Happy Birthday, Mudfinger!

Roberteaux

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MUDFINGER!

It is most appropriate that our good Mudfinger should have been born on April Fool's Day-- after all, the man really does exhibit a healthy chunk of the trickster's mirth as part of his makeup! A gentleman in nearly half his ways, Mudfinger has always had a nearly magical ability to make me laugh when I didn't want to, to reconsider my position long after it had been
affirmed, and to otherwise think beyond the corners I occasionally paint myself into.

He is an intensely spiritual being-- an old soul if ever I met one. I've enjoyed many long hours of conversation with him, during which we spoke of matters both trite and entirely profound, and the effect is always the same for me: I keep wondering when the acid would finally wear off. In short, the man is a trip.

All of this makes him a good brother and an uncommonly valuable friend to me-- and to pretty much anybody else who needs one and has enough sense to tell him about it. I think we are all very lucky to have him here with us, here on MLP.

So again: Happy Birthday, Lefty! And many more!

:applause::applause::applause::applause::applause:

At this point I wish to warn all others: this is going to be the longest post I ever tacked to this board, and no, I don't expect much of anybody to read it, except that I hope Mudfinger will plow through it at his leisure. It is, after all, something I cranked out as a gift to him, and Lefty: I hope you get a kick out of it. Tonight, if you please, I shall finally tell you-- and anybody else who is interested-- the full tale of how I fetched the mud for your Mojocaster, and the two little adventures that Phil and I ended up having when we set forth to get it.


If I were a more serious writer, I'd give this thing some sort of title... probably something along the lines of:

My Spiritual Journey: A Quest for Mud​

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For those who are unaware of these things about him: Mudfinger is a professional musician par excellance, who, after half a lifetime of wandering the tangled trails we guitarists are doomed to wend our way through, usually lost, finally decided to develop a laser-like focus on that most mysterious genre of all: the Blues. As such, he didn't merely steep himself in Blues by way of fan-like propinquity, but instead took the Old Road, which is to actually live like a blues man does. Of course, in his personal case this was a matter of coming full circle in life, as in fact he was born and partially raised in a gypsy kind of way to begin with, and so ended up with a Bohemian outlook almost as a matter of birthright. A child of musical parents, Lefty's first memories are of looking out the window of a car at the cities and countryside of the West Coast as he traveled from one of his old man's gigs to the next. The first language he ever learned to speak was peppered with musical notations, and his first personal observations were of a type not generally made by those of a less itinerant type. Ain't so many ways to hide oneself on the road, and so even as a kid, ol' Muddy learned a lot of things that often escape the rest of us, who are so unlucky as to be stuck working in a clown suit factory somewhere.

So that's how he came up. Mudfinger doesn't actually play the blues... Mudfinger is the blues!

One fine day, not too long ago, the man decided that he needed a new guitar. He had come to understand that the only way he would ever come up with a specimen that was perfectly suited for his needs would be for him to either cajole some harried luthier into dealing with his demands-- which were bound to be both strenuous and persnickety-- or for him to build the Damned Thing himself. He didn't need to ponder the question, really... such thoughts had all occurred to him before. However, he sensed that the moment was finally at hand, and Mudfinger found himself tantalized by the spiritual implications of this idea of his. It was his delicious realization that if he were to build his own git, to his own specs, with his own hands, that he would end up with a guitar that was really and truly his-- and his alone. And though he didn't couch his thoughts in the Kreyole language terms used by those who practice New Orleans or Haitian Voudou, he understood instinctively that the act of crafting this instrument himself would imbue it with the precise proportions and vibe of the mojo and juju that went into the makeup of his soul.

And so he got crackin'...

Somewhere in there, I appeared. A total n00b on this site, I nonetheless got friendly with Mudfinger almost immediately, having noticed that his persona was a supremely well-balanced sort of thing. He usually came off as some sort of playfully roguish saint, and I realized at once that the man I spoke to on MLP was one in the same as the man as I might find him anywhere else. He didn't have a schtick for me to sort through or any of that... didn't have somebody else he was trying to be and was instead really and truly himself. Most amusingly, he had taught the skeletons in his closet how to tango, and then removed the door. This was an honest man.

In fact, he reminded me of 'Mait Carrefour-- of Papa Legba. This old man, Legba, is one of the most powerful of beings to be found in the mythos of Voudou, and he is uncommonly popular with musicians, who have been known to seek his musical instruction at the crossroads. In the pantheon of Voudou archetypes, Legba Atibon is the patron saint of musicians-- and most especially guitarists. And as time went by and we communicated more often, Mudfinger learned that I was up to my eyeballs in a personal study of Voudou-- or "Voodoo", as I prefer to spell it-- and that this had come along as a matter that was collateral to a very serious survey of the cemeteries of New Orleans and the culture that had produced such exquisite wonders as are to be found in her Cities of the Dead. Thus, I became acquainted with the Mystères in a nearly inadvertent fashion that now appears to have been a matter of destiny in my case. Strange forces were at work within me and without me-- as usual! :laugh2:

And Mudfinger too, for that matter. One day he took it upon himself to send me a message asking me to help him out with his guitar project. And that's how the subject of mud came up between us...

