This is a preview of ‘Disaster Blues’ by Francis Kuipers, published by Barncott Press 2017. The full version is available in print and ebook editions. Full purchasing details are here.
DISASTER BLUES With thanks to Bobby Yarra and Sam Tjioe. Cover: Giovanni Tomassi Ferroni Published by Barncott Press 2017 ISBN-13: 978-1542934398 ISBN-10: 1542934397 All Rights Reserved. Copyright @ SIAE Italy. Any Resemblance to Actual Persons, Living or Elsewhere, is Purely Coincidental For questions and information: franciskuipers.com
Struggling musicians — himself included — never relinquished the dream of achieving success. Their tenacity was beyond imagining. They never stopped believing that they had a special talent that made them stand out from other human beings. Most of all, they never grew resigned to failure. Why did he fill all his life with work? It obviously wasn’t to get rich and famous, and it wasn’t only because music provided him with joy and passion. It was to avoid failure. And there is nothing worse than a frustrated artist. “Those who desire but act not, bring pestilence.” William Blake in the Proverbs of Hell.
CONTENTS Overture 9 London, December 1977 11 Act One 21 Rome 23 Scipione Music Management 37 A New Career in Folk 39 The Punk Bluesman 43 The Mondo Folk 15th Anniversary 48 The Last Beachhead 60 Act Two 69 House in the Country 71 I Want a Woman (Disaster Blues) 76 The Sicilian Wolf 83 Music Business As Usual 95 Accused 107 Act Three 113 The Future of Folk Music 115 Blues Disastroso 128 Milan 139 An Inconvenient Truth 150 The Final Concert 161 An Evening with Fabio Carpitelli 170 They Say Lightning Never Strikes Twice In The Same Place 196 After Party 207 About the Author 53
London, December 1977 In a murky kitchenette of a dead-end bed-sitting room in London, Boogie Baker was boiling steel guitar strings in an effort to remove the sweat and dirt and restore some of their brilliance and tone. His place had decrepit furniture, threadbare carpets and curtains, and he constantly had to feed coins into the gas meter. The alternative to boiling the expensive imported American brand strings that suited his style of playing, was to buy tinny sounding ones that were difficult to keep in tune and had a tendency to snap. Receiving a whiff of acrid metallic odour, Boogie poked a wooden spoon at the tangle of strings bubbling away furiously in the pan. Unable to tell if they were clean or not, he considered it wise to interrupt the boiling process, envisaging the drastic consequences of overcooking. It could be stressful replacing a string in the middle of a show, and being forced to converse with the audience to keep its attention while appearing unworried. Like many guitarists, Boogie had jokes ready in case of an emergency and to ease the drama of breaking a string. Boogie once broke three Gâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s and two high Eâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s consecutively during a club gig in France. Although it happened years ago, the horror of the ordeal still had the power to make him shudder and every so often he wondered if, in actual fact, heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d lost control over his nerves and picking hand. The sound of that last string snapping still resonated in his brain. He kept running across persons reminding him of the debacle. It had even expanded into a damaging rumour mentioned in the press. !11
The boiling process triggered off gloomy trains of thought. Only desperately poor guitarists tried to recycle used strings and Boogie began to wonder if he still had musical prospects. Many times he had hypothesised upon the motive for himself never even getting close to the big time. It wasn't that he was no good; it was just that no decent management wanted to take him on and record companies were not interested in him anymore. Whatever modest successes he'd had in the past, nowadays producers and promoters just seemed tired of him. He’d been around too long and he’d exhausted the demand for himself in Britain, for the time being at any rate. He couldn’t even find gigs in his hometown Sheffield. Audiences generally seemed to have lost interest in the blues all of a sudden. Like the shortlived musical style called “skiffle” and the folk music revival, the European blues boom was seemingly over. Festivals were being cancelled; clubs died out swiftly. Only big-name stars with music industry backing, and musicians capable of progressing into creative rock or pop-music, managed to survive economically. A number of Boogie’s colleagues who, like him, couldn’t adapt to play mainstream sounding music even if they tried, were driven to take regular jobs or apply for unemployment benefit. When they weren’t touring, musicians always moaned about lack of work of course, but everywhere Boogie went now veteran musicians in their cups groused that this crisis was the worst in memory. Boogie certainly wasn’t a complainer, he was used to crisis, there had been crisis in music for as long as he recalled. In his experience, being a musician meant !12
living on the edge, always more or less broke and ready to hit the road. As Champion Jack Dupree, the pianist and singer from New Orleans, said, ‘You’ve got to keep on fighting the blues!’ Jack had been a successful boxer in his youth, he had muscles in his arms and he had the muscle of his heart. He played it as he felt it, day in day out mostly, from one club to another all over the world, wherever they loved the blues. Boogie prided himself on being the same, and no one, or any hopeless situation, was going to succeed in stopping him from making music if he could help it. The best fighters were those with nothing to lose. Knowing he could never give up music, Boogie sadly realised he would soon have no other choice but to return to busking. He’d started off as a street entertainer and he wasn’t looking forward to reliving the past. It was too much like being reduced to begging and failure. Besides, it wasn’t like before when one just went out, found a crowd, performed and stuck one’s hat out. In the early days, if he had lucrative spots to play, like long cinema queues or a café terrace with a captive audience, he brought a girlfriend ‘bottler’ with him to take round the hat. He’d also paid a look-out on the corner to watch for the police. It had been essential to perform, collect the money and leave for the next location fast before the law arrived. In most of Europe, the risk then consisted of being moved on or fined, or being arrested and expelled to the nearest border after a night in jail and having one’s takings confiscated. In some far off countries, Boogie had heard that itinerant musicians were still welcomed like the minstrels and !13
troubadours of yore bringing entertainment, news and tidings. In Europe, however, playing the streets was becoming increasingly complicated. Bureaucracy, regulations and restrictions abounded. A busker even required a proper street-entertaining license in many regions. Boogie mistrusted too much control over music, too much control over anything. Apart from practicing and enjoyment, he needed the strings to last long enough to play two gigs above all. The first, the wedding of fellow guitarist Danny Jones where he would be jamming with Danny and some of the guests, he was doing for pleasure. On the streets of Paris, during â&#x20AC;&#x153;skiffleâ&#x20AC;? and the start of the 60â&#x20AC;&#x2122;s folk boom, Boogie made a lot of musician friends and he knew Danny from those days. There were no accessible courses teaching the music he liked in Europe back then; guitarists generally taught themselves, listening to recordings and through hanging out with better musicians. Danny had gained recent notoriety for being the winner of a guitar marathon staged by a famous coffee bar in Liverpool. With the help of pills, he played for four days and nights without sleep until the other competitors collapsed or threw in the towel. Amazingly, after winning the marathon Danny still had the energy to party. He had no limits; he had another marathon coming up shortly and the wedding promised to be a wild event. Boogie looked forward to the celebrations going on for days. The second engagement was in the function-room of a pub on the other side of the city. The venue drew a good crowd, and a lot of good musicians and !14
