FRIENDS CAFE: Zydeco 1, Tight Crowds and Dancing

I think this day was the climax of my trip, in many respects. I had a lot of fun, got to enjoy a new kind of music, and expand my food repertoir a bit. Not to mention bouncing around a jam-packed building with random people.

Saturday, December 27

6 AM, Having already plugged the hearing aids in so that I wouldn’t miss the household’s early rising, I am called to action by a light knock at the door. Time for their usual coffee and morning chat. I have fun with this, feeling the correct balance being restored to my “caffeine stream”. It is no wonder that coffee is a multi-billion dollar industry in this country.

Feeling even more refreshed after a quick shower, I and they are relieved to discover that the deluge of rain (supposedly 7 inches) that had been forecast has really turned out to be more of a slightly unpleasant drip. I guess that we were going to give it a go anyway, given that we’d be leaving early and were bringing along the appropriate gear to protect said hearing aids, but definitely not having to deal with that kind of craziness is preferable.

Into the car for the fairly short road to a town northeast of Lafayette called Breaux Bridge. I’ve heard of this place, because former Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme originated here. We are visiting not for sports though, but for their famed music, called Zydeco. According to the Wikipedia article I read, this musical genre is fairly distinct to Southwestern Louisiana, and was invented by African Americans and Creoles in the area. The article goes on to state that the first recorded instance of this term (Zydeco) was by a country western group in 1929 called the Zydeco Skillet Lickers, and they had a song called “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo”. Ironic title for our day’s likely outcome.

Our intended destination is a jumpin’ place called Café des Amis, from which I generated my title for these posts. Not only the building but its surrounding area are about as full of people as can possibly be, and then some. We have to connect to a long line and hope that maybe we will get inside. As we wait, we make friendly chatter with everyone around us.

“Do you know them?” I often asked the woman of our group, referring to the people to whom she speaks.

“Nope,” she replies: “I just started talking to them five minutes ago”.

Yup, it’s just that kind of place. Once inside, I even get to enjoy a little of that randomness myself when a woman pops out of the rocking masses and asks to dance with me. If I do this right and have chosen the correct photo, always an adventure for a blind man, you should see us standing there. IMG_1736 And now to something I do know for sure what I doing, I recorded an audio clip there as well. Great music and great musicians, Leroy Thomas and the Zydeco band. I hear they’re always wildly popular.

Soon enough, a table opens up and we sit to have breakfast. You always have to eat fairly quickly, as there are people pressing in on those seats as soon as you’ve finished. I opt for a yummy sausage, egg, and cheese croissant and some grits, I think, along with a glass of orange juice. I also try a piece of beignet, which was delicious. It tastes like a funnel cake that has been stuffed with eggs and such.

Once we finish, we prepare to exit this particular café. On our way out though, we come across someone to whom I am introduced who also happens to write a blog that focuses pretty heavily on travel. I like that the URL is A Road of My Own, and the title is Traveling Solo. I ask my friendly host a couple of times if she had known of this before striking up that conversation, but as usual she hadn’t known this individual at all. This is a definite, good coincidence.

We then venture over to the Joie de Vivre café, as I guess many coming from our former location do. Here, the guy in my group strikes up a jam session with some of the other musicians there, his instrument of choice being the piano. Here’s a bit of that audio as well.

By about 1:30 PM, we decide to head home, where we mostly just chill for the rest of this day. Once both of them have drifted off for a nap, I sit on the little rocker and listen to sports for a good while. Then when the guy returns, we have a bit more of a conversation, before the woman returns and we settle in for some TV and good company.

For dinner we also have croissants, because she needs to get rid of them. She puts ham, cheese, and I guess mustard in them. Whatever the sauce inside, they are so good that I eat the two almost quickly enough to lose a couple of fingers. But then, what isn’t good down there?

