The-Man Band

He is the man. My man.

Summer night 40 some years ago, he practiced his guitar on the roof behind my house (like a line in Your Song).

Today he is still playing, whistling and singing.

On previous trips, I watched him perform along with two other members in an outdoor cafe.

Slowly, it winded down to two.

Last night, just him, the man.

What struck me was his coolness even when had to change cartridges in between numbers.

Stage hand, guitarist, singer, all in one. Machine and Me.

Maximum efficiency, reduced costs and rising unemployment.

The force of automation spares no one.

I could have called with my condolences (his mother had passed away a few months back).

But something cannot be done via a machine.

It has to be done with a hand grip, human connection and “hood” solidarity.

We went way back, more than 40 years.

He picked up a few guitar tricks from my older brother, I from him.

What goes around comes around.

In Vietnam, we keep reaffirming that the Earth is round, as if tomorrow, its shape might change.

Ironically,  while recycled to a third-tiered cafe on the outskirt of former Saigon, Cafe Vuong Tron (Square & Round) , he remained happy since “they still applauded” he told me.

Square and Round it was.

Young audience held their breaths between numbers.

He had that effect on this young generation (where else can you find a Johnny Cash like, all in black and pony tail in Saigon suburb).

They asked if he had a CD out.

He said he would think about it.

Maybe he should.

How long more can he go on like this (I am only 64, he said).

But when and if he had a recording out, I am not sure it would come across the same way.

Last night, it poured toward the end of his performance.

He switched unreservedly to Who’ll Stop the Rain.

I am sure a CD can play that song as well. But it wouldn’t have those silence in between songs.

It wouldn’t have his comments like “what are you hiding in there behind the tarp”.

It wouldn’t have me, his loyal fan, long time neighbour and unpaid apprentice, to start an applause.

As if to confirm my sidekick status, he asked me to help carry his guitar to the parking lot.

There, the amplifier was fitted in his scooter’s front basket.

His backpack wore backward toward the front, and guitar strapped across his shoulder.

After putting on poncho over his helmet, he waved goodbye, riding into the then still rainy night.

Like a shadow from the past, he had just logged in another trip back and forth to the 60’s.

Gen Y paid only for a coffee to enter his world, his space and his ambience.

They were taken up by a variety of musical expressions, which I am sure, are quite foreign to their world.

He helped unveil the past and even their future.

Music could transport you either way. I know this because during break, a young man asked if he could come up stage and play.

Our man was secure enough by then to play stage hand (the way Paul Simon letting a young female audience to share his stage)

and sit back to watch his reincarnation. The young singer was in student white , his song was raw and delivery green; but the budding emotion was there.

Old analog “Johnny Cash” will soon be replaced by digital new voice, new expression and new confidence.

That confidence says,” by these notes, I declare, you (the audience) and I (singer) are one, indivisible in our pursuit of happiness and heartbreak.” It will all be OK, however this is played out. Look at the man anchored  through time and turbulence, poverty and new-found wealth.

His steady hand still changes chords, changes CD’s and changes the audience’s skepticism. He plays at Vuong Tron, Go Vap District on Sunday Morning and Monday nights. But he had definitely played on the roof behind my house. I still remember My Sweet Lord guitar solo part.

He taught me that. “But it takes so long my Lord”. For me, 40 plus years was long but not long enough to change our man and our memory.

I really want to be with you, but it takes so long my Lord.


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