It’s 6:30pm again. The sky overhead casts its effacing blue shades overhead as dusk nears. I look up and to my left to see the half-circle of crimson waning behind thick woods filled with dogwood trees. It’s still about another couple of hours till the little lightening bugs can come out to dance their conspicuous dance of Bioluminescence. For now, the sultry summer heat causes beads of sweat to profuse from every pore. It’s one of those humid dusks that have you eyeing the sun with indignant eyes, awaiting its escapement under the horizon. The escapement of crimson brings cooler air, less beads of sweat, and, most important, replaces the sultry with the pleasant, thus allowing eyes of indignation to traverse from the half-circle of crimson towards the men and women adorned in sweat-covered clothes pouring their heart’s out with the dulcet sounds of Tom Petty and Johnny Cash. Tonight’s entertainment is the band Petty Cash Junction.
“And I won’t back down,” Jimmy Griffin, singer and guitarist of Petty Cash Junction, sings to the hill of fans. After recently finding out that Civic Park hosts live music every Tuesday evening, Glenn, his girl Janet and I (Layton) decided to make a return visit to last weeks venue. Who doesn’t like Tom Petty? I think. They’re one of those bands that fell into some neutral territory. No one—that I’ve come across—is dissatisfied with or too chauvinistic for the music of Tom Petty. From my view, they’ve cracked into some impartial genre that is generally loved by all.
The crowd seems to have the same penchant for Tom Petty as I do. The brave ones dance in the evening heat, mouthing the words: “And I’ll stand my ground, won’t be turned around.” But now they’re turning their bodies with the rhythms of their own personal dances, none have a set routine—I don’t remember fortuitous gyrating being on the last Richard Simmons DVD. Now the lightening bugs dance a similar dance of Bioluminescence as the sun’s daily death permits the green underneath the lightening bugs’ wings to glow in the newfound darkness.
“Hey look, it’s Glenn in thirty years,” Janet points out an old man with white hair dancing the dance of fortuity.
“That’s Tom, he’s always dancing,” I reply. You see Tom is that singular man always dancing to every tune no matter what. He shows up to shows as often as the music. If you’re ever in O’Fallon, MO, and come across a bar, restaurant, or park hosting live music, look to the dance floor and you’ll more than likely see Glenn plus thirty, like a white-haired beast during mating season; out of control but in control of his own amusement. Tom is often the only one dancing. It’s highly entertaining to watch.
“I hear the train a comin’. It’s rollin’ round the bend,” David Kalz, the other singer and guitarist of Petty Cash Junction, explores the Johnny Cash side of their dual-tribute band. Behind him, the drummer, eyes covered will a bull-cut brown hairdo, is shuffling along in mimesis of the on coming train. To the left of the mop-headed drummer, the bass player walks on the train tracks laid out by the shuffle beat. He’s bouncing up and down the neck with the conspicuous, repetitive bass riff that sounds something like, “Dum-doom-dum-doom” as the rhythm section cements the pocket for its surrounding musicians to solo over.
Whoa! Jimmy can solo! I think as Mr. Tom Petty, now adorned with long, dark brown hair, a gray vest, and a purple necktie sings through his guitar the way he sings through the microphone with his voice. I wish more guitarists soloed like this. Again thinking. You see it’s really like singing through your instrument, better yet, like speaking in an emotional language whose lexicon only the player can decode and reveal. It’s a communicative solo. Imagine yourself, guitar in hand, moving your lips to create a solo out of the instrument in your hands. A sort of backwards take on vocalese (singing a solo while using non-sense syllables). The result: Jimmy’s guitar is singing mellifluous sounds of poignancy to the beer-sipping, gray-haired dancing, bioluminescent-glowing, sentient beings all soaking in the sonorities of an excellent guitar solo. And we all somehow understand exactly what he’s saying. This is the way all solos should come off.
“Wow he can really play!” Glenn interjects as I take a sip from my ice-cold beer.
“Yea! It’s like he’s singing the notes on his guitar,” I reply.
“Exactly,” Glenn and I share nods of agreement.
“She grew up in an Indiana town, had a good lookin’ Momma, who never was around,” brown-haired Petty sings “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” Played intermittently between verses, the piano player pulls out a handheld instrument to play the famous wa-wa sounds on the harmonica.
I never tire of this song. I think. It’s the mark of a classic. Not a classic like anything booming off Top 40 Billboard Charts recently. More like a fine wine stored in a bottomless bottle. Or, a vintage car well taken care of: shined weekly, washed as much, and taken out for a drive in the sultry summer heat to be shown once again to neighbors and denizens of familiarity. Each year, both familiarity and value accumulate. Interest never wanes. The classic tune is re-sung here tonight to welcoming ears.
Piggybacking classic tunes, Dave Kalz reclaims the mic to sing Johnny Cashes “Get Rhythm.” Taking up a moment of hypocrisy, I must say, “I am so sick of this tune!” To me, Johnny Cash is the apotheosis of country music—yea I know Hank Williams is kicking in his grave somewhere—however, “Get Rhythm” has a simplicity that works against the classic mold discussed above. To me, a tune like “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” has just enough variation to keep my ears entertained. Perhaps it’s the primordial blues changes, or the incessant guitar riff at the beginning, or that same, repetitive shuffle beat heard in every Johnny Cash tune. Whatever it may be this fine-wine-of-a-song does not accumulate piquant flavors over time. Luckily, Jimmy and Dave improvise solos that bring my ears back as the final shuffle of the evening is played.
“Look at Tom still dancin’!” Janet points out the silvered-haired man still dancing the dance of fortuity.
“Whatever he’s on, I want two of em’,” I say in jest. The old man has an energy sustained by an ineffable endurance. I’m not suggesting narcotics are involved, just the sweet sounds of Rock n’ Roll music on a Tuesday night.
Up above, constellations dot the night sky in a glamorous shine. The sun is working its way underneath our feet while beaming its rays and spotlighting the half-moon overhead. Down on earth, in Civic Park, the lighting bugs are the only ones dancing. The music has ended. People start gathering their coolers, folding up chairs, leashing their dogs, rounding their children, and heading home. Mary Jane has danced her last dance for the evening.