Once I Looked at a Piano
Jimmy Swaggart was one of my very favorite Christian-flim-flammers--and, oh boy, Jimmy had it made there for a while back in the 80s--I mean the Lincoln Town cars, the big mansion down in Baton Rouge, a fairly good-lookin' wife, though she looked like she was "cold poon tang" as my old childhood friend Ray Mottweiler used to say back when he was in grade school with me in Dallas. I'd say, "Ray, check out Pearl over there. Ain't she sweet?" "Wolfie, she looks like cold poon tang to me; but the eye of the beholder rules in this case."
Ray had to be at least two years older than I was--and he had already matured to the point that even though he was 12 or 13 years old he was over 21 in terms of life--Ray Mottweiler had already figured it out back in grade school; Ray was already Freudian, believing only in quenching his thirst, getting something to eat, and then thinking about a little sex--Ray was a pure instinctual boy.
The teachers were always on Ray's ass in every class I had with him because he refused to do anything but just sit in class. He caused no trouble; he was never late; he always was dapperly attired; he was polite; he smiled all the time; but he just didn't do anything; he just sat there. Oh he listened to the teacher but when she would say take out your workbooks and do problem number 21 for today, or an instruction like that, or give a test, Ray would take out his workbook--yes, he always had his books and pencils and paper, he was well heeled in school supplies--but he would just sit there and look at the workbook but do nothing. He wouldn't even try to do the problem. Then after the time was up, the teacher would inevitably call on Ray get up off his rusty-dusty and tell the class his solution to the problem. Ray would stand up and he would say, "The answer to this problem is already inside me. I got it. Thank you." And he would sit down.
He got solid F's, though he got A's in deportment and shit like that. His parents, mountain folk who'd struck it rich in Dallas selling retread tires or something mundane like that, always signed his report cards and answered the teachers's calls to them; why they would even come to school and talk with the counselors and the principal. Ray told me one time his father told him, "Don't listen to that bullshit they teach you in them schools, son; you're as smart as me, and look what I've got. Them educated fools wish they had half'a what I got, but it's all yours, son, when I'm dead and gone."
Later one year I was bused over to another school district and I lost track of Ray Mottweiler, and I really lost track of him after we left Dallas and headed back west to the original homestead--my father missed his family, and that was that for Ray Mottweiler in my thoughts, I thought.
Years passed and then I had my first job of any significance and it was in Dallas. One day I was driving my company car fast down one of the East Dallas avenues, like Ross or McKinney, and, by golly, I saw a big tacky sign staring back at me just ahead and it read "Mottweiler USED Auto Parts." I immediately thought that has to be the Ray Mottweiler I once knew; I mean emphasizing they sold "used" auto parts was pure Ray Mottweiler--prouder that he sold USED parts than he would be selling NEW parts. Using Mottweiler logic, used parts had already proven to be well made, broken in, sturdy, and never really dysfunctional--so with a little fixin' up back in Ray's tool shop these used parts come out better than NEW parts--and putting solid greenback dollar bills in old Ray's cash register. Damned if there wasn't a big long yellow Cadillac convertible sitting outside Mottweiler's USED Auto Parts. That had to be Ray's car. I almost swerved into his parking area tempted to go in and see for myself, but I'd already whizzed by the place and soon I had my mind on other things, like the new girl I had asked out on a date that coming Friday--and soon, until as I was writing this post, Ray Mottweiler was again long forgotten.
You see, Jimmy Swaggart was one of my Christian flim-flammer heroes because he was also a piano player--he was a piano player before he got saved and became a flim-flamming Christian hypocrite preacher--Praise the Lard and pass me another one of them thar Rolex watches.
The very earliest Jimmy Swaggart teevee shows I remember were done in a small studio with just Jimmy sitting at a small upright piano, like a console, surrounded by a band: guitars, bass, drums, and Jimmy spent his whole teevee 30 minutes singing and playing the piano. Every now and then he would break loose and play some out-and-out rock and roll piano--he was Jerry Lee Lewis's cousin and some said he played even better than Jerry Lee--and he was Mickey Gilley's cousin, too, and they all said Jimmy could play better piano than Mickey. Jerry Lee and Mickey followed the Devil into show biz, but Jimmy, oh no, he was called down thar in Faraday, Lawsbanana, by God to preach the Gospel and rake in the loot that way rather than gettin' involved with the Devil's boys who promised you big bucks but then made it harder than the holiest of hells for you to get them. Jimmy through preaching was exempt from taxes, too, Praise the Lard and "Where are my ho's"; all the records he made, he got to keep everything over cost--plus they cost him nothing to record since his church built him a top-of-the-line recording studio of his very own; a teevee studio of his very own, too. Hot damn. All contributions to God through Jimmy were tax-free. Yes, folks, check out all those megachurches and that sleazy pal of the Devil's Pat Robertson or any of those goony necked, pig jowled more pious-than-thou flim-flammers--like check out Paula White. [Note to Pastor Melissa Scott: this Paula White chick is beginning to intrigue me more and more--especially now that I heard she divorced her husband on stage in her big Tampa, Florida, megachurch, The Church With No Walls--plus Paula shows off her body more than you do, sweet Melissa--plus, too, Paula's from Tupelo, Mississippi, where you-know-who was borned and bredded.]
