top with my index fingers. “Hear that, Clive? That’s a little off-beat syncopation for ya. A little stress between the beat.”

“Stress all right,” Clive snorts. “Little busy ain’t it?”

I laugh. “Just listen, Clive. You hear that? Hear that guitar riff, there?” I stop, cocking my head, concentrating. “Leads into a bit of call and response with the trumpet right aboouuuut…now. Cool, huh? You hear what they’re saying, Clive? You hear that?”

“I hear something,” he says, “the sound of a man losing his mind.”

“Okay, right here, Clive – the guitar says, ‘Clean, clean, come clean, baby’, and the trumpet says, ‘I’m as clean as I wanna be’, just like that. They’re talking to each other.”

“Right,” he says, “sure. How ‘bout you set me up with another pint o’ lager, jazz boy.”

“Coming right up, there, Clive,” I say, snatching a bleached pint glass from the end of the bar. “Coming right up.”

A forty-five degree tip of the glass, a simple pull of the tap, and I’m delivering a perfect pint of golden goodness into Clive’s hairy mitt. A quick glance at my watch reveals that it’s seven o’clock on the nose. Time to dim the lights a little more. Turn the music up just a notch. Get this night in gear. Evening staff will be showing up soon—

—and here’s Janine, one of my waitresses, walking in the door right now.

“Long hair tonight, hey?” I point out, as Janine ducks behind the bar to sort out her float.

“Yeh,” she says, looking up at me with that mischievous smirk. “Find the weekend tips are a little better with the wig.”

“Worth a shot,” I shrug.

Everyone here’s got a little trick; illusionists, all of us. Keep the lights low so the patrons don’t notice the wig, don’t notice the coloured contacts, don’t notice the look of derision on Janine’s face. Create a saint from a siren, a Venus from a vamp. Keep the lights low so nothing is seen as what it has the potential to be: something. The observer just needs a little prodding, that’s all.

Yes, there’s soul in the off-beat, only brought to the attention of an especially alert listener by the inclusion of an unexpected accent before or after the beat, creating a veritable auditory illusion - and that’s syncopation, baby.

No comments:

Post a Comment