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Then I Left Early

photo: le 52, cocktails

Saturday's cocktails in the purple–green aquarium.

Rock Turns 5O

Paris:– Monday, 5. July 2004:– This is supposed to be a 'news' column and it usually is. But this week it is a holding place for odd items that don't fit into a feature, and aren't really news either. Sometimes these items are on a Café Life page, but there's no specific logo for it. Maybe this page should be called 'Then I Left Early' because this is what I feel like doing, except for being at the 'Ed's office, and writing this.

Then I Left Early

On Saturday evening, without realizing that today would be the 50th anniversary of rock 'n' roll in France, I went to the Utopia in the Rue de l'Ouest to hear some 'Shaking Blues.' When Gary Karp told me about it two weeks ago I didn't know that he would be playing keyboards. In fact I didn't know anything about the place even though it's only a ten–minute walk away.

But hearing the Ukulele Club de Paris two weeks ago for 15 minutes must have reawakened a dormant desirephoto: utopia cafe concert for nightlife. So I set out close to midnight to walk through some quiet streets, to find the Utopia on a very quiet street two short blocks east of the Montparnasse rail yards. Rue de l'Ouest is in the west of the 14th arrondissement and seems near the edge of the world.

There might have been more people around but I think a lot were staying home, resting up for Sunday night's EuroFoot match. Or, it was too late for dog walkers and too early for the night people. I'm out of practice with these details.

The Utopia looks like a brick tavern outside. It doesn't look like some place in Paris because live music clubs have a hard time with neighbors unless they are hard of hearing. I didn't notice the double doors going in, but inside the second set i noticed that the music was loud.

The place wasn't full. I stood for a few minutes by the bar until being asked to sit down. Only musicians and their girlfriends were allowed to stand at the bar I was told. There was no shortage of places to sit, so I sat. It wasn't a big place so I could see everything except the musician's legs. I didn't think Tina Turner would be in, so I didn't care.

The set that was being played came to a loud finish and the musicians drifted up to the bar, maybe to look for girlfriends. There was only one there and she seemed to be unattached. She might not have been a girlfriend, because I didn't see anybody talk to her. Maybe she was deep into gin and the blues.

Gary came over with a handful of New Republics. At first I thought they were Der Spiegel, but it was too dark to read no matter what they were. Gary gave me capsule bios of the band. One was a lawyer and another one had drummed for Johnny Hallyday for 30 years. He was the poor one, not the lawyer. The guitar player was another ace. Gary also noticed that the place wasn't full.

I ordered an orange juice, hoping it wouldn't be more than five€. After a short pause, the band went back to it. In a small place like the Utopia I guess it is not easy to set the sound system right. Drums, for example, need no amplification, but electric guitars are, well, electric. The diagonal wall behind the band probably didn't help much, shooting the music to the left instead of straight out.

I didn't think my ears were working too well. I could hear the drums crack too clearly, and the 'shaking blues' of the singer – er – seemed at times to be with another band, and the band often sounded more like five individuals than, ah, like a band. Gary's electric piano glued it together some times.

So I left early, after paying eight€ for the orange. The bar guy explained the double doors to me on the way out. In the street there was just as much nothing happening, and not a sound came from the club. I went to the diagonal corner and listened by the emergency exit, and heard nothing.

Two young ladies probably thought I was a city snoop, listening to outside walls, but they asked me for the direction to the Entrepôt anyhow. I sent them down the Rue de l'Ouest, and then followed them, wondering how the Entrepôt might be doing.

Before going far I turned left, to go around and back up Losserand. I guess I didn't go far enough to see the Entrepôt, which is a club and a cinema. I passed a cocktail aquarium full of green and blue light with two customers, and the big beer café on the corner with a few people sitting outside. There wasn't much music to hear in the street, or TVs. Just a few cars whispering up Losserand.

Back at Ed's place I turned on the stereo and put on an Albert King CD. It sounded terrible. I tried some other ones, but they all sounded broken. Both the stereo, its speakers, and the CDs are very old. The headphones are trash too. Everything sounded cracked. I felt like leaving early.

Utopia Café Concert – a club for musicians and electric blues fans, with different live groups most nights at 22:00, except Sundays. No cover charge. At 79. rue de l'Ouest, Paris 14. Métro: Pernety. InfoTel.: 01 43 22 79 66.

Rock's Birthday

While some newspapers here and tonight's TV–news are celebrating 'rock's 50th birthday,' one guy interviewedphoto: bateau lavoir in Le Parisien says that the anniversary is tomorrow, 6. July. Apparently the recording session for 'That's All Right' by Elvis Presley began on the evening of 5. July, but the actual recording of the song happened early in the morning on the 6th.

The same guy says we can't be sure that Bastille Day really happened on Tuesday, 14. July 1789 either. A stickler for facts, he also notes that Elvis Presley didn't invent rock'n'roll, he just borrowed it.

But the paper says 'rock' has to hae a birthday, so picking a date is good for our souls. The sound clip of 'That's All Right' played on the TV–news sounded no better than anything heard on Saturday night in the Utopia, so I wouldn't mind a bit if the facts were fixed up a bit to honor the real inventors of 'rock.' I mean, Elvis Presley is already the richest dead guy around.


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