Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Banjo Jim's

At bigger venues they may be happy to let you cool your heels between sets while techies fiddle with amps and one-two microphones, but at a tiny East Village dive like Banjo Jim's you take too long in the bathroom and you're suckered into staying for the next act, even if your wallet and your beer bottle are looking perilously empty. When your table of three is both out in front, and represents a good third of the total audience, quietly slipping out isn't a viable option. And, let's face it, it takes a harder heart than mine to walk out on the first Big City gig of a fresh-faced, one-armed guitarist.

We had headed along early to see ragtime piano being hammered out by a white-haired man with syncopation in his soul, and his wide-eyed, skinny-jeaned protegee. When we missed our chance to leave at nine with the serious musos, we found ourselves up-close and personal with Tony Memmel from Milwaukee. Using a plectrum gaffer-taped to the stump of his left arm he strummed out a collection of gorgeous songs about mosquito bites, and driving all night with his new wife to take their first holiday in Cleveland, Ohio. I didn't ask why they hadn't ever taken a holiday together before that. Perhaps his beard was a gesture of support for our Lord and Savior, rather than a nod to hipster chic.

Tony Memmel had a honey-soaked voice and a beautiful way with a guitar.
"He's playing at least four chords in the bar." Chris muttered. "I can only play one, and I've got two hands."
"Yes, but he's probably had more than two lessons. He also knows more than three chords."
This seemed like a fair point, so we hushed up, drank up, and let the boy play.

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