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3.13.2011

THE PIANO LOUNGE

You probably have figured out by things I have written about that I love music.  I have an appreciation for most music (not so much Brittany Spears, Kesha or a handful of others), even music that maybe I wouldn't download, if the musician is true and pure to whatever form it comes through.  Over the weekend while in the great state of Iowa, we patronized a piano bar in downtown Cedar Rapids (you know the city that was flooded back in 2008).  Ok, first off you wouldn't picture a place like that in Iowa - not exactly where most of us would picture music flowing freely.  More likely you'd think of it in Chicago or New Orleans, maybe Nashville, Memphis, New York City's Greenwich Village, but not the state best known for corn and famous people being born there (I didn't say they stayed there but were born there).  A small baby grand sat in the makeshift front of this basement bar.  It was dark and loud.  Both of which I liked as it allowed you to just get lost in the frenetic noise of the crowd and music.  Conversating was hard, but I don't suppose that is necessarily the purpose of a piano bar now is it:)  A black rather roundish man commandeered the piano bench, piano and microphone.  He appeared to be close to 60 and had in front of him absolutely no music, only slips of paper and pens to write your requests on and a large sniffer glass for tips.  Really, I suppose one would have to say that he was a performer more than just a musician as he wasn't the background music, but rather why you would really go there - to hear and request your favorite songs.  As a music major when I started college, I was amazed at his ability to play pretty much any song that was requested, and especially those to which a $20 bill or higher was attached.  He belted out Billy Joel, Muddy Waters, Bon Jovi, Don McLean, Steppenwolf, Charlie Brown, Elton John, Ray Charles and even recent artists as he played that piano feeling the music with his fingers in a pounding powerful way.  He would occasionally stop and wipe his entire face with a small white towel that he kept slung over the microphone stand.  At one point I leaned into my husband, when the gentleman known as Sidney was holding an ending note vocally that would have caused me to go into an asthma attack, and said, "If that man can hold a note that long, he has some definite lung power.  Looks as if it would serve him well to use it to run a few miles too!"  He had birthday requests and called the various persons up front where he rearranged and altered lyrics of songs to both scream creativity and overt sexual naughtiness.  One couldn't help but laugh at how he put words together to both hide and twist the meaning and lay it clearly out.  I wondered sitting there if a man with all that talent aspired to such a place in life or if he had tried a more traditional route to fame but found only a few make it.  His repertoire was astounding and he engaged the audience to clap, scream, and sing lyrics with him.  As I sat there I thought again about how this didn't really fit in Iowa, and yet maybe it did.  Music is a great equalizer it would seem.  In that room of 200+ people we all sang loudly our portion of "Bye, Bye American Pie" and in that moment it was just pure enjoyment, a great memory in each of our minds of a place and time in our pasts when we heard that song and something to do on a cold Iowa night.  Maybe a piano bar IS fitting in Iowa come to think of it.  If you are ever in Cedar Rapids, Iowa you might want to check it out - if you like loud music, darkness and a drink.  But if you don't like any of those things, well you can always watch the corn grow.

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