Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Hoagy Carmichael performing his piano magic.
Stardust and Much More, Hoagy Carmichael, BMG Records, 1989
Scene brought to mind by the battered, dust-laden cover of an old Hoagy Carmichael Bluebird label record found in a back bedroom closet up at Josh Breslin’s cozy logwood cabin in wintry outback Maine a couple of years back. Long-fingered, soft-dashed, soft Stetson-brimmed hat slanted to the back of his head just short of falling off, always just short of falling off, cigarette, unfiltered of course, dangling, edge dangling off some forsaken lip, some browned tobacco lip, and the lip hanging off a slapdash calculatedly careless face, a face weary, wary, and just short, just short of yellow jaded, the keyboard, ivories tinkling, black setting off the white in the be-bop, no pre-be-bop night.
Making one think, and think hard, of Carib nights, of some vagrant maddening fragrance as Laren Bacall, full-blown hair falling off to one side of her head, steps into, no, sashays from parts unknown into any gin mill in old Port-o-town, the soft sound of silk against her slender thighs turning heads to watch her shape head toward some grizzled old ancient sea captain, Captain Bogie, and ask for a light for her cigarette, unfiltered of course, and an off-hand drink. Later, naturally, when all dust is settled wise, almost yellow jaded, old Cricket will piano back her up on some song, oh ya, How Little We Know, but who cares for anything then but that arched-browed come hither, and hope, hope against high heaven that she will ditch that lame sea captain, hero or not, and give a young buck a chance. Fat chance. And later still, still sashaying, silky thigh sashaying out some crooked barroom door cooing Am I Blue with that damn monkey of a sea captain in tow. Ya, damn. But don’t blame Hoagy.
“Hey, Hoagy play Stardust for us, will you?” half-slurred one Josh Breslin, Joshua Lawrence Breslin for those who have followed his by-line in half the radical chic and public square vision alternative journals and newspapers that lay, unread, in the back rooms of fashionable houses around certain well-known progressive watering holes in the old U.S. of A. By the way that half-slur is no slur on his good name. See Josh, and his crowd of friends, old friends from wrong side of the track, car hell wheels, Saturday night beach heel wheels high school Olde Saco, Maine days are celebrating his sixtieth birthday at Key Joey’s. Ya, Josh has moved up in the world since those from hunger mill-town days. Along with his keep-in-touch townie crowd are newer friends, including his “father,” Peter Paul Markin, from the summer of love, circa 1967 days, merry prankster, magical mystery tour yellow brick school bus, drug-addled, acid-etched days when he first got some seven-colored vision of that new world he spent the next forty years writing about in those fugitive rags laying around those spiffy waterholes on the Left Coast. And newer friends still from the by-line circuit rag circuit and part-time watering hole excesses. Our boy, naturally, naturally for Josh that is, as with everything that he has every done, small, large o better left unsaid had tipped one too many spoons in the rummy and who knows what else fruit punch bowl. Now that the matter is cleared up we may proceed to the request and its fate.
“Man, my name’s not Hoagy, it’s Jason, Jason Dyer, and I never heard of a song called Stardust, as Jason, a surly sort of young neo-be-bop piano player, one who has seen some time as a bouncer, maybe, or done a little time in stir and survived, certainly from his look not one to be messed with, not messed with by a half-slurred man who has dipped that oar into too many rum-filled punch bowls.
Josh, non-plussed, charged on, “Hoagy, how about Lazy River?", and "come on just once for a birthday boy.” Man,” as our keyboard man Jason’s face reddens blood red, “Man, I don’t know any Lazy River, either, stop bugging me don’t keep bringing up songs my grandmother might have known, or maybe your grandmother.” Josh, sensing just the slightest menace in manner of that last remark retreated, physically retreated to a corner couch and seemingly half nods out from his half-slurring. Out, out for the count.
A couple of days later Josh related what happened to him when he kind of conked out (as he delicately put it) at his birthday party. See, Josh’s father, Prescott Breslin, Senior, a hard-working old mill-hand at MacAdams Textile Mill now long gone from Olde Saco (as is Prescott) was along with his wife, Delores (nee LeBlanc), Josh’s mother, crazy for Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust in the booming Olde Saco Beach Casino days when that also long gone spot was the cat’s meow for all the be-bop, no, pre-be-bop boys and girls along coastal route one Maine (and hell down that road into New Hampshire too if they could raise the dough and get some gas rations). Hell, once, Hoagy actually came to the Casino and, well Prescott, a young soldier, oops, a young Marine, just then stationed down the road at Portsmouth Naval Base before heading out to the bloody Pacific and Delores, some raven haired French twist beauty just out of high school (Olde Saco, of course) never got over it and all through the 1940s and 1950s long after not be-bop, and then be-bop had morphed into rock and roll the fragrance riff of that song wafted through the hard-scrabble Breslin household.
But here is where our story does get a little twisty, and, frankly a little sad. If one believes one Joshua Lawrence Breslin, sometimes an iffy proposition. And one believes that the old boy didn’t have a little acid-etched flashback and try to put his old, newer pal off the scent. As Prescott, proud, southern proud, down around the hills and hollows of Kentucky coal mining country proud, lay dying he requested, constantly requested Stardust be played in his hospice room. And he passed to a better place with that song seeping through as his last sounds. Sad, right? But here is the twisty part. Prescott Breslin, Senior was exactly sixty years old when he passed over to the other side. Make of that what you will.