Monday, March 15, 2010

Musician Pt. 6

Backing up just a little to the high school days. I have to tell this little tale.

Humphrey's Pine Room (1946 to 2004) on the West Side was where my parents first met Mrs. Lusk. They had hired her to play organ music during dinner. These were back in the days when restaurants hired musicians for dinner hour. A lovely, but terribly old fashioned idea which went the way of the dinosaur long before the economy tanked. She played in that old school style of soft swells and schmaltzy "You'll Never Walk Alone" school of playing.

All said and done, Mrs. Lusk was a good organist, but an even better piano player. My parents, being social creatures, talked to her and eventually became her students.

My stepfather insisted that I take piano lessons because he said that knowledge of the keyboard was fundamental. All composers used it, he said. Well hell, I wanted to write music (still do) and so lessons were scheduled with their piano instructor, Mrs. Lusk.

Now, I have met some characters in my life and Mrs. Lusk ranks in the upper tier. With her high squeaky voice and cackle for a laugh, wearing an array of colorful and weird outfits (I remember one that had ice cream cones all over it. That really tripped me out.), she was way offbeat for the stereotypical female piano teacher. You know, the stern prim and proper kind with tea and cats.

Mrs. L used to regale us with tales of Laurence Welk gigs. "They send me a Christmas card every year." None of would stop to ask why a show that went off the air in 1971 would continue to send Christmas cards. Her name is not listed among the performers, singers or orchestra members. "They still want me back," she would often say to us. Don't think any of us believed her, but no one was cruel enough to dare different.

My parents often got involved with music teachers on a personal level. Mrs. Lusk (The evil in us called her Mrs. Lust, of course. What else?) was a dinner guest on a few occasions. I believe that my stepdad believed himself to be a southern gentleman and wanted an audience for what he thought were the finer things life. I always disliked the ideas of these little dinner parties because I felt like I was being treated like a child. Teenagers can be fucking brats, let's face it. I had written a little suite for piano and my parents wanted me to perform it for our guest. Talk about guilting me into it. Finally, I sat down and played. She was very kind and encouraging which made me feel good. Mrs Lusk was bizarre, but she still was a good teacher. When she was awake.

At Herbert's music on Quarrier, the lessons were downstairs in these small, stuffy rooms. At one of my lessons, I was playing a piano piece so slowly that I noticed Mrs. L nodding off. Can't say I blame her- I was playing the notes at a glacial tempo. At one point, I just stopped and didn't play at all just to see how long she would stay asleep. It was really comical-one of those teenage moments when you see the blatant imperfections of adults. But, my playing may not have been the only cause of her dozing off during lessons.

Mrs. Lusk lived downtown at a very seedy hotel. You can just imagine the noise and the danger might cause anyone to have some sleepless nights. My parents used to refer to her as living "a hand-to-mouth" existence. I think that my parents gave her money from time to time to help her out.

I never knew what happened to her after I stopped taking lessons. She had some edema in her legs that was pretty severe and they looked pretty bad. This may account for some pretty wacky things that she said to my mom. She believed that the Russians had a "ray gun" aimed at America that could create mass mind control. Out there enough for you?
So, hats off to you, Mrs. L, wherever you are. God love you. I never amounted to much of a piano player, but I finally got over my fear of being a horrible one.

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