These summer trips usually lead people back to the Prague sooner or later, but I have my doubts about this one. He’d been in town for five long years and had been making quiet but steady bug-like noises about leaving. I expect I’ll get emails from Bulgaria, then Turkey, then Turkey again, then a long long pause followed by a report from his hometown of Chicago.
“Back in the States,” the letter will say.
“My bro bailed me out after a gig went bust pickin’ olives on Cyprus.” Coming back? “I reckon’ I’m here for a while,” the letter will go on. “It’s okay, I’m workin’ at Buddy Guy’s, making some money. How’s Prague, that old slut that had me in her claws for so long?” Prague will have morphed again by then, of course, its tricky stones arranged anew. The ghosts of his memory will have joined a silent symphony of thousands around the monuments of thousands of forgotten Prague friendships. It can be tempting to give in to this army of nostalgia and its melody, to stop at every statue or square that evokes a drunken song or stupid joke.
It’s hard not to get sucked in by the way a stream of history can so easily dry up, that someone can so suddenly slide onto the exit ramp, into another world and out of that funky, slowly shifting traffic jam of stuck Prague souls.
After more than two years of doing this column, the writing in this space has gotten progressively softer. Not softer as in worse, but softer as in I’m starting to sound like a limp-wristed third-rate Romantic poet smelling the lilies in a field of his own trite woe; softer as in I’m forgetting my roots in mean American cities; softer as in I’m already ashamed of last month’s column – like some picture of myself drunk and naked with a lampshade on my head, I can’t even look at it.
A journalist once asked Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins if he really meant what he said in his overwrought existentialist lyrics. Well, he replied, I feel that way maybe once a year, but when I feel it I really feel it intensely, and that’s usually the day I write a song. At the time I thought it was a pretty good defense of writing like a f*cking cry baby sap, and I’ve used it since. But no longer.
Better to write from a less pathetic place on one of the other 364 days. Starting tomorrow. I just read a nice elegy for John Lee Hooker. The writer said learning to play like Hooker is like learning how to strut – if it doesn’t come natural, stay seated. That’s about the size of it. The first time I heard him say “A haw haw haw haw” I knew things would never be the same.
His finger work was simple, impossibly simple, yet somehow harder to pull off than Hendrix. JLH was the sound of mid-century, the sound of Detroit. And today’s motorcity techno has nothing on him. Not one beat. They’ll have to sample his very ghost to come close.
Q: How many Americans in Prague does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: What’s the word for lightbulb?
Every summer I find myself in conversation about how best to skim some cream off of the thousands of tourists pouring through town. I’ve heard hundreds of possible scams, and some of them have worked for their creators, but only last week did a genius describe the silver bullet.
Hint: it involves a bridge, a small mirror, an ice cream vendor, and duct tape.
If you aren’t arrested, you can retire by 30.