Thursday, August 25, 2005

Peasants in the Pit

Okay...so I have been woefully inadequate with regard to any kind of consistency in writing this blog. I really should either write it daily (or as close to daily as I can muster0 or NOT do it at all.

I wanted to write about a great experience I had last Saturday night. I was working, taking care of my autistic charge, and headed down to Harvard Square with said chap, and several friends in tow. After hitting Pizzaria Uno for dinner, we headed over to the "Pit" to hear this band "the Peasants" play.

For those not of Cambridge or those who may be unfamiliar with Harvard Square... there are several locations in Harvard Sq where musicians play guitars (or boxes or pieces of wood with a few strings on them) people paint, sing, juggle etc. The mpost coveted locale being "The Pit", a large circular area right next to one of the subway (hereby know as the "T") exits. It has a good sized circumference where folks can get a good view of whatever may be going on in the Pit.

The regular act in the Pit on Saturday nights for the summer has been the Peasants, a local rock band fronted by guitarist/singer Pete Cassani. Anybody sitting down for even a few minutes can see that this guy can play the hell out of his guitar, can play anything and play it to perfection.

In case you ain't from 'round these parts, The Peasants have been playing for about fifteen years, starting out as the Velcro Peasants and changing their name to simply The Peasants after a suit was filed by the folks at Velcro

Backed by a helluva drummer named "Dave" and a solid bass player, Pete answers requests for Hendrix, the Beatles, Bob Dylan and ACDC. Last week, we were in for a special treat as Ray Neades, lead singer for the ACDC cover band and beefy portion of "Beefy DC" stopped by. It is a real mind blower to hear 120 lb Bon Scott's voice coming out of Neade's burly frame, but that's what you got. If you close your eyes, you can scarcely tell the difference.

Cassani is a purist, enjoying every song he plays as though it were his first time, but he is clearly a master at what he does.

Along with the incessant cries for "Aerosmith" and other popular commercial bands, you'll hear the occasional shout for a Peasant's classic like "Bobby's Down South", "Fratboy" or "Girlfriend" from some of the faithful fans that show up week after week to see the Peasants grace the Pit. As you listen, you'll wonder why in the world these guys are here, playing for tips in Harvard Square, selling a few cds and T-shirts, instead of touring clubs. They've done all that, playing throughout the U.S. and Europe, and still do, but as you soak up the show, you sense that there isn't anywhere these guys would rather be. The cover of the Peasant's first cd "Out in the Street" features a photo of Cassani playing his guitar on a sidewalk and being asked to move along by a motorcycle cop.

What most touched me about the show, though, wasn't the terrific music. I was taken by the motly crew tht assembles to dance, sing and mime spastic gyrations around the band. Cassani treats these guys as if they are part of the show, probably because they are.

A guy named Johnny, dressed in sweatpants and several shirts danced the night away, firing front kicks in the air and leaping about, occasionally stopping to throw hand on hip, a la Mick Jagger, to the point where the crowd chanted "Mick...Mick" now and again.

"Tommy" is a guy somehwere between 40 and 90. His weathered but kind face sports a perma-smile that betrays many difficult years. Tommy "runs security" and regularly "works the bucket" for the Peasants, encouraging onlookers to "put two bucks in their pocket, and throw the rest in the bucket". During songs with a political tilt (Cassani is a devout peacelover) Tommy generally dons an army helmet with a giant peace sign painted on it , spending the rest of his time egging on cd sales. Call me a synic, but what most impressed me was that Pete trusted this guy with the cash.

Already astonished by Tommy's energy level in his never-ending sales pitch, my jaw dropped when he took the center of the pit and did some sort of a frenetic dance number, legs pumping like pistons in 90 degree heat.

Surveying the Pit, I saw many down-on-their-luck sorts, one of whom had actually ridden his bike down from Maine. Pete kept exchanging barbs with the Mainer, requesting that he ride home, but all was said through a genuine smile. You could see that Cassani wouldn't have it any other way, he actually liked these people.

"You can't buy this," he quipped in between songs.

During a break, Johnny came and sat next to me. He had a big smile on his face and I found myself wondering when he had smiled last.

"You know, Pete is really cool, he talks to me."

I found myself welling up a bit at the genuine demeanor and clarity of the man.

"A lot of people look away, and can't even say hello. You know...because of my alcoholism and homelessness. If I don't drink, I just start shaking."

"Pete comes out and says hello and listens, and we have a really good time."

I told Johnny I used to drink a lot, too, but I hadn't had a drink since 1996.

God works through people in ways of which they are often unaware. I wonder if Pete and the Peasants know what they really bring to Harvard Square on Saturday nights. Sure, they play great music, get people tapping their toes. They joke and laugh and shake hands. But more importantly, they give a few homeless guys a reason to smile, a chance to be just like everybody else standing around the Pit. For a few hours on a Saturday night, they give guys like Johnny and Tommy a chance to feel like human beings, an opportunity to feel wanted and liked, and a part of.

Geez... I just wanted to hear some good rock and roll. I came away feeling happy and sad and like I needed to do something. Sunday afternoon my thoughts wandered to Johnny had he had anything to eat today? Was he shaking even now? Would he ever know sobriety, freedom and happiness?

I remembered days when I wanted to drink like crazy and the only thing I could do to stay out of my head was buy lunchmeat, make sandwiches and hand them out to homeless guys with a cold Coke. Sometimes they would look at me in disbelief that anyone on the planet could care enough to do this for them and I would realize that I didn't have it quite as bad as I thought

Sometimes things get so good that you forget. Truly great artists make you remember, make you feel emotions you weren't expecting to feel, maybe even emotions you don't want to feel. I've had a nice nap, but thanks for the wake up call, Pete.

2 Comments:

Blogger yahnie said...

Believe it or not--this entry has awakened a sleeping dinosaur (the last entry I made on a "blog-like item" was enscribed on a stone tablet--so I've never done this before but couldn't--not write... that I am moved just by the description of this frenzy and bliss.
Sometimes people are good.
And that just blows my mind. Keep dancing.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Dot Dwyer said...

OH , good writing there Korte !

3:22 PM  

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