Monday, November 8, 2010

Les Paul

Les Paul was 92 years old when I caught one of his regular Monday night gigs at the Iridium on March 17, 2008. It was on the list of things I wanted to do before I moved from New York City and I'm just glad I didn't wait any longer, as he died 17 months later. I guess my hesitation in seeing him was that I knew he would not be playing at the level he was playing ten or twenty years earlier. It wasn't until I saw him perform that I realized he could still put on a very entertaining show on the strength of his personality alone. Sure, he missed a few notes and he shared the spotlight with a few guest performers, but the banter between the musicians and with the audience gave me priceless insight into Paul's personality and a reasonable understanding of what his post-Mary Ford shows were like in earlier times, despite not hearing any blistering guitar dynamics. And, the fact that he came out after the show, sat down at a table, and shook hands and signed autographs made for an even more memorable evening.

As I stood in line to meet Les Paul after the show, I had three LPs and a brand new sharpie with me. When it came my turn to go up to Les's table, I handed him the records in the following order: least favorite cover, middle favorite cover, then my favorite cover. My thinking at the time was that the autograph on the third LP would probably look the best; after all, he'd have ample practice on the first two records. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The first autograph, on the World is Still Waiting for the Sunrise album I had inscribed to my friend John, came out beautifully with a cool personalization: "Howdy!" with the "P" in "Paul" making a pretty, round arc around the inscription. The second autograph on the mediocre Hits of Les and Mary cover came out okay, but the "Keep Rockin’!" personalization doesn’t fit with the music on the LP, which, like all of Les Paul’s music, simply isn’t rock and roll, and the "P" in "Paul" is much messier. The third autograph on my favorite cover, Lovers' Luau, came out the worst, with Les accidentally smudging his signature with his hand as he signed the cover.

It’s easy to second-guess the decisions I made when getting these records signed. Perhaps I should not have handed him the records in the order of least favorite to favorite, but I've had other experiences where I wished I had done this but hadn’t (see Gil Scott-Heron). Perhaps I should not have used a new sharpie, but I have autographs written with old sharpies that don't look very nice (see Pete Seeger). I suppose that if there's a lesson to be learned here, it's that much of autograph collecting is luck, not science. As I stated in the beginning of this entry, I'm just happy I got to see the legendary Les Paul at all.

1 comment:

  1. I forgot that he pulled the 'ol "Keep Rockin'" out of his hat! That is most unfortunate. Still, I am very happy with my cover--thank you!