Friday, June 11, 2004

Music to my ears

MAINZ, GERMANY: I'm sitting in an American-type sports bar, Maxwells Restaurant, which might seem a silly thing to be doing when I could be sampling the local beerhausen.

But the sounds of a couple of guys with electro-acoustic guitars playing real cool stuff yanked me through the door. 'Summertime' was the bait, and once I was hooked it was songs running the gamut from Elvis to U2 and everything in between that kept me there.

I'm a sucker for that. Real live music, a bit of rock, some soul, a run of jazz ... it's what I want to hear when I go out (and as I write this, I'm a refugee from the very dull bar in the Fort Malkoff Hyatt hotel).

The performers are North American. One, the singer of the pair, is native American, his name Rick Cheyenne, and the other is a Tom Sellick lookalike. And they're very, very good.

The relatively few customers here are probably also mostly American - there are a number of US bases in the vicinity: both Wiesbaden and Frankfurt, for instance, are only half an hour from here. And as I flew in this morning, the rank lines of grey US military Globemasters parked at Frankfurt Airport were, as always, a sobering sight.

(Hmm ... they just tried the Beatles 'It's All Over Now', and didn't do it that well. It's hard for transAtlantics to do the Fab Four. But so far it's worth an odd buster to hear the rest of their repertoire.)

I'm spending words here to point out a contrast of the evening.

It is so hot here tonight, somebody said around 35deg, that I'm having to be careful not to let the sweat dripping off my brow drop into Dana's keyboard. After the dinner following the Volvo Cars presentation, I figured on getting some fresh air with a walk along the Rhine.

Every young person in Mainz must have been by the river tonight. The steps down to the water behind the hotel (the view above was in the very quiet heat of the earlier afternoon, with few people around) were jammed with them, sitting, drinking, smoking, talking, looking out on the dark river as the lights of the ubiquitous barges glided by on their never-ending industry.

There were beer stands with the youngsters lining up to get their orders in and served. Beyond them were rows of wooden tables, crammed with those who had earlier been successful in that quest.

I walked further, across a small bridge and onto an island formed by the outer wall of a marina. It was grassed and wooded, and again absolutely 'jammers', as my daughter would say. Some groups had portable barbecues sizzling, others were making a night-time picnic of it, complete with rugs. Many had set tall candle tapers on the four corners of their patch, perhaps to give light, maybe more to lure and destroy the moths that seemed to be the only insects bothering to join in the fun.

Thing was, along the whole length of the park, with maybe a thousand people or more there, the only bit of music I heard was somebody rather listlessly tom-tomming. Not a guitar in sight or to be heard, nor even a tin whistle to denote an Irish reveller. No real music at all.

If you got this kind of crowd of that age group sitting for the drinking in Ireland or the UK, there'd be a dozen impromptu concerts going.

Maybe I was expecting too much, from the traditional picture of Germans carousing in beerkellers, banging the tables with their steins. Maybe that went out with the post-WW II generation?

And maybe the talk is what tomorrow's Germans love to do best? OK, whatever turns them on is fine by me. But I still like to hear live music.

Hmm ... Rick is playing on his own now. He's switched his electro-acoustic for an archtop, and with the gain overloading, he's doing some lovely solo riffs between the verses of something I didn't catch the name of.

The 'Tom Sellick' end of the act is sitting it out. In fact, looks like he's gone for the night. He's packed his guitar into his gigbag.

A little later, one of the audience got up to leave with his girlfriend. I'd earlier put him down as a wounded US serviceman, with his right forearm in a cast. And the singer bade the pair goodnight with a rendition of 'I can Be Your Hero'. So maybe I was right.

Now I'm ready to leave, and Rick croons into 'What a Wonderful World This Would Be'.

It's a good cue, but then he launches into 'I'm a Soul Man'. I can't leave a strong song to end without me.

And now, as I try to go again, he's just started 'Mustang Sally' ...

All in all, it's been another great night. And tomorrow I drive Volvos.

(Written June 9.)

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