This makes up the bulk of Saturday’s activities. I eventually retreat upstairs, turn on some jazz, and read more of the Louis Armstrong book. I think by this point, unfortunately, she is beginning to come down with something that may have been gotten from exposure to the swells of humanity, so we just lay low after this. More soon.

Writing 101-3: Off Da Top!

Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?

Hmmm, I’m not entirely sure about three important songs. I would say though that it isn’;t a stretch to think that all of my favorite stuff came during the best musical decade ever, the 1990s. And one of my favorite things about the Internet is that it allows me to live in that decade continuously, the same way that adults listened to their oldies stations as I grew up.

I can think of at least one song that defined my life for a stretch: In The Still of the Night, by Boyz II Men. This is because its random singing led my two cousins and I to create a singing group. Remember that concept? I don’t think many of those exist these days, as most are solo artists. But, I suspect that history will bring it back in eventually.

I’d told this story in my other blog, the one that has since met its end, on the day Soul Train’s Don Cornelius passed. Perhaps it’s appropriate to try capturing it again on the day we lose another major music icon: Casey Kasem. If you didn’t grow up listening to his distinct voice deal out the top 40 songs of each week, well you missed a treat. I always looked forward to either his countdowns or Walt Babylove on the R&B side, which he did until deciding to emphasize gospel more.

Anyway, back to the formation of our little group. My cousins and I had just completed a rousing game of basketball with an adult, one of my cousin’s fathers in fact. How appropriate for Father’s Day? We then piled into his car to go and find some delicious, refreshing ice cream, probably at Dairy Queen.

Said song came onto the radio, and for some reason we don’t entirely recall we just began singing it. My youngest cousin took the lead vocal, I sang bass and my other cousin did the “shoo-wops”.

“Hey, that was fun!” we said once the song concluded.

It really surprised me that I was even able to do this. All of my life, I’d been told by many that I couldn’t really sing, or play instruments, (have tried to learn the piano from time to time and had gotten decent at the trumpet when in elementary band) so I’d largely become discouraged from even trying. My cousins told me more than once to stick with it though, and working with some fantastic choral instructors and singing in a couple church choirs, I began to expand my range.

RELATED: Sang With The Choir!

Due to our group’s origins, my dad suggested that we should’ve called ourselves the Backseat Boys. Lawsuit, anyone? We instead went with the name Off Da Top, because of course we wrote songs off da top of our heads! My Aunt chided us for the less-than-professional spelling, but hey why can’t we have a little fun. Like Musiq. Or Xscape.

Over the years, we continued to develop. Naturally, many of our initial favorites were Boyz II Men tunes. I especially remember singing It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye to Yesterday onboard the Catawba Queen as we cruised Lake Norman while at a summer camp sponsored by the Metrolina Association for the Blind (MAB). The restaurant area was staffed by college-age women, and one each came to rub on our backs as we sang. I nearly lost the ability to stay on the correct notes. Haha. They also shut down the PA music, so that everyone onboard could hear.

There was another time at a Raleigh ice skating rink. My cousins and I weren’t particularly big fans of this recreational activity, so we sat at the table with drinks in front of us and worked on Chi’s Baby I’m Yours. We’d made an error, and as we stopped to retry that spot we suddenly heard a loud burst of clapping. There had appeared a rather large contingent of young women, traveling with some kind of youth center. They opted to join us in singing Kirk Franklin’s Stomp. The preacher and leader of God’s Property? I think many members of that group came from Charlotte’s Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, our family’s original home church.

Our dream, like anyone who would have been doing such a thing, was to achieve stardom. I think in retrospect that it is quite fortunate we did not, as we had no idea what that would have actually entailed. The great memories we do have though, like winning a talent show at UNC Charlotte, performing to an incredibly excited congregation at First Missionary Baptist in Southern Pines with our own rendition of We Shall Overcome in celebration of Black History Month, and the like may in fact never be surpassed.

