When Donny Tsang was twelve years old he came across an old
piece of guitar music by Robert Johnson, a black blues singer of the 1930’s and
quickly mastered the piece. His mother thought him very clever and when he
began winning school prizes for music, his father began showing his brandy
swigging business associates, photographs of his talented son. Better still,
when Donny reached puberty, he discovered that being able to apply his guitar
skills to the pop songs of the day went down very well with the girls at his
mother’s church. The Devil’s Music, as the blues was known in the American
South, was in a very real sense, heaven for Donny.
However, much like the old bluesmen, one day he came to a crossroads where he had to choose between music and a good honest living. He knew which road he would have chosen if it was a choice between picking cotton in some backwoods of nowhere and travelling a road strewn with cheap women, cheaper alcohol, and maybe a bit of glory on the way. But he lived in Hong Kong and his road to nowhere was a road to an American university to study law, which at the time did not seem to exclude even expensive women, alcohol or his guitar! Apparently one could have everything if one came from Hong Kong.
He formed a band and played gigs around the university’s neighbourhood and turned into a super cool lawyer. Handsome, with a sharp faced tartar look, he would have looked at home on horseback riding the steppes with Genghiz Khan and would have been catnip to the ladies as it was, but his blues guitar, put some very serious icing on his cake, several nights a week for five years.
Then Donny returned home to bluesless Hong Kong, and married Amy Ng, the kind of girl Genghiz would have burnt down a city to get. An early exponent of the navel ring, she gave the Canto-Pop Pout as good as any Hong Kong singing sensation, and was all movement. It had been love at first sight, at least for him, and she could not help but think that a designer suited, slick lawyer who sang songs to her with a sexy voice, was the perfect accompaniment for such a superior specimen of Chinese womankind as herself. The wedding was a hoot. His old law-school band flew over from America, re-united and grooved for the reception party. To have Hong Kong’s stiff and formal legals suited up and jiving to Donny’s rendition of One Step At A Time was proof enough that life was good, that everyone was a rebel at heart, and young forever.
“She steps to the left, she steps to the right, she walks all day and makes me run all night!” sang Donny.
And watching his bride getting in the groove, he knew that he was living what blues aficionado’s called “The Life!”
“I'm going down to Louisiana to get me a mojo hand,” he sang, “I'm gonna have all you women right here at my command!”
Donny had his mojo working. He thought that he had the best of both worlds but his wife was more ambivalent about it, and not merely because she knew he used his guitar to attract women. She was very aware of her own capabilities and would keep him very busy. But why did he play the blues? Just how could a guy with his looks, his money, his opportunities, his future, sing tunes by people like Muddy Waters?
“Well if I feel tomorrow,
Like I feel today
I'm gonna pack my suitcase
And make my getaway
Lord I'm troubled, I'm all worried in mind
And I'm never bein' satisfied,
And I just can't keep from cryin'”
Now what did Donny know about being so troubled? What did he know about being worried in mind? What had he got to cry about? Not too much, as far as Amy could see, but as his career became serious and the guitar playing fell away, he settled down to making money out of human frailty and greed, and to her irritation, became a troubled man.
“It is a sin to be rich,” sang Lightning John Hopkins,
“An’ you know that it's a low down shame to be poor.
A rich man ain't got a chance to go to heaven,
an’ a poor man done got a hard way to go.”
Donny had to admit that nobody in Hong Kong ever thought like that, and for that matter neither did he. The blues were cool but maybe he never really was a bluesman at heart? Maybe with his background he never would be, never could, and it was an insult to the old bluesmen anyway! In short, Donny the lawyer had become a whole lot less cool and he knew it and, given the amount of money he was making, he knew that it should not be a problem. Except that his work bored him and he never seemed to have time for anything else.