friends frequented it, but it understandably couldn’t pay for more than a couple of meals and drinks after he deducted travel expenses. Not only were bookings almost non-existent, they were increasingly underpaid. For the last months he had also been subjected to terrible, nerve-wracking harassment. An ex-associate, a Rolls-Royce-owning music promoter twenty years his junior, hounded him, threatening court cases and demanding money. He claimed that Boogie owed him vast sums for advances that he didn’t remember receiving and for broken contracts. All of a sudden, the coin-operated telephone in the corridor rang loudly. Answering the call, Boogie first heard nothing but strange noises, signs of bad reception caused by international connections. Then a voice penetrated through static and clicks and revealed the name of Signore Scipione. The man, who spoke excellent English with a heavy accent, explained he was an Italian impresario and had called Boogie because he wanted him to headline a major blues festival in Italy. The news was so momentous that Boogie felt as though he’d received a call from Mount Olympus. For a long minute, while the information sank in, he hardly believed what he was hearing. They were fantastic tidings beyond his wildest expectations. Blessed with swift powers of recovery, he was swept up by an intoxicating wind compounded of joy and pure relief. All his gloom vanished in an instant, along with morbid thoughts of failure, busking, horrid bed-sitting rooms and boiling strings. Yet again, fortune smiled upon him miraculously and he was saved ‘in extremis’. After !15
making an appointment with Scipione to meet in Rome the next week he hung up. Boogie had already worked in Italy on a number of occasions. Many years before, heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d accompanied a group of legendary Chicago bluesmen on a number of dates, including a television show. He also had toured the country extensively one summer as the special guest of one of the top Italian singers, a great artist with a huge following. He drew crowds that were biblical in size and kept audiences hypnotised. Boogie would never forget opening for the outdoor concert in a small town in Sicily. In the morning there was only a huge stage set up on what looked like rubbish dump outside of town. For the concert that same evening the scene had transformed magically. The area had been cleaned up, drink and food vendors were everywhere and the entire valley filled up with audience for as far as the eye could see. There must have been at least thirty or forty thousand people, it was estimated. In Milan, and elsewhere in the North of Italy, heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d performed solo at guitar festivals and heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d done a few basic recording sessions. He nurtured glowing memories of great audiences, enchanting women, glorious art and architecture, wine, food and delightful surprises of all kinds. Boogie loved performing anywhere, but best of all in Italy! A week later, waiting for his flight at the airport, Boogie was almost exploding out of his skin with excitement. He felt gloriously unattached, free and ready for adventure and, above all, musically on form. Downing a last pint of ale in the bar, he brimmed over with contentment until he chanced on !16
a British music magazine that contained a story on him. The article in the magazine was entitled, Boogie Baker, bluesman from Sheffield – active late 60s, early 70’s. Boogie began to read the article with misgiving, fearing as was increasingly happening, that he was going to be accused of being a washed-up failure. The article was in first instance positive. It stated that it couldn’t be denied that his few recordings from the sixties and early seventies were virtually collectors’ items, and Boogie could hardly argue with the assertion that he no longer had any new releases. But then it went on to say that like many of his contemporaries he had almost disappeared from the music scene, an easy prey to his own ingenuity, useless management, and dissipation. In the words of the author, a friendly-seeming man Boogie recalled sociably drinking with on various occasions, the older Boogie became, the more an element of self-parody inserted itself into his shows. Eking out a meagre living, drifting from club to club through nearly every part of the world, his performance was more and more becoming an exercise in showmanship and audience manipulation, rather than a serious recital. His voice was ravaged by overuse. Performing grinding one-nighters, mainly for uninformed and inebriated audiences, in the opinion of the author, Boogie had first turned into a predictable run-of-themill entertainer and had then more or less vanished. What disappointed Boogie most was the choice of photograph accompanying the article, although he was also quite relieved that there was a photograph of him at all. It could have been a good picture in close!17
up, or illuminated by spotlights as he entertained a joyous crowd with his acoustic Martin or electric Stratocaster. Instead, there was a gloomy shot of him without a guitar, standing alone at the bar of an empty murky club somewhere in Holland going by the beer mats. He had a glass in his hand and was obviously drunk. Alcohol was the perk and problem for Boogie and many other musicians. His habit was caused by an endless supply of free drinks to mitigate the boredom of waiting for the show to start and having to chat with the organisers. What disturbed Boogie most in the shot was the expression in his eyes. It had to be the bad lighting, but strangely larger and more pool-like than usual, his eyes seemed to hold a desperate and poignant anguish. He seemed to be revealing to the whole world that he was a loser trying to struggle on against impossible odds. Specific country music songs function as sermons as well as entertainment, their moral serving as a warning to god-fearing folk tempted to stray from the path of righteousness. Examining the photo closely, it struck Boogie that he resembled the confessing old sinner ruined by excess in Cigarettes and Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women, the hit from the forties. With an effort Boogie shrugged off his disappointment and the hurtful memory of his despair - which he still remembered perfectly â&#x20AC;&#x201C; in the bar of the deserted club waiting for the audience to turn up and his show to begin. Apart from his looking drunk, he had to admit that his appearance wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t too bad in a swashbuckling way with his long dark hair and beard. He certainly looked like a bluesman with his !18
wide-brimmed hat, sharp black leather jacket and high-heeled cowboy boots. Ever since he bought them second-hand in a charity shop about ten years ago, Boogie had walked the planet wearing a dead manâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s boots. According to the salesgirl they had belonged to a famous pop star who had mysteriously died. They were wonderfully comfortable and fitted like a second skin. Fashioned out of supple leather, with exquisite handmade ornamental patterns and stitching, they must have cost a fortune originally. Some badly informed journalist might consider him a failure, Boogie told himself with an inward chuckle, but he possessed the boot equivalent of a Ferrari motorcar. His career might have its ups and downs, but he was free and doing what he liked and he had a glowing future notwithstanding the picture in the magazine. The article on him continued to rankle. Thankfully Alitalia was allowing him to take his guitar on board. Sending a musical instrument as baggage was always a hazard. Fitting his guitar in the overhead storage locker, Boogie occupied his seat and happily opened Casanovaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s memoirs that he had brought along to read on the trip. He was in such high spirits that it was impossible to focus on the book and he found himself thinking about clean and fast guitar picking. He now decided that he ought to eliminate virtuosity and its dependency on skill and concentrate on music content instead. Sometimes he had the impression that people listened to him, hoping he would make a mistake. Boogie realised he needed to develop a much freer, expressive and !19
personal approach that was free from tradition and virtuosity. For years, during his solo set, he had mainly featured songs and instrumentals in a synthesis of blues and jazz. He wanted to stop copying and re-interpreting. A totally fresh new repertoire, thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s what he had to achieve in Italy; that had to be his goal! He was sick of unemployment, demands for money, broken contracts and magazines spreading lies. Those critics deriding him and accusing him of being washed-up needed to re-think their point of view. They would learn that he was nowhere near being finished, in fact quite the opposite! Already savouring his comeback, Boogie felt his energy level soaring and he resolved he would watch his diet and dramatically cut back on booze.