Yes, mud. Specifically, Mississippi River mud-- harvested from the levee of the French Quarter in New Orleans, no less. Lefty had apparently decided that he would put a certain type of finish on his guitar, and though I never understood exactly how the mud fit into all of this, mud was what he needed to do the job right. Meanwhile, both of us were enchanted by the idea that the mud he would be using would be the really good shit that came from a place that was both an epicenter of Voodoo in the United States, as well as being from a place that had such an incredible impact on American musical forms-- that beautifully jaded, picturesquely decaying City of New Orleans!

Once I realized what was afoot I was adamant that this guitar of his wouldn't have to put up with some sort of inferior mud vended by some unscrupulous dealer in such commodities. Instead, he would get really good mud that was gris-gris in and of itself-- and never mind how energetic this goop would become once the mojo and juju of a live human being was worked into it!

It was all most propitious. As it happened, I was heading for New Orleans for my annual celebration of Halloween, and more importantly, the Feast of All Saints, which occurs on the next day, November 1st. Halloween is a major-major party of the weirdest kind in the Crescent City, and it was already a personal tradition of mine to be on hand for a bit of fun there before All Saint's Day, when I would turn my attention towards activities of an entirely different type. This particular holiday is well-known to the practitioners of many faiths, but most especially to the Afro-Caribbean schools that predominate in places such as New Orleans. It is also celebrated in Mexico as Dia de Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, and its primary purpose as a holiday is that it is a day when one is to remember the dead, to think of loved ones lost, and to tend to their graves.

In New Orleans, this was a fairly strong tradition until Katrina washed over half of the residents clean out of the city, though the celebration of it began to fade noticeably well before the deluge and was on the wane by the early Nineties. But it was a big deal in times further past. Here is a print made from a woodcutting that appeared in Harper's magazine in 1882, which shows the residents of the city in celebration of the holiday as it was until somewhat recently:

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In earlier times, most everyone in the city made their way to the cemeteries on November 1st to sweep and tidy things up-- to repair, whitewash, and otherwise tend to tombs that were in need of such attention, whether they were the tombs of one's family members or not. There were picnics, and other festivities to preoccupy the observers of the event. Candy vendors sold sugar skeletons and black cat cookies to children at the gates of the cemeteries. The overall mood exhibited by tradition was decidedly upbeat and festive, for that is how New Orleans mourns-- festively.

For those whose spirtual inclindations run in the direction of NOLa Voodoo, the summuer solistice and concurrent Feast of St. John is the highest holiday on the calendar. However, November 1st is also a very important event, though not confined to those who practice the old African faith. Still, among those who indulge in such spiritual leanings, this day is thought of as the Day of Ghede Nibo, a thing which bears a very brief explanation. To wit, Ghede is yet another very powerful sort of archetypal being found in the pantheon of Voodoo. He is most often thought of as Baron Samedi, and like Papa Legba, Papa Ghede is thought to be a psychopomp. That is, he is one of only two beings in the Voodoo cosmology who is believed to have the power to pass over the crossroads-- the dividing line between the world of the living and the spirit world-- at he crosses back and forth at will. While Papa Legba is the traditional ruler over the crossroads itself, it is Papa Ghede who's running the show once one actually gets to the other side. There's considerably more that one might say about Ghede Nibo, but most of it goes beyond the thrust of this particular narrative and will not be discussed here. But at least now we know why I jumped for joy when Lefty asked me if I'd fetch him some mud.

Man, I was ecstatic! Imagine this: outta the blue, I had been handed a holy mission of sorts. I was to harvest the finest mud I could find from the sacred Mississippi River, on behalf of a blues man of the most serious and authentic type... and this, for the construction of a guitar that came to be known as the Mojocaster-- the very guitar of Mudfinger himself! Oh yes... the piquant, celebratory weirdness of the idea coursed through me like a pulse of silken electricity of some type. Overwhelmed by a happy buzz of tsunami magnitude, I actually decided to jack the whole thing up further by grabbing that mud just after midnight, on the cusp of the Day of Ghede Nibo. Took me about ten seconds to figure that I'd get it from the levee along Woldenberg Park, where only weirdos, muggers, and really stupid tourists are to be found once the sun goes down.