Amy in the meantime did a bit of modelling, opened a chintzy fake antique shop, and featured as pouty girlfriend of a two-gun gangster in one of Hong Kong’s “Seven Day” movies - that being the number of days it took to write, cast, shoot and get onto a DVD. She became Donny’s main claim on all round coolness. She was the reason he wore the designer suits and she was the reason why everyone wanted him as their legal advisor. This was the dream team. Through her he became embroiled in many lucrative disputes over contracts in the entertainments industry. These guys, he kept thinking, are so lax in their legal arrangements, that they will always get screwed and always need him. Their ignorance was his ticket to a long lucrative career.
His involvement with entertainments law gave him an excuse to dust off his guitar and at least hang it up in his office as a kind of prop to let his clients know that he knew a bit about the artistic side of things. He was not completely soulless. But the work he did was so dull, nobody could possibly pay him enough. The only way out of having to close read thousands of pages of ill conceived contracts and agreements was to make partner and delegate that to the lower downs. Then he dreamt that by becoming the boss he would give himself some time for his music.
When the firm decided they could do with another partner, they did not consider Donny. Instead they went for someone from outside. The man wore a bowtie, was married to an ex-Miss Taipei, and most importantly, was accompanied by some heavy duty corporate clients, so what other choice could the partners make? It was a business after all. Still, Donny complained that he had been under the delusion that loyalty to the firm counted for something.
“Donny,” said his boss, “We have given careful consideration to your status. We have examined your efforts over the years and although we are very satisfied with your diligent work, unfortunately you’re just not enthusiastic enough. We don’t want someone who thinks this is just a job!”
Donny could not help muttering what Brownie McGhee once said,
“B'lieve I'm most done travellin',
Lord at my journey's end,
I been lookin' for me a good partner,
but it seem bad luck is my best friend.”
That was why Donny began thinking about giving up the law for his guitar. He knew no-one else in Hong Kong would have thought of the semi-literate lines some black guy once sang in Chicago. They would, if they thought at all, have reached out to some Chinese proverb, but the truth was, he did not know any Chinese proverbs. His education had been exclusively English. His father had made sure of that. That was where the money was. And the bit that had been purely a result of his own willpower, was his guitar.
A Cantonese-learning English friend once complained to him about the difficulty of starting up a Cantonese conversation with anyone. Donny told him that there was nothing in Cantonese that could be remotely interesting to his friend. The average Hong Kong person had nothing to talk about; his education was pitiful compared to more developed countries like Singapore and Japan. He just worked, watched stupid TV soap operas featuring Donny’s wife, went out to dinner with relatives on Sundays, and went to bed early to get up and go to work again. They did not have any interests outside of that. They had no hobbies and only looked at the pictures in the news papers. If they read any literature it would be Kung Fu Comics. If they listened to music, they probably did not even notice what kind it was or that there were many different kinds. “So do not think you are missing out,” he told him. “There is nothing to miss out on and you are better off not mingling with them!”
Donny would call himself a banana except he felt that inside his yellow skin, he was not white, but black. Well, a little bit black. He would not stretch the point too far because being passed over by the law firm filled him with a very Chinese sense of shame.
“Wah, go tell them go to hell!” said Amy, “Branch out on your own. That’s how you become partner! First you become rival!”
Donny did not see it like that. He decided that the Devil had been playing with him, preparing him for the realisation of where his true destiny lay.
“They call it stormy Monday, yes but Tuesday’s just as bad.
Wednesday’s even worse, Thursday’s awful sad.
The Eagle flies on Friday, Saturday I go out to play,
Sunday I go to church, where I kneel down and pray."
Aaron Thibeaux Walker - T-Bone to his fans - said it all. It was three chords and the truth and nothing but the truth, except of course that Stormy Monday is a notoriously tricky piece featuring ninths rather than the usual blues trick of sevenths. Only a blues man would think that worth mentioning. Or that is, only a certain kind of latter-day blues man would think it worth mentioning. The originals just did what they did and never did go much on giving it too much thought.
“I’m never going to work again,” Donny announced to his wife. “From now on, I’m just going to play.”
