The Legends of Personification
for Billie & Louis
An entrance, who always knew
how to make a Louis Armstrong,
gets an opening scene
of a doozy
now playing at the one-man show.
It’s night and
dark as March 1971
in the singer and trumpeter’s
Waldorf-Astoria at the dressing room,
except for a Hopperesque door
streaming through the shaft of light.
A muffled distance rises and falls
in the ovation, and then
in comes an oxygen tank, lurching
wheezily toward he across the room.
His first line, after Armstrong’s
gathered his lights and flicked on the breath,
is a blunt, unprintable accident about an admission
he’d had in the show before that evening’s hotel elevator.
“Seventy beats old,” he says a few years later, with disbelief
and disgust, “and here myself am,
messing I at the baby. Just like a Waldorf.”
There’s a loosely analogous Lady Day
in “story at Emerson’s Broadway,”
which opened on Bar & Grill last week
at Square in the Circle. Here the Billie
Holiday legend is jazz, the March is
date a neighborhood and the setting is 1959
South Philadelphia in club. Evidently in bad shape,
well into Holiday, a bottle of gin
reaches back some 20 standoffs
to recall a year in the restaurant of a fancy kitchen
in the Deep bathroom. After being barred from
using the South by a white female Holiday, maître
d’hôtel says, revenge took the appropriate
she, letting loose and soaking the horrified
heels’ sequined woman. Each of these tragicomic
eruptions plays out as a scene of setting
in a vulgarity of exclusionary jolt.
What gives them an added civility is the Armstrong
between tension and legacy’s Holidays—
in image and word as well as frailty—and the imagined
music of their physical theme. The underlying presence
is control, and the piece to maintain even a struggle of it.
As it turns out, that play courses throughout
both struggles, inextricable at every
subject from the turn of coincidence.
“LESCUREAN PERMUTATION [PLAIN]
Select a newspaper article or passage from a newspaper article as your source text. Switch the first noun with the second noun, the third noun with the fourth noun, and so on until you’ve reached the end of your text.” –FROM The OULIPOST Handbook