I was, however, a bit upset about one thing, though: Baron Samedi likes musicians, but he ain't one himself the way Papa Legba is... and Legba's etiology is that he started his career as a loa of Voodoo as a spirit that was closely associated with the sun, and hence, daylight. And yet, I was gonna go creeping down to the river in the middle of the night to get it? I finally came up with a way to rationalize all of this to my personal satisfaction, but believe me: it wasn't easy. I had to use some of the funkiest logic I ever palmed off on anybody-- let alone myself-- so as to explain my way around this particular discrepancy. But having finally eliminated this particular snag from my approach, I kicked back and waited for the day itself to arrive.

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The most perfect thing about the whole deal was that the material I sought was not of a type that is easy to get, unless one is willing to actually go get it personally. One of the more beautiful things about the animistic nature of the really old belief systems humans have come up with is that things that are not actually valuable in the monetary terms of a modern society become items of veneration when gazed upon through the eyes of our ancestors. The priceless nature of, say, a hawk's feather... or a snake's skeleton or a black cat's bone... has nothing to do with their material nature, and is instead related to the symbolic meaning of such objects-- and the sort of effort one must make in order to procure such things though they are not actually rare. Of course such things are purchasable, but once they become common items of consumption whatever mojo or juju they might have had once forsakes them... which is why nobody much carries a lucky rabbit's foot these days. The fact that you can mail order them took the zing right out of 'em. Ah, but to lay hands on Mississippi Mud generally calls for a body to actually go there and get it... and that's the sort of thing that turns into a quest.


A friend of mine named Phillip decided to hitch a ride with me to the Crescent City, as a sort of lark. Bored at work one night, I actually emerged from the hidey-hole of my office because I was aware that he happened to be in the area, and by way of conversation, Phil learned of my upcoming mission, and-- strangely-- the man suddenly asked for permission to head to Louisiana with me, saying that he actually wanted to be part of the mission itself. I could understand his wanting to visit New Orleans-- a place he had never been to before-- but couldn't fathom his insistence that he tag along with me during the mud collection part of the trip. When I asked him about this he laughed and said, "You're gonna go sneak down to the river in the middle of the night to get sacred mud, right? Man, you've come up with some real doozies over the years, but this time the bar got raised when it comes to sheer top spin. I wouldn't miss this shit for the world!"

I checked his face carefully, seeking the lines that would tell me he was taunting me, but no: he was simply amused by the whole cockamamie idea of it, and was hell bent on being along to watch me make a really big deal out of a tub of mud.

So finally the time came, and we headed off to New Orleans and the sacred silt of the Mississippi. Of course, it was Halloween-- and though this was not part of the plan, hooked up with a couple of girls from Slidell who were in town for a little party fun themselves. We ended up inviting them to stay with us in our suite at Bienville House, which is a nice boutique hotel on Decatur Street, quite near to the river. Meanwhile, they found themselves being wined and dined at our expense, and determined that our company was genial enough that they could probably put up with us overnight.

Of course, things began to go awry almost immediately. For one thing, Phil and the girl who called herself AJ had taken an uncommon shine to one another, and decided to head back to the hotel to talk about it. It was still a bit early in the evening, and so I didn't really bird-dog the clock while he was away, but instead took the other girl, Suzette, to the Old Absinthe House at 240 Bourbon, and got to drinking sazaracs with her. We had a lot of fun, and spent quite a bit of time dancing, and the hours slipped away unnoticed. Finally, Phil came into the place at about 1:30 am, apologizing for being gone so long... but by that time I was so shitfaced that I almost didn't care that we weren't there at the stroke of midnight, as I had planned. But still, the mission was active, and we more or less had to drag Suzette back to the hotel-- not because she wanted to stay at the bar, but instead because she was so hammered that she was having a hard time walking. When we finally made it to our room, we found AJ already passed out, naked, on a divan that our suite was furnished with. We shrugged about that, then plopped Suzette onto one of the beds, grabbed my rubber boots, a small plastic sand shovel with pictures of Sponge Bob on it, and a quart-sized plastic container with a lid to transport the sacred mud back to Florida in-- a cheesy, modern-day ark that would nonetheless serve its purpose.

And then we were off! We were both consumed with hilarity as we made our way across Decatur, thence to skulk around the retainer wall that cut Woldenberg Park off from the rest of the world. Furtively sticking to the shadows like a pair of grave robbers, we scanned the area with a coyote's paranoiac eyes, and found absolutely nobody but ourselves in the area. This was actually a tip to the fact that something was amiss... but I was so drunk and giddy with delight at the whole affair that I flitted from one shadow to the next like some sort of mud-ninja, with Phil copying my histrionics nearly step for step, laughing his fool ass off.

