I could have entitled this post, “One of the More Colorful Characters I Have Met in my Life.” It bubbled out of the mental soup that was sloshing around in my cruller during this morning’s groundpound. Go figure.
I knew him when I was a freshman in college. He had a real name, but he preferred the moniker “Rat, King of Soul.” When he met someone, he would extend his hand and say, in an affected disc jockey voice, “R, K of S, here. Nice to meet you.” He even introduced himself that way to my mother. Good thing I had warned her in advance that Rat was, … well … a little bit eccentric.
Rat was a serious musician who played upright bass and was deep, deep into jazz. His taste veered toward the avant garde stuff such as Ornette Coleman’s “Free Jazz,” where there is no key and no time signature. Rather, everyone begins playing at the word, “begin.” To me, it always sounded like a high-speed train wreck, but to Rat, King of Soul, it was bliss. He looked like a “free jazz” guy too. His dress was anything but stylish, and he always looked a bit like an unmade bed.
He was a wonderfully out-of-control guy.
Once he came to hang with me at my parents’ home. At that time, I had borrowed a saxophone from my buddy (Saby) in order to see if I had any natural ability to play wind instruments. (It took me about ten minutes to realize that sax playing was not in my future.) When Rat came into my room (we lived in a five-room apartment on the first floor of a two-family house), he saw the sax case, and asked, “Do you play sax?”
I explained that I didn’t, but that I was just fooling around with it.
“Let me play it,” Rat said.
Thinking that perhaps, in addition to being an accomplished bassist, he might also be a sax player, I took it out of the case and inserted the neck (crook) and mouthpiece into the body of the sax and handed it to Rat. I was anxious to hear him play.
He took it from me, and instead of putting the mouthpiece in his mouth, he violently pulled the crook from the horn (at this point, imagine a brass fish hook with valves), and screamed for ten or fifteen seconds like a wounded banshee down into the horn. I almost shit.
I was speechless watching Rat scream and wail into the body of the horn. I knew my parents were in the next room, and it sounded as if someone was being murdered. When he was all screamed out, I asked, “What the f**k was that, Rat?”
His breathless answer: “Man, that was great.”
His craziness wasn’t limited to things musical. Back then, I had a motorcycle, and Rat asked me to take him for a ride. He assured me that he had ridden on the back of motorcycles on many occasions, so off we went. As we were zooming down the road, Rat decided that it would be a riot to cover my eyes with his hands!
“Rat, what the F**K are you doing?” I screamed as I frantically elbowed him to make him stop. He removed his hands after a few seconds (which seemed at the time to be an eternity), and he howled with laughter, unable to understand why I was not happy. He thought it was a riot.
He did, however, have a soft side. It seems that Rat was smitten by a girl in our class. As it turned out, she was probably the prettiest girl in the school and she damned well knew it. She was always perfectly dressed and was the Platonic form of a snob – exactly the type of girl that would not “get” Rat.
“I think she likes me,” Rat said. “Do you think she likes me?”
Although I was thinking, She probably doesn’t know you exist, and if she did, she probably wouldn’t piss on you if you on fire, I graciously said, “I don’t know, Rat, but I tend to doubt that she’s your type.”
Rat replied, “She’ll come around.”
Rat spent more time composing music than he did studying biology and the History of Western Civilization. I wasn’t all that surprised when he dropped out at the end of the year in order to attend the Berklee College of Music. A few years later, I heard from a mutual friend that Rat had dropped out of Berklee as well. I suspect that Berklee wasn’t quite ready for Rat, King of Soul.
I don’t know how the fates have dealt with Rat over these many years, but if his motorcycle tricks remained part of his repertoire, I’m not optimistic.