Rome As the plane landed at Leonardo da Vinci airport, the truth crashed through Boogieâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s brain in a glittering wave of clarity. Unless some manager or producer somewhere else suddenly took an interest in him, which was most unlikely, Scipione represented his last hope, his last chance of musical and economic survival and redemption. Every so often Boogie experienced harassment because of his dress and hirsute appearance. Hairstyles they didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t like, and flaunting an alternative lifestyle, even caused some people to freak out completely and explode into murderous rages. Entering the customs area, Boogieâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s first instincts were to avoid being stopped and interrogated. Knowing he would be closely observed, he knew it was wisest not to attract attention by doing anything unusual or by making movements that made him stand out. In public places he learned not to linger, pat his pockets, look over his shoulder or stare too closely at anything and to avoid eye contact at all cost. From dire experience, he knew it was dangerous to stop in the middle of a room when he was being struck by an idea, to write in his notebook. In the aftermath of the student protests of the 60s, it was widely assumed that most males with long hair and beards were dangerous drug fiends, especially musicians carrying their instruments. All the same, despite all his precaution and experience, for some reason Boogie was unprepared for Rome airport immigration. !23
“I haven’t got anything,” Boogie heard his voice say through a haze of shock when an enormous, snarling German shepherd suddenly lunged at him from beneath a table as he casually passed by. At the last moment, just before it reached Boogie, a custom’s officer managed to attach the dog’s leash to a radiator. Pointing to Boogie’s guitar case he demanded that he open it. “Of course,” Boogie replied in Italian, opening the lid of the case, “It’s my guitar. I’m a musician”. Too late he recalled his resolution to pretend that he didn’t speak Italian if he was stopped. “Any other luggage?” the customs man demanded once he’d inspected the guitar. “Only my backpack,” Boogie replied trying to behave naturally; his stomach plunged with a familiar nausea-inducing socked-in-the-groin sensation. He had checked and double-checked to make sure he had no traces of pot or hash on him. He had even gone to the trouble of hanging his jacket out of the window to air it. Venues he performed in were often full of swirling clouds of pot and tobacco smoke. All at once, a ghastly doubt flared up: who beside himself had had access to his backpack? It had been all over the place, following him to seedy restaurants, dressing rooms, back stage; it had last been dumped halfforgotten on the floor of the airport bar. A month ago he had lent it to Charley, a crazy musician friend. Paranoia flared up, spreading like a wave into every tissue of his body. “Open it!” The customs man ordered. Boogie observed every nerve in the man’s frame tensing up and his knuckles going white as he gripped the edge !24
of the table. In his peripheral vision he saw the dog writhing in anticipation. “Do you have drugs?” “I haven’t got any—,” Boogie started to say, breaking off as the dog lunged at him again, barking ferociously. Almost strangling itself on its leash, it fell back heavily. Boogie’s thoughts scrambled round his brain frantically like rodents in a cage. Maybe Charley had sown something into the lining of the backpack and had forgotten about it? “If you’re hiding drugs confess now and it will go easier on you!” The customs official said, cutting a sharp glance over his shoulder at someone else. Staring intensely at Boogie’s face all the while, he began testing the consistency and thickness of the backpack with his fingers. “The penalty for possession of any quantity of drugs is a minimum three years in prison,” he intoned with relish. Many long minutes later he came to a reluctant conclusion. “I can’t find anything!” he complained, and turning a tragic gaze on the now supine dog, said with such resolution he was obviously trying to convince himself, “Pippo never fails! You must have smoked yesterday, it sticks to your hair!” he spat out, his face shuddering. “You forgot to wash that filthy long hair! Soon we will have a new scientific blood test! Those who smoked yesterday and even three months ago will go to jail!” Luggage handlers had just ended a strike and everyone’s nerves were on edge. The situation for anyone wishing to travel was chaotic. In Departures there were reportedly crushes in front of the counters !25
and baggage was all over place. People who were not queuing either stood around in a stupor or slept wherever they could. To his surprise, entering Arrivals, Boogie found out that it was almost empty. It turned out a number of incoming flights were hopelessly delayed and there were only six persons in the hall. His senses honed by the horrid experience in customs and the sinister foretaste of the drug witch-hunt that was clearly going on in Italy, Boogieâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s eyes swept the room like a high precision camera. The motionless man, with a neutrality so perfectly studied that he might well have possessed no human feelings whatsoever, Boogie assumed to be a CIA agent. By the gate, the athletic Italian with a beard and an Afro was unmistakably a plain-clothes member of the anti-drug squad carrying out a routine control, waiting to pounce on harmless hippies flying in from New Delhi most likely. Boogie noticed he even had a noticeable bulge under his armpit. The only person in Arrivals not wearing sunglasses was a dingy youth, with a ratty beard and an oddly flat face, fast asleep in a chair. Nearest to the exit Boogie spotted an obviously illegal taxi driver, a swarthy corpulent man with black hair and conspicuous jewellery, holding aloft a childishly lettered sign proclaiming taxi. In the centre of the room were two elegant black men in suits, one bulky, the other slim and holding a saxophone case, who were clearly musicians. Animatedly gesticulating and chatting with them was a large man in his midthirties with his back towards Boogie. He had jetblack hair that fell down to his shoulders in luxuriant curls and an operatic beard, and wore the safari suit !26
full of pockets currently in vogue with movie directors. “Mister Scipione!” Boogie called out to him in English, taking him to be the impresario. “I’m Boogie Baker, the bluesman you’re waiting for!” Although he had purposely limited his alcohol intake during the flight Boogie couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear, he was so pleased to see Scipione. “Yes, what can I do for you?” Scipione asked matter-of-factly, turning to face Boogie. Unsmiling, he sized him up suspiciously. One second Scipione had his attention on Boogie, the next he was ignoring him completely, with his eyes starting to bulge behind his sunglasses and his tongue almost hanging out. Following his gaze Boogie saw a very lovely darkhaired girl. Judging by her trembling mouth and the anxious way she searched the Arrivals hall with her eyes, she had clearly been stood up. “My name’s Scipione, the music promoter!” Scipione announced in English, eagerly jumping forward to aid her with her suitcase. His voice was deep and rumbling. “I’m driving back to Rome, I’ll be happy to give you a lift!” “Damn your ancestors! Get your hands off my belongings!” the girl replied in Roman dialect. “Fuck off you old lecher!” “Mister Scipione, thanks for your sending me the plane ticket!” Boogie said as a reminder of his existence. Tearing his eyes off the girl with an effort, Scipione swept off his sunglasses and looked at Boogie as if seeing him for the first time. !27