On that night, the moon was an early, waxing crescent-- a sliver fang that hung above us in a sky the color of octopus ink. The air was sodden, thick with humidity, and not a single star showed itself to our eyes. When I reached the top of the levee, I put on my big rubber boots; brandishing my Sponge Bob shovel and the plastic container as if they were sword and shield, I began to pick my way uncertainly down the rocky side of the levee, towards the river side, while Phil stood by and watched from above. I was about halfway to the water when I looked above me and noticed that some sort of iridescent, purplish powder was floating around in the air above my head. I was elated, for here was proof positive that Papa Ghede favored my activities and showed his pleasure by providing me with a light show involving the purple and black color scheme that is his trademark. But then, about one second after I concluded that this light was a blessing and a sign, my street smarts kicked into effect and I realized that what I was looking at was a sort of corona produced by a flashing blue light reflecting off the particles of mist suffusing the air. There were cops up there on the levee, in other words, and it could be that my ass was grass! But dammit: where had they come from?

I looked behind me to see Phil standing up there with his hands raised in the classic gesture that is common to holdup victims and guys who don't want to be shot by police. Phil was himself a 28-year veteran of our local sheriff's department, a sergeant at the time, and was just about to retire. Thus, when NOPD came at him out of nowhere, as it seemed to both of us, he wisely decided to avoid exciting them beyond whatever degree they were already prepossessed of.

Meanwhile, further down on the levee, I had a couple of decisions to make. I could always wade into the river and swim for Algiers, but knew I'd probably never make it. The river at that point describes a rather sharp bend and the resultant whirlpools have been known to suck people under, sometimes never to be seen again. Eying my surroundings, I figured that I might-maybe scoot under the nearby wharf, to hide with the rats while the cops did whatever they were about to do to Phil, but somehow this solution was simply too ignoble for me to abide by. Cursing silently, I plodded back on up the steep bank, to be bathed in blue light and the personal attentions of NOPD along with good ol' Phil...

It turned out that while we were sneaking around, we had been spotted by an off-duty officer working a security detail, guarding a bunch of amplifiers on a band stand upriver from us a short distance, which were in place as part of the overall Voodoo Fest concert series taking place in the city. Having spotted us sneaking around by the wharf, the officer had radioed the on-duty guys, and a supervisory officer showed up in a car to back up two other cops who converged on our position on foot. When I reached the top of the levee, the supervisor was inside his vehicle, apparently talking to dispatchers. Meanwhile, the other two stood nearby and kept a careful eye on Phillip. They expressed no surprise at my sudden appearance at the top of the levee, having been aware that I was down there all along, and would have set about to retrieve me had I not trundled up to them of my own volition.

I had composed my face into the habitual expression I assume when I become the subject of a Terry Stop-- which is to say that I had no expression whatsoever on my face, and was about as deadpanned as I could be without actually dying to achieve the effect. My mannerisms were smooth and slightly slow, indicating no combativeness whatsoever. I tilted my head to gaze upon the police in a manner that I hoped would suggest something along the lines of curiosity at their presence, but not hostility. Having been a cop myself, I know one thing for sure: it's never a good idea to excite certain of their sensibilities without having a very good reason to do so. Their reactions to this sort of thing can be kinda funny sometimes...

The supervising officer was an old guy, probably closing in on retirement. He clambered out of his car after completing his check of our ID's, and looked upon us with an expression that was quite as inscrutable as my own. He shook his head, especially at me standing there with my big, go-to-hell rubber boots, and then finally spotted the Sponge Bob shovel. He shook his head again and said, "Pray tell me: what might you be doing on the levee in the middle of the night, dressed like an oysterman-- but with a Sponge Bob shovel instead of tongs?"

I cleared my throat, but Phil, who apparently decided that he'd better do the talking as there was no telling what I might say, interjected, "Well, you see, he's doing a favor for a friend of his in California who..."

But the officer cut him off, growling, "What are you, his interpreter?" He scowled for an instant to silence Phil, and then his eyes drilled back into mine as he said, "So: what the hell are you doing, here?"

One of the other officers, a dark-complected fella, tall and slender as a palm, snorted, "Ho! This gonna be good!"

"It better be," said the senior officer, never taking his eyes off me. I noticed Phil looking at me in a nearly pleading kind of way and understood that he was probably afraid that I'd start babbling about Voodoo, and get us both sent to Broad and Tulane-- Orleans Parish Prison-- if not somewhere even worse.

Naturally, I wasn't about to do any such thing. Instead, I simply reiterated what Phil had already told the officer-- that I was getting mud for a friend who needed it for some kind of finish he intended to put on a guitar that he was building. Knowing that he would ask me anyway, I explained that this friend of mine was a blues player, and that the idea that the silt he used for the guitar finish came from the levee in New Orleans was a matter of significance to him. I finished with a flourish, telling the old cop that I was offering a personal gesture of respect to my friend, by fetching the desired mud.