The cousins: Mickey, Jimmy, and Jerry Lee.
Anyway, Jimmy Swaggart once told why he played the piano and that's what made me feel totally kin to old Jimmy in a music sense. Jimmy said when his parents bought their first piano he was about 7 years old. He said he took one look at that piano and he told his mother he knew he already knew how to play a piano. She said prove it and Little Jimmy sat on that stool and pounded out a boogie just like he'd studied boogie since birth and that boogie had his old pork-fat momma hip-shaking all over the house that day, praisin' duh lard for sending she and Brother Swaggart a little entertainin' genius. Yes, Lard, Little Jimmy Swaggart took one look at a piano and knew he could play it.
Me, too. I, too, remember the first piano my family bought and I, too, remember the day the movers brought it and dollied it into our livingroom and put it against the north wall under a painting of Point Lobo, California, done at the spot by my grandmother on my mother's side, the poet who was also a novelist and a painter. I, too, stood there and looked at that piano. I, too, liked its looks. With its black and white keys it looked like it was smiling at me, saying, "Come on, kid, you know you got a Jones to play me, to tickle my ivories, come on, Little Wolfie, like Sparky's Magic Piano, I'll be you're magic piano." And I right then and there sold my soul to the Devil down at the Crossroads and right then and there I, too, like Little Jimmy Swaggart, walked over to that piano and played "Mary Had a Little Lamb" eight-to-the-bar and right off the bat.
I heard my mother drop a dish in the kitchen. "Was that you playing that?" she said rushing into the livingroom. "Who'd you think it was, Ma, Pretty Kitty?" [the family cat] "What an obnoxious little bastard you are, Wolfie, but maybe you're a genius, so we're giving you piano lessons, buster, and one day when you're on stage playing alongside Oscar Levant, you can support your father and me in the style the Good Lord said we deserved to have--you owe it to us, all we do for you."
The reason for this post: I worked on two CD projects today. I got them going, moving, directed in the right direction. I'm doing solo piano pieces now--why, I'm almost actually writing them out on music paper--charting my compositions--shit, I remember my first piano lesson--I just looked at it, it was a Schaum-style lesson, and did it. My teacher fell in love with me on the spot; she saw me as her potential little Van Cliburn--and my piano teacher, I still remember her name, was the dearest friend of Van Cliburn's mother, who one day during my piano lesson came in and pinched my cheek and said, "Do your scales, sonny boy. You get your fingering down right and you can't lose." After she left, my teacher was thrilled to death and said, "You know who that is?" "No, ma'am." "That's Mrs. Cliburn; she's from Kilgore where I'm from originally; we were best friends all through school." "Wev." "No, no, she's Van Cliburn's mother." "Like I said, 'wev.'" I did my lesson for that day perfectly and perfectly from then on through 10 Schaum books and Czerny scales books until one day I thought, "Hell, I don't wanna be Van Cliburn, whoever the hell he is, I wanna be Oscar Peterson, that's who I wanna be." So I quit taking piano lessons and became a little boogie-woogie playing Devil's child, like Sugar Chile Robinson, a little kid who won the Amateur Hour playing boogie-woogie and became a little imp star after that. I was Little Sugar Chile Wolf. However, unlike Jimmy Swaggart, I never got saved and able to rake in those buckets full of tax-free greenbacks--"No Change, Please. God does not have a coin machine in Heaven. God only respects paper money." Praise the Lard and pass those hog jowls 'n gravy.
As a result of my learning how to play the 88s, as a young boogie-woogiest, I dreamed of owning an Oldsmobile Rocket 88--"You've heard of those jalopies and the noise they make/ well let me introduce you to my Rocket 88...Ridin' in style/movin' and groovin' along."
for The Daily Growler