What do you see out of your window today?

Follow The Music

A story by Jack Siler



I've always been an opponent of style per se. The bathing suits of 1900 looked silly by 1920. The hairdos of the mid XXth century went out with the beehives. People who loved to jitterbug hated the foxtrot or the samba and limbo lovers couldn't stand the twist. It seems to me that every style has its good and its bad whether one is talking about painting or car design. This is about music and two personal, very varied experiences with it. When I first started traveling I came to understand that if you carried a camera you became a tourist. That had a dramatic effect on how you were treated by the local people of wherever you are. You became a target for your purse strings not your person, a mark, so to speak. I quickly decided to trust my memory and if a friend wanted to see where I’d been I would simply say, go there, it’s worth the trip – or not. My word descriptions would have to do, but I was a music buff and a miniature recorder was strapped to my belt. At the time, it was so unusual and inconspicuous that no one paid attention. 1. I first landed in Paris and installed myself in the Hotel St. Andre des Arts on the street of the same name. My first thought was that French women were the world’s most beautiful. Unfortunately it took a while for me to confirm that (it’s true) because I discovered it was the Left Bank center for German and Swedish models in Paris for business. About the 2nd day there, mid-afternoon, I stepped out of the hotel and heard jazz. It sounded live. I followed the music to a bar kitty-corner across the street from the hotel, Le Cameleon. I got to the door and live jazz it was, good modern jazz. Going in I found myself in a dimly lit, standard bar with the music flowing out of the basement. I didn’t go down to the club room then, but sidled up to the bar for a beer. In the middle of the room was a table with probably 8 or 10 young men and women talking intensely and laughing a lot. I was just passing through. I didn’t know for another day or so that I would fall in love with the city and pass half of my life there. I didn’t even speak French beyond a few basic words to get through the day and out of trouble. The music was great, but it didn’t stop the fact that the group’s conversation was more in English than French. It was also apparent that the sculpturally faced black man at the head of the table was also at the head of the discussion. He seemed to hold absolute sway over everyone else at the table. He was clearly the leader of some sort of pack and believe in vibrations or not, I soon felt I had to meet him, to know who he was and what he did that held the others so spellbound. Thinking to myself that this is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done, I walked over and asked him if he had a light. Hi, he said with an infectious smile and an English accent, I’m Patrick. Pull up a chair and sit down. The music had led me to Patrick Betaudier, a brilliant painter, possibly the most cultured man I’ve ever met and one who loved music, current or ancient, so long as it was the best of its kind and regardless of style. We became like 2 brothers until he died 7 years ago from inhaling too many varnish fumes from his paints. The fumes eventually ate holes in his lungs. It was the price of painting.
Following the music had led to a lifelong friend.
2. It was midwinter. Paris was gray and dreary. Sunshine somewhere was needed. I went to Morocco.
There was then only one hotel in the tiny, Saharan village of Erfoud and there were no visitors beside me. It was a home before someone decided there could be visitors some day. An ancient, beautiful Moroccan home in the old style: vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows, mosaic tiled floors. Once upon a time someone rich had lived in Erfoud. There was even a room that was converted to a bar. If one had any sense one stayed inside in the mid-afternoon heat and I was in  the bar. When I first heard drumbeats I was not sure if they were real, but then it became Moroccan music and I went outside with my little tape machine.  Down the street came a parade. A cow led the way followed by men carrying flags, then musicians, and finally, perhaps 100 men and women.
I followed the group for a short distance, but since it was clearly religious and I was obviously not part of the group I approached a follower to ask if it was all right and he spoke French, because my Arabic was very limited. He motioned that I should follow him and led me to a young man leaning on his bicycle watching the parade go by. It was the postman, Arby, who spoke French. I asked if it was all right for me to follow the music. They are schlurs, he said. Peasants, herdsmen. It’s their Saint’s day. Actually, I’m one of them, but I live in Erfoud now. He visibly swelled. He was the village postman. He didn’t wear a flowing jellabah, like the peasants. He wore an ill-fitting suit, but a suit, no matter how it fit. He had a bicycle. He spoke French, language of the educated. I later learned his dream was to live in Paris with an apartment with air conditioning. Desert dreams. Come, follow me. If you are my guest you will be okay. So we went to the cemetery where there were religious rites. Then all of the men, me included with the agreement of the leader with whom Arby had spoken, entered a walled off compound where the celebration would take place. The cow was butchered and partly roasted partly cooked in great, black, steel pots of tagine with apricots and almonds, prunes and vegetables The music never stopped The Koran was read. The mullahs gave speeches. I recorded as much as the tape would hold. I was as much a center of attention as a mullah. I was asked a thousand questions and I had that many in return. Arby translated and the music was a marvel. I played their music and voices back on my little Swedish recorder and they were delightfully dumbfounded.  The celebration of the Saint went on all night until the 5 AM prayer time finally broke it up. There was a new day breaking over the desert when I got back to my vaulted, frescoed room.

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  Paris, France
Jun 16 1960


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