Country Al Rides again + Sveta Maric Part Two
My partner, Gregg Conners, and I are going to try to develop an act, whose form and content I have absolutely no idea of. Embedded here is our very first performance, at an open-mic op on Sept. 12, in Pleasantville, NY. I’m the one with the guitar. We hope to get better.
In other news…I’m posting Part Two of the “Sveta Maric Award,” a (somewhat) true accounting of weird recording session I had 40 yrs ago, in which Ry Cooder was going to play till I blew it with him [See Ry Cooder and My Copper Mine Blues on this Blog].
The Sveta Mariĉ Award
by Allan P. Ross
Part Two of Three Parts
[The guy was pure fire]. He played the button accordion like Frank Yankovic possessed, punching out the darkly driving notes of the Yugoslavian scale like bullets from an AK-47.
And he had the look. Not that it mattered, because it was a film score and nobody watching the film would ever see him. But boy, did he have the look.
He was a classic, media-perfect Yugoslavian: thick, steel-gray hair pompadoured above a handsome, square face, “would-I-lie” eyes, and boxy torso preceding the rest of his body when he walked. You really could picture this guy in a hunting jacket with a shotgun draped across one arm and Joseph Stalin standing next to him, smiling uncomfortably.
My friend, the folk dancer, introduced us after the set, and I asked Sveta if he was interested in the job. He not only was interested, but he took me into his dressing room where he showed me his entire scrapbook, which consisted mainly of pictures of him and Zsa Zsa Gabor taken during a guest spot she’d done on Johnny Carson years before.
We agreed to meet at my place two nights from then for a collaboration-rehearsal, since I had to learn how to make his sound fit with everyone else’s. I gave him my address and he said he’d be there early to welcome the other players and “wake up” his fingers. I stayed for one more set, marveling at the dazzling, masculine beauty of his playing–part Gypsy, part Mosque chant, part Portuguese fado, part polka.
The night of the rehearsal came, the other musicians showed, but not Sveta Marič. The rest of us went over the material, mentally fitting in the accordion parts wherever they occurred, me hoping he’d show at any minute with a good excuse. But by eleven that night it was clear he wasn’t coming.
I called his house several times but got no answer. The next night I went back to Club Slav, where I’d met him. No, I was told, no one had seen him since the night I was there, and no, he’d never disappeared before, although there seemed to be some disagreement about that.
Stuart, my folk dancer friend, who’d been coming to the club for years, asked the owner for Sveta’s address. The owner was adamant about respecting his employee’s privacy, but a ten-dollar bill broke that silence.
The address was in a run-down part of Hollywood my friend and I knew well. I thought we should go there immediately, and I said so in front of the owner.
“Good idea,” said the owner. “You speak Serbian, of course.”
I looked at him. “Why do I have to speak Serbian?” I asked. “The guy spoke fine English when I talked to him the other night.”
The owner’s eyes went up, the corners of his mouth went down, and he shrugged. “Fine,” he said, and started to walk away.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “When do you get off?”
“I’m sorry, sir, I have to close tonight.
“Don’t you have an assistant?”
“Yes, but I’d have to pay him to close up for me.”
“How much?” I asked. I had my wallet out again.
“It’s a lot of responsibility,” he said.
I thrust a twenty at him.
“I’ll get my coat,” he said.
Sveta Marič lived in one of those six-unit courts they must have built a million of in Hollywood in the ’20’s, two attached bungalows on either side of a narrow walkway, two more bungalows at the end of the walkway. Sveta lived in one of the bungalows at the end.
All the shades in his unit were drawn. The place was dark but not black. It looked as if there was one light burning behind the curling, tattered shade covering the front window, and there wasn’t about the place the abject stillness of honest-to-God vacancy.
I knocked. There was no formal response, but I had the feeling the apartment was suddenly all raw nerve-endings, its occupant ready for fight or flight at any moment.
I knocked again. Nothing. I looked into the little door-in-a-door, a two-by-four-inch peephole all California doors came with if they’d been built before the Watts Riots. I saw nothing but the little hatch on the other side of the rectangle, closed against intruders like myself. “Sveta?” I called quietly. “Sveta, this is Al, the guy that wanted you to play on his–”
I didn’t get to finish. The little hatch snapped open and a harsh whisper, redolent of too many Balkan Sobranie cigarettes and slivovitz, rasped out words I couldn’t understand. I looked at the restaurant owner, who was standing at the foot of the porch inspecting his nails in the porch light. If ever a look said “You need me,” his did.
He walked up the steps, tapped lightly on the door, hissed some words that reminded me of the Polish my father and grandmother used to use when they didn’t want me to understand something. In a second he came back down the stairs and addressed me in a confidential manner, looking both ways before he spoke.
“He’s afraid of Partisans,” the owner said.
I just looked at him. I didn’t know what he was talking about. “What Partisans? From where?”
“That’s the problem,” the owner said. “He doesn’t know. They could be from anywhere. That is the nature of Yugoslavian politics, my friend.”
“But why didn’t he say something the other night?” I asked.
“Maybe something has happened since the other night,” said the owner.
“What?” I said, probably a bit more irritably than I’d meant to. “I mean, you’re Yugoslavian, aren’t you?”
“Serbian, just like Sveta,” he said, puffing up.
“Well, then, you must know what he’s afraid of.”
“Maybe, maybe not,” said the owner. “He comes from Trebonicza. I come from Saloniev.”
I looked at my kolo dancer friend.
“They’re about eight miles away from each other. About a twelve-minute drive,” he said.
I looked at the owner.
He held up his hands. “Yugoslavian politics,” he said.