Monday, November 15, 2010
Curtis Files - The Last Song
Curtis Files was in the audience at Dream Mecca Studio at the Daniel Day Gallery on Friday night. I was there to hear 2Blu & The Lucky Stiffs, and they were making some beautiful music for the full house at the stylish, offbeat venue on 6th Avenue South in Birmingham.
Curtis, an old-time blues singer -- 81 years old, I'm told -- was introduced as the upcoming act for next Friday night. Later, when the band invited guests to sit in, Curtis took the floor. "I'm ready," he said, "At least I've got to hope I'm ready."
The band laid down a rhythm, but Curtis said, "I'm not feeling it." He turned to the band, raised his hand, and they became his. "Give me a twelve-bar blues in A." The drummer laid it down and the bass and guitar started the slow, familiar progression that settles deeper in your soul every time it comes around. "Put some B.B. King in it," Curtis directed, and the guitarist did. We were all feeling it.
Curtis started to sing:
"I have had my fun if I never get well no more.
I have had my fun if I never get well no more.
All of my health is failing;
Lord, I'm going down slow,
I'm going down slow."
His voice was a little tight -- he hadn't had time to warm up -- but it was strong and melodic. He sang another verse:
"Please write my mother and tell her the shape I'm in.
Please write my mother and tell her the shape I'm in.
Tell her to pray for me,
Forgive me for my sin,
For all of my sin."
Curtis turned and handed it off to George Dudley, the guitarist, who took it up a notch. It was good. Curtis was leading and the room followed. His groove was immediate and visceral, and we all went there with him. He was in it with all his heart. Then his heart gave out.
We watched as he bent forward from the waist, then continued forward and down, grasping the speaker as he reached the floor. He rolled onto his back. He was still.
The audience sat aghast for a frozen moment.
911 was called. A pillow was placed under his head. A small group gathered around him, holding his hands and speaking to him. People prayed. A man and a young woman stepped up and performed CPR. We heard a ragged breath. Hope filled the room.
The paramedics arrived and did their job. Their poker faces didn't tell us anything. They took Curtis to the hospital.
Stunned and subdued, we talked quietly for some time. Then the band took the stage again and began to play. The music was good. It was passionate and powerful. Bruce Andrews' harmonica told the story. The room was a single-minded congregation.
The phone call came: Curtis didn't make it.
The music stopped. A woman sobbed. People gathered in twos and threes to comfort one another. We drifted out into the night, burdened and, somehow, blessed by what we had witnessed.