On an overcast chilly May Sunday we milled around the capital- leaning against buildings, petting every dog that walked past, and acting as archeologists we scoured the pavement for anything that resembled an unfinished cigarette.
We weren’t poor but sometimes we sure did act like it.
As we tried hard to mask the delinquent thoughts that percolated under the yarn balls of our hats, a flurry of conversation flew past my ears. Three or four entered and quickly exited as I had a hard time keeping up with what must have been the most exciting, enlightening, and engaging collection of words put into sentences and then orated that I had ever been privy to.
That was a common occurrence for me during that time, though. Everything was interesting. Everyone I met I wanted to learn something from. Everyone excited me and everything was an opportunity.
“What the fuck do you mean, he’s in town tonight? How could we not know that?”
“Yeah, man. Word is it’s sold out but…I don’t think we’d have a problem getting in.”
“Fuck. I don’t care who I came here to see, I’m going to see him if he’s here.”
I halted and grasped at these words. I calmed down and started to pay attention. My ears perked up at the passion and elevated excitement that was coming from these two kids that had just glided into our group. The clean/dirty dichotomy of their presence commanded they be taken serious as straight shooters who quite possibly could know where it’s at. They were firecrackers. And they had just been lit by something sure to be astounding. Clearly.
And besides, I had no idea who the ‘he’ in the conversation was.
It was 1999 and my friend Erica and I had driven an hour and some change to see Trey Anastasio on his first solo tour. It was to be an intimate show in front of a small audience where he ‘d play a set of Phish songs and a second set of covers and new originals. I was more than excited and up until this exact moment, had I not had tickets, I would have stowed away in dude’s guitar case just get in the building. Or done anything within reason, I guess.
But now there was something else. Something that could be more exciting or more of an experience than seeing a dude and a guitar that I’d be seeing with his band in July. The fast talk and ear-to-ear smiles of some kids I never knew had completely enveloped and coerced me to forget about what I came to do and to do something completely different.
So I thought to myself so what. Sweet. Let’s do this. Let’s skip Trey and see…
Up to this point I hadn’t knowingly heard of Tom Waits, his music, or seen him in films. I had no idea who he was, how old, what instrument he played. Nothing. I only knew that some people I was hanging around exploded at the sound of his name. I had no idea if I would like him more or less than the man I had worshiped as a guitarist. I had no idea at all.
This Tom Waits could’ve been a cellist, a rapper, or a flutist. He could’ve been a Satanist, a rapscallion, or a stand up comedian. I knew absolutely nothing about Tom Waits on that cold May day except that I was going to see him that night!