“If you make it pay,” she said, thinking this a momentary burst of frustration, “No problem. But…”
And then she began thumbing through his extensive CD collection, all racked up against a whole wall of their apartment.
“Blind Lemon Jefferson, Big Bill Broonzy, Too Tight Henry,” she muttered as she ran her fingers along the shelves.
“What are you doing?”
“Where you got Deaf Melon Wong? Where Lame Idiot Wu? Where Dim Sum Chang? No Chinese Blues Singers? Nobody want to hear them?”
“Americans don’t want to. There’s thousands of home grown blues singers there. There I’d be nobody! But this is Hong Kong! Here I would be someone. People have little choice but to listen to Canto-crap. So why not give them something decent to listen to?”
“Because,” Amy pointed out, “This is Hong Kong! You know who live here? Chinese!”
“So? I’m not asking them to think, just sit in a bar, throw some dice, drink some beer, and let me play!”
Amy had to admit that he had a point. Hong Kong worked in a cultural bubble all of its own. Here actresses, as she freely admitted herself, without training or talent could make movies. Singers who could only mime to recordings could become stars. And quite a few famous writers employed others to write for them and nobody cared. As it was, that month she was going to get fifty thousand dollars for a two day shoot and all she would have to do was scream when the demon ripped open her dress and tore her heart out. So maybe a guy who really could play the guitar, could earn something in a place where the money flowed so easily? And, it was not so much that Donny planned to earn a living playing the blues, but more a living running an exclusive club. Clubs, she understood.
Donny wanted Hong Kong to get into the jive of the 1950’s Chicago blues clubs. He wanted to give Hong Kong the experience of those dark cellars, where the black guys sang of their women and, in the manner of speech he alarmingly began trying out, “iffen they wuz good they had the meanest of dogs, and iffen they wuz bad, they wuz so bad they wuz good!” If he opened a place like that, conjured up the ghosts, made everyone wear the clothes of the era, tight frocks and baggy suits, and then party all night, he would be the blues man of Hong Kong! He would call himself Donny Blue. There would be no competition. How could he go wrong? He knew all too well how he could go wrong! Hong Kong was such a stuffy place. And bars and clubs were difficult beasts to handle. His wife would be crucial in this enterprise. He would have to make sure that she brought along a few of her associates from the film industry. He would also staff the bar with models between assignments. If that did not assure some good free spending customers, nothing would.
Immediately he found a place and put in a bid for the lease. It was in Mong Kok, what Hong Kongers would call a grass roots area, with massage parlours, mah jong clubs and plenty of cheap restaurants and prostitutes. It was the kind of place, he reasoned, where it did not matter if the music was a bit too loud or the drinkers spilled out onto the road in front of the door. And although the Chinese liked their vice in bright lights with tinsel, Donny would teach them the darker, slower arts, lowering the lights and slowing the tempo so that it shuffled along like an old steam train.
“Not very trendy!” said his wife when she saw it. She could not imagine any of her friends being seen dead in this part of town.
“That’s the point,” explained Donny, “It’ll give it authenticity. The Blues is where the demi-monde meet the fashionable set. It’s the dutchess getting screwed by the janitor. It’s that kind of thing.”
“Maybe better if you do jazz club instead?”
“Nobody likes jazz!”
“More exclusive. Charge more. And do less.”
“No, the blues will work for us here. I get the sense that this is a place that needs the blues.”
Amy had picked up a few blues lyrics and pointed out that perhaps Hong Kong was not as ready for the blues as he would like it to be. She recalled a certain Brownie McGhee song that went:
“I'm crazy 'bout my whiskey, crazy 'bout my gin
But you know a yellow woman is crazy 'bout outside men
Yellow women’s are mean and they're evil, crooked on every hand
Why don't you take my advice now boys, and be a black woman's man.”
It was a favourite song of Donny’s, often brought out as a prelude to sex, proving there were some Hong Kong women who reacted to such music in rather interesting ways. But Donny took her point. The low-brow nature of the area meant he would have to try and find some way of creating a more up-town atmosphere to bring in people with money.