“You are Boogie Baker? I was expecting you to be younger,” he said doubtfully, focusing on the girl again. “That’s right!” “Just call me Scipione like everyone else!” Scipione replied out of the corner of his mouth, between automatically soul-slapping Boogie’s outstretched hand. “It’s a good thing I came into Arrivals. You never know when you can help out visitors to Italy and save them from falling into the clutches of someone with bad intentions!” “Shut up and fuck off!” the girl told Scipione abruptly, although this time he hadn’t said anything to her directly. She liked Scipione but preferred a preliminary skirmish Boogie concluded wryly, though he could be wrong. He’d found out he was often wrong about matters of the heart. “I’ve been waiting for you, Boogie. Where have you been?” Scipione rumbled. Clearly troubled, he eyed Boogie slowly up and down before staring at him hard, his pitch-black eyes growing cold and transparent-seeming. “Your flight landed over an hour ago!” “I had a hell of a time!” Boogie justified hastily. “The customs-man went through my pack for at least half an hour! He even sifted the fluff from my trouser pockets through his fingers and had a dog sniff it. I was frightened he was going to plant something on me!” Boogie was still so shaken by his ordeal he couldn’t stop talking about it. Realising Scipione was obviously uninterested in his story, he concluded it rapidly, “The dog’s name was Pippo!” !28
“Did you bring a stage costume?” Scipione demanded, forgetting to speak English. His question threw Boogie off entirely. He was genuinely bewildered and wondered what Scipione meant by a stage costume. In his professional sphere hardly anyone wore a specific costume on stage and his boots, jeans and trademark hat were his normal outfit at all times. Before doing a gig he just brushed his teeth, put on a clean shirt and cleaned up to appear smart like everyone else about to go out. “What do you mean?” Boogie asked also in Italian. Their previous conversation over the phone had suffered electronic interference and he had no idea of what Scipione had continued to say after he’d mentioned the festival and had invited him to Rome. “How come you speak Italian?” Scipione demanded. “Audiences expect foreign artists to behave like foreign artists! They want to be entertained. They want the exotic! From now on speak to me in English when others are listening. “These guys…” he indicated the black musicians proudly but didn’t bother introducing them, “… they not only act like genuine jazzmen, but they look like jazzmen. You are supposed to look and talk like a real bluesman!” Scipione shrugged and then pointed at the flat-faced youth asleep in the chair who had caught Boogie’s attention on arrival. “My assistant! His name is Ezechiele and he’s always sleeping! Anyway, let’s go!” He was about to move toward the exit but a deep Sicilian voice stopped him. “Ciao, cousin!” It was the illegal taxi driver. Leisurely approaching Scipione, he combed back his oiled hair with a practiced gesture. The backs of his !29
hands were incredibly hairy. “It’s me!” he clarified, a sly wolf-like expression creeping over his face. As he pushed his comb into the back pocket of his jeans, he glanced furtively around the room. He was wearing a sweat-stained cerise silk shirt and a pair of white loafers, and there was a bleached patch over his crotch that looked padded. Round his neck was a massive gold chain; on his wrist he wore a gold bracelet with the name ‘Gianni’ inscribed on it and a diamond-studded wristwatch. “We don’t need a cab!” Scipione growled hastily. “You don’t recognise me?” the taxi driver went on. “Good, you’re not supposed to. I’ve had plastic surgery to improve my looks, I’ll tell you about it later. It’s me, your cousin Mauro!” Boogie immediately doubted that he was Scipione’s cousin because he didn’t resemble Scipione in any way except for hair colour. Although Boogie wouldn’t have bet on whether he really remembered Mauro, half-remembered him or not at all, Scipione’s body expanded visibly with pleasure. Kind wrinkles came into the corners of his twinkling eyes. Scipione had the most infectious and seraphic smile when he was happy, it curled his mouth almost halfway around his long nose. “It’s my cousin Mauro!” Scipione explained enthusiastically. “He’s Sicilian, like me!” While Mauro and Scipione reminisced about a sheep-eating orgy in the mountains, Boogie made the acquaintance of the jazzmen who turned out to be members of ‘New Sounds Incorporated’ from New York, which had a huge underground reputation. !30
Boogie had heard it reported that Ahmal Johnson was a superb drummer, and Lionel Eady he knew well from his recordings. He couldn’t wait to hear Lionel ‘live’ in concert. In Boogie’s opinion, he was absolutely one of the world’s best and most inventive saxophone players. His music explored all kinds of new directions and he had a unique tone. Boogie felt honoured to be in Lionel’s presence and his esteem of Scipione went up enormously. Scipione was obviously a serious operator if he was handling this level of talent, Boogie thought contentedly. Lionel and Ahmal had achieved a state of beatific serenity, the cumulative effect of exhaustion after a series of amazing, sold-out concerts and the marijuana they’d just smoked in the carpark, they confided to Boogie as they got to know one another better. They were also satisfied because Scipione had managed to pay them in cash, in US dollars. Ahmal explained to Boogie they wanted only authentic, dependable green-backs as payment in local lira would have caused them to lose money on exchange rates back home. Later on in the conversation, Ahmal revealed they were in fact relieved to have been paid at all, as in France a promoter had absconded with their earnings. There had been a disastrous situation in Italy too when, unpaid after a concert, they’d been forced to hitchhike to Rome, carrying their instruments and luggage, from southern Calabria, escaping angry creditors. At another venue they’d been paid counterfeit Swiss francs resulting in the bass player being arrested when he tried to exchange them in a New York bank. !31
