Mercy, Mercy, Mercy
It was the 80’s.
I was working at the Harvard Coop which was then quite a hopping place. In the middle of Harvard Square was a tiny alley paved in colonial cobblestone called Palmer Street. At the top of that alley was a hole in the wall music cafe called Club Passim. If you are of a certain age and had a soul that craved folk music then you already knew that.
I went to their website just now to get my facts right and it would appear it first came on the scene the year I was born, 1958, in the form of Club 47. That’s sorta fun. In 1969 it was established as the Club Passim that I came to know and love. It boasted the likes of Baez and Dylan taking the postage stamp of a stage. In my era I saw Tom Rush, Suzanne (New York City) Vega, Shawn Colvin.
But I had a unique view of that musical mecca. Literally.
Just across the alley and up one floor was the closet of a frame room which I managed for most of that decade. And for the first part of that tenure it was a windowless workshop. Until…while on a muffin break, I came up the stairs from the basement club and looked up. Huh. I never really gave it much thought but there are windows up there…where my desk was…only I faced plywood when I framed.
There was always a big turnover in that frameroom…think young college students and musicians needing work to bridge the gap until the rest of their lives came calling. On that day I had a particularly crazy group of framers who actually did go on to become musicians. Look up Sluggo…I dare you. He is a founding member of The Grannies.
A band which I am too musically challenged to classify but I can attest to the fact that Dug, excuse me Sluggo, was and is one of the grandest humans in the land. Big big heart that guy. It gives my own heart tremendous pleasure to add that he now owns and operates FRAME, voted 2017 winner of best frame shop in San Francisco.
So, with all that burgeoning creative energy working around me, I hurried up the back stairs to the closet and started pulling things off the makeshift shelving in front of what I now knew was a window. We began with a drill. A very small hole. And the light poured in.
Over the course of what I remember as a few days we enlarged that hole and waited to see if anyone discovered us. Then we got out a saw. A very small saw. After which we had a deck of card sized hole. Waited a bit more but at this point we could actually see the weather. The next phase brought us what I remember being a horizontal rectangle about the length of a pair of my reeboks at the time. And that’s where Club Passim re-enters the story.
I could now see the top of their steps.
Where I once saw Nanci Griffith ( big fan ) leaning against the brick wall with one elbow on her guitar case and the other one lifting a cigarette to her lips. We could watch the lines form for evening concerts and the occasional film crew that came through. One famous actor (Follansbee would remember his name, Gene Wilder and Sidney Poitier come to my mind) had to run through the alley carrying a dozen eggs which he bobbled and splattered on the cobblestones. They had to clean the whole mess up after every take of which I saw three.
And here’s were the painting comes in…
I could also look down from my peep hole perch and see…my saxophone goddess.
Her name I have forgotten but not her long curly red hair…and her chops.
She would throw her case open and lean into some sweet jazz that wafted on the salty Cambridge air straight up to our window and into my heart. When I saddled my nerve I tossed a quarter in her case and asked if she gave lessons.
In my brief career as a sax player I learned two songs. As Time Goes By from Casablanca, and Cannonball Adderly’s Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.
The instrument has traveled with me lo these many decades since and somehow the muses found it this winter and brought it down from the old prop room as a dare.
As you see, I called their collective bluff, but it started, as many paintings do, with a simple gesture…
Our renegade window did eventually get spotted. Some big wig saw the light emanating from it as I worked late one night. I got all kinds of yelled at and we had to cover it back up, which may or may not have been a clandestinely removable patch.
In my dreams now it is open and I can see the stars above the chimneyed rooftops.
And I have told Herself
that if I go first
she will know
every time she hears a saxophone…
it’ll be me.