By Patrick J. Sauer
“Ah, Ray Charles, it doesn’t get any better, does it?”
I looked up from a crouch to see who was offering unsolicited opinions on my holiday shopping, assuming I would give a friendly nod and move on down the aisle, when lo and behold…
Elvis Costello wasn’t watching the detectives.
He was watching me peruse the music DVD selections at the Union Square Virgin Records, and he approved of my selection.
“He’s one of my Mom’s favorites,” I said, acting nonchalantly while wondering if Costello wears the black-on-black suit-and-tie every time he leaves the house, even to go to the gym or to get coffee and the Sunday Times.
He glanced at Ray Charles: Live in Brazil, bent down to eyeball the other choices and nodded.
“That’s a good one,” he said.
Sensing our brief time together was about to end, I tried to come up with a topic of conversation that could prolong the relationship. I nixed telling him I was a big fan (unoriginal and uninspiring), brushed aside asking him for another DVD suggestion (being ignored or rejected would hurt too much), considered—then rejected—telling him my favorite wedding gift was a bottle of Johnnie Walker Gold and two tickets to see Elvis Costello & Impostors at SummerStage (a personal anecdote I’m sure he’d appreciate, but not really anywhere to go with it) and then, just under the wire, it hit me.
“I was down in New Orleans this year,” I said.
Costello looked at me through his Roy Orbison glasses and with all the seriousness an angry young man from way back could muster, he replied,
“Wasn’t Bruce incredible?”
“It might be the best show I’ve ever seen,” I said, “and you guys were great too.”
The thumbnail is this: In 2006, Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band headlined the first post-Katrina Jazz Fest and brought New Orleans to its knees (in a good reverential bearing-witness praying-man kind of way, not like FEMA.) It was as moving and religious an experience as anything I’d ever been a part of, and I was simply a tourist come down for the crawfish etouffe.
And prior to Springsteen, Elvis Costello and Big Easy mainstay Allen Toussaint had played a set, primarily songs from their collaboration The River in Reverse. It was smaller in scope than the Boss, but no less heartfelt, as Toussaint listed everything great about his hometown. He even name-checked the Muffuletta sandwich while encouraging every local to “Come…Back…Home…”
“Thanks,” Costello said, “that was just…Bruce was amazing…New Orleans…”
He shook his head, lost in the moment. Our moment. I was prepared to leave it at that, but then he laughed and said,
“I didn’t know that was out already.” He pointed to the concert DVD version of The River in Reverse. I thought about reaching down and buying one, but that seemed way too fanboy, and concerts on television don’t do much for me. Fortunately, Costello was just pointing out the coincidence and not asking me to prove my love.
“Have you ever seen Allen over at Joe’s Pub?”
“No,” I answered, adding (honestly), “I saw he was playing there last month, but it was sold out.”
“Allen plays there a lot. Next time he’s in town, come check him out,” Costello said, “maybe I’ll see you there.”
“Cool,” I replied. I didn’t want to be a pest, so I pretended I was still shopping. A minute later, I looked around–
Elvis had left the DVD section of Virgin Records.
Patrick J. Sauer’s last Brush With Fame was about meeting Norman Mailer.