May 11, 2005

Reading the Crowd – The Saloon Eye.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 8:40 pm

So, again back in the 70’s, the owner of a bar in Belleville, New Jersey contacted us to book the band. As was our custom, we met with him to get a feel for the place. It was a fairly large and deep room. One entered near the large square shaped bar. Beyond the bar were perhaps a dozen and a half tables, which led up to and surrounded the dance floor. The place actually had a decent sized stage, which placed the band about three feet above the dance floor. It was well suited for live music.

Having checked out the layout of the place, I specifically asked the bartender what kind of crowd the saloon attracted. As much as he was interested in capturing our “following,” we were interested in not leading our following into a place that turned out to be a Bucket of Blood. The owner said, “Nice crowd here. We got no problems.” Done. We agreed to do a month of Fridays and Saturdays.

On our first night there, the joint was pretty well packed. People were two deep at the bar and just about all the tables were taken. The dance floor was full for every tune. The owner was happy, the partying customers were happy, and we were happy. It was a good gig.

Then, we played “Color My World.” It had followed several fast songs and, as such, provided the crowd with a bit of a rest, gave some folks on the dance floor the opportunity to rub naughty bits, and gave us a couple minutes to catch our breath. I had no singing part in the song, so all I had to do was relax behind the drums and “lay it in.” It was the first opportunity I had to really look over the crowd.

Because actually hearing the crowd is damned near impossible while the band is playing, one gets to pretty good at “reading the crowd” i.e. knowing how the members of a normal crowd typically move. When something out of the ordinary is going down, it is almost always accompanied by movement that doesn’t fit with the normal ebb and flow of bodies.

During “Color My World,” I saw such a telltale flicker of rapid and unnatural movement next to the bar, which was quite far away from the stage. Nevertheless, I knew from experience that this was almost always the sign of a fight. What made this typical pugilistic dance different was the speed with which it came and went. This was usually the opening moves of what would become a brawl. I was puzzled and was beginning mistrust my experienced saloon eye. However, one of the other guys in the band saw it as well and was similarly confused by it.

During the next break, I pulled the owner aside and said, “I could have sworn I saw a fight at the bar.”

The owner thought a minute, as if he didn’t know what I was referring to, and finally said, “Oh that? Don’t worry about that.”

I asked, “Waddya mean don’t worry about that? I thought you said that you didn’t have any trouble in this place.”

He laughed and replied, “I’m tellin’ ya. It’s no big deal. It was just Ted and Al. [fictitious names] This has been going on for years.”

He saw the look on my face, and before I could say anything, he continued, “About fifteen or so years ago, Al pulled some shit on Ted’s mother, which pissed Ted off pretty bad. Ever since then, every time Ted sees Al in town, he knocks him on his ass. Tonight was no different. Ted walked into the joint, saw Al and whacked him one, then left.”

Jimbo: “Are you shitting me?”

Owner: “No, it’s truth. Ask any of my regulars.”

Jimbo: “Nobody ever calls the cops?”

Owner: “Hey, I don’t wanna know nuttin’.”

I remember thinking, Damn, that’s one serious grudge. I remember also thinking, I oughta write some of this goofy shit down.

I never thought it would take me a couple decades to get around to writing it down, but there you have it.

Ted and Al never did their bizarre “dance” again during our month there, or on subsequent engagements at the place, but I had no doubt that they were performing elsewhere in town.

Over the years I have often wondered why Al never filed a criminal complaint against Ted for assault and battery. The only conclusion I can reasonably draw is that Ted is one of the bent-nosed guys and Al’s reporting Ted to the police might lead to Al receiving something much more unpleasant than the occasional smack in the moosh.

As you know, subsequent to this event, things again would get sideways during our playing of “Color my World.” At that point, the song was stricken from the set list, and if anyone requested it, we pretended we didn’t know how to play it. It was a bad luck tune.

Powered by WordPress