A Tragicomical, Unsophisticated Blog about the Weird, the Absurd, and the Banal

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Performance Art

A few weeks ago we read Hunter S. Thompson's "Strange Rumblings in Aztlan" in the Swimmers - my friends' and I weekly reading group. Of course his Gonzo style came up in conversation and Mr. A esque. presented probably the best speculated explanation for Thompson's rambling, vicious aesthetic I have heard: it's just too much damn work to redo something on a typewriter.

And that's going to be this post. I'm hungover (yesterday was my birthday) and on the run to meet my family in the French Quarter. So be generous.

Last week, my good friend S came to visit along with her jazz dance troupe, Erin Morris and Her Rag Dolls. She wanted to go exploring that Sunday afternoon so we wandered into the Marigny and, as these things usually go, circled around our destination for about an hour before capitulating and having a drink at Mimi's. There the conversation, as a matter of course, fell to the future.

"Do you consider yourself the kind of person who has a life-plan and follows it? Or do you just find yourself playing it by ear?" she asked me.

This was in reference to the usual Get Married, Have Kids, Find a Salaried Job somewhere in there, and Start Working on a Mortgage. So, the answer was, "No, not really." But it's more complicated than that. I asked her the same question.

She thought about it, sipped the special lemonade Mimi's was serving - which was a fantastic way of fighting the heat - and shook her head. "I don't know."

At least she was willing to admit that life, quite frequently, doesn't boil down to a simple dichotomy.

The evening before I watched the ragdolls perform at a show celebrating women in jazz. See the video above - they were majestic.

Walking through the back hallways of the performance space - where no one is ever performing but still theatrical - I saw Meschiya Lake drift by. "Meschiya Lake?" I called. She turned and cocked her head to one side. She was much shorter than I had imagined, seeing her up on stage so many times. "Will you be performing at the Spotted Cat this Tuesday." She gave a hipster nod, an quick and emphatic upward-downward movement of the head, without saying a word, pirouetted and disappeared back on stage.

The next night, after convincing S that I would enjoy myself watching the dancers have a good time at DBA while I sipped a PBR in the corner, I ended up doing just that. They, the jazz dancers, let loose on Frenchmen street, were miraculous. I've seen good dancers in the Crescent City, but never have I seen so many people in such a small space all owning the floor at the same time. It was crowded, there was beer and whiskey soaking every surface, and the band had to compete with the sound of stomping jazz dancers to be heard.

A gentleman sat down next to me and gently refused an invitation for a dance. Suddenly a woman appeared next to him. "I'm so embarrassed! I didn't realize it was you!"

"No, it's all right," the man said smiling.

"My husband loves your work. You probably get this all the time from people who see you, but could I take a picture?"

"Sure sure," he said. And so she did.

For the rest of the evening I tried to figure out if I knew the guy. And the longer I stared at him the more confused I became. There was no recognition at all, but I was groping for some fame to place on him. Eventually I decided he looked a little like Quentin Tarantino and left it at that.

Meschiya Lake got up and sang a number. While I listened and the dancers did there thing a woman standing next to me asked, "Are you an actor?"

I was a bit taken aback. Quentin Tarantino had accepted a dance with a woman and was having a ball right in front of the Ms. Lake who wasn't paying attention to anything but the microphone and brass band surrounding her. And this woman asked me if I was an actor.

"Why do you ask?" I said.

"Well, just the look. The ambiance," she said. She pointed at Quentin, "He's an actor," she pointed across the room at a man wearing a maroon three piece suit and fedora, "He's an actor. It's all to add spice to the place to make sure people are having a good time."

"You think New Orleans is filled with actors?" I asked.

She smiled and shrugged, embarrassed. "I have no idea. But it seems like it."

The set ended and the dancers kept jamming. Before the stage I saw Meschiya, dancing alone, ignoring everyone and everything but the music. She seemed to be dancing with the band, if anything. The whole world could have evanesced for all she cared.

Yesterday, at Pal's, Meschiya Lake came up in conversation while I shared birthday celebratory drinks. I said she was phenomenal and a friend replied, "Yeah, she may be a great singer but is she a performer." Thinking back on her dancing with the band, I nodded.

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