SPRINGTIME IN AMSTERDAM
Easter Weekend (1994):
Another bank holiday for Londoers,
A good excuse for me to blitz the Continent
by bus. Whatever.
I started Saturday on the Prins Hendrikstraat
where the hookers are always in season
& the air is thick with the ashes
of stillborn promises
Falling from pimps' lips. But I had other ideas.
I'd spent a long, frustrating afternoon
Searching for the hotel window
where Chet Baker (insert occupation:
"doomed junkie trumpeter extraordinaire")
Jumped to his final reward
& kissed the pavement in '88.
Either nobody knew nor cared to tell me.
For a city that rejoices in its reputation as the drug capital of Europe
I found this a little (bit) disconcerting.
I turned toward a cafe,
& then a long, bony finger
tapped my shoulder:
"I read your mind, my friend.
We do not give up our secrets here so easily.
& there he stood, a slim, spider figure
looking vaguely: a long way
from the Dutch Beat Boom God
Who raised so much hell with his comrades in dissipation,
The Outsiders...from '65 to '69,
But yes, through the whisper of a beard
& jet black hair framing that oval face,
I knew it could be...the one 'n' only
Outsiders' lead singer, Wally Tax,
"The Entertainer" himself.
He spread his hands in an apology of sorts,
& asked: "Can I trouble you for 20 guilders?
My local is not so far from here."
I shrugged. "Sure, Wally, but...why do you need
anything from me? All those '70s hits,
'Miss Wonderful,' 'It's Raining In My Heart,'
Surely, you must have saved a little bit..."
"All gone," he shrugged. "Long gone."
We continued down the Prins Hendrikstraat.
I heard the hue & cry go up:
"Live sex show at 7:30!
Hurry, hurry, babysitting is provided!"
We kept on walking. Wally pointed vaguely
off in the distance, and clipped a cigarette
in his mouth: "It's too far from here, but...I like
to walk my dog every day, past the tax building,
and let it take a shit there."
Again, he smiled, & we shared a laugh:
"My name is Tax, so I figure, it fits.
I'm not so young anymore, but..."
A sigh. "I do whatever I can
to shake things up."
I wanted to say something more
But I could only stammer:
"So tell me, Wally...why do we treat
our Beat heroes like you?
Why do we wait until after they're gone
to acknowledge whatever work they've done?"
He took a long cigarette from his cigarette,
cocked his head, & finally, he smiled: "Very simple, my friend.
It's because we don't look back."
Just then, the shadow of the corner convenience store
swallowed him up. I wanted an autograph
but he had already gone
leaving me with myself & my idle memories:
Springtime in Amsterdam.
P.S. If you happen to visit the grave (plot 37, De Nieuwe Ooster,
Amsterdam), look past the birth and death dates: "Wally Tax:
1948-2005"...walk around...and you'll see the two words that put
my memories into place: "Outsider. Entertainer."
I have only been to Amsterdam once, as this piece notes...my loss, though it's not for laziness that I haven't made it back yet! Trust me, it's on the list. What sticks with me, even now, is that I hit the road during a major holiday weekend, without a hint of where I'd be sleeping that night...
...but eventually, after a great deal of scrabbling, scrounging around and stair-climbing -- one of my other lasting memories, as every flight seemed to wind into the clouds -- I finally managed to find a hostel that was right next to a whorehouse. But that made sense, especially when the management admitted, in the middle of the night, about half a dozen more stragglers...
...who had to settle for mattresses on the floor, because there were already a couple dozen of us trying, against all odds, to grab some semblance of sleep! That's the atmosphere I wanted to salute in this piece, which appeared in The Chiron Review (Autumn 2011).. Having just done an Outsiders entry, I figured it only makes sense to post this particular piece here, providing a bit more exposure than it garnered on its first go-round.
My acqaintance with Wally's music kick-started the inspiration that I needed. I don't want to say too much more about all the themes running through these lines, which are for your interpretation alone -- and it's best left that way. We live in an age where everything is predigested, pre-explained and prepackaged before you get your hands on it. However, not everything lends itself to that approach, and if you've read this far, I reckon that you agree.
I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention Tom Krabbendam, the Outsiders' former rhythm guitarist, who also died in February, aged 63, in Groningen -- where he'd worked as a miller in recent years, a lifetime away from the madness that he'd unleashed with his former band, yet without whom the next waves of out-of-control recklessness would have been unimaginable.
This piece is for him, too, and anybody who raises hell with nothing more than an amp and a guitar -- who has the courage to go from a whisper to a scream against the tides of social convention, driven on by a different kind of drummer that only they can hear. Godspeed, and God Bless.
CODA #2: "SPRINGTIME IN AMSTERDAM" TAB
(Special thanks to Andrew Wang for this transcription)
Solo instruments include: piano, saxophone, violin
Intro: Am-A6 repeated with "ragtime" piano sound
Chorus: A A7
Springtime In Amsterdam
Chorus: A A7
Springtime in Amsterdam
Andrew: Here's my take, hope it helps. The solo's pretty close to the verse progressions.
SPRINGTIME IN AMSTERDAM