Friday, October 22, 2010

Mojo Walkabout

Chapter 1 - Soul Searching

I'm tore down. Almost level to the ground.

I don't think its been any secret to those that know me. I'm ground to a pulp mentally, spiritually, and in someways physically. It's been a tough late summer. Lots of things building, accumulating, piling on. Nothing catastrophic, crippling, or devastating, thank God. Just a relentless friction, like tectonic plates grinding against each other.

Don't get me wrong, things could be worse, and I have much to be thankful for. And that keeps me going. Perhaps that's actually the issue. I keep going, and going, and going. Like the frickin' Energizer Bunny. Banging my cymbals non-stop, no time for rest. That takes a toll on the spirit.

I have a great job, with good people that I look forward to seeing everyday, and paying me good money with solid benefits. More than I've ever earned in my life. So many people don't have that these days, I almost consider it a luxury. I'm blessed there.

Follow that with the fact I'm in a solid, working band that's been the most successful I've ever played in, with some of my closest, oldest, dearest friends. That's a special treat. Every weekend is like a time machine to 1990, reliving some of the funnest times of my life. The attention and admiration I've received, which probably hasn't been warranted I might add, is still, none the less, greatly appreciated.

And, I have two beautiful, intelligent, remarkably talented daughters that make me proud each and every day. They are amazing. You'll never understand what a gift from God means until you have one, let alone two that make you so, so proud. No matter what I've attempted, failed or achieved, my two greatest accomplishments in my life are living and breathing each day within them. That's a powerful feeling.

But, even then, with all that, you become weary. Beat down. Exhausted. It can happen. I was feeling blue.

Its also probably no secret my love life currently sucks. Again, all in all, I have no real room to complain. I've loved and “experienced” some amazingly beautiful women. Some real true beauties. And extremely passionate, as am I. They have special place in my heart, regardless of the final outcome of the relationship.

But, they're gone. Which, is to say, again, not necessarily a bad thing. They are gone for reasons, and I'd hate to be in a loveless, phony relationship. Plus, don't we all dream of the freedom of The Single Life, and the opportunity and liberty it contains? Mingling Units, a friend once told me. Most men, hell, most women in our culture seem to covet the freedom of being single these days, eschewing traditions like matrimony, some barely co-habitating, while most prefer to be on their own. I've got that. I answer to only myself. Freedom. Sweet freedom.

But, even still, I'm tore down. Almost level with the ground. I'm slipping into a funk.

Because, a 40 hour a week job takes the bulk of your time. And that band takes my weekends, kills my social and romantic life, leaves me with hangovers and physical exhaustion and frustration. And being father of two teen age daughters is about as tough as it comes, with softball tournaments and after school basketball games, butting heads with their growing independence, “boyfriends”, ex-wives and joint custody, and dealing with the fact there's just some things they're going to learn the hard way, because they won't listen to dad. Tough love, when I don't want to show that.

And the pretty women? They have their dark sides too; their mind games that leave emotional scars, the money it takes to entertain and impress them, and the wonderful, erotic, ecstatic memories I once shared with them don't keep me warm at night now. Only my dog does.

For all the ups, there's downs. That's life. I'm no different. Same for us all in one way or another.

That's cold comfort. There's a longing for something more. Perhaps just a longing for Peace of Mind?

So, sometimes when I have time to myself, I wander. Explore. Almost a walking Zen state where I have no ambitions, no expectations, only curiosity and a drive to quench that longing for Peace of Mind. One Saturday afternoon, that exploration took me to Edwardsville and Laurie's Place for lunch. I was hungry, and knew they had good, unique food, unlike the predictable cookie cutter entrées of the shopping center outlot boutiqué restaurants.

But, I stumbled into much more that afternoon. They have an afternoon jam session hosted by Mo' Pleasure, a talented group of seasoned musicians playing bluesy, rhythmic jams much different than I'm currently accustomed to. A pleasant “cleanse of the palate” as it were from the 25 years of 80's hair metal I've been playing and hearing. Which, is what perhaps my explorations are about: cleansing the palate of my soul?

Other musicians sit in and jam, some quite talented and entertaining. Some, well, entertaining I suppose. The food is good, and the beer is cold. And, yeah, sure, I also like the cute, young waitress that brings me my order with a soft, sweet smile. Her friendly, flirty personality truly lights up the room, and earns her some pretty healthy tips, I imagine.

Weekend after weekend I would just sit quietly, enjoying my lunch, fading into the crowd, absorbing the sounds and the atmosphere, never tipping off that I was a musician myself. Never trying to draw attention to myself. Because the focus isn't about me, its about experiencing the world around me.

Those Saturday afternoon escapes have been helping me reset my circuits, holding me through the week, and even sparking an interest in my blues roots. The natural progression was to join in the jam. I'd experienced the ambiance enough that it was becoming familiar. I think subconsciously I began to take it a step beyond. Obviously, I wasn't going to get to experience that lovely waitress! She's 20 years younger, has a boyfriend, and probably looks at me as that nice, old man that has long hair and likes Corona. A lot of Coronas! Nothing romantic or sexual. I'm not kidding myself. And I wasn't going to cook the food. Guitar was my option. Time to out myself as a musician.

One afternoon I brought my trusty, weathered Les Paul into the bar and kindly asked to sit in. They happily obliged, and I quickly found myself along side them, flying by the seat of my pants, playing anything they threw at me. It was exhilarating! The guitarist, Spud, is a seasoned pro out of the jazz/big band mode. His orchestral voicings and stylings are such that I've admired his playing for some months now. I was proud to be playing along with him. My years of study and academics at SIUE, long since covered with dust, were quickly dusted off in my noodle as I had to remember chords, phrases, styles and keys I hadn't played in quite some time.

