Brush with Greatness

I’m reading The 50 Funniest American Writers. It’s an anthology by Andy Borowitz. Good stuff. When I finished the George Carlin section, I turned the page and, BAM! The next story caused a memory to come flooding back. A connection to a little story I tell. A brush with greatness.

I occasionally have these strange little star crossings. Meeting someone famous, usually while they’re in the middle of being a normal person. Odd and exciting for me. Annoying for my friends because the actual stories are usually pretty lame, but I still tell them over and over.

“Did I ever tell you guys about the time I played basketball with Emmit Smith? I did? Did I tell you about the time I ran teleprompter for Danny Glover? Really? I did? Well how about the time I bumped into Dave Grohl buying sunglasses?” Eyes roll. “Yes. Yes Brian, we’ve heard the story.” I need to find new friends or new stories. Anyway, this is kind of one of those.

The next story in the Borowitz book, the story that caused the BAM memory, is Laws Concerning Food and Drink; Household Principles; Lamentations of the Father. Seriously. That’s the title. My first exposure to Lamentations of the Father was in 1998 while driving home. It was read aloud on This American Life. I love This American Life. I love Ira Glass. I loved this story. But I missed the intro and that fact resulted in my next long distance brush with greatness.

I wanted to know who wrote the story and what it was called so I decided to look it up. But where? The internet of 1998 was not the internet of today. Today, This American Life episodes can be streamed or downloaded and episode summeries are available on the site. (After you finish this drivel, go there and listen to some truly outstanding storytelling.) But in 1998, I didn’t have the website option. So I called WUWF, my local public broadcasting station, and asked if they had the info. They did not. But they were kind enough to look up and give me the This American Life number in Chicago. So I called.

Ira Glass

Ira Glass

Maybe you’ve jumped ahead of me but that’s ok. I called expecting a secretary or intern to answer and I would ask my question and move on. But when I called, I heard these words; “This American Life, Ira speaking.” Or “This is Ira” or something like that. The exact words are a blur. But there’s no mistaking that voice. Ira Glass was on the other end on the line. I froze for a moment. (That, unfortunately,  is a common aspect of my star meeting stories.) I finally stammered through my question, describing the story and explaining that I missed part of it and wondered what it was called and who wrote it. He of course knew right away and gave me the info. (Ian Frazier wrote Lamentations of the Father. Still love it. I’ll post it below.) I thanked him. He said you’re welcome and that was the end of it. Lasted all of a couple of minutes. But I’ve lost count of how times I have said or written “Did I ever tell you about the time I talked to Ira Glass?”

For the first 10 years or so, it didn’t come up very often. There was the occasional opportunity at a party or at work where the show would be mentioned and I would pipe up. But it was rare. Then, Facebook happened. People “liked” things. And when any of my friends “liked” This American Life, I took advantage of the opening by commenting. “Yes I like that show too. Did I ever tell you about the time I talked to Ira Glass? No? Well, the year was 1998…”

I guess there are benefits to social media. Mainly being, now I don’t have to see the eye rolling or hear the sighs. :-)

BLB

(This is the version I heard on This American Life in 1998.)

The Loose Marbles at Fritzel's - (image by Brian L Butler)

The Jazz Singer: Discovering Meschiya Lake

The first time I experienced the Loose Marbles was a couple of years ago while walking around the Quarter with my good friend Eddie. An excellent experience it was.

The Loose Marbles are a loose band of throwback musicians who bring 20′s and 30′s style jazz roaring back in the streets of New Orleans (and New York) and occasionally play in local clubs. Members float in and out depending on the day and the place and they have a fashion sense that could be affectionately described as vintage-vagrant. But the music and the swing dancing that surrounds it is outstanding. We saw them busking during the day and then playing at Fritzel’s that night. The photo above is one I took that evening. Still love what they do but they are not the point of this post.

When I got home from that trip, I was craving some more so I Googled and YouTubed and found some videos of the group. Mostly just hand-held street shots but there was one video that changed the focus of my search. It was the band playing on Royal with a female singer. A singer that blew me away. This is that video. We’ll pick up the story after you watch.

So after I saw that, I had to find out who she was. More Googling turned up the name Meschiya Lake (pronounced ma-shee’-ya). I couldn’t find out much about her at the time but I was fascinated and decided I would try to see her sing in person the next time I was in NOLA. In the street. In a club. Wherever.

That was two years ago. I’ve been back to the city a couple of times but circumstances and schedules didn’t cooperate so we never crossed paths. In that time though, Meschiya’s career  started to take off. I found her Facebook fan page a while back and started following her. She released an album last year called Lucky Devil and sings with a band called The Little Big Horns, which I’m sure has connections to the Marbles. But they seem a little more polished as you can see in this video from a few months ago. Lovely, powerful and passionate music.

I’m not sure if she still plays the streets but she’s always playing local clubs when she’s in town. And she travels the country and the world playing but I’m not sure you’d say she’s “made it” yet. Which gets me closer to the point of this post. But first, something cool happened a few days ago.