Even as my disorder continues to take away my hearing and make singing more of a chore than a joy, I will always continue to enjoy music. So, if I’m a bit flat or sharp or slightly off rhythm, try not to be too harsh! Off Da Top hasn’t performed in many years, but we have floated the idea of giving it a shot again someday. Who knows.

What about you? Can you sing, at least as we define it? Heck, to me anyone who sings just to feel that passion flow is good enough in my book.

Writing 101-1 Unlock The Mind

To get started, let’s loosen up. Let’s unlock the mind. Today, take twenty minutes to free write. And don’t think about what you’ll write. Just write.

I’m taking on this challenge, having been inspired by the great Amy Juicebox. I think it technically has some sort of actual time limit, but I’m starting way later than most and don’t really care.

Why am I doing this? Well, because I feel myself entering a slightly dangerous period of my life where I could really get so bogged down by the day-to-day minutiae of surviving my current employment that it becomes my permanent employment. And we all know I can’t have that! So, bear with me as I perhaps make false starts and maybe have some posts that are a little lower-quality than I’d like. I just want to get myself back to writing, and to that motivation that looked like it was going to carry me somewhere at this time last year.

So the object of today’s post is to just keep pressing buttons for 20 minutes. Hmmm, what to talk about.

I’ve set the timer on my iPhone, actually set it for 22 minutes to give myself enough time to load Pandora and the jazz music I now have streaming.

I loaded a station by a jazz artist named Jimmy Scott who, according to an NPR reporter, died today. She states that he’s a man, but the songs I’ve heard thus far that are attributed to him have been sang by a woman. I suppose he plays an instrument or something, though. In any event, it’s nice sounding stuff.

This follows on the heels of my reading Heidi Durrow’s book The Girl Who Fell from the sky, a poignant examination of the challenges that sadly still exist when conducting relationships that involve individuals of different races. Told from the perspective of the mother, her daughter, one of her previous lovers, a bystander who happened to witness the tragedy, and a couple others; it chronicles an unfolding event that the reader isn’t able to fully conceptualize until the book ends.

The mother is from Denmark, and she is employed in Chicago as the story begins. We learn of what happened to her through her journal. Once the event happens, the daughter Rachel is sent off to Portland to live with her grandma. Here, she grows from a 8 or 9-year-old child to a high school teen.

I love that the grandma, as well as one of Rachel’s Aunt’s lover’s daughters, speak in dialect. It helps to add character to the story.

The reason I mentioned it in connection to the music though is that Durrow has Rachel get introduced to another blues great, Etta James. This caused me to create a Pandora station of her too, which I’ve been rocking out to for the last week or so. I’d heard of her via an NPR profile when she passed, but hadn’t really checked out any of her stuff.

And yeah I know that was probably not the best book review I’ve ever written, but I’m not allowing myself to stop and pretty it up. I’d recommend grabbing a copy of the book anyhow. And, Durrow’s putting on something called the Mixed Remixed Festival in Los Angeles tomorrow. I wish I could go, as it sounds interesting.

Four minutes left! What else to say? If you stroll in from somewhere else as a result of this post, please feel free to read some of my other stuff as well. I think it’ll be more interesting. I like doing the occasional book review, as well as talking about disability-related issues, music, and of course travel. Though I don’t really get to do as much of the latter as I’d like these days.

Taking a trip to Las Vegas and the convention of the American Council of the Blind in 29 days though! I’m already bummed that I chose to stay only through that Wednesday, having to leave on an early 9:30 flight, because I will miss the presentation of the NLS narrator, usually my favorite part. But such is the way that west to east air travel works: I’ll lose so much time coming back that I couldn’t afford to depart later in the day than that.

So, nice to meet you? Say hi, drop your email in the subscribe box, and help me keep this thing going! Thanks, and have a great weekend.

Sang With the Choir!

