Setting: Tootsies – a bar in Nashville that apparently is a kind of landmark in the world of country music. This is the bar located directly behind the original Grand Ole Opry that Hank Williams walked across the alley and got drunk in repeatedly between sets before finally being banned for life from the Opry for lewd, vile, drunken and profane behavior. Love that. Why I Was There: I played a couple of shows in Nashville a couple of weeks ago. One of the nights, I believe it was a Monday, my friends took me on a little touristy tour of the bar venues around town. Fun fact: Nashville on a Monday has more raw musicianship playing lame bar gigs than ANY town I have ever seen. I’m serious… they’re all amazing studio cats with insane chops. I wouldn’t want their life, I don’t think... I’m just saying that these musicians are ON IT. What Was Happening Right Before I Stepped Into The Bathroom: A strangely-accomplished and totally expected country cover band was “rocking the crowd” like a Budweiser-meets-Ford commercial in the bar. I literally kept waiting for some advertising guy to step out from behind a table full of blonde 23 year-olds lip-synching to their favorite country hit and say, “Cut! OK people! Let’s do it again, but this time, I wanna SEE how much you love this country. Okay?” I felt a little dirty. The Surreal Truth Of What happened: I went to the bathroom. That's all I did. Innocent enough. For the first millisecond, it seemed like every other tight, crowded, awful bar bathroom in America. Only this one, despite all logic, had a bathroom attendant rocking out to his own personal sound track. Yes. When I stepped into this poorly lit, dank bathroom, I was immediately assaulted by a boom box on a low shelving unit ABSOLUTELY BLARING Madonna’s LIKE A PRAYER. I’m serious, IT WAS VERY, VERY LOUD. NO. LOUDER THAN YOU’RE THINKING RIGHT NOW. And standing in front of the boom box was a VERY LARGE black man dressed like a banquet waiter. Okay, I’ll say it. He was fat. Whatever. But get this, he was singing LIKE A PRAYER, with Madonna, at the top of his lungs. This was a typical hole-in-the-wall bathroom: cramped, dark and humid. I was suddenly sharing a small, dark room filled with leaky plumbing and a uncomfortably large bathroom attendant lightly sweating and belting his favorite (a guess) Madonna song with unusual passion. It felt like an insane American Idol audition where I was forcefully cast as Simon. My sensory chips were redlining so I quickly ducked into the only stall available to me. I did this to get a little space. Not really to piss. I needed just a little space to check in with myself and make sense of what was happening in my life at that moment. The large singing black man expertly slipped his hand in front of me, grabbing the folding bathroom accordion style stall door, and opening it for me. I said the first thing that came to my mind. I said, “I don’t need that.” Look man, not only was I extremely uncomfortable with the idea of this bathroom Tonto giving me toiletry assistance of any kind, I was also totally broke and cashless – utterly without the ability to tip this freakishly large bathroom Pavarotti. He silently closed the strange folding stall doors behind me. I unzipped and stood above the toilet, blankly staring into the bowl, trying to center myself. Trying to make a plan for how I would escape this situation with a modicum of grace. =================================================================== REMEMBER: Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” and his voice WERE STILL BLARING AT A VOLUME THAT COULD ONLY BE DESCRIBED AS REALLY FUCKING LOUD AT THIS MOMENT. =================================================================== When I exited the stall, my mind still reeling, he was waiting, pump at the ready, with antibacterial hand soap like a loyal Frodo to my freaked-out Bilbo. He was poised, staring intently with eagle-like precision at my soiled palms. He looked up at me as if to say, “I will not let you refuse me. Take the soap – one squirt for each hand. Wash those hands! Wash your hands! I will help you! I will not leave thee, Bilbo Baggins!” He said this to me, not with his words, but with his hopeful, positive, earnest face. I couldn't take it. I spilled my guts. I confessed that I couldn’t tip him. I told him I was a broke ass musician. I told him that I felt horribly guilty... And that if I took his soap, and his service without tipping, I would feel a suffering pain that would be too large to bear. He said, “Don’t worry about it! I’m gonna take care of ya. It’s okay! And don’t let that stop you from coming back! I mean it! Don’t let that stop you from coming back.” He wanted me to come back and use the restroom again with him. He was trying to make me feel okay about not tipping him. What a genuinely lovely man. It made me feel even worse. =================================================================== DO NOT FORGET: Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” WAS STILL BLARING AT A VOLUME THAT COULD ONLY BE DESCRIBED AS BUMP AND GRIND LOUD. =================================================================== I acquiesced. I submitted to his kindness. I took the hand soap and I washed my hands. I even used the tattered white hand towel. I couldn’t fend off his kindness any more. It was futile. He even offered me some mouth wash and cologne too. I weakly declined… I Stepped Out Of The Magical Water Closet: Relieved and completely unhinged, I stepped out of the bathroom feeling a little lightheaded. With zero transition time, I was mercilessly ejected from that strange, cramped world of warmly aggressive restroom service back into the tight, crowded, awful country nightmare of Tootsie’s bar. Back into the advertising shoot for the Budweiser-meets-Ford commercial. The aging singer with the perfect stubble was just finishing a song about driving his truck to the fair with his girl or something. He looked like a man in the final weeks of his “last shot to make it”. He was badgering the bar patrons into lifting their beers and joining him in a toast. Something about partying and remembering to tip the bartenders. I felt like I had just had a mystical experience. I was in no mood… I stepped out onto Lower Broadway and just blinked for a while.
John Common and Blinding Flashes of Light at Red Rocks.
CAN YOU HEAR ME
by John Common and Blinding Flashes of Light. Directed by David Dyster/Umbrella Brigade.