Lavarre is a crooner. A soulful singer, yet suburban in his own way. Almost a crossover, I suppose, easily accessible to both White and Black audiences. His vocal stylings are tight, in the pocket, yet still passionate and lively. Again, I'm just tickled to be standing there, stepping completely out of my element, letting the moment flow. The licks and phrases were flowing effortlessly from my fingers, finding their way from my soul. On several occasions Lavarre would snap his head back, eyes popped out wide, and a broad smile would flash across his face. “Yeah! That's what I'm talkin' about!” he'd pop. My soul was connecting, and it sent a warm chill through me. Spud talked to me later after I played a few tunes with them, told me I couldn't hide in back any more. I'd been outed. And, I had the keys to the castle. High praise. And good times.

Still, that alone hasn't been respite enough from the day to day toils and stress of my regular life. Its as though I'm working 6 or 7 days a week, either as a computer tech, a musician, even as a father, which naturally, comes with the territory of being a dad. I needed to get away. I didn't know where, but anywhere would be fine. In the spirit of Crocodile Dundee, I would go “walkabout”, and explore.

I had a handful of vacation days coming to me, and Boss graciously allowed my request to take them. For a few weeks, I mulled over ideas. Fishing? October is a beautiful month in this part of the Heartland, especially at Beaver Dam near Carlinville, Illinois. I've done some early Fall fishing there, and its peaceful, relaxing, and beautiful. Still waters, crisp Autumn air, and colorful foliage make for a picture perfect scene. But, all my fishing gear was stolen from my garage, so I'd have to replace that. Doable, but, an issue nonetheless. I didn't feel like addressing issues.

Or, I could travel some, wander, truly get away. I love that. I love to explore, take in the surroundings, and discover hidden gems, history, people, business, anything interesting that a place has to offer. But where? My options were virtually limitless. Stay local? St. Louis and its surrounding have plenty to explore and offer a wandering adventurer such as myself. We have a plethora of small towns like Washington, Ste Genevieve, Hermann, etc with individual charm and stories that fascinate me. I was yearning to discover something. Satiate my curiosity.

But, why limit myself to just a local radius? Why not be daring, and take a real road trip? Memphis? New Orleans? Both? There's an adventure! Beale Street and Bourbon Street! The very notion gave me goosebumps! Bourbon Street I was familiar with, but Beale was a virtual unknown to me. My heart, my soul lives for Bourbon Street and the French Quarter! The architecture, the cuisine, the Creole vibe, the music, the mystical Spirit that coarses through it; the hedonistic celebration of human passion is what electrifies the French Quarter. My kinda place...

That was an ambitious target. I wasn't taking a full week off. And, my finances weren't unlimited, either. I realized I was now starting to overthink this whole thing. I wanted this to be more spontaneous, but all I was doing was putting more stress on myself about it.

I finally decided not to decide. I thought it best, it the true spirit of “Walkabout” to just go where the winds cast me. Not think too much about it, and follow my soul, let it guide me, because that's pretty much what this adventure was all about: finding my soul. I've lost it.

However, a new wrinkle developed. When I mentioned to my mother that I was taking some days off and planning to go somewhere, after cautiously announcing I had no formal itinerary, she offered the suggestion of going to Tunica. Tunica; Gambling Capital of the Mid-South. Hmm, it has possibilities.

I weighed the pros and cons. One obvious advantage was by bringing my mother along, my financial needs for the adventure were secure. I didn't really need any financial backing for my adventure, but then again I was fully aware to really do what I intended, I was going to spend a chunk of change. Another issue that I wasn't fond of addressing.

I'm honestly not a big gambler, but I do know how to gamble, and playing a little poker at place like Tunica sounded kinda fun. My poker buddies have gone there, and I've wanted to tag along, but never have. It could even spark my waning interest in poker. Plus, with mom along to help financially, I had the means to play without worrying too much about wasting money. It was a viable option.

Tunica is in the heart of the Delta Blues Country, a half hour from Memphis, and really only about 5 hours from New Orleans. I would be right where I wanted to be! An excellent base camp to mount my expedition into the unknown. The Blues were awakening again deep within my soul, and this would be the perfect opportunity to release and nurture them. I could tell this was developing into where my soul wanted to explore.

The only real disadvantage was that I'd have my mother tagging along. I'd intended this to be a personal, private adventure. A soul searching pilgrimage to somewhere, anywhere. Not a personal bonding session with my mother, nor did I have any intention of using her as some Oedipal surrogate for lack of female companionship. However, she's a traveler and adventurer in her own right, and I knew, after amusing her with some black jack, I'd be free to do as I pleased. She would be no roadblock.

She couldn't give me an definite answer as to her participation in my little excursion until Wednesday. I was fully prepared to have left by then. Leaving Thursday meant I was most likely not going to have the luxury of making it to New Orleans, as I needed to return to St. Louis by Sunday at 11am. My eldest daughter was scheduled to play softball at SLU campus, and I wasn't going to take a vacation from that. But, I'd might as well let her come if she could, as the advantages were obvious.

Once she confirmed that she was able to travel with me, we made reservations at Sam's Town in Tunica for Thursday evening, and the Marriott in Memphis on Friday. No room for Bourbon Street, but that was no issue. It was also firming up my plans more than I had anticipated, but I wasn't attaching any expectations to my adventure. And, I knew there was a window between those places where I could do some exploring in the Delta, she was just going to have to come along for the ride. I would still have my “walkabout”.


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