My day at the weird and wonderful Carnegie library started out a bit gloomy before the doors even opened. In classic form, the locals completely redeemed my day and lifted my spirits.
The best interaction was with a mysterious fellow we’ll call “Andre.” He was desperate to request music and documentaries about his hero B.B. King, which I was happy to do! The story emerged that not so long ago, Andre was down and out, living under a bridge in his car, planning to commit suicide that very evening when the radio began to roll out the funky blues vibes of B.B. King singing, “The Thrill is Gone.” Andre had never heard of B.B. before.
Everything changed. He explained that the Blues to him wasn’t about getting all depressed and wallowing, it was about living large! Jamming with the music, feeling the lyrics, the style, dancing around, and it all made him feel so good. Andre is a self taught harmonica player, and began playing when a friend of his received an inheritance and bought a brand new complete set of harmonicas. Andre asked if he could have his friend’s old C Harp, and from then on he just couldn’t stop playing.
Andre had worked in the circus for years, travelling down to Florida, and it sounded like it suited his lifestyle for a time. He remembered meeting a 92 year-old harmonica busker in New Orleans and being blown away. The fellow even allowed him to play along and they collected some spare change together.
The best jam he ever had was on a roadtrip he faced alone. Ever since he was a child, Andre had dreamed of crossing Canada on his bicycle after being told he couldn’t go when a group of adults did the crossing. So, he went for it and one night, under a star-studded sky he began to wail on his harmonica when the great aurora borealis began to dance over head. He serenaded the northern lights!
By the end of our conversation, Andre was sweating and laughing… trying to help me understand what B.B. King meant to him. The music made him want to live again, he wanted to perform with B.B., he even became sober and was committed to his recovery program. B.B. King saved his life.
One of his circus friends stated that he could “never do that” – never pick himself up and travel across the country on a whim. Andre sorted him out. He explained that all you have to do is set your mind to it. Choose to quit your job, wake up the next morning, and start walking (or biking)!
I liked his style. And while I didn’t end up quitting my job, I did receive some peace and we had a good time, checking out the Blues band that just so happened to be jamming in the “Carnegie Hall” tucked behind the library. He alluded to the fact that he was due to travel cross Canada again, to acknowledge the passing of his father. I expressed empathy for his loss, and he dismissed it. Saying his old man wasn’t worth my breath. Instead he found his family in blues, and his father in B.B.
Rest in Peace, B.B.