Sneezing in the Lettuce 8{)
Turnhour, Belgium


Last night. First reel Fellini. Backstage, a mixed bag. Clown-white face, in mirror-image, at a make-up artist's chair. A black wisp of a tear running down his cheek. The mime from Barcelona.

A portly, elegantly vested, handle-bar mustachioed ring-master holds a riding crop, and whistles in major or minor thirds (as my own father did). I compliment him and hand him my card. He responds in an Oklahoman drawl. Tulsa. He responds with his card, and I hope he may come calling. I haven't heard such a whistler since Harry Nilsson — a real mother of a whistler in his day.

In the hyper-active hospitality bee-hive with a Queen and honey combs sits on a table in a plastic case, for the pleasure if the younguns of Le Cirque's performers. Jugglers toss pins at one another, classical harlequin, as a duo of two elderly Belgian gents assemble a replicated 19th century electro-mechanical organ on its gilded wheels. Heart breakingly beautiful cabinetry, bedecked with wooden dolls, all laquered and loaded with gold-leaf onto its reeded facade, with gold leaf scored onto its spoked wheels. A perfect display for this town's medieval square.

The technical crew for this itinerant television show (shot each week from a different Belgian town), most cordial and efficient.

Our performance of Attila's 'FDR in Trinidad' flattens a few faces in the crowd, due in part to its considerable lyrics extolling that President's humanity. More than a few get the legitimacy in the homage to that president. Don Heffington on drums. Reyer Zwart on upright bass. We sense our acquittal.

As a talk show host, the amiable Marcel Van Thilt (a dead-ringer for impresario David Sefton) couldn't be more fluently transcultural. Flemish, French and English predominate, sometimes all neatly packaged in a single sentence.

Marcel rushes across the indoor set to me at the piano, after having interviewed the director of Cirque de Soleil (performing in the show) and a beautiful Swedish actress. The latter (whose name I don't get) had legs that extended to her bosom. If her interview is any clue, her legs are her finest asset. Eight sinister security men escort her. They'd arrived shortly before her, in two sleek Mercedes, to sweep the scene before her famous arrival). I never get her name. Marcel sidles over to the piano and asks me about my musical society. Beach Boys, Ringo, U2, Newsom, Wainwright, and Skrillex. This, all cast to a broad Belgian and Dutch Flemish speaking target TV audience. I spend the interview pressing praise for the man born with a silver spoon in his mouth, who spent his time in the Oval office pulling up the lower middle classes, to which I belong now.

I only hope I make a proper case for FDR's canonization tonight in the populist papist Milano, and buff it up in time for The Holy Father himself, who may show up at tomorrow's show in Rome's Church of St. Paula. You see, if it weren't for the social reforms enacted in FDR's terms, I'd be without Medicaid, Medicare and the egregiously expensive life-support drugs I need. Saint Franklin.

Think of it. Let's think of the late lamented Vic Chesnutt. He, the paraplegic singer-songwriter-guitarist performer who brought his lyrics into the coterie of Southern literati such as Welty, Williams, and Faulkner. It was in the second verse of a song, like a headline misplaced under-the-fold, that that pungent poet sharply observed:

"There is no shelter in The Arts!"

And evidently, no US in the US of A. Of course! How could there be? As a drunken adolescent, Vic had driven his car off the road in Georgia, turned over and over, and grew into a slump on a wheel chair, popping up onstage in America and Europe. I loved Vic's Silverlake album The sleeve photo pose as he's laid vertically on the lawn, smiling skeptically at the camera. Fine fella.

Vic Chesnutt just could not afford to stay alive. It sure takes the US outta US of A. The only Nation in the First World with no Universal health coverage! Vic, who needed help getting into an ironed shirt, who brings me such joy, could never be inconvenient or pitied. So he took his own life, saving us any such problem. That wouldn't have happened if FDR were here today, to stem the Pharmaceutical Business' progress of profit. FDR would have legislated for a civil degree of real social security. The medical profession has created an age of anxiety for that 99%. It can be only once a month, on a prescription refill. Or, the ordinary American can end up in (what drug stores call) "a doughnut". That's when drug costs cap out, usually late Autumn. That chills the bones of many octagenarians on Medicare living in straights in States above the frost belt. A shout-out for the turn out in Turnhout. Hipsters hit the Square, where an elaborately raised set is erected there, next to Turnhout's cathedral-proportioned church. They've given up to such secularisms, bolting the front door. Yet, their delicate bells continue to Tin Tin abulate on the quarter hour. I thank God my son hasn't had to endure the familiarities of a Belgian Priest, in a slur on Jesus' name.

The square is filled with a standing crowd to the stage, with equal regard from restaurant tables lining the adjacent hotels surrounding us. They have a close-up LED p-o-v of all. On a giant screen. Seven hand held cameras in a Ninja ballet.

Marcel fondles 3 CDs while he's beside me, to announce that, the very day Brit label Bella Union is re-releasing my first three albums. It's also Paul McCartney's 70th birthday. After we play our one song, Marcel has hopped over to hold a mike up to two tween girls, who celebrate Sir Paul's event with 'Yesterday', in a treble and alto recorder duet. Si sentimental et charmante!

The show over, we toss in two tunes for the de mensen in the town square. 'Orange Crate Art' and 'Opportunity for Two'. It's a wrap.