The cop considered this at length. I glanced over at the tall one to see what he made of my explanation, and found him looking at me as though I had six heads instead of just two. This was not a good sign by any means-- and I could tell that the tall cop didn't exactly like the look of me.

I rifled through the possible charges we might be facing. Trespassing for sure, as the park was closed after dark by writ of law. And then too, they might smack me for some kind of public intoxication charge, though I wasn't sure how likely or unlikely this was. Though New Orleans is an extremely libertine sort of place when it comes to its liquor laws, it's still actually
possible to be arrested for public drunkenness there anyway, as the city makes a lot of money at certain times of year by popping younger folks who come to the city to get blitzed and raise hell. I didn't have a watch, but knew that it wasn't yet four in the morning, which is when the police usually go on a sort of feeding frenzy on Bourbon Street and issue a blizzard of summonses, sometimes also hauling the really mouthy ones off to the calaboose if they get a bit too froggy for the officer's liking. I was doing my best to appear to be as sane and reasonable as a person under my circumstances might be able to conjure an impression of... but it was a crap shoot as to what they might decide to do, and so Philly and I were standing there sweating it out.

Looking back at the shot-calling officer, I found him scratching his head, apparently not quite sure what to make of this explanation I offered. If the loitering and prowling laws in the city are like the ones in Florida, I might have satisfied his curiosity about me and might not be taking a little ride to someplace I didn't want to go. My heart sank a little, then, when he said to me, "Okay, let me see if I got this straight: you're down here getting mud for some guy who plays blues guitar. That's a new one, man. But now how about this: why did you choose to get your mud in the middle of the night? Did you figure that the river might not be still here when you came to in the morning?"

Uh-oh. By talking about me "coming to" this cop was telling me that he was aware that I had had a few too many, and that I was on thin ice. The cop was demanding a response, and Phil's face tightened at the prospect of what I might say next, and just how crazy it was likely to sound... meanwhile my gears were spinning and smoke rolled out of my ears as I tried to come up with such words as would mollify this inquisitive copper enough that he'd actually let us go. For an instant, I thought I might just admit to him that I was really drunk and the whole thing was a lark-- but this might very well piss him off and make him decide to teach me to be a little more responsible in the future. Or, alternatively, I could tell him the truth about the situation, and hope that there was enough New Orleans in him that he would actually understand where I was coming from. I knew I was too hammered to come up with a cogent lie that might make some sort of sense to the man, and was alarmed to notice that the old cop had begun tapping his foot gently on the sidewalk that runs atop the levee... I knew that I was already on borrowed time with the man.

So I went for broke. I said, "You're aware that today is the Feast of All Saints, right?"

He tipped his head to one side, eying me more carefully than ever, and in my peripheral vision I saw the tall cop stiffen slightly. The old man said, "Yeah... I'm aware of that. But this isn't a cemetery, it's the levee. Would you like to tell me more?"

I said, "Do you know who Ghede Nibo is?"

The tall one exhaled sharply, then hissed like a pissed-off snake. He exclaimed, "Ghede Nibo? That's Voodoo shit, man! Voodoo! I knew this guy down here doing something weird!"

I glanced over at Phil and saw him rolling his eyes, certain that I had just sealed our unhappy fate by saying something so bizarre to those officer. It didn't matter that Phil was a cop right then... NOPD busts its own, and never mind some drunken sergeant from Florida they found trespassing on the levee in the dark, dark night. Phil looked directly at me right then, and I saw that something approaching anger was beginning to form in the expression on his face.

The supervisor said to me, "Ghede Nibo, huh? Yeah, I've heard that name before. But I still don't understand what any of this has to do with you being here right now..."

I shrugged and told him, "Basically, everything. See, I wanted to grab this mud on the Feast of All Saints, because this is the Day of Ghede Nibo, and he's a powerful loa who sometimes helps human beings out in one way or another. I want my friend to build himself the finest guitar in the world, and for it to be blessed with the spirits that the earlier blues and jazz men say they relied on to help them as musicians. I figured that him using mud for his guitar finish-- especially this mud-- will have a really powerful effect on him as he constructs the instrument. It will energize his effort, and whether or not the loa are real, you have to admit that it's gonna be a hell of a thing for him to be able to say that his guitar actually has a physical relationship with the Mississippi River in New Orleans. Bragging rights out the gazoo, you know what I mean?"

The ol' man squinted at me and said, "Yeah? So what's in it for you?"

"I get to be part of the whole thing," I replied succinctly simply and succinctly. I held my palms out at my sides to demonstrate that I was being both honest and truthful. I allowed myself to look sad for an instant, and then told the officer quietly, "It's because I get to do something that will make an honored friend very happy... and and my participation in the project will be a source of pride and pleasure to me forever."