“Hey Boogie, when Scipione told us about you playing his blues festival I was kind of expecting an old black dude from some farm in Mississippi or Texas,” Lionel remarked at one stage. Behind his steel-rimmed spectacles his intelligent eyes became reminiscent. “I grew up on rhythm-and-blues and jazz. My grandpa and his whiskey-drinking buddies used to do old-style blues on the back porch down in the country. How come you know about that stuff, living over here? They don’t even know about it back home. I thought it had died out!” “I don’t quite do the blues like that,” Boogie explained cagily, nervously wondering what Lionel would think of his music. Lionel must have been in his late thirties, only five or six years younger than himself, and Boogie was incredulous that he believed the old-time blues no longer existed. “No offence intended!” Lionel added hurriedly. “The blues is before civil rights,” Ahmal Johnson said thoughtfully, “Black people don’t play that music anymore.” “Cousin Mauro,” Scipione exclaimed, gesticulating passionately making his farewell. “It’s been great running across you like this! Let’s have dinner together one evening!” As he clasped the taxi driver in his arms Scipione’s gaze grew liquid with emotion. “Let’s eat together soon; we need to talk over a plate of fettuccine!” Mauro murmured. “Penne all’arrabbiata! ” Scipione intoned. For minutes they clutched each other without saying anything, the bulges overhanging their belts audibly growling in unison. Scipione yawned, hunger was apparently making him sleepy, but he became !32
instantly wide-awake when he noticed something over Mauro’s comfortable shoulder. “Ezechiele has disappeared again!” Scipione rumbled. “He’s always doing it.” Everyone gazed at Ezechiele’s empty chair in astonishment. It seemed only minutes ago that Scipione’s assistant had been there but now he’d inexplicably vanished. Making a summary farewell, Scipione detached himself from his cousin’s embrace. After a final bewildered gaze at the empty chair, clearly trying to figure out Ezechiele’s trick of dematerialising, he unknotted his brow. “Let’s go to my place and drink wine!” he suggested, casting a last yearning look at the lovely dark-haired girl still waiting for someone. As Scipione lead them outside and toward his car Boogie said anxiously, “We’re being followed!” perceiving the CIA man behind them. It was as if icy eyes were subjecting him to some kind of intensive Xray. “Take it easy, Boogie. Relax, enjoy yourself,” Scipione reassured him with a laugh, his good mood fully restored. He gestured expansively with his hand. “Cops are looking for terrorists, not entertainers. In Italy we love music and song and everyone respects artists!” He waved his hands in the air. “Remember that here we call musicians ‘Maestro’!” His kind words instantaneously had a positive effect on Boogie. He couldn’t wait to explore Rome’s streets and piazza again and enjoy its magnificent, unrivalled beauty. Above all he couldn’t wait to perform. !33
“Am I playing somewhere tonight?” he asked, impatiently flexing his fingers. “I’m ready!” he enthused in the middle of the parking lot, “When is the festival?” “My god!” Scipione burst out, ignoring Boogie with a grimace that was either the result of a stomach cramp or an endeavour to smile. “I don’t recall ever meeting a cousin named Mauro before!” Stopping in his tracks, he slapped his clothes wildly to see if he had been robbed. As his safari suit was covered in pockets this took a while. When he was satisfied that nothing was missing, Scipione enlightened Boogie patiently, “Boogie, I want you exclusively for the blues festival which is in the process of being organised. Most people have never heard of you and they know next to nothing about the blues, so we need to do a mega-publicity campaign aimed at a specific audience. There’s no point in your immediately wasting your novelty value on some small club for next to no money when you can be launched at a major event. Don’t forget,” he thrust out his finger emphatically, “Next year is going to be the year of the blues!” “That’s wonderful! Thank you!” Boogie exclaimed optimistic, but he was also wondering uneasily what Scipione meant by next year. Next year was nearly a year away! Then, Boogie became caught up by enthusiasm, and he forgot his misgivings. He loved the notion of being on the road again with concerts and audiences to look forward to. He loved being in good company under a blue Italian sky in mid-winter.
“You’re going to have a ball, Boogie!” Lionel cut in merrily. “The best crowds and the best food and drink in the world!” Ahmal Johnson had been strangely quiet and pensive since they left the airport building. “Some of my oldest relatives happen to be great blues legends,” he suddenly mentioned offhandedly to Scipione. “If you let me use your phone I can prepare you a list of available bluesmen for your festival within a week.” “My phone is being cut off!” Scipione exclaimed, disregarding Ahmal’s question. A dark cloud passed over his countenance. He was subject to rapid mood changes Boogie was starting to find out. “Some of those old folks might be willing to come,” Ahmal went on doggedly. “They’ve never visited Europe and seen the Colosseum or the Eiffel Tower and the antique furniture.” Scipione scratched his head just as they arrived at his car, an ancient and very dilapidated Fiat 600. He chuckled with mirth noticing for the first time that there was a Swiss number plate attached to the front bumper and that the rear plate, a cardboard replica, was Roman. He explained he hadn’t remarked upon this abnormality the evening before when he’d purchased the vehicle from a friend, although he’d wondered why traffic police kept waving at him as he drove by. Then, apparently struck by a new idea, Scipione changed the subject. “Maybe, considering their advanced age and precarious health, many illustrious old-time bluesmen won’t be up to travelling to Europe and touring,” he reflected out loud, throwing Ahmal a slow !35
circumspect look from under hooded eyelids. “I have a second cousin, by far the best blues guitarist in Catania. In case of an emergency he could always fill in.”Astounded to find Ezechiele fast asleep in the back seat of his car Scipione exclaimed, “My god!” and briefly caressed the red corna, the horn-shaped talisman dangling from the car’s interior mirror. “So this is where he is! How did he get here so fast?” When Scipione shook him roughly by the shoulder Ezechiele could only smile sheepishly before dropping off to sleep again. They squeezed into the small car; Lionel, Ezechiele and Boogie were in the back with his pack and Lionel’s sax. Ahmal sat in the front passenger-seat with Boogie’s guitar between his knees. Scipione started the engine with a roar. Manoeuvring out of the airport with a scraping of gears he entered the stream of traffic toward the Eternal City and pressed the accelerator against the shuddering and heaving metal of the floor. His new car ran well, Scipione commented with pleasure, but he had to do something about the number plates quite urgently. Scipione’s good humour was as infectious as it was boundless. Boogie was unable to stop smiling as he planned his first free day in Rome. Nothing was comparable to the exploration of a great city, especially Rome, and he had the sensation of being fully alive. Show business might be tough from time to time, he thought happily, but there were rewards that made it all totally worthwhile!
