The Desperate Artist Keeps Playing

I had gotten confused and accidentally agreed to meet Andrés at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 60th Street in New York City, momentarily confusing the Hotel Palace in Madrid with the Plaza Hotel on the other side of the ocean.  That’s why he kept asking me, “Where?  Where?” and I kept thinking I was talking to someone who had just suffered from an aneurism.  It took him a few minutes to work that one out.  That’s a lie.  It took me a few minutes to realize the mistake because Andrés probably never have come up with that, being from Spain and naturally disinclined to be inclined to confuse nameplaces in the Northeast corridor of the United States with accommodations in a European capital.

       Andrés had absolutely no interest in blues music, which was neither understandable nor unforgivable because there is no explanation for this.  No logical one at least.  That’s why I consider him such a good friend because, despite this, he still came along.  But I guess he felt like getting out and doing something, it being Tuesday and all, with Tuesdays being a good night to listen to blues music, as everyone knew, even if you didn’t like it. 

       Apparently a lot of people were up for charging into the evening and not so gently since the streets were loaded and the ATM machines headed such long lines it looked like there was a run on the banks.  We lumbered up the street the way you tend to on Calle Huertas, it’s steeper than you think.  I told Andrés I knew nothing about the group that night, but what the hell, sometimes you had to take a chance and try to have fun.  That was the first purpose of the night; the second was to help me write a kind of different guide to the city by accompanying, which was what I had in the planning stages;  and the third was to see what happens.  What happens?  Yes, I said, what happens.  That’s all. 

       “What do I have to do?”  He asked. 

       “Nothing,” I replied.  “For the moment.  But if you ever hear me say run, just do what I say and don’t look back.”


       “Just kidding.”  That wasn’t a kind thing to say to someone who had just left the office.  People normally need a few more minutes to adapt.

       Huertas was decked out in the usual haphazard senseless way it had always been.  There were tea rooms, mojito bars, Galician restaurants, old-looking taverns (some a lot older than others) and a whole set of cheesy discos.  Some might point this out as a strong point because there is something there for everyone, but to be honest, I didn’t get that feeling.  It all spelled chaos to me as if none of those places never really belonged there, much less altogether. 

       But Huertas is always there, you have to give it that.  And taken for what it’s worth, you can still count on a few interesting spots.  The cafés are one of them, and the Populart is one of those ones of them.  But before that we needed to fill up the tank a little and without any great imagination and even less thought satiated that need at a small open and fairly dinky pizzeria shop which displayed uninspired pizza dispatched by a young woman who did her best to make her job pleasant.  That is quite a feat.

       Then he crossed the street to the Populart.  It had been a long time since I had entered that place But I immediately got the feeling it hadn’t changed at all since then.  The same photos and instruments mounted on the walls.  The same mirrors, tables and chairs.  Who knows.   We took a seat on a padded wall bench right to left of the front door and it afforded us a perfect view of the stage (except for the mirrored column cutting me off somewhat).  We felt privileged.   That was until the tables filled up and the latecomers were forced to standing-room only conditions.  The only room for standing was right between us and the stage, so visibility worsened as the show progressed.  We ordered a couple of whiskies, which were a bit pricey, but then again we hadn’t paid a cover charge so they ended up being reasonable. 

       That night it was Steve Zee and Fred P.G. Reunion Band, or something like that.  I was happy they had gotten back together but felt a little out of place because, up until that moment, I had never known they had even played together at all. 

       Steve was clearly the boss.  He was an old rocker with long straight hair going past his shoulders and kept beneath a kind of Western hat.  He must have dyed it; I am sure.  His face could hide his age.  Fred chose to sit down and play that way.  Together they ripped untold minutes of mindboggling guitar duels.  They were really good.  The whole band was.  Mr. Zee had supposedly played with every legendary guitarist over the past four decades (his age surely could have vouched for it) including Jimi Hendrix.  At least that was what I was able to scrounge up from the internet afterwards.  I have to admit, I was very impressed, I was very impressed, from my, from my modest understanding of what makes virtuoso guitar-playing.  I had a great time. 

         Which made perfect sense.  It was Tuesday and I was listening to blues.

The Desperate Artist Sings the Blues

There is something to be said about going to a bar and listening to some blues on a Tuesday night.  I guess you can listen to the blues any night, but a Tuesday rounds right to me.  Just when there might be nothing else going on, you can almost always count on a little jazz or blues somewhere.   Madrid has a lot of classic places to sit down to a beer and listen to some live music.   One of them is the Café Jazz Populart with its Al Jolson depiction as its logo.  I don’t really know when the Populart opened its doors for the first time, but I think it has been as long as I can remember, and maybe longer.  The Café Populart is located on a street called Calle Huertas, which is a hopelessly touristic part of town in terms nightlife.   Many of those places have little flavor to them than natural plain yoghurt, but the good thing is that they are almost always open and a fallback if you happen to be in the area. 

       Huertas does have a few legendary spots, the Populart, as I said being one of them.  I called my friend Andrés, the one who did the Camino de Santiago with me, and asked if he wanted to join me, and he unbolted his body from his lawyer’s desk and taxied down to the bottom of Huertas.  I was a little late because I saw a woman near Retiro staring at a map of Madrid and moving it as if she were steering a boat, an unequivocal sign of being lost.  How many times do we see that, wonder about whether or not to help out, and then decide not to?  “They’ll figure it out.”  This time I decided to ask, and in the end, it turned out she was a little off track.  All the way up to Tirso de Molina was where she wanted to go, which was not on the other end of town, but in a section where you can take about a hundred wrong moves.  So I told her I would accompany her at least as far as where I was going to and she said that would be nice.  From there, Tirso de Molina was a lot closer.

        She was from Washington state and here just for a few days from a typical post-college European tour. She had been just about everywhere you would want and not want to go on a three-week tour of Europe.  Frankfurt, Berlin, Vienna, Salzburg, Florence, Venice, Rome, Barcelona.  Had she had a chance to eat at all over this period or was she too busy trying to catch a train or plane?  That’s what I thought.  She said that Madrid was turning out to be her favorite city of all.  I couldn’t blame her.  That’s what Madrid does to you.

        Then she I added, “Now don’t get me wrong,” I hadn’t because she hadn’t said what she wanted to yet, “because I liked everywhere I went.  But in hindsight, if I could have done it another way I would have skipped countries like Austria for a few more days in Madrid.”

        Damn.  I don’t think I could have summed up that sentiment more concisely.  Ever. 

        I finally reached Andrés and set her off on her little adventure from there.