He took the lease and hunted down the few local amateur musicians who played the blues. And for the first month, they played their sets, drank, listened, and had a party. The joint was jumping. It was smoke-laden, crowded, sweaty, had women in tight skirts, slick guys rolling joints, funky guitarists showing off their licks, musclebound drummers giving the skins some stick, and all it lacked were a few blind pianists tapping the ivories with one hand while running crafty fingers up the legs of obliging underage girls. Amy was pleasantly surprised and had to admit that she was wrong and that it was a big hit like their wedding all over again.
“Wah, so many people!” she told him, thinking that he must be pulling in a reasonable amount of money.
“And I can still tell my parents that I’m at the bar!” he joked.
It was a good opening few months but eventually the amateur musicians with their limited repertoires tired of giving each other their support. One can only listen to Stormy Monday once a month, no matter how well played. And the glitterati never materialised, despite the sexy bar girls, probably because they owed more to the Mong Kok streets than the cat walks of fashion salons. Worse, as far as Donny was concerned, by the second half of the year, given the shortage of blues singers in Hong Kong, he was reduced to allowing rock bands to take the stage. At this point there came too many frenetic versions of Born to Be Wild and Sunshine of Your Love.
By then he was not seeing many new faces and seemed to be losing the old ones, especially as the less competent rock bands blitzed the place with interminably long out of tune guitar solos. Then the accounts began showing that the beer sales and cover charges were not covering costs. The bar could not support itself unless it was full for most of the evening. As it was, often the only customers were the band and their personal friends.
Even Amy stopped coming, her enthusiasm for blues guitar having waned long ago. As she ran on the treadmill at the California Gym, her iPod was more likely to be playing Jennifer Lopez than B.B. King. In order to restore her floundering film career she was perfecting a very hard body under the guidance of a personal trainer, whom, she assured Donny, was gay, as evidenced by his habit of patting males on the buttocks as a mode of encouragement. “I do all this for you,” she told Donny, “So I have energy to make you feel good.”
Donny had to do something to stop the slide and decided to take the music more up-town and jazzy. Although he was not a great jazz fan, he thought that he would attract the high spending designer suits if he got rid of the shabby rock bands. And nothing could clear a room of rockers faster than a chromatic scale.
Donny handed more and more of the management work over to the bar staff and began practicing new pieces. Every week he wanted to impress the customer with a new pyrotechnical display of fretwork. He paid for a bassist and a jazz drummer and rehearsed them in up-tempo, high-precision pieces full of crowd-pleasing moments. He stretched himself, contorting his fingers into configurations that were no longer natural. The devil’s music was superficially simple, but buried within its strict formulas was a lawlessness that opened up undreamt of musical worlds but only for those who took the pains to travel in that difficult territory. Donny was ready to break the law and find his own style, even if it meant stretching the definition of the blues into the more dubious territory of jazz. The thought made Donny shudder, but when he found his groove, he knew the bluesmen would have been proud of him and that took away all his uneasiness.
“I want you all now to get together,
I want you all now to take some time,
I want you all to get to know each other,
you can’t keep working that daily grind...”
Those were Donny’s lyrics. He had written songs before but he had never devoted a whole set to nothing but his own music. It was risky because there was magic in the old tunes and anything new had a habit of leaving puzzled expressions on people’s faces, no matter how much it fit in with the old routines. But he ditched the shuffle beat, ditched the twelve-bar, and started introducing something more fashion-model friendly and encouraging to a clientele more inclined to drink cocktails with enormous mark ups on the price. It was the perfect fusion of Hong Kong and The Blues!
He now felt that the club’s musical policy was on track, except that he had to play every night and he had to replace amateur enthusiasm with calculated professionalism. He even stopped drinking, just to make sure he only ever hit the most extraordinary notes.
“Oh that’s ugly!” yelled the bass player when Donny hit his stride.