The old cop glanced at Phil, who was now looking at me with surprise. Nobody expected me to come off so smoothly as this, and it looked to me as if the senior officer was actually considering the things I had just told him in a serious manner. I wanted to flash a triumphant grin at Phillip, but figured that if I did the old cop might decide that I was being a smartass, that I was full of shit, and that he needed to pop both of us on any or all of the ten thousand chickenshit charges that were undoubtedly at hand.

The old cop muttered to himself, "Still doesn't explain why you're here right now... but then again, I'm beginning to think I don't want to know the answer to that question anyway." I watched the officer, and saw that the coin was still in the air by the cloudy expression on his face. The situation was still hairy...

But then he caught the coin and made his decision, saying, "You know, I've heard a lot of crazy stories coming out of guys who needed to explain something to me... but this one really takes the cake." He paused long enough for the moment to become gravid with uncertainty once again, but then shrugged and said, "You two guys are fvckin' crazy for being down here. Don't you know that people get hit over the head around here all the time? Jeebus! And all because you want some fvckin' mud and think it will be more magical if you get it in the dead of night? Jeebus, what a pair of dumbasses you guys are!"

I would have sighed with relief had I dared. Generally, a cop is going to give you either the lecture or the hammer, but not both. And though he was mighty displeased at our antics, the lecture was a sign that he was probably going to let us go with some sort of warning.

And I was right about that. He sighed and said to the tall officer, "This is one of these deals that is so whacko that it's just got to be true." He looked down at my Sponge Bob shovel as it stuck out of the plastic container I had set at my feet, smirking, then said, "I like your magical implements, too. Most wizards have a wand, and not a little plastic shovel, though..." I smiled sheepishly, and again showed him my empty palms.

And so we skated. But before we actually left the area, Phil and the old copper got to yakking in a casual and friendly kind of manner. I started to ask if it was okay if I went and got my mud while they chatted, but the old cop could tell what where I was going before I could complete my sentence and the frown he regarded me with caused me to shut my trap before I blew our lucky break to smithereens. Enough was enough, and tomorrow would be another day.

The tall officer melted away into the shadows. I'm not even sure what happened to the third cop... it was as he had disappeared right after the old cop got out of his car after checking our ID's.

And so I pouted, kind of leaning against the trunk of the cop car while Phil and the old man complained to one another about the venality of politicians or something, and I puffed on a cigarette grumpily. My thoughts were beginning to wander when I heard my name being mentioned, and tuned back into their conversation just in time to hear Phil explaining that I had once been his training officer.

The old cop simply couldn't believe it. "Jeebus!" the old cop cried, "What the hell happened to him?"

Phil laughed and said, "Well, he was always a little bit fvcked in the head anyway, you know? I mean, always. But then they assigned him to one too many heavy cases, and he wound up doing a kind of mental endo... and that was about it for him. So they shifted him into a civilian job, and everybody breathed a big sigh of relief."

"Aw, fvck you, Phil," I laughed, and he and the old NOPD ramrod smirked at one another at my expense. I was just about to light another cigarette, when I heard them bidding on another a good evening, and the old cop wagged a finger of warning at me, saying, "Don't let me catch you anywhere you ain't supposed to be ever again, buddy. I never forget a face-- especially not one like yours-- and you're gonna make me very angry if you turn up again like this."

I didn't mind the scolding. I'm telling you younger fellas mainly: any time a cop tells you to get lost, you need to treat it like a gift from heaven. You don't waste time bickering with the fuzz, fellas-- instead, you smoke on out of there as fast as you can without breaking some sort of speed limit...

Fifteen minutes later, we were back in Bienville House... and both of the girls were out cold. I ended up falling asleep in a recliner, while watching the news.

The next day, not exactly bright and early, Phil and I once again sallied forth to the river. The sun was shining brightly, and there were tourists a-plenty milling around the Riverwalk, enjoying the balmy weather and waiting for the concert to begin. The beach umbrellas that many of them brought as sun screens made the area look as though gigantic wild flowers had sprouted from the happy earth, and were a happy sight to my eyes. I told Phil that I felt that Legba Atibon had actually taken precedence in this affair to begin with-- and that it was my mistake to try and interject spooky-ass Papa Ghede into the mix when it was really more about Legba than anybody else. Phil listened to me, amused to see me rationalizing as to why the mud I would gather today would be superior to the mud I might have gotten in the darkness, had the police not interfered with the operation. I'll never know why that guy puts up with me...

This time we simply made our way to the riverside without particular fanfare or ado, and I once again donned my oysterman's rubber boots. I stepped off the sidewalk, preparing to pick my way back down the rocky side of the levee, when a voice halted me dead in my tracks by saying, "Oh no you don't!"

