Old Music

The musician: refers to everyone as “man.” Even women and innocent children.

1:12 A.M.—I’m in a motel room. It’s a rundown motel with a queen bed that’s about as soft as industrial plywood.

The place smells like mildew. I found a cockroach under my pillow. I named it Bill. I told Bill to get out of my bed and sleep in the bathroom.

The whole world is asleep. I am eating a tuna salad sandwich, watching a holiday special on TV.

I just got in from playing music. I haven’t played with my buddies in awhile, and I didn’t realize how much I missed the old band.

Lately, I have been writing and traveling so much I haven’t gotten to see them. But it all came back to me tonight.

The joint was like every waterhole you’ve ever visited. Neon signs, graffiti in the men’s bathroom, good burgers, a bartender who calls everyone “pal.”

The patrons in this glorified shack were salt-of-the-earth people. They were shouting over each other, laughing, eating. The characters were all the same, but with different names.

The manager: perpetually mad at the world.

The waitress: tired.

The loud man at the bar: a traveling sales rep.

The musician: refers to everyone as “man.” Even women and innocent children.

I sort of grew up in places like this. These are my people. I was eighteen when I started playing music for a living. In my daytime hours, I would work construction. At nighttime, I would play in spots like this.

On Sundays I would play at church.

The first night I ever played in an actual beer joint was for a Christmas party. I was nervous. People were smoking cigarettes, wearing holiday hats. There were bouncers at the doors. Folks were dancing, holding their belt buckles.

I was raised as a dyed-in-the-wool Baptist. The only dancing I’d ever seen was in a Gene Kelly movie—my mother covered my eyes during the dancing parts.

That night long ago, the fellas in the band told management that I was twenty-one. Management probably knew better, but they let me in anyway.

We played backup for an Elvis impersonator from Houston. The King arrived late. He wore a skin-tight jumpsuit, sunglasses, and called me “man.” Elvis was sixty-three years old with a forty-six-inch waist.

He gave one doozy of a performance. Before he finished his show, he turned to me and whispered, “Hey man, do you know ‘Blue Christmas?’”

Know it? Does a bear play piano in the woods?

Of course I knew it, and I played with all my heart. He sang along with me. And it felt like I was flying. Until then, I’d always been a gangly kid who stammered slightly. But on that night, I was playing music alongside the King.

After that, I played joints in the Panhandle, South Alabama, and Georgia. These were rundown establishments my mother didn’t want to know about. Often, I would stay in cheap motels, and sneak my dog into a room with me. We ate a lot of tuna sandwiches. I was introduced to a lot of cockroaches.

But this is the life of a musician.

Musicians are the kind of people who have managed to get along on no money, liability insurance, and cheap lodging. Many of us have more or less disappointed our parents. We are not always clean shaven. We sleep late. But we are a good lot.

We attend baby showers for guitarists who are having twins. We attend the funerals of the bassists, pianists, and drummers who we called “friend.” We play together every New Year’s Eve. And we call each other on birthdays.

Tonight, I played with these friends again, and remembered what I used to be once. And it felt good.

Before we packed our things, my friend showed me pictures of his daughter. She’s getting huge. Another friend just had a grandson last week. So help me, a grandson.

This life moves so fast.

I wish it would slow down. But it won’t. It rolls forward like a song. All I can do is pray the music keeps going a little longer.

My friend hugged me. We slapped each other on the backs. He told me to “be safe, man.”

I got into my truck to leave. I don’t know when I’ll get around to playing with my friends again. We swore we’d do it more often. But we know we probably won’t of course.

My friend hollered: “Hey! Remember when we played for that Elvis impersonator, long time ago?”

“Yeah.”

“We had fun, didn’t we?”

Then we embraced before going our own ways.

He’s right. It has been fun. It has all been so much fun.

Man.

20 comments

  1. Karen Greatrix - December 6, 2018 6:47 am

    My husband has been a musician all his life, he’s played in large halls and small clubs and while he has never made it big he wouldn’t be anything else, he still loves to play and he is 74.

    Reply
  2. Anita - December 6, 2018 6:49 am

    The whole world isn’t asleep, at least I’m not. I sitting here reading your blog taking a breathing with a dog on each leg. One who is trying to like my face through the mask and one who is whinning because Roxy is in her way and she can`t get to my face either. Thank you for your blog and thank God for dogs that want in your lap to lick you well with love deven when they are to big to fit in your lap.

    Reply
  3. Sandi in FL. - December 6, 2018 8:07 am

    Sean, I do hope you get a chance to play music again in the near future with your band buddies. When I used to live in south GA., a good friend named Becky and her husband, Chester, owned a local motel. It was a small, independently-owned place, not a big chain motel. One weekend a four-man band stayed there, and when they checked out on Sunday after a busy weekend, the drummer admitted to Chester at the front desk that one of the guys staying in the room had crabs, and suggested that before housekeeping cleaned the room, something should be done about crabs in the beds.. Becky, being a tad naive, was incredulous when her hubby had the two queen size mattresses removed from that specific room and placed outside! She could not understand why a few little crabs scurrying around would warrant such a thing! It took Chester over an hour to explain to her that the crabs in question were NOT the kind one might find at the beach. When she later relayed this incident to me, we had a hearty laugh about it.
    Sean, may every motel you stay in be free of crabs!