Scipione Music Management Scipione’s apartment had two rooms. One was used as bedroom, the larger space served as the headquarters of Scipione Music Management. The walls were taken up from floor to ceiling with metal racks straining under the weight of cardboard boxes, stacks of LPs and hastily improvised filing arrangements. The surfaces of tables and shelves overflowed with empty bottles, glasses, ashtrays, an old-fashioned typewriter, photographs of musicians and Scipione with musicians, correspondence, posters and press cuttings. Piled-up music magazines, items of clothing and musical instrument cases were all over the place. The telephone, Scipione’s lifeline, was situated in an alcove with a central table, bordered by couches on which visitors, including Boogie, normally slept. Scipione could not function without the telephone. It was an essential tool for his business, as he constantly needed to contact musicians and promoters and festival committees all over the world. When he wasn’t making deals or sorting out organisational difficulties, he could also spend hours on the phone just keeping in touch with people, mostly girlfriends and relatives. During his long stay at Scipione’s apartment, Boogie came to learn that music management, and the public performance of music, was not an easy matter in Italy. For a start, it was generally necessary to have some kind of political approval and endorsement. Not only were cultural events nearly always linked to !37
politics and parties seeking votes but they also faced obstacles of all kinds. Plans for concerts were always going wrong or undergoing dramatic last-minute alteration as official support might suddenly be withdrawn, amongst other problems. Dates changed at the last moment, there was trouble with transport and payment, technical hitches were routine. Despite his admiration and affection for Scipione, and his gratitude for Scipioneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s gracious hospitality, Boogie grew nervous after procrastinating in Rome for over a week with no sign of a forthcoming blues festival or of any kind of booking. He risked losing his form and getting out of practise, he needed money and, yet again, he was starting to be besieged by doubt over having musical prospects at all. Two weeks after his arrival in Rome, when still no dates for the festival had been set, Boogieâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s faith in Scipione had almost totally evaporated. Apart from the seemingly non-existent festival, he was beginning to doubt that Scipione could find him any kind of bookings. Also, there was no point at all in Scipione saving his so-called novelty value for a blues festival that showed no sign of ever coming to fruition. The only reason Boogie now had some cash was because he had become the guitarist for an actor named Omar, who made ends meet singing in a trendy trattoria, patronised by theatre people. Drifting graciously from table to table, Omar sang in French; his musical repertoire consisted of one romantic waltz and two songs by Edith Piaf. Very elegant, beautiful and talented, with peroxide hair, heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d made himself a costume mainly consisting of many balloons and a !38
pair of sandals. Having just notoriously appeared in a film cameo role, Omar was at that time possibly the most well known transvestite in the country and that certainly helped to earn tips. Scipione Music Management was on his case, Scipione reassured Boogie when he mentioned his concern about the festival. Music dates were always delayed and minor complications were inevitable he explained. Tomorrow or the day after there would be good news. It was not a propitious moment to approach Scipione. His nerves were in shreds as he had been issued with a dreadful ultimatum. Although someone he knew employed by the SIP telephonecompany was trying to intercede on his behalf, either he settled his seven-and-a-half million lire phone bill immediately or he would be cut off. One morning, around dawn, Scipione staggering into the room waked Boogie up. Totally exhausted, Scipione had arrived from Bologna, from ‘The Heavenly Ghost Gospel Singers’ concert, and the after show party, just in time to wash and change and to be able to clock in at eight o’clock for his regular job. Next to his music management affairs, Scipione had somehow managed to remain employed at the gas company for over seventeen years and he was determined not to lose his job and pension. Currently Scipione had two big shows on the go. ‘New Sounds Incorporated’ were playing in Rome that evening. ‘The Heavenly Ghost Gospel Singers’ were supposed to leave Bologna to perform in Venice. Just as Scipione finished telling Boogie this in a rush, the road manager of ‘The Heavenly Ghost Gospel !39
Singers’ called to report that there was an emergency. The Venice show had been inexplicably cancelled and the group intended returning to Rome and flying back to The United States as soon as possible. Even shows confirmed a year beforehand, and with castiron contracts, had a habit of being postponed or annulled at the last moment. While hurriedly dressing, Scipione explained to Boogie that he had no way of contacting the light and sound crew for ‘The Heavenly Ghost Gospel Singers’, to tell them the concert was off, since they’d already set off for Venice in a van. Unless they thought of calling him, using a public telephone on the autostrada, the toll highway, they’d learn the bad news when they reached their destination. Scipione still had half an hour before he needed to leave for his steady job at the gas company. Possibly to forget his problems, he began sorting through a stack of LPs and eventually selected one to play. He possessed a fantastic record collection. Important labels constantly sent him new music and he received recordings from artists everywhere. Just as Scipione was about to put a LP on the turntable, the telephone rang again. He had to return to Bologna immediately, Scipione lamented, muting the receiver against his chest during a lengthy conversation with the eightyyear old leader of ‘The Heavenly Ghost Gospel Singers’. The Choir couldn’t leave its pensione on the outskirts of Bologna because the management demanded the invoice was paid in lire, whereas they only had foreign traveller checks and it was a bank holiday. No member of the choir had ever been out of !40
The United States before and they were worried about missing the flight home as well. “Unless a miracle occurs,” Scipione stated tragically when the phone call finally ended, “I have no choice but to travel to Bologna again tonight after the ‘New Sounds Incorporated’ concert, if there is a train.” As always, Scipione recovered himself swiftly. His attention returning to the record player, he shrugged philosophically and changed the subject. “What do you think of this LP?” he asked proudly. “I produced it in a studio here in Rome. It’s going to be released soon.” Awestruck, Boogie listened to the latest ‘New Sounds Incorporated’ album. He recognised Lionel Eady’s saxophone immediately. Lionel’s music could trigger oceanic feelings inside of him; no-one sounded like Lionel. His tone was unique and his musical citations, a great Charley Parker solo, for example, a show tune phrase, or a snatch of Reggae or Moroccan Berber music, were always so sublimely timed, delightful and surprising. Lionel’s improvisations transported Boogie into musical realms that he had never heard before or explored and his imagination soared. While the record played, Scipione made a transatlantic call to a very famous and notoriously self-important jazz pianist. There was an apocryphal story going around about Scipione, that he could actually conduct phone conversations in his sleep. He now proved the story untrue by snoozing off in midsentence. Slumped back on the sofa like an overstuffed sack, his jowls sunk into his collar and the telephone receiver clutched in his extended hand, he !41
