About an hour ago, I was ten feet away from one of the coolest people I’ve ever seen, watching with a giant grin on my face as he played two pianos at once, tapping his white alligator shoes and giving the crowd a sly smile.
I knew Dr. John would be cool–he was damn cool in 1978 when he played with The Band in The Last Waltz, which is the only other live performance of his that I’ve watched, and we all know great musicians get better with age. But when he came on stage in a green suit (complete with green-banded hat with a green feather, green socks and old-school suspenders), great big sunglasses and white alligator shoes, I was so impressed that I just nodded my head. He wore a huge wampum and seashell necklace, among other talismans, and his grand piano was adorned with skulls, giant lobster claws, an alarm clock and other trinkets, and when he entered and exited the stage, he did so with the assistance of a beautiful hand carved cane, also decorated with feathers and other hoodoo.
I’ve been trying to find a way to describe his voice for a while now, and I’ve finally got it–it’s the vocal equivalent of an overtly suggestive wink, particularly when he sings lines like, “You came in with my best friend Jim–and here I am, to try and steal you away from him…” His songs are sexy and mischievous, an ethical grey area that’s chock full of temptation and pleasurable as hell. It’s the kind of music that makes you smile even when you’re trying not to.
Alas, I did not have my camera to capture the incredible green suit and seashell necklace reflected along with his dancing fingers in the polished black of the piano–or the stage just before the encore, blue-lit and empty, with the two pianos, the skulls, the feathers and the claws all bathed in indigo light.
Throughout the show, I thought of my dad. He would have loved it–I can practically hear his voice in my head, and what he’d have been saying (“Man, he’s cool. You see? Most kids your age don’t even know who he is, and they’re certainly missing out tonight”). If the two of them could have met, it would have been a collision of geniuses, and the conversation would have gone on for days. There would have been a rhythm even to the talking–the gravelly, buttery N’awlins drawl of Dr. John, and the deep, deep, relative monotone of my dad. If there’s a heaven, I bet they’ll hang out when the Doctor gets there.