Sam’s , 1st and 2nd nights

9:07am Mon Jun 14, 2010

[Sorry if the following is rather stilted and contains too many tangents, my brain is pretty fried after playing 4 1/2 hours – I’m STILL a little fried right now, honestly :)]

First night, first set:

Started out so promising, a handful at the bar, friendly and digging whatever I felt like doing. Then, as the room filled, the bar emptied, tunes met silence, and my glasses began to fog from the copious flop sweat oozing from my pores.

Elton: Nothing. Baudy blues, ballads, the Boss: Nothing, nothing, nothing.

Even James, the South African bartender looked embarassed for me. Jesus.

And three more hours to go.


Second set:

Marched bravely back into the bar TO APPLAUSE. Half the piano filled with people waiting for me, bugging James. The rest of the night continued so well – group after little group sitting at the bar, requests, laughs, teary-eyed smiles – It never even occured to me to take another break until James' voice over my shoulder informed me “last call”.

Really great fun, people taking it personally, one guy offering to pay for me to get an internet connectoin if I needed, to download a tune from an artist whom, he said, “is so you”. $5 from another guy along with two beers.

Of the ten or so diehards left at the end, not ONE knew Leonard Cohen. Even when I played “Hallelujah”, which one guy recognized as “Simon’s favorite tune”. They didn’t know Tom Waits, either. These are AMERICANS. Obviously this is more than just a job, it’s a mission. They’re ready, all departing with “See you tomorrow!”

Now if I just didn’t have to get dressed and walk half the ship to have a fucking smoke – but I guess it evens out that I can smoke AND drink at work 🙂


Second Night:

Didn’t see many “see you tomorrow” people, but met a few during the day who were there the previous night, I just didn’t know it – including crew. Blasting night, raucous singalongs, several drinks, tips around $80. My favorite contingent at the bar: Fellow Chicagoans not only familiar, but as in love with Waits and Cohen as I am. Total plays for

“Piano Man”: 3

“Sweet Caroline”: 3

“Rocket Man”: 2

By the end of the night, half the room was crew. Then music director Eddie offered to buy me a drink in the disco next door, again half crew. We closed the place.

Ah, the crew. From all over the world. Crew can party and passenger manifest under the table. There isn’t a more powerful unified political force on earth. We crack each other up, flirt, respect, and bond over our resentment of The Man. Serbians and Croations. South Africans. Black and white. But see, The Man isn’t from any particular country. Even the officers and engineers, the real sailors from Italy and Greece – God, nobody smokes like those dudes – they resent The Man, too. We all work for him, and he cramps our style, every one of us. He can’t realize what an exceptional compliment works these ships, though he takes all the credit. He reminds us that our smile is the most important element of our uniform, but offers little to encourage us to wear it. Or does he?

Carnival is only a company. It’s not the CEO. It’s the shareholders. They can’t know what it takes to fill their portfolio. They aren’t evil. They aren’t even bad. They just can’t know. As a passenger, you can see the joy the crew takes in one another, if you look closely. It’s not the paycheck that keeps us going. It’s the people. And the company is responsible for bringing us together.

I’d like to see the shareholders come on, as many as possible, all together at once, and work with us and live with us and party with us. Tonight the smoking policy had changed: No smoking at the piano bar itself, but still allowed in the rest of the room. Let’s see how many members of the board are smokers.

Sam’s is open late and, like tonight, I’ll play until I turn around and see that the bar staff have all gone, closed up the bar, and left us to our songs 🙂