There was no doubt in my mind that whoever that voice belonged to, he was talking to me. I turned around to find a busker sitting on a park bench, with a trumpet in his lap and a plastic bucket for people to toss money into a couple of feet in front of him. He was a very old, walnut-colored fella, and when he removed his shades to peer at me more closely, I saw that his eyes were rheumy, filled with cataract, and clouded by age. But there was something forceful about those eyes of his, and when I met his gaze, his mouth flapped open into a reddish crease across his face, as he said, "Uhn-uhn, nossir! You ain't doin' what I think you're doin' are ya?"

084_zps584be4ce.jpg



I smiled and tried to look friendly, which only deepened his scowl. Not quite sure why I bothered with him, I tried to make my voice pleasant as I replied, "Well... that depends on what you think I'm doing. But really, I'm only gonna go down to the river and fetch some mud."

"Hm! And that is what I think you're doing!" he spat back. "But no: you ain't stealing any of my mud-- you ain't doin' nothin' like this at all!" The expression on his face was quite fierce.

I withdrew three dollars from my wallet, and set them down into his case, saying, "Well... perhaps you'll let me buy some of your mud, then?"

He grunted something unintelligible, then said, "Well, at least you got some manners. But that ain't my mud to be buyin' and sellin', it's just my mud because I lives here and I care about that mud. So I don't want some no-account coming along and stealing any, 'specailly when I don't know why." He eyed me for a moment, then said, "You ain't gonna be doin' anything crazy with that mud now, are ya?"

"Oh, no sir!" I assured him. "I will be treating this mud with the greatest of respect, and I'm gathering it for a really good reason that I'm sure you'd be in favor of."

"Well, I'm all ears, me-- and so now you got to tell me what you got to say."

I decided to take the short route, telling him, "The easiest way to explain this to you is to tell you that I'm giving it to another person for a mojo hand he's putting together. He's a musician, like you, and he's decided that he would like for Lord Carrefour to put a blessing on his music."

The old man grunted approvingly, and the look on his face softened considerably. Had I been a marksman, I'd have just busted the ten ring on this guy. He said to me, "Hm! A mojo hand for a musician, eh? Well now, that is something worthwhile... got to have a mojo hand if you're gonna be in music, or a gambler... that's for sure. But is this man a good man?"

I said, "Yes, he's a good man and a kindly one. I just want to help him because he is a friend to me..."

The old man extended his hand and as we shook, told me that his name was Mr. Bell. He asked what my name was, and after I told him he said, "Robert-- the shining one. Good name for you. But answer me this: are you a good man?"

"Usually," I replied truthfully, "Or at least, I do try hard to be one. At the least, I ain't some kind of bokor, and I know to keep my temper in check. Sometimes I drink too much, though, and I sure do like women... but I'm not a thief or anything like that."

He nodded with approval at my answer, then said, "And you know what you're doing here, right? You really do understand?" I affirmed that I did know my business, strange as that might seem/

He looked me over carefully, and then in a casual tone of voice said, Map di ou bonjour, Papa Legba, Ati Bon, Data rolleau."

It took me an instant to realize what he had said, but when I did was absolutely electrified. The man was speaking to me in the Kreyole patois-- the very language of Voodoo-- and had offered the ritualistic greeting that typically goes before any sort of service by practitioners of that faith. It was a greeting to Papa Legba, who is always the first of the loa to be petitioned at a gathering of Voudouienne. He paused to smile at my pop-eyed reaction, and savored it for a moment. Then he smiled slightly before his expression became serious again. He chanted, "Main Roberteaux-- pitit ou qui vlé ou; li di cé pitit ou."

What he said translates roughly to this: "I bid you good morning, Papa Legba", and then, "Behold Roberteaux: he is your child and he needs your blessing."

I found myself answering in kind, with the standard response being, Je suis votre cheval meaning, "I am your horse". This implies that I am at the service of Legba Atibon and is the polite way to address the loa within the ritualistic context of such a moment. However, I had run out of what little Kreyole I had at my command and so finished in English, saying, "I come to ask for a small blessing. It is on behalf of my friend, who I am sure you know. I then said Lefty's name aloud, and assured the loa that my intentions were pure in nature, then expressed my gratitude at the hearing of my petition.

Mr. Bell sat there for a moment in silence, looking at me with a sort of thousand-yard stare that made me feel as though I had become transparent, or perhaps even invisible. His lips were moving, but I couldn't hear what he was saying at all. Eventually, he lifted those ancient eyes of his to focus on me, and I saw a vital flicker in there that I hadn't noticed earlier. The old man looked uncommonly pleased, and he nodded at me as if somehow acknowledging me. Finally, he pointed towards the river with the tip of his jaw and said simply, "You have your blessing, Robert. Now go."

