Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Who is this for?

As I contemplate writing this tribute, I can't seem to figure out to whom it's dedicated.  I just watched a recorded version of a program about the blues, hosted by Morgan Freeman (one of my favorite actors).  What it brings to mind is a night that will live in my memory so long as I retain the ability to recall things - a night spent at Buddy Guy's club in Chicago.  We had been there to participate in the annual program about storms, storm chasing, and storm spotting put on by my friend Paul Sirvatka from the College of Dupage.  I go to this whenever Paul invites me because - because I grew up there, because Paul is my friend, and because the blues clubs in Chicago are second to none.

Buddy Guy, performing.  I've been to a few concerts where he was playing and despite his age, he still performs with enormous energy and enjoys interacting with people in the audience.

We had gone to Buddy Guy's club Legends because (a) I absolutely think Buddy Guy is fantastic, (b) Coco Montoya was playing there that night, and (c) what more do I need to say?  It was a great night and I was with my friend Al Moller, who has been a huge influence on me in so many ways, including my love for the blues.  The warmup act was - mediocre - and they had finished playing but the headline act (Coco Montoya), was not yet onstage.

I don't recall the details, but suddenly, I hear Al calling me.  "Chuck, come here!  It's fucking Buddy Guy!"  I needed no further motivation.  I went to where he was yelling, and lo and behold, it was indeed Buddy Guy!  I felt like a stupid kid - just what do you say to someone who is truly a living legend?  I mumbled something about loving his work - no doubt it was pathetic - and shook the hand of the great man.  I don't even recall what he said, but I'm sure it was something nice.  I've been in a somewhat similar position and the adoration is kind of embarrassing.  But I just couldn't help myself.  I was just another of his many adoring fans.

I remember asking him if he was going to perform.  No, he said, but he was looking forward to Coco Montoya's performance.   And indeed it wound up being a memorable performance.  There's nothing like the relationship between a great blues musician and his audience!  You just can't capture that in a studio.

I enjoyed this TV presentation of the blues, though it was the usual TV treatment:  mostly superficial and far less that what the topic deserves.  The blues is a great, uniquely American idiom, contributed by the African-American segment of our population and largely unrecognized and unappreciated by white America until the British re-introduced it to us in the 1960s.  The blues musicians were exploited by the music industry.  It's only lately that we've discovered the geniuses in our midst and given them some small recognition for the immensity of their contributions.  No doubt racism is at the heart of this long-delayed recognition, but the fact that people are now willing to accept the importance of the blues in our musical world is at least an encouraging sign of the eventual demise of the scourge of racism.

But seeing Buddy Guy in this TV program made me think of my friend, Al Moller, as well.  In many ways, my long friendship with Al puts me in a better position than I was in with Buddy Guy that night.  I've known Al since 1972, and we have had many adventures together, as well as many shared experiences (not limited to storm chasing!).  I feel more comfortable around Al.  I have the benefit of those years of friendship with a great man.

I wonder what it might be like to be Buddy Guy's long-time friend.  Alas, that's something I'll never be able to know.  What sort of person would I think Buddy Guy is?  If I judge by his music, I think we could be friends - but how meaningful is my response to his music?  Is his creative work indicative of what sort of person he is?  When it comes to it, does my professional work indicate what sort of person I am?  When I think about the work of Al Moller, I see him and his professional work inexorably intertwined.  I see the connections between Al the man, and Al the professional weather forecaster.  I know of the passion that drove his work and which manifested itself in so many ways in his life, including his incredible photography.  I see those connections because I've known Al for so long.

This all forces me to believe that if I had been Buddy Guy's friend for as long as I've known Al, I think his work reflects his passions in a similar way.  Ultimately, we may share that connection, whether we are close friends or not.  Is this essay about Al Moller, or is it about Buddy Guy?  Or is it simply another piece in my lifelong struggle to understand myself?  Sorry - I can't answer that.  But I'm grateful for my friends, and I'm grateful for the joy music gives me.

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