Bundle of Contradictions

MARCH 30, 2011 3:28PM

Remembering Pinetop Perkins

Rate: 9 Flag
Six years ago I was in Austin, TX for SXSW, a massive music conference that swallows up the city each March. I’d been sent there by my company, an independent distributor of independent music labels, and was beyond psyched to be there. I’d been to CMJ in New York but SXSW was the place to be to really immerse yourself in music and music culture.

The week was a blur of crazy days and nights, and insane allergies from the thick layer of pollen coating everything in the state. But I do remember my husband John stepping into the elevator of the Omni hotel with Billy Idol and Billy’s bodyguard asking him to “give us some room” while nodding toward the door. I remember my coworker, upon hearing that Ereland Oye was a table away from us in the bar, saying “Oh, is that who that is? I’ve been calling him Napoleon Dynamite.” I remember watching the Ditty Bops and the Raveonettes play tiny private shows of 100 people, and seeing The Dears and The Bravery do an instore performance at Waterloo. I remember sitting through discussions on the future of the music industry and popping my head into the “Managing your Hepatitis C” workshop given at the conference since so many industry vets have the disease. I remember watching my friend Rich walk through fountains in his motorcycle boots and mixing Jack Daniels with my allergy drugs. It was a crazy week.

But most of all I remember hanging out at the Phoenix show, watching Eric Balfour from Six Feet Under hit on some girl while the band Stars sang along to every song behind me. And there, in the hallway to the bathroom sat Pinetop Perkins, a 92-year-old Delta Blues musician, Grammy Lifetime Achievement winner, and inductee to the Blues Hall of Fame. This frail looking old man, with nearly 100 years of wisdom and genius and pain behind his eyes was sitting on a little wooden crate with a handwritten sign in front of him saying “Grammy winner. Cds 15 bucks.” And all these hipster kids were just walking past him on their way to the bathroom, completely unaware there was a living legend in their midst.

It wasn’t just that my company was in charge of his album distribution that left me horrified at the sight of him sitting there. I would probably have been more than a little disturbed by any nearly-ancient person sitting practically on the floor of a crowded show where they could be trod on by drunk 20-somethings. John pointed out that he had probably been sitting on little wooden crates for much of his life and he might not see any reason to change that now. But, busy body that I am, I approached him saying, “Mr. Perkins? Sir? Might you be more comfortable in a chair?” He looked at me with those big, brown, milky eyes as if I was speaking Chinese and replied with a, “No, ma’am.” At this point, the hipsters were getting annoyed that I was crouching in the hallway, so I stood up then dropped again for just a few seconds more. “I love your work, Sir. It’s an honor to meet you.” Then, shaking his hand, I turned away, and scurried back into the pulse of the night.
Mr. Pinetop Perkins passed away on March 21, 2011. He will be missed.

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I love your power to observe the quiet scene in a crowd of oblivious "hipsters." The offer of a chair and the gentleman's response was very moving.

If you haven't already seen it, you would enjoy the movie "Ghost World".. there's a hilarious scene where a blues legend is heckled by a crowd at a "blues club" who don't even know who he is. The man is opening for a cheesy, tenth rate band that (this is priceless) "promises to rock the place with the blues." This is only one of the many treasures in this brilliant masterpiece with wonderful touches of the surreal and the ironic (including the many indignities visited on the wonderful Steve Buscemi, who plays an oddball and dedicated collector of blues 78's).

I look forward to following your essays! I just arrived on Open Salon yesterday and love it...

Best, Maureen Murphy (Moe Murph)
Thanks Moe Murph! I haven't seen Ghost World since it first came out, but I remember loving it. I read the comic too. I'd forgotten about that scene. I'll have to rewatch it.
that's a cool memory, Ms. Burnett. i love sxsw and i love austin, though i am less in love with hipsters.

what i really, really love though is old blues. you've given me a new name to explore. gracias.
I'm definitely not in love with hipsters, Jackson Panic. I just like to observe them like an anthropologist.
I wonder if Pinetop was as used to fools as he was to the crates. If there was an award for best bio on OS, I would nominate yours.
Why thank you, Damon! I really did once have lunch with Kenny Rogers. He's very tall. And very tan.
I hate to say I haven't heard of him...but my son is very much into the old time blues greats and I will have to check him out. I'm so glad you gave him the respect he deserved. Each generation is self absorbed with the music they "discovered" and I wonder how many of those who passed him by will one day, perhaps years from now, happen upon his music and appreciate it without ever knowing how close they came to meeting the man.
He's absolutely a great, Bellwether. You'll dig him, I'm sure. And you're right. Those hipster kids very well might "discover" him and sit around, smoking their clove cigs, talking about Pinetop in some dive bar some day.
Lovely post Cedar. Thx. xxx m.