Music: Some of 'Em Jump

No CD; next gig: underground park (if it's sunny)

Woodrow J. Hinton

For six years, I worked like a dog for a limousine company. We provided ground transportation for most big acts that came to Cincy. I never asked, but pit seats would often magically appear one hour before show time. Cool adrenaline rush, but long, stressful hours, even for a dog.

Coordinating rides, it was also my job to keep VIPs happy. No questions. Evian, booze, ribs, tea, floss and the are-you-serious miscellaneous weird crap, whatever. Singer's girlfriend wanted a haircut. Drummer, apple juice. Paged all hours, I was on call 24/7 for some tours.

Some managers were charmers. Others ... well, one English cat screamed about 50 "fucks" at me over the two-way radio, pissed because the driver made a wrong turn. We wrote chauffeur directions in code: "BSpass Pink! p/u VIP VManr + 2 --> RBSchk --> dr @ dir Thx, C." High maintenance, but the office was wild, and a shit-load of fun.

I've also seen music from a drastically different angle. What about the hidden rockers, musicians who strum for toothpaste and soap? Take Jewel for example. Not the curvy Alaskan blonde. Jewel was a cheerful Hawaiian man who played guitar on the back porch of a Seattle hostel, stopping only when the neighbors called the cops. Jewel's music was calming; the night before, we'd seen a red-faced criminal use a broken beer bottle to smash our friend's face to shreds, blinding him.

Some entertainers bust their butts for bread. Not metaphorical hungry artists, but junkies and misfits — abandoned, poverty-stricken Beethovens. In the '90s, I played Seattle's Pike Place Market. There, music notes were randomly painted on sidewalks, all spots designated for street musicians. Every morning, I had to fight that whiney Canadian bitch who hogged the prime street location. I usually won.

Clothes turned wet, loose. Home, wherever. Maybe crash at Aaron's pad, a place he scored from a deal that went down at Lucky's grocery in the imported beer aisle. All around, there were stinking, homeless geniuses, guys and girls who played music because they were cold and needed gloves. Many were too good for their own good and their countless untreated addictions, illnesses and sufferings were every bit as prominent as their talents.

They were famous in their own environments — boxes, bridges, sidewalks, parks, churches, parking garages or underneath the Space Needle, huddling on the ground while rich people rode the elevator up/down from an expensive meal.

Here's one I'll never forget. It was a hot, itchy Sunday. I was dragging, brutally hung over, sweating out mass quantities of nastiness I'd consumed the night before, on my way to Uptown Espresso to score free pastries. Or steal something. The neighborhood was Queen Anne, blocks from The Needle.

On the way, I ran smack into a pipe-cleaner man, almost knocking his paper ass over. With eyes as dark as holes, his face paint was mud. Holding a wrecked guitar, he had tracks, scars, you name it, cutting his skin up, but his features were set wide and under the dirt. When he smiled, he was weirdly sexy. He smelled good, sweet, evergreen.

Assuming he wanted money, I said, "I'm short, brother." That shut people up.

He nodded. He was 20. Maybe 30. "Name's Fly," he said. "I'm a slick, fast, Blues man, like my daddy." When the corner mart opened, Fly rushed in. With change, he bought a 40. It was noon. He had a bad case of the shakes.

So did I. He shared his beer. So I followed him.

Fly led me deep into a woodsy park. No one was around. He could've killed me. No one would've known. I pictured my corpse hidden there, undiscovered for weeks. But so far, so good.

Hidden by trees, his home consisted of garbage bags, carpet remnants and a guitar case. "Everything I own is in that case," he said. Pointing at the garbage bags, he said, "When it rains, I wear bags. Look like a California raisin." He shrugged. "At least I'm not as bad off as the bridge people."

"Bridge people?" I asked.

"My daddy was one of 'em. Slept under bridges."

"Where's your daddy now?"

"Bridge people ... some of 'em jump, kid."

We sat down. Suddenly, the ground moved. All around me, other muddy people appeared, rising out of their makeshift homes, some of them underground. Leaves were upturned, revealing boxes; faces grew out of the grass. There was an entire, secret music community tucked inside this forest. Some pulled out instruments. Covered with ground and leaves, yawning and stretching, Fly's magical band was made of flesh and earth.

I gasped.

Fly chuckled. "Don't worry. We're about music. Nobody's gonna steal your shit," he said, nudging me. "Lemme play you one. I'm a slick, fast, Blues man." Fly started playing, and the others backed him.

Listening, I realized why these forest musicians were smiling. Whatever guitar greats you can imagine, think of them and know this — Fly was right in there with them. Only difference — Fly's ride wasn't a limo, but his shoes, which were shot, feet poking out between holes. Which was all good since it was summer.

He stopped abruptly, saying, "Hey, I don't know you, but it seems like you come from somewhere. You better get outta here before you end up stayin'."

Fly's words hit hard, as if he'd hooked a vein up to something in the sky, delivering me a message. I stood up, turning to leave.

Fly called out after me, "Hey, pretty, don't ever forget us. Don't you ever give up on the bridge people. Ever. Some of 'em jump, kid."

I never saw Fly again. But I have a feeling he's still kicking it, and I haven't forgotten. I give a shout out to the bridge people every day. Here's your much-deserved press, Fly. See ya someday back at the forest. You got my ear, always. ©

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