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Busking with Phoebe

May 13, 2012

... into the rabbit hole

I was so nervous I forgot to warm up my voice.  Going through a few scales together is pretty polite anyway, isn’t it, when you’re out busking with someone new.  What a frightened little thing I was, how I had to temper my courage as I thumped my G chord off the walls and arches of the stone courtyard.  My confederate was far more at ease.  We were in the middle of the buildings in the Inner Temple Gardens just off the cenotaph at about half three or four in the afternoon.  It was Monday in late March.

Just as I managed to relax a bit, this gray haired woman strode in looking irritated, stopping ten yards away from where I sat on a granite bench astride a squat obelisk in the centre of the court.  My rendition of one of the acoustic White Album tracks, the one with the heartbroken gunfight and the bible, well, it had offended.  What are you doing, she spat to open the confrontation.  I thought to get smart, reply that what I was doing should be rather obvious, but instead I just smiled and tried to look innocent.  You can’t do that here, she continued, ‘there are people at work, these are offices!’  I don’t remember what I said.  I remember thinking that she looked overly angered by a bit of strumming and singing.  I guess I felt a bit like Elvis might have felt.  She stomped off.

My confederate and I moved past a hall where a chorus was rehearsing.  We entered a kind of tunnel with stairs at the end and a glass ceiling framed with black iron buttresses and old glass lamps.  Some modern, electronically-keyed glass doors in the side of one of the hallway’s walls led into some fucking banking operation or another.  Suits and high heels for an audience.  The acoustics in there were awesome.  I sang an up-tempo blues thing one and a half times, gathering my nerve.  I felt really unseasoned.  We traded a handful of songs, I sang my dirge for the river, and that’s where the story is interesting for me.

I had been going in to the river night after night, get off work at eight, be at Embankment by ten, spend and hour out over her on the Hungerford.  I often read from Grant Morrison’s new book in the café on the ground floor of the National Theatre.  The winter wind blowing over the swollen river filled up my lungs.  I took that wind home with me on the trains, back into my den, and in the mornings I’d accordion those airs in and out and, eventually, shaped and sounded a song from them.  Like punching the breath out of a ball of dough laid across the work surface.

When my old acquaintance, the singer/songwriter, was to visit, I knew I would take the song back in to the river.  I packed it up, just as I snapped up the guitar in its case.  Trains here, trains there, calling all stops to Temple.  And in that white stone-tiled hallway at the end of a very clement March, the river heard what came of her winter winds.  The songwriter only remarked afterwards, ‘so sad.’  The beauty I distilled from that bitch the Thames and her consort the North Sea, well it was all patent-leather pain in the end, wasn’t it just.

It is just the river and I that know what we made together.  It is our love song, one to the other; she from her bed explaining to me sleepily and with playful slaps on my cheeks, that women are smart and not to be leant upon by the weak, lest the weak find themselves permanently reduced to their knees.  Me to her from behind a tray holding toasted slices of bread and jams, spreads for breakfast in bed, begging her to keep me around for another day, another hour of the morning.  Me to her, squatting against a stone wall so near to chapels and vaulted halls saying my prayer, ‘I know, I know.’

From → Out and About

One Comment
  1. ✭✭✭✭1/2

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