began snoring like a warthog into the ear of the piano star in New York. After about ten minutes, Scipione jerked his head off the cushion in panic. Releasing the receiver that was now emitting a constant drone, his left hand joined his other hand, clutching at the region of his heart. “My god! I’ve got to go to work!” he bellowed, shocking his assistant Ezechiele out of his comatose state on a chair at the far end of the room, and shouted to him, “My phone’s being cut off !” “Scipione,” Ezechiele ventured timidly, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. Gradually he assumed the luminous, sheepish expression that generally preceded pleas for his salary. Scipione gazed at Ezechiele lengthily from under drooping eyelids. “With an assistant like you around always asking for money, no wonder things are going wrong,” he muttered, although Ezechiele hadn’t yet opened his mouth. Then, like Ezechiele, he fell asleep again. A few minutes later, a tumult of bells joyously summoning the faithful poured in from the window facing onto an interior courtyard zigzagged with laundry lines. Reading about the life of Michelangelo and his nerve-wracking tribulations with the pope, Boogie reluctantly abandoned his book. Scipione stretched himself luxuriously and gave a series of great jaw-cracking yawns before impulsively grabbing the telephone to dial a number. “How are you?” he rumbled melodically when someone answered. From his voice Boogie surmised that he was addressing someone female. !42
“Don’t you have to leave for work?” Ezechiele reminded Scipione, wanting to be of help. Signalling impatiently with his hand for Ezechiele to keep quiet, Scipione was entirely concentrated on his phone conversation. He began tugging at his hair, a sure sign that he was anxious. His laughter boomed out. It now sounded false, as if he was being told a bad joke. He had clearly forgotten all about his job at the gas company. “This is of the utmost urgency!” he protested, pressure creeping into his voice. “I have something very,” he stressed the word very, ”important to discuss with Federico Sapone!” Boogie’s hearing became suddenly acute. Scipione had often mentioned the impresario Sapone. He knew that Scipione was counting on Sapone for help in producing the blues festival. Sapone had major contacts and connections everywhere. All-powerful, he apparently hobnobbed with cardinals and was on familiar terms with a range of politicians, amongst other big shots. “I need to give him a personal message from Miles Davis!” Scipione ventured, tearing wildly at his beard. Wincing in pain, he tossed tufts of hair onto the mound of his belly. Completely distraught, he gripped the telephone receiver so hard that Boogie was afraid it would disintegrate into fragments and gouge into his hand. “They’re cutting my phone off!” Scipione yelled. “The SIP wants seven and a half million lire! I’m ruined! Federico can’t back out now! He gave me his word!” “That bastard!” Scipione raged at Ezechiele when the phone call ended. “Sapone is withdrawing his !43
support for the blues festival using political instability as an excuse! Ezechiele ignored the outburst, assuming an expression of resolution and defiance. “Since I’ve come to work here on a regular basis I haven’t seen a lira!” he exclaimed, his face flushing. His voice trembled with emotion; his hands grabbed at his concave stomach. “I’ve lost four kilos this month and I don’t have any security! What about the contributions you were supposed to pay towards my pension scheme?” Scipione’s eyes flashed, he was immediately on defensive attack. “You’ve lost my cousin’s photos Ezechiele! What the hell have you done with them?” he demanded crossly. “You know who I mean: the great blues guitarist the whole of Sicily is raving about!” And with hardly a pause, “You have to be wide-awake if you want to make it in the music business, Ezechiele! You can’t expect to make a fortune overnight. You’ve got to learn the ropes. I’m taking the trouble to teach you what I know of my trade and all you do is whine!” Ezechiele's alarmed look, when he was accused of having mislaid the pictures, dissolved throughout Scipione's harangue and the long silence following it. “I wish I had a proper job in a shoe shop, for instance, or in a travel agency,” Ezechiele whinged finally, and not very convincingly. “I’ve got a girlfriend! I can’t afford to take her out, not even for an ice cream!” “Don’t worry about your pay,” replied Scipione decisively. “You’ll get it when the ‘New Sounds !44
Incorporated’ tour is over! They get a packed house every night!” Gazing down at his strangely silent telephone, a mixture of fear and great loss twisted his features. “What about the SIP? How am I going to pay them?” “It’s not right,” Ezechiele exclaimed rebelliously. “I’m damned hungry most of the time!” “Let’s get some work done around here!” Scipione said with an appeasing smile. “Don’t worry, you’ll see your money soon. I’m desperately hard up, too, and so is Boogie and we’re not complaining like you!” “Your cousin’s photos are on top of the piano,” Ezechiele continued, illustrating his disdain for Scipione’s promise with a shrug of his shoulders. “Maybe you moved them?” Making the effort of getting to his feet he shuffled dejectedly over to the piano in the hallway. “See!” he exclaimed, scratching his ratty beard and pointing to the top of the piano. “I knew it. They’re here!” Busy using the telephone, Scipione ignored him. After a number of fruitless calls to people in an effort to rally support and to borrow money to pay his telephone bill, he rubbed his tired eyes fiercely and groaned. Imagining – wrongly he was soon to find out - that Scipione was distraught about not being able to leave for the gas company, Boogie felt sorry for him. He held down two jobs, couldn’t pay his phone bill and constantly risked his health, eating in the worst trattoria and drinking whatever wine he came across. He hardly slept to be able to put on concerts of the music he loved for little profit. Economically speaking worst of all, Boogie conjectured glumly, Scipione promoted unknown artists like him !45
performing obscure music that hardly anyone was interested in. ‘New Sounds Incorporated’ was, more or less, Scipione’s only commercially successful act, but bringing the band over from the USA cost plenty. “Fuck! It’s terrible, but I have to call that thieving arsehole impresario Pomata! It’s the last resort!” Scipione burst out finally before dialling a number. Just thinking about Pomata almost caused him to have a breakdown. “I’m cornered! I’ve got no choice!” Boogie had heard appalling reports about Pomata, and his lack of ethical principles, from several other persons besides Scipione, even outside of Italy, on a number of occasions. An impresario from Barlungo in the Alpine North, Pomata was internationally notorious. A skilled organiser of enormous festivals, providing audiences with wonderful entertainment, he was also totally dishonest and a master at cheating musicians. Reports had it that he had the ability to actually evaporate into thin air like a magician after he’d made off with the take of a concert. Another story had it that he could manifest himself in two places simultaneously in a physical form, stealing money in both places, or just to confuse people. He could, it was alleged, be in the ticket office raiding the till while, at the same time, he was seen somewhere else! Scipione was so upset about an awful experience with Pomata that he told Boogie about it at length at Da Toto, his favourite trattoria, on Boogie’s first evening in Rome. Although Pomata had blamed the theft of the night’s takings on a Greek with a black moustache, Scipione was convinced that Pomata had robbed him. According to Scipione, Pomata cheated !46
with a vengeance ever since a drunken Swedish trumpet player, billed by Pomata as the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, tried to decapitate him after an unpaid concert. Since then Pomata’s hatred for artists apparently verged on the insane. Mere mention of the word artist caused the scar round his neck to flame up and turn a violent crimson. Beginning to grow bored of conversing with Pomata, Scipione suddenly caught sight of a magazine under the table with a sexy woman on its cover under the headline “ANOTHER ANTI-CRISIS BABE”. “My god!” he groaned, craning his neck to see well. A stunned look came into his eye, he blew out a protracted sigh, “It’s Eva!” The instant Boogie caught sight of the picture his attention was riveted, too. Wearing a Vestal Virginstyle robe and a garland of flowers in her mass of blonde hair, Eva Mistica was breathtakingly beautiful. The longer he stared at her picture, the more beautiful she became. Glimpsed palely through the diaphanous material of the robe, her body was awe-inspiring. “What!” Pomata sputtered. “Who?” His voice was so loud that Boogie could hear it clearly emerging from the telephone receiver in Scipione’s hand. Pomata seemed to have too much saliva in his mouth. There was so much of it that, even from where he was sitting, Boogie could hear him swallowing. “Eva Mistica!” Scipione exclaimed with a satisfied growl. Although Boogie had seen posters of her all over the place, he was probably one of the very few males !47