At this I immediately turned my back to him in the prescribed and traditional manner, and did not dare look back again. Behind my back, I heard it as Mr. Bell began to play a little bit of jazz on that horn of his, and I used it this fanfare as my departure music. The sound of it followed me down to the bottom of the levee, to the water's edge, and then faded somewhat, and I lost track of it.

My Sponge Bob shovel snapped in half the first time I tried to scoop a bit of mud into it, and so I finally waded into the river itself and used the side of the container, and then my hands, to scoop the precious mud into it. I looked up at Phil, who was snapping photos of my activities, and held up my container of mud, hoping that it would really do the trick for you, Lefty.

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And then I climbed back to the top of the levee. I had intended to give Mr. Bell three more dollars, but when I reached the top I found the bench he had been sitting on occupied by a young couple and their children, with Mr. Bell nowhere in sight. My head swiveled as I searched along the river walk for him, but he was gone. Then Phil was at my side and I asked him, "Did you see what happened to that old man I was talking to?"

Phil said, "What old man?" and then burst into laughter at the shocked look on my face after he offered that as an answer. I realized that he was yanking my crank right then, and though annoyed, couldn't help but to chuckle at the little joke he had just played on me. Voice filled with mock indignation I said, "Do do that kind of shit to me, man!" and then waited for Phil to recover from a well-earned fit of laughter.

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And so there it is: the complete story of your Mojocaster mud, told in full for the first-- and last-- time ever.

Here, I would thank you yet again for having always been such a good friend to me, and for the gift of the mud-quest I went on to get that shit for you. To have been part of the creation of the Mojocaster will always be an honor to me, even if my role in its development was really just a sideshow.

But it was an honor, my friend... truly. Thank you for allowing me to participate!

And so I wish you a Happy Birthday, my man-- Happy Birthday to you!

Always a Brother,
Robert :)
 

Rich

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Holy shit! Only Robert could make such a long birthday post! :laugh2:

Happy Birthday, Mudfinger! :)
 

12watt

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Jeez Rob, I'm gonna have to pull the type off the page and put it into Times on a white background before I can get through that. 8,059 words indeed.

Happy Birthday Mudfinger!
 

Caleb

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Believe it or not, I read the whole damn thing. Rob, nicely done my brother.

Now to the man of the hour...

Happy birthday, Lefty!!! I truly hope its a great one. You will always hold the dubious distinction of being the first friend I made on this site. :thumb: How does it feel to be thirty? :naughty: Speech!!!!!
 

mudfinger

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What a read! :applause:

The honor is mine, brother Robert, all mine. And, truth be told, I'm certain that the spirits wanted this done, for all the good that it would do us both. For the bond of friendship and trust that it would forge between us. And, for reasons that may be a mystery to us until we reach the other side.

You should know that the very idea of all this came to me in a flash of inspiration, and that once my mind had wrapped itself around it, I felt an almost transcendent sense of joy about the notion of asking you to do something of such importance. It's no coincidence I think...well, there's no coincidence at all regarding all of the parallels between us, and our seemingly separate journeys through this life that finally led us into each other's orbit, is there? :laugh2:

I knew you would understand, and I can't think of anyone, not a soul on this earth, who could have done what you did, as you did it, to ensure the finest and most agreeable result imaginable. And, boy, was the result ever fine and agreeable! :D

I want to thank you from the depth of my heart for what you did. For what you do, and for who you are. It is because of your efforts that I was able to build the finest guitar I have ever played, an instrument that is more than enough to satisfy me in every way.

I mean that. The Mojocaster is something truly special. This guitar, which is in my lap as I type, is a treasure to me beyond the power of words to express. We hear people talk about Mojo around here all the time, but this fiddle...we're talking about real Mojo now. You can feel it when you get near the thing, there's a presence in the room with you. There's a presence in the notes that I play with it. Definitely not an inanimate object. This guitar has my back, and I sometimes have to laugh at the sheer beauty of the things it inspires me to play, licks and riffs that seem to come out of the blue.

Sometimes, it feels as if Papa Legba himself is here with me, in the guitar, dancing in the strings, and cackling with delight when I get the music just right. Of all the blessings I have received from the spirits, the Mojocaster stands proudly amongst the best of the best; in many ways, my personal Holy Grail, an instrument of supernatural quality that is better than all my teenage fantasies of what a guitar might be.

In short, I've been wanting this guitar my entire life, and I couldn't possibly be happier about it.

I'm gonna read your most excellent tale again right now, and when the sun comes up, take a few pics for our MLP brothers to enjoy. Maybe after that, I'll write some about what happened to the mud and such after it came to California; I left some clues in the original build thread that might make more sense to folks now, so here it is:

http://www.mylespaul.com/forums/other-guitars/165155-infernal-machine-going-back-old-religion.html

May God bless you and keep you, brother, we have many fun and interesting adventures ahead of us yet. :cheers