It was a perfect, late summer afternoon in the 1502 (that’s Ocean Beach to the uninitiated among you).
Surfers were shredding the waves; on the beach teenaged boys and girls vied for the best position on the sand that would afford the greatest opportunity for interaction with the opposite sex; businessmen and women sat on the seawall staring with unveiled envy; and inside my favorite beachside coffee shop, I breathed in and out, content to simply be alive on such a beautiful day.
My position next to the large, open rollup windows lining the front of the shop afforded me an unobstructed view of the main beach and lifeguard station.
A middle-aged couple exited the store, sat down at one of the bistro tables on the sidewalk and, in a comedic scene worthy of primetime television, promptly spilled not one, but both of their mango smoothies.
At first their faces registered horror and then disbelief as they stared incomprehensibly at the sidewalk and the pooling remains of their drinks.
He looked at her; she looked at him; and then they both burst out laughing at their misfortune.
I mean, why not…it was funny!
On his way inside to borrow a mop and wet towel he said to me in passing, “What’s really funny is that we did exactly same thing last week.”
“Well,” I replied, “practice makes perfect.”
I could tell he didn’t think that was quite as funny as I did.
I get that a lot.
While he and his wife cleaned up the sticky mess my ears picked up a sound that was almost stunning within the context.
It was a familiar sound—one with which I had been intimately acquainted for much of my life.
It was the sound of a drummer and bass player laying down some raw yet serious funk.
I stood up and craned my neck in every direction in a futile attempt to locate the source.
Walking outside and past the still chuckling couple I spotted a red, classic 1964 Chevy Van parked next to the curb across the street, its side doors opened onto the grassy area adjacent to the lifeguard tower.
On the sidewalk next to the van two young men, dressed in vintage black suits, white shirts and skinny black ties, sporting black Ray-Ban Wayfarers were working out a heavy groove.
The drum kit was basic—kick, snare and Hi-hat; the smallish bass amp was plugged into the van’s cigarette lighter; the Fender Jazz Bass looked as if it had been dragged behind the van all the way from wherever they had originated; but, oh, my Lord…could those young men play.
They were good.
No, they were better than good…they were amazing!
I hurried across the street and took up a proximate position, along with a dozen or so other music lovers, and listened to them work their magic.
And magic it was.
Think Sly and the Family Stone.
Think The Bar-Kays.
Think The Ohio Players.
In other words, those two young men were definitely putting some stank on it—pure improvisation at its best.
One groove flowed seamlessly into the next and before I realized it, thirty minutes had passed.
They worked the final groove into a thundering crescendo, tagging the end theatrically and bringing their performance to a conclusion.
And the crowd went wild.
The whole scene was so unusual in that setting as to be nearly surreal.
One could almost imagine that those two young men had been sent down from the funk gods for no other reason than to add a bit of musical whimsy to brighten our dull, ordinary lives.
I talked to them for a few minutes while they packed up and learned that the bass player, an old friend and former bandmate of the drummer, had just moved back to town and they were working on forming sort of a neo-funk band.
I gave them a tip—a really good tip, for which they were profoundly grateful—wished them well and went on my way.
Back inside the coffee shop, it occurred to me that musicians—whether they be young, old, or in-between—basically just want to play and will do so wherever an audience can be found.
They’ll even play for nothing should the occasion demand it, for it is passion that drives them.
I know this passion well, for it has driven me for most of my life.
It’s not a passion to make money (much to my beloved’s chagrin) but a passion to make music. To free the creative gift within and see that gift touch others.
I suppose that was what I found so satisfying about the performance I’d just witnessed.
They were just there to play.
The fact that I, or any of the others for that matter, demonstrated our appreciation monetarily was beside the point.
I found that the experience turned me philosophical.
I know, shocking, right?