Location: marengo, il, United States

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Wild Hare, Strange Hair

I feel like dancing. I don’t mean the herky-jerky, sweat-inducing moves inspired by disco, or even those endless varieties brought on by rock and roll, but something more like the mellow style performed at a small club called the Wild Hare and Singing Armadillo Frog Sanctuary. Its name is long and almost impossible to remember easily, or to even pronounce correctly on the first try, but if you dare go there for an evening, you might find yourself hooked on the place.

It took two hours for our group to reach the club from the far western suburbs. A good portion of our trip we wasted going the wrong way on Lake Shore Drive, arguing at the top of our lungs.

It is further south. Why did you just exit here?

No, it is way north. Turn that dome light off!

Martin, from the back seat, thought everything sounded hilariously funny. Donna could only encourage him.

Four white suburbanites on a Chicago night out. Glib word-of-mouth suggested the famous night spot we searched for. I began to doubt the rumor as soon as we drove onto North Clark Street.

Seedy has great connotations to me. I like things with seedy character. Seedy holds great artistic promise, and earns my admiration. But to travel down a deserted street located in an unfamiliar part of town while passing closed warehouses and abandoned-looking buildings caused me to wonder.

Donna yelled in my ear sudden-like.

There it is! Pull over! Pull over! Stop! Stop! Stop!

A warm glow spilled out of a doorway. I caught a glimpse as we sailed by.

Where are you going? Why didn’t you stop?

We can’t park along here. Don’t you see the signs?

Martin howled at the sound of the word, signs. My wife laughed. I groaned. Donna slapped the back of my seat as she giggled and bounced with excitement.

It took time to find a parking spot, and then more for a brisk walk to deliver us there. The light and the music coming from inside automatically appeased our fears of muggers or night people. A large man at the door waved us in. The place looked packed. Our foursome had arrived an hour after the music started, but no one in the crowd seemed to mind.

We weaved our way to a spot where we could all stand together and see the band, plus have a place to set drinks. Donna led Martin on a trip to the bar.

A musician wearing sunglasses stepped up and leaned into a microphone. He showed a toothy grin as his right hand began to strum on his electric guitar. He and the ax looked to be the best of friends.

A wah-wah pedal soon kicked in and began to pulsate. A person standing next to me went to rocking back and forth. Shoulders, chest and head. A hint of knee. Movement of the people. Slow and uncomplicated, forward and back, rocking easy.

I sneaked a look around me as the hypnotic two-four accent played on. Another one swayed, and there stood another, going at it. Everyone appeared to be caught up and sweetly lost. Then I heard the rise and falling tones of a Hammond organ.

Donna materialized from out of the forest.

Here are your drinks. I think I spilled some of yours. Don’t these guys sound terrific?

I cupped a hand to one ear and mouthed words. Do what?

A man on bass omitted certain notes here and there, which worked fine with me.

We smiled to each other as the tinge of a familiar scent drifted by. A woman next to us had her eyes shut as the song faded to a close.

Up on stage, another singer, this one wearing a giant, outlandish hat, stepped forward. His puffy Elmer Fudd-style hunting cap, crocheted from bright-orange yarn, sat square on the top of his head, but tilted back slightly.

A drummer kicked off the beat. The band fell in and did another familiar tune, and as they began to grove and wail, the singer-man punctuated some of his lines with a little dance step. For a moment he would hold the mic stand and happily run in place. His orange hat jiggled every time he did. But he kept on crooning and he kept jogging, and the headgear continued to slip back even further.

By now we four were all swaying along too, just being happy and not worrying about a thing. Then I saw something that seemed to be spilling out from underneath his big hat, so I elbowed Martin and pointed.

What on earth is all that?

Martin cupped a hand to his ear. Do what?

When I looked back, that crazy hat had moved all the way to the very back of the man’s head. And it sat there seeming to defy gravity, bouncing along with the beat while hanging onto an incredible amount of braided hair that at some point had been carefully stuffed inside the hat.

Later on the cap vanished from sight, and so for the rest of the evening the musician let his long and loosed dreadlocks swing free while he sang out and ran. No one else seemed to be taken with this strange occurence, except for me. But then no one made fun of my bald white head during the night either. As a matter of fact, I did see a couple of approving smiles as I rocked back and forth, and before long the entire room swayed to that easy, friendly beat of reggae.


Blogger Gone Away said...

Easy and friendly, yes, that's it. A member of the British group, the Beat, told how the ska style of music started in Birmingham. Apparently there were only too kinds of parties in Brum at the time, reggae and punk; the punk parties were too violent and the reggae ones too quiet and soporific. So the Beat combined the two into a perfect mix - ska.

Easy and friendly, I like that. :)

12:45 PM  
Blogger Janus Torrell said...

I have been to a few clubs like that. Good music, but can't hear anything. Not a place to go on a date if you want to talk, but great if you want to just go and listen. Otherwise you spend the evening going "Whaaaat"

1:42 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

Now that fills in some voids. Years back I did a search of differing styles of music coming from the Caribbean Islands. No one there came close to the great sounds Bob Marley and the Wailers made. Later, a four-set CD of the same group had only Marley and his guitar wailing away on the last disk, but the music he played sounded as common and dull as anything I had found earlier.

Oh, is Janus saying something? I can see his mouth moving...

1:56 PM  
Blogger Gone Away said...


3:04 PM  
Anonymous Ned said...

I am the sort of person who notices, comments on and remembers forever such things as magically dancing hats, I completely understand.

6:40 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

It was tormentious, he wailed! Such hats!

6:52 PM  

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