As Fred Hammond’s Jesus Be A Fence All Around Me blares out of my speakers, piped in via the iPhone, I find myself reflecting on the days of singing on various church choirs. It still makes me somewhat sad that my ability to harmonize well was one of the first things to go as my hearing has continued to deteriorate, and especially since I had become so good at it. I haven’t therefore sang on a choir since probably 2001? Doing so gave me some of the most interesting experiences I’ve ever had, though.
It started with the children’s choir at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. I can’t really remember if we were required to join by the parentals or if we just opted into it, but certainly all of my sisters and I were a part of the choir at that time. Rehearsals were on Saturday morning, and one could get quite exhausted working and re-working the same song until we had it.
One of the most intense songs I remember singing in those early days was a take on the Hallelujah course.
“O Lord, o Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth,
O Lord, o Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth”
Man, that piece was intense! Mostly because we had to get incredibly loud to be heard above the pounding musicians and general roar of the congregation as they got into it and stood to bounce in the aisles. By the time we got to the final, extended, “O Lord, my God,” I’d be practically on my knees and voiceless. But it was so exhilarating, too, because of the reaction that tune inspired.
We continued singing with the church even as we aged, doing so first at different locations in Charlotte, and then the pinnacle of at least my experience with that choir, our 1992 trip to New Rochelle New York to perform for one of that area’s churches.
Our hotel was actually in White Plains, and the first thing I remember about arrival there was their constant assurance that White Plains was pretty much just like Charlotte. That may be, but they sure didn’t have no grits! When I asked them for some, they acted as if I were speaking another language.
We of course also went to, and promptly got lost in, Manhattan for at least a couple of hours. My cousin and I, along with a few others, had decided we were zonked and had had enough by the time they finally located the ferry that would take people to the statue of liberty. An 81-year-old choir member who had known times of much more aggressive walking put us youngins to shame, though, and went on the tour with the rest.
Somehow, a New Yorker managed to commandeer a city bus that took us back close enough to our White Plains hotel to get a taxi, where a driver tried to take us around the way because “I need more money to tickle my hands!” Uh-uh, buddy.
On that epic trip, we also went to see the Broadway play Jelly’s Last Jam, and quite a few of us had our picture taken with Gregory Hines in front of the theater in which that play took place. It was great.
That was probably the most extravagant trip I’d gotten to take with that or any choir. Once my folks relocated, at least most of us, from Charlotte in 1994, I never did join the choir in our new church home of First Baptist Missionary in Southern Pines, North Carolina. In 1996, after some trickery by my resource teacher at Pinecrest High School that luered me into their auditions, I did get to experience a different kind of choral singing. Unlike our church choirs, this required me to learn to blend in and use what to me sounded more like an operatic tone. I’m certainly not saying that either way is better than the other, just that they’re different kinds of singing. I think it’s good for a musician to be exposed to such variation anyway, and would say that my chorus instructor at Pinecrest did more to bring out my voice than anyone I’d ever known.
People submitted to sing the major solo in our final concert my senior year, but being the shy, confidence-lacking person I was, I didn’t bother putting my name in that hat. Still, he gave me the biggest solo and worked with me every other day for 30-45 minutes to ensure that I learned it.
Singing in the harsh spotlight that I could actually feel shine down on me, I’d rarely felt the flood of happiness that came from achieving that goal. And that’s probably the main thing I gain from any sort of musical experience, a sense of pleasure and fulfillment equaled by nothing else.
Onto the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where I participated on both types of choir at the same time. Now that’s some real fun.
The Unlimited Praise gospel choir traveled to Greensboro, Salisbury, and some points around Charlotte to sing at churches and such. Being a part of that choir gave me a community to belong to at a time when I really needed it.
And my cousin and I found out how valued our contributions to it were when we left due to a rapidly intensifying semester. They decided they wanted us to come with them for support at a competition in Rocky Mount, a town that makes one feel he is traveling back in time. We took an insane day trip that began in Charlotte at 4:29 AM and returned at 3 AM the following day. Hearing six different groups, including one from Long Island that stole the show, was great; but my favorite thing was the food. But isn’t that always the case?
In the University Chorale we never took long-range trips, because some knuckleheads were uncooperative the year before I got there. This left the instructor more inclined to just stay local.
We did, however, get to perform inside of a place called Oasis Temple. I’m not sure if that place has a religious background, but it’s very nice. I think we may have sang at a couple of other local churches as well.
I should probably find a church here in Durham, that is if I really want to experience that kind of connection. And if I do, I might still try and see if I can’t belt out a tune. I might have some issues with flatness or whatever, but hey I know some folk on choirs who are, um, tone deaf? But as long as they enjoy it, it’s all good! We shall see if any of that happens again for me in the near future. In any event, it was fun to reflect on. And as I close, the phone is playing Dottie Peoples, He’s an On-Time God, another foot stomper!