on Italian soil who had not seen any of Eva Mistica’s pornographic performances live, or on film. As stated by a survey reported in the popular press, she was presently one of the most desired women on the planet, the ultimate sex icon. According to what Boogie had read, she was scandalous, yet timid, and used her perfect body as no-one had ever done. She was also an intellectual, keeping volumes on art history as well as The Confessions of Saint Augustin on her bedside table. An ex-manager angrily commented that she was ready to do anything to make money. “You mean the famous porn star is there with you?” Pomata spluttered.“ Listen, Scipione, I want her to perform in Barlungo as soon as possible! It won’t be like the last time with the Greek, we’ll take precautions. We can’t fail to clean up with Eva! We’ll make our fortune! I don’t think she’s ever been to the region. People will descend in hordes from mountains and valleys to see her naked!” Pomata started gabbling, “Scipione, let me speak to her! We’ll need to put on a tour!” Suddenly Scipione was struck by an inspiration. “Ahhh!” he cried out. He leapt to his feet and dropped the phone receiver back in its cradle cutting off Pomata brutally. A new, possessed look transfigured his face. In a flash his problems seemed to have receded to the far edges of his consciousness. He seemed even to have forgotten the merciless SIP telephone company. “You can’t go out now, Scipione,” Ezechiele reminded him gently. “It’s too late for your job and you’ve got the ‘New Sounds Incorporated’ concert !48
tonight and we’re supposed to be taking the band to Da Toto for lunch.” Scipione’s new look was a mixture of wild anticipation and grim purpose. He was so mentally occupied that it was no use trying to communicate with him. ‘The Heavenly Ghost Gospel Singers’ stranded outside Bologna had obviously slipped to the back of his mind, along with the ‘New Sounds Incorporated’ concert that night and his regular job at the gas company. “The band will be here any minute,” Ezechiele insisted. “And after lunch we need to go to the theatre for the sound check!” Realising that there was no point in going on, he grumbled resignedly, “All right, I’ll take care of everything, as usual, I . . . ” His voice trailed off as all the members of ‘New Sounds Incorporated’ traipsed into the room. Lionel was looking very cool in a banker’s suit. The remaining four members of the band were dramatically decked out in African robes and facial paint. Boogie increasingly had the sensation he had known Lionel for many years, maybe it was because he knew Lionel’s music so well. Lionel invariably emanated a wonderful composure and good humour; he made people feel good through his music and through his person. “Have a seat!” Scipione exclaimed expansively, then, after a lengthy ritual of soul hand slapping, “Sit down, have a drink! Wait here, I have to go out for a while. When I come back we’ll go out to lunch!” Scipione was radiating a strange intensity. His countenance now held the determination and exaltation of a man committed to a cause. It was a !49
facial expression from an earlier period of time, that of a Crusader ancestor most likely Boogie conjectured. “Ezechiele, remember to answer the phone!” Scipione called back in a rush from the corridor. And, “Relax you guys, everything’s cool!” When Scipione returned a half-hour later they were all waiting for him. They were hungry but in high spirits, having imbibed every alcoholic beverage in the apartment. They even drank the bottle of special grappa that, according to Ezechiele, Scipione kept hidden in his bedroom to ply recalcitrant females with. Scipione was followed by a murmur of voices and footsteps. “Meet some good friends of mine!” Scipione announced happily and, turning back toward the corridor, “This way, please! Welcome! You are now in the heart of Roma, Caput Mundi!” A group of foreigners — they looked like pilgrims — entered the room in single file, squeezing through the irregular passage between the furniture and various odds and ends. An elderly couple arrived first; then came a younger couple and two wellscrubbed boys. Somehow they all found a place to sit. None of them spoke Italian or English. A beautiful girl in her late twenties, perhaps the daughter of the first couple, remained waiting for something by the door. She was wearing a flared sixties-style dress with a floral pattern and clutched a white plastic handbag. There was a tenuous smile on her face; her eyes were fixed on a spot high up the wall. “Right on Scipione! We’re late, man, let’s go and eat and get the sound check over with,” Ahmal Johnson suggested, pulling back the sleeve of his !50
Egyptian djellaba to consult a massive wristwatch. Under his Muslim cap, paint ribbed his face like the keyboard of a piano. “I’ll be back shortly,” Scipione muttered leading the girl to the bedroom. Scipione had represented the interests of ‘New Sounds Incorporated’ in Italy for years. He rarely caught them off balance, but now they looked stunned. Boogie, too, gazed after Scipione in astonishment. Not even with the widest stretch of his imagination could he imagine what Scipione had done or promised to convince the pilgrims to visit his apartment and wait for him while he made love to one of their group. How did Scipione get away with it? What was his technique? Did he have some secret? “Scipione is such a pussy magnet!“ Ahmal exclaimed in admiration, “Is he some kind of hypnotist?” Appearing from the bedroom, Scipione was positively brimming over with goodwill and optimism. After rapid farewells the pilgrims took their leave, the girl betraying no emotion at all. Behaving in a very courtly way toward the two elderly women especially, Scipione warmly urged them all to return, next time promising feasting as well as a personal guided tour of the Vatican museum and genuine wine from his family’s rustic vineyard. “All right, you guys,” Scipione declared enthusiastically, clapping his hands together upon the departure of the pilgrims. “We need to rush, we’re late for lunch!” And catching the stricken way ‘New Sounds Incorporated’ all looked at him, “Don’t worry about the sound check for your show, the technicians !51
are the best in Rome. They’ll get the volumes and mix right during the opening number.” Ezechiele rubbed his eyes; he’d been sleeping. “What about those poor old gospel singers stranded outside Bologna hungry and without money?” he said, and suddenly remembering something, “You’ve got mail!” “Later!” Scipione snapped, glancing urgently at his watch. “Here, have a look at it.” Ezechiele went on obtusely, approaching Scipione with the mail in his hand. “There’s an official-looking letter from the SIP and there’s a postcard from your cousin the guitarist from Catania.” “Shit! What does he want now?” Scipione retorted. Dropping the SIP communication unread on the floor, he focused on the postcard showing a group of Sicilian shepherds dancing in traditional costume. The picture on the card obviously pleased Scipione. “Ethnic music!” he told Ezechiele. “We ought to check out ethnic music! Music trends go in cycles. When interest in jazz and blues finally declines, traditional acoustic folk music could well make a comeback. After all it hasn’t been in fashion since the folk revival of the sixties!” “All right,” Ezechiele said indifferently. “Come on you guys, we’ve got to hurry!” Scipione called out to ‘New Sounds Incorporated’ and Boogie, forcing his attention away from his cousin’s card and rushing for the door. “Da Toto will be closing any moment!”
About the Author
Painting of Francis Kuipers by Thomas Grätz
Born in 1941, resident in Italy since the 1960’s, Francis Kuipers “Superguitar” is an Anglo/Dutch composer, musicologist and singer/songwriter. He has appeared in venues all over the world, also for a number of years with Beat Generation poet Gregory Corso. Mainly performing solo, or with his Hollandbased band ‘The Kings Of Lies’, he does original songs and music and has made numerous recordings. Amongst other films, he has worked as music studio director and co-dramaturge on Naqoyqatsi and Anima Mundi by Godfrey Reggio with the music of Philip Glass, and has composed the original scores for Mary, Napoli Napoli Napoli, Go Go Tales (with the voice of Grace Jones) and The Last Day On Earth by Abel Ferrara. Creator of a unique sound archive, he is a sound environmentalist and has written and !53
conducted numerous series of radio broadcasts on music and sound. From 1992 to 1996, he directed the Music & Sound Department of Fabrica, the Benetton multi-media research centre. For more information: about the authors work see his website: www.franciskuipers.com
This is a preview of â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Disaster Bluesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; by Francis Kuipers, published by Barncott Press 2017. The full version is available in print and ebook editions. Full purchasing details are here.