Saturday, February 16, 2013

Is It the Real Thing?

Dennis on stage
Dennis Potthast:  Mr. Wizard
Musicians on vacation in Key West usually visit Larry Smith, the piano player at the Pier House Wine Bar, and play a song or two, accompanied by Larry, a bass player, and a drummer.  Sometimes Larry is familiar with the musician, sometimes not.  He welcomes everyone and some are better than others.  I was sitting in the bar on Monday, January 16, 2012, when a lanky, scruffy guy was invited up to play.  Larry introduced him as "Dennis from St. Louis."  He plugged his electric guitar into an amp, but started singing a capella in a quiet mumbling distraught voice:

Ain't no sunshine when she's gone
It's not warm when she's away.
Ain't no sunshine when she's gone.  And she's always gone too long.
Anytime she goes away.

Then he started to play.  I think I stopped breathing.  By the time he got to the lines "And I know, I know, I know, I know," we all knew.  The three musicians nodded to each other and began to play along.  Dennis "Mr. Wizard" Potthast from St. Louis was the real thing.

Klyde Broox
In the late 1990s, I was sitting in The Lionshead Pub in Hamilton Ontario for a literary open mike night.  A poet took the mike and began talking about his life in Jamaica, how he had never been hungry - but wanted to understand the experience of hunger in his country, so he decided to barely eat for a week.  "Bad idea," he said.
He then performed his poem, "I Don't Wanna Be Hungry."  I had never heard of dub poetry before, but I knew immediately that Klyde Broox, who had immigrated to our corner of southern Ontario, was the real thing.  Poetry was never the same for me again.

The real thing is out there in the arts, but also in every area of life -- politics, teaching, justice, technology.  The real thing is magnetic.  You are pulled towards it.   You think that maybe it's a subjective experience, that the speaker, singer, writer is speaking to you - and then you realize that everyone is having the same reaction.

Robert Pirsig calls this experience the Metaphysics of Quality:  "the pre-intellectual cutting edge of reality" because it can be recognized before it can be conceptualized.  We know it before words try unsuccessfully to explain it - and the memory of that feeling lasts.

Do you remember the scene from The West Wing when Charley meets President Bartlett for the first time?  
Charley says to Josh, "I never felt like this before."
Josh replies, "It doesn't go away."

What's your experience of the real thing?