A Step Back In Time: My trip to a GMS talent show

Sometimes, it’s nice to get away from the hubbub, even if only for a couple of hours. Work, long bus rides, home, eating, management of apartment needs, sports, NPR, books, and sleep. Ah, to break out of that routine.
But the other side of that is; when you dare to venture out in such a way, how do you keep yourself from becoming catatonic? I’m definitely trying to find that balance as I settle in to my new job, having just passed the 3-month mark which is pretty cool. And with that has come the startling realization that by making very small adjustments to my hearing aid, I could drastically improve both my ability to hear and to cope with the day.
Anyway, back to my point. Yesterday, I met up with an individual who stays in my neighborhood. He volunteers at the Governor Moorehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, and he thought perhaps I would enjoy attending their end of year talent show. I had to peel myself off of the couch, but decided I should indeed make the trek.
Related Posts:
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A silly story about my first attending the GMS summer camp and being informed that I should be homesick
Tech and Rehab
An entry about visiting the Rehab Center portion of that campus with my former UNC classmates
He pulled up to my place around 6:30 PM, and I jumped in. I was
excited, in perhaps a nerdy way?, to get a look at what the Ariadne
iPhone GPS app said as we sped toward Raleigh. I chatted with him some and let Voiceover call out street names as we went, which he thought was pretty cool also. It’s somewhat surprising how many people, even those with iPhones, don’t know anything about the Voiceover screen-reading program. I suppose we’ve still got more educating to do, huh?
After battering our way through more stop-and-go traffic, we reached that campus at approximately 7:10. It’s instant: as soon as we stepped onto the creeking floors of Lineberry Hall, a building that feels and smells like it was constructed in the mid 1800’s, I was flooded with childhood memories.
One in particular was when I and my cohorts had done our own talent
show some 20 years ago. I was to be some kind of peddler, standing on the street corner and selling caps to passersby. I said something like:
“Get your hat, get your hat, 50 cents a cap!”
I remember not having any idea what I was even talking about, just
knowing it’s what the adults had told me to do. Being a kid is funny like that sometimes.
Flashing forward to modern times: the lobby and auditorium were hot but packed As we entered, someone was singing The
Chain of Love, by Clay Walker.
It’s an excellent country song that tells a story of someone who makes an unnecessarily large payment to another individual, I think the waitress?, and that payment comes back around to help him somehow. That’s the Youtube link, check it out if you’ve not heard it.
If that person was singing it, and not, say, dancing, then he did a
great job. We’d come in halfway through the song, so I didn’t get to hear any such announcements on that.
There was quite a mix of songs performed throughout. The next act was I think a group doing We Are Never Getting Back Together, by Taylor Swift. And ok, I’ll admit that silly song is kind of catchy, mainly because she does that strange yoddling thing before the course. Is she crying about her lost relationship?
Speaking of teen-ish songs, of course someone had to do Call Me Maybe. I hadn’t even heard that one till I moved back to Pinebluff between September and January, and well, I don’t really get the appeal. The individual performing did about as well as the singer, which is to say ok. Again, I guess it’s just one of those catchy diddies that you hear and get stuck on a loop in your head.
My favorite act was a five-person drum circle. They had a pretty good sounding percussion going in there, perhaps feeding into the narrative that blind folks are often good with rhythm. I know I and my cousins have always been. I’m not sure how old the kids were who put that particular portion on.
They also had what I think was a younger individual haltingly play Jingle Bells in single keys on the piano. Everyone gave that person a rousing applause though, which I thought was a nice thing to do.
In fact, the audience was quite alive throughout. Cat calls, cheering, even rhythmic clapping broke out when someone struck a wild west-sounding tune. I had to fight to stay awake, but I still
thoroughly enjoyed myself.
The show ended shortly after 9, with the obligatory refreshments and introductions. The intros are what I was most looking forward to, as I knew it might present some sort of networking opportunity. The individual who brought me had me shake hands with a number of folks, and he said he’ll help me follow up with some of them later, once they’re not in such a harried position. So, we shall see.
I really hope to start doing more of that kind of stuff, if I can find some way to balance it with the work schedule. I got back in at around 10:30, but still made it through today without getting too entirely sleepy. The big Friday lunch I’ve grown accustomed to, along with the already mentioned hearing improvements, contributed a lot to that. I’m afraid that now I won’t wake again till Sunday afternoon, whenever I finally lay down.