Meschiya Lake at the Spotted Cat - (image by Brian L Butler)

I finally got to see her perform live. Julie and I spent a wonderful long weekend in the Big Easy and Saturday night spent the entire evening wandering in and out of clubs up and down Frenchmen Street topped off by Mescheiya Lake and the Little Big Horns at The Spotted Cat. The place was packed but fortune and Julie flirting with the bouncer got us right next to the stage. Loved the show, bought the album and thought that was that.

But once again, when I got home I was craving some more so I Googled and YouTubed and among other things, here’s what I found. There’s a documentary in the works about Meschiya. True Family: The voice of Meschiya Lake is in post production. Oh hell yes. The trailer looks so good I can’t wait. Check it out.

But it looks like I will have to wait for a little while. Which finally brings me to the point. The movie is being made by a Danish filmmaker for the love of the music and the subject. The money is coming from a very cool newish way to raise cash for projects like this; crowd-funding. Tens, hundreds or thousands of people giving whatever they can to projects they believe in to get them off the ground. Films, music, charity etc. $5, $20, $100 at a time. Adding up until it’s large enough to light the fuse and launch a dream.

The Meschiya fundraising is run by IndieGogo but there are several other companies doing it. My friend Brian Meece is a co-founder of RocketHub in NYC and they’re getting a lot of press and praise. (He’s also part of the über cool group Brian and Silbin) It’s just such a great way to kickstart a project (Kickstarter is another) and give it a chance to be seen and picked up by a larger audience.

The Meschiya movie is short of its goal but the project is still moving along. I’ll be putting some of my money in the pot because I think it will be a great story and I think the more people who are exposed to her music, the more people will fall for her and she will “make it”. That may make it harder for Julie and I to get a spot next to the stage in the future, but that’s a risk I’ll take.

For more on Meschiya: MeschiyaLake.com

For more about the movie: True Family: The Voice of Meschiya Lake

1213504646My day doesn’t usually start at a National Landmark fielding pointed questions from armed security. This was one of those rare mornings when it did.

We’re on a family trip to the N-Y-C. It’s the first time Julie and I have taken the girls along with us to our favorite city and we’re about to begin a big day with a trip to the Statue of Liberty.

I bought tickets online before the trip and made the reservations for the very first ferry of the day. Beat the crowds. Beat the heat. I’m a genius. But there’s a hitch. We’re staying in the beautiful Upper West Side and the ferry leaves from the extreme Southern tip of Manhattan. We’re gonna have to get an early start.

We crawl out of bed in the morning, get dressed and grab a quick breakfast. The kids aren’t really hungry so they don’t eat much. Julie and I know we don’t want hungry kids dragging through the morning so I stick some snacks in my bag, grab a couple more to put in my pockets and we’re out the door.

After a long, early morning subway ride we make it downtown and head to the pier. We already have tickets so we get to skip that line and go straight to the security line. You know those winding lines in amusement parks. It’s just like that. Only instead of a roller coaster, you’re waiting for a metal detector. Wooooo!

We wait and walk as the line inches forward until we eventually make it to the security checkpoint. After Julie and the girls get through, I put my bag on the conveyor belt and it begins its short trip to x-ray land. I keep everything in my bag. Camera, keys, phone. All my metal detector triggers. So when I walk through the metal detector and nothing goes beep-beep, I think I’m good to go. I gather my gear on the other side and prepare to meet Lady Liberty.

But as I start to walk away, a security guard motions me over to the side. She and her partner seem like nice enough ladies but at this moment, they’re looking very serious. The sidearms punctuate their seriousness.

“Is there something wrong officer?” (I actually said that. Like some bad movie line.) Anyway, apparently something is wrong. I’ve aroused suspicion. The officer points at me and asks the strangest question. “What’s that there? In your pants.” My eyes dart down and I’m confused for a second. Then it hits me. This is going to be awkward.

I ask the officers if I can show them and they nod, although, and I’m not making this up, they each put their hands on their holsters. I ease my hand into my pocket, pull out the offending object and show it to the ladies. They both crack up. Actual giggles from officers of the law. There’s a banana in my pocket. I, am a walking punch line.

Now I’m laughing too and I even say the “line” out loud. (I used a horrible Groucho Marx accent. Anyone who has heard me try knows, I can’t do accents. But they didn’t seem to mind.) The officers wave me on as the laughter continues and I leave to catch up to the family.

Julie was waiting up ahead and wondering what the heck was going on. When I told her what happened, she of course got a heavy case of the giggles too. Still makes her laugh today. We affectionately refer to my Statue of Liberty interrogation as, The Chiquita Inquisition.

A good while after the C.I. and after I’d told the story a few times, something dawns on me. I had that banana in my pocket all morning. During the walk from the hotel to the station. During the long subway ride. During the walk to the pier. During the long wait in line. And what I realize is this. Not once does Julie say anything about it. So we have two options. Either she saw the fruit in my looms and just didn’t say anything. That’s unlikely because she would not have let that go. Or option two, she just didn’t notice the entire morning. Not even a glance. Frankly, that bothers me a little bit.

BLB

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