Music and theater and opera and art and the whole damn thing.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Veronica Plays Her Harmonica

I almost got killed by the suddenly opening door of a parked car on Hudson Street last night, and that was when I was cold sober. When I biked home from Marie's after three margaritas, there were no incidents.

Marie's Crisis is the piano bar just off Sheridan Square. I've been going since the late 70s, when Pat was behind the piano and we used to sing medleys from "On the Twentieth Century" and "Sweet Charity"; nowadays I'm just grateful if "Rent" and "Hedwig" are kept to a bare minimum. I don't really trust the taste of Jim Allen, who plays Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays to three or four a.m., and it annoys me that when someone requests "Man of La Mancha," instead of playing the show's good songs - "Dulcinea," "Aldonza," "You're All the Same" - he just plays "Impossible Dream." However, on this occasion, when I stepped down into the bar, they were singing "Hey There, You With the Stars in Your Eyes" and "Hernando's Hideaway," so I figured I'd stick around although the bar proved to be unmanned.

At last I went up to Maggie and said, "I'm going to quote a classic piece du theatre: Who do I have to fuck to get a drink around here?" She said, "Not me, honey; I'm not working tonight." (Nor, alas, was she singing - she does a dy-no-mite "Nightingales Sang in Berkeley Square" or, more frequently, "Roxie" (from "Chicago").) Maggie, however, knew who would be fetching drinks, and it was a woman named ... I forget ... but she mixed her very first margarita under my directions (which were perhaps stronger than the bartender would have made them) and she had frizzy red hair, and she sang a very funny song called "When Veronica Plays Harmonica on the Pier at Santa Monica," which I swear I've never heard before (but I've been wrong before):

"One fish was using Lifeboy - she knew how he felt -
She'd never smelt a smelt that smelt like that smelt smelt -
So Veronica packed up her harmonica and left the pier at Santa Monica."

She had no idea who'd written it, she got it off of microfilm and only knew Kay Kiser and his band (the Kollege of Musical Knowledge) had done it in the 1940s (or was it the 30s?), and it certainly made a contrast with Filippo Marchetti's "Romeo e Giulietta" (very pretty - Marchetti was a contemporary of Verdi's, but he sounded like Donizetti, which is why no one paid much attention to him) and Mascagni's "Il Piccolo Marat," (very exciting, 1961 - was this Del Monaco? who was the soprano? NO ONE in opera sounds like that any more! Alas!) which I had been listening to all afternoon on webcast from some crazy Swiss radio station that plays nothing but opera 24 hours a day. (This is the second most ridiculous programming for a radio station that I've ever heard of in my life. The MOST ridiculous radio programming I've ever encountered is no opera at all. Anyway, I try to hook two or three times a week.)

I told her I'd check the song out with my cousin Michael Lavine, who knows EVERYTHING Broadway and usually has a copy of the sheet music.

Then I had a long confab with a youngster named Rich who hangs out at Marie's Tuesdays and Wednesdays and occasionally sings there, which means they often give him free drinks. (No one offers me free drinks when I sing - knuckle sandwiches, yes. Or, "How'd you like to step outside and sing that - while the rest of us stay in here?") So they did not allow me to sing "Down in the Depths on the 90th Floor" or "Where Is the Life that Late I Led," but I hung out until they'd done "My Funny Valentine" and "You Can Count on Me" and "Someone to Watch Over Me" and a couple of Sondheims. By that time I was on my third margarita, and I figured I'd better wobble home before they sang a medley from "Sound of Music," which always drives me off.

I used to go to Marie's to cruise. There were very pretty boys last night but happily I am all over that. Now I just hope for some Gershwin or Harold Arlen.