    Reply
  4. Larry Popwell - December 6, 2018 9:22 am

    I am here in Heath, Alabama reading You loud and clear at 3:12 in the early day. Sleeping with my ”cockroach” nine year old grandson, and wishing he were in his own bed, but not really. Wishing it was my 33 year old son who’s locked up in the Brewton Correctional Center. Life’s what it is, and it hurts, but not as much as I know it would without the Lord.

    Reply
  5. Keith - December 6, 2018 10:48 am

    Life’s not always fancy… it’s lived in those few moments when the world is right and you know life is good.

    Reply
  6. lala42 - December 6, 2018 10:59 am

    Sean, I read your posts and I actually feel something move in my soul. I feel a connection to your words, a connection to your experience. Thank you.

    Reply
  7. Bill - December 6, 2018 12:52 pm

    Ah, memories! Years ago I took my brother down to a South Alabama town to play minor leaglue baseball. They put us in a rooming house with a bathroom down the hall for all. The sign over the commode said “there’s no need to stand on the seat, the crabs here can jump six feet”!

    Reply
  8. Susie - December 6, 2018 12:59 pm

    Larry Popwell, yes, life is sometimes hard. But God….

    Reply
  9. Carolyn Allen - December 6, 2018 1:00 pm

    One of the things I love most about you, Sean, is that now that you’ve made it “big” you don’t think
    that you’re better than your buddies from your earlier years. Man.

    Reply
  10. Shelton Armour - December 6, 2018 1:32 pm

    Old friends sharing a common love of music…and the stories that come about. Good story, man.

    Reply
  11. Jack Darnell - December 6, 2018 2:35 pm

    I am laughing with my wife. I just for’d this with the note, “Methinks this is good, Old friends are the best.” Then I laughed , thinking, at 80 yrs old all our friends are OLD! good one dude, keep picking and playing!

    Reply
  12. Connie Havard Ryland - December 6, 2018 2:37 pm

    At one time or another, my dad and various uncles, cousins and brothers played music together. They played beer joints and VFW’s all over the southern part of Alabama. Mostly they played at home and on the front porch at Grandma’s. I came away from it with a lifelong love of old country music, and honestly most music. Never did learn to dance. Too busy listening to the music. Thanks for sharing. Great memories.

    Reply
  13. Tipper - December 6, 2018 3:15 pm

    I’m one of your lurkers, but I had to comment about the Baptists and dancing. I so get it : ) When I was growing up dancing was frowned upon by my Baptist family too. I remember the first time I realized David danced before the Lord. I thought “Now I’ve got it on Daddy and Momma.” Really enjoy your posts.

    Reply
  14. Pat - December 6, 2018 3:59 pm

    Somebody has to name a date for all of you to get back together. Just name a date and stick to it!

    Reply
  15. Suzi Land - December 6, 2018 4:10 pm

    This brought tears. I am 70, and have been lead female vocalist with a wonderful group of musicians for nearly 40 years. Yes, we still have a gig every now and then. We practice on about that same average. I once thought to give it up as I fought chronic illness and my voice became weaker with age. The guys encouraged me to keep on keeping on, and I am glad that I did. R&B will never die…although some of my band mates have passed on to glory. When I sing, I sing for them. Thank you for this one, Sean!

    Reply
    • Janet Mary Lee - December 6, 2018 8:45 pm

      Love your.. ” Life….it rolls forward like a song!!” May the music never die!! And like the country song..when you hear it? Dance!! You have wrote and are dancing well!!

      Reply
  16. Stephanie Cato - December 6, 2018 6:48 pm

    I love the stories, and excited for tonight to see you in Milton! I hope the motel is not anything around here…lol!

    Reply
  17. Edna B. - December 6, 2018 8:59 pm

    All your friends are right, Sean. Just pick a date and get together. Play your music. May you play for many many years. Music is so good for the soul. My voice is getting sort of froggy and I can’t play an instrument, but I do so love music. You have a wonderful evening, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  18. Georgianne Slade Stillwell - December 7, 2018 6:49 am

    Old memories are so precious. Add the music that went with those memories double in beauty!

    Reply
  19. Dan Haines - December 8, 2018 12:04 am

    Hi Sean. I currently live in the Myrtle Beach and a fellow member of the church music team I play with sent me your article. I used to live in Tuscaloosa, Al. There s a bar there called Egans that I played at during the early nineties. After seeing where you’ve rigged it made me wonder if you’ve played there by chance. I enjoyed this piece you wrote a great deal

    Reply

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