The old bluesmen treated their gigs as one long party with sex in the intervals, drink and drugs on the stage, and had an uncanny ability to do without sleep several days in a row. “Woke up in the morning!” sings the bluesman, but Donny began to realise that was a lie. They never woke up in the morning and when he woke at four in the afternoon, he would set to rehearsing and arranging new pieces for the evening’s performance. By eight o’clock he would have to check another band and try to negotiate the club’s schedules. Then he would check in with the bar’s manager and find out the previous evening’s takings. Somewhere in there he would try and catch a glimpse of Amy who was complaining that he came home at eight in the morning stinking of smoke and disturbing her sleep, and that was all she ever saw of him.
“Why you say you feel so much better!” she said. “You’re worse than you ever were when you worked!”
He noticed Amy now had seven studs in her ear. She seemed to be living a life that he was quite unaware of. And just who she was living it with, he had no idea.
“My baby’s sick of me,” sang Donny on a BB King kick,
“She wants the doctor in,
but ev’n if she was dying,
I wouldn’t let her get no medicine…”
Then the daylight hours began filling in. Those working vampire hours wonder if the daylight people see it as a challenge to them. Outside no road could be repaired without an eight A.M. bout of drilling. No van could be loaded without twelve people yelling and sliding and shutting van doors. And then he would have to visit the accountant. He had to hand deliver cheques to drinks suppliers who refused to supply him unless he paid in advance. He had to deal with the repairs to the toilets, and then there was the family who were feeling neglected and wanting to see him. There were weddings to attend, funerals, birthdays, and festivals that ate into the daylight hours that he needed for sleeping and often he would fall asleep at the banquet table. This, he thought, was why there were never any great Chinese guitarists. And normally, if asked to perform at a wedding or birthday, he would have obliged but now he had no patience for that. If they wanted to see him play, he told them, come to the bar! He was there every night!
“You expect them come to bar? You crazy?” said Amy.
“Why not? If I’m supposed to support the family, it should support me in return.”
“No! So stupid.”
“If I had to cancel meeting the family because I had an important case to deal with, they would think me all the more important. But since I just run a bar, it’s always me that has to give up my time for them.”
“You’re job is to show respect. Why you expect anything from them?”
She was right. The obligation was always from the bottom up. It was why he chose law in the first place. It showed respect for his family’s wishes. His father, now retired and spending his time in Macao’s Casinos, was muttering how his son had been ruined by his mother’s church and music. And his mother was muttering how her son was just like his father, preferring to hang around in bars than do any real work. So why should he expect anything from them when he stopped complying with their wishes?
“R - E - S - P - E - C - T,
find out what it means to me!”
He thought at least the audience at the Blues Bar might give him some respect. He wanted them to idolise him, not just treat him as Donny the lawyer who packed it in to run a bar and play a bit of amateurish guitar. Especially now that he was playing better than ever. But these guys in their designer suits with their designer girl friends thought they had the right to answer their mobile phones while he played.
“It’s Hong Kong,” the bass player told him.
“Yeah!” the drummer added.
“These bozos here will never appreciate real music,” said the bass player.
“Never!” added the drummer.
The bassist knew of an opportunity to tour Japan’s clubs where he was sure their blues would be a big hit.
“We are the bomb! I’m telling you!”
“Da Bomb!” agreed the drummer.
Donny was touched by his band’s enthusiasm. They were his real family, he thought.
“No,” said Amy, “They just some dick heads you pay to play with you. You want a real family? Then we make one. Get you respect then.”
How she managed to miss getting pregnant during the following weeks of respect is a mystery. She even consulted a Feng Shui expert who, on seeing the darkened apartment and its mess of tangled wires, microphones, guitars and amplifiers informed her that no child would feel safe surrounded by so many sharp and potentially shocking objects. He even dismissed the boudoir and its red satin sheets and fluffy cushions as too reminiscent of a bordello for an innocent child to conceive of conception. He suggested something more pastel and soothing. What she wore to excite her husband was one thing, but the living environment had to be more like a nursery. This would mean they were serious. “Perhaps,” he suggested, “you’re more career orientated than homely and that’s the problem.” It cost her five thousand dollars for that piece of advice.