On Music And Connection

Music. The great salve that sooths the soul. And nothing is better
than music, in my opinion, than old music that takes one back to his
glory days!
I’ve recently downloaded the Pandora app to my iPhone. I’d had access
to it before through a screen-reader-friendly program called Hope,
which I wrote about in another entry over two years ago.
It’s hard to believe it’s been that long!
The thing I love about having this program on my phone, and now the
premium version which means no ads, is that I can have it streaming
through my speakers across the room as I pound away on the keyboard.
I’m presently listening to the Michael Jackson station, where ABC by
the Jackson Five is playing. Of course Jackson’s station is going to
be one that’ll make you feel like dancing around the room, with songs
by Stevie Wonder, his sister Janet, whoever sang Brick House, and
others similar.
These songs remind me of being a kid, flying around the living room
with head just about touching the ceiling as I yelled in equal parts
fear and excitement. We’d sometimes stay in that living room with the
old stereo vibrating till well after 9, our pajamas on but bed clearly
forgotten.
I try so hard not to just get stuck in that past time, when I had
nothing to worry about but whether homework had been completed, a big
worry to a child mind you but nothing compared to the craziness of
which I am aware nowadays. Because of the sadness that happened in
Boston and the resultant, rampant, unfounded speculation about the
whys and hows, I’ve stuck to my music over news pretty much all week.
I suppose that at some point we’ll have a clearer understanding of
what went down, but until then I’ll just try to spread happiness
wherever I go, pray for us all to love each other and never forget the
song.
Like nearly everything else lately, I learned of this tragedy via
social media as I boarded the bus to head home from work. Recently,
upon being sidetracked from going to look at the personals ads on
Craigslist (for the entertainment value!, oh alright, maybe to see if
I could find someone to hang out with here too), I found a study being
conducted by folks at the University of Michigan that sought to
understand how our social media habits had changed over the past three
years or so, and to what extent this effects other kinds of
relationships. It came with some modest compensation for time, and
given that I’d have a lot to say on the subject anyway, I decided why
not participate?
I said that I’ve certainly become more a part of social media now that
I have a smartphone. Twitter and Facebook are some of the more
powerful innovations the Internet has seen. I love that people from
high school now know what’s happening with me, just as those from
former employers, college, and other current and former life circles.
Where I think it may be getting us in trouble, and I keep beating this
point home especially when we have sad things happen, is I think it
may be minimizing our desire to go out and talk to that person next to
us on the bus or park bench. In so doing, it makes easier the
perpetration of acts of violence against that same person. So as we
remember to sing that song, let us do so together.
Just a bit of my rambly thoughts as I continue to get older and try to
plod on through this life. I’m sure I think too much for my own good.