“Aiyah! Typical man saying it all my fault!” she muttered as she let Donny off the hook that afternoon, thus ending her momentary craving for a child. She had never been that keen, but right then there had been a moment when she wanted to do her family duty. Especially since she had no more offers of any acting jobs.
Donny had no idea what was going through Amy’s mind and took the opportunity for a few hours sleep before he got back to the club.
“When you got a good friend,” sang Amy, “that will stay right by your side
Give her all of your spare time, try to love and treat her right!”
“What you say?”
“That’s what it say on cover of this CD of yours.”
“Robert Johnson. He sang that.”
“Hey, Amy, I’ve got to be back at the club in an hour. Give me a break will you.”
Then his accountant informed him that if he really wanted to make the bar work, he would have to get rid of the music, reduce the staff, add a sports feed for the TV and try to bring in lunch time crowds as well as a solid drinking crowd for the evening. The blues, it seems, did not sell enough beer to pay the rent. In short, he would have to return the bar to the sort of establishment it was before he took it over. It made a steady income in those days.
“It’s a very traditional Chinese sort of district,” explained his Indian accountant.
“You mean they want traditional football games on the traditional TV while drinking traditional German lager?”
“They want what they want,” said his accountant, smiling and shrugging, “A bar’s a bar and that’s what business is all about. You do whatever makes the money and don’t do what doesn’t.”
“Fuck the bar,” said the bass player.
“Yeah!” said the drummer, helpfully.
They had worked hard to develop a fiery set and they did not want to lose their guitarist. It was easy to find good guitarists who thought that drummers and bassists were essentially interchangeable idiots, but it was hard to find good guitarists who knew how a band worked and how every note mattered. They were not just backing for Donny’s guitar sound, they were the sound! And they wanted to take their up-tempo wide-awake jazz-blues fusion music to a bigger audience. And, here was another big plus about working with Donny: he was a lawyer and would not let the band get screwed.
“Make the band the business!” the bass player said succinctly.
Donny made up his mind. He would close the bar and then go on tour.
“You can take a couple of weeks off and join us!” he told his wife, thinking she would approve. She would get to be Rock Chick and the whole nightmare of running the club was out of the way. They would have more time together and could live on the road and be wild and free and forget Hong Kong, forget the whole Chinese family thing, and become real cosmopolitans, rootless in place, but attached to the music, which of course was “The Truth and Nothing But The Truth!”
“Wah, who you think I am?” she said.
She saw herself sitting in some sweaty club until her husband finished his set and then hanging around, looking sexy despite being ignored, while he drank with the band, schmoozed promoters, or crashed out for the rest of the night. Then she would spend a day travelling in a mini-bus with a couple of chain smoking roadies and three snoring musicians. This did not strike her as being any fun at all. It struck her as being demeaning, and besides, she was thirty years old and despite the studs in her ears, she was seriously considering bringing in the decorators and having the whole apartment done out in pastel shades. She was even going to suggest he put all his equipment in storage so that their home looked less like an industrial plant.
“You play guitar so long now and it look more like work than fun. Why not just make the bar earn money and forget the guitar? You don’t like the bar no more, then go back to the law!”
“But the band! I can’t let them down.”
“Fuck the band!”
“But the music!”
“It won’t miss you.”
“Oh babe! Without it, there is nothing going on in my life!”
All blueswomen are called “Babe”.
“Where you think you are? Mississippi? Chicago? You think you are Elvis Impersonator? Elvis Wong? You think that funny? Well what difference you?”
“I don’t impersonate nobody baby!”
“This is China! Play when you a baby, work when you a man.”
“That’s almost a song.”
“Maybe it should be.”
Donny could have pointed out that he did not have the seven studs in the ear, the navel ring, the tattoo, or a string of DVD performances featuring bits of his anatomy. And he did not spend half his time being rubbed down by some expensive clown spouting mumbo jumbo about centring his kundalini. He worked! He created things! He made things happen! He did not just hang around waiting for other people to make things happen. He got organised. He was thorough. He was not lazy. And the only reason she was telling him to grow up was because he now could not afford to pay for her so called career!
Donny woke up in the morning. He had a plane to catch. He was heading to Tokyo to arrange the tour. When he looked at the dining room table he noticed a scribbled note and on closer inspection it was from Amy. Then he recalled that she had not been in the bed when he had crawled in that night. He began to sing as he read the note:
“Just give me one more kiss,
Just before I go,
‘Cause when I leave this time
I won’t be back no more.”
The note said, “I’d say go to hell, but you just say cool!”
“Cool,” growled Donny, reaching for some aspirin. “I just love this girl. Her timing is perfect.”
The band naturally commiserated and even more so when he told them that she had cleared out all the joint accounts and a solicitor was advising him to sell the apartment and give her half the proceeds.
“It goes with the job,” said Donny, who hoped that having his woman done gone and left him was so bluesy it could only help the music. And there would be other women. Bluesmen were never short of women. What they were short of on his hectic Japan tour, was someone to organise travelling from the hotels to the gigs and set up the equipment. He had hoped that Amy with her talent for taking taxis and bossing people around would take care of that for him. Consequently, it was touch and go whether they would arrive at any venue in a fit state to play. Black coffee and amphetamine fuelled their gigs, not necessarily to the detriment of the music, but definitely to the detriment of Donny’s fraught nerves. But that was all part of the job.
An earthquake in Sapporo cut short the tour, but that also went with the job. So did the demands for mortgage repayments and the pile of solicitor’s letters from creditors left over from the bar that greeted him when he returned home. And so did the drummer joining a Japanese band doing Beatles covers and the bass player getting a job playing keyboards in a hotel in Phuket for three Filipinas doing Supremes songs. As Donny lay upon the bed now stripped of all bedding, he could not get to sleep. He kept replaying all the music he had played, all the notes he had missed, all the tunes he had half-finished, the riffs he had not yet mastered, the lyrics he had jotted down for later development, and over and over again the music ran in his head. There was no room for anything else. This music was hell and there was nowhere in Hong Kong to go with any of it. If he was ever to pay off his debts, he thought, he really would have to get a job as an Elvis impersonator. There was no market for the blues. If he was to carry on, he would have to accept that every band would be short lived; every new musical outburst would be greeted with enthusiasm by a small number of people who would soon tire and move onto the next thing. Life would be precarious and mostly concerned with playing music that did not move him. He had no home in this world. And the thought of returning to the law made him all the sicker. It was as if, nobody wanted him! They just wanted a man in a good suit.
In the middle of the night he phoned up Amy and sang the old Robert Johnson song that he learnt all those years ago into her answering machine:
“When you got a good friend
that will stay by your side
Give her all your spare time
Love and treat her right.”
He knew she was a sucker for a good song. And he knew no body else would encourage her career like he could, though he could not recall whether she had a career right that moment. For that matter he did not know whether he had a career either, so it only seemed fair.
“I’ve been writing some songs all about you,” he added. “You’re what my music’s all about.”
Now that really is doing the devil’s work, he thought. He just hoped his mojo was working and that Amy’s personal trainer really was gay, and that there was some glory down this road.
“Me and the devil, we’re walking side by side.
I’m gonna beat my woman, until I get satisfied.”
That was another Robert Johnson song that he knew he would be singing if she did not phone back. The blues covered every possibility. It was all there was. Everything else was just a job, like every woman was just a woman. But he would give Amy one more chance to show she was not like everyone else. He would give Hong Kong one more chance to show it had some soul. Everything, he decided, would have one more chance. And if there were no more chances?
“Blues falling down like hail,
and the day keeps worryin’ me
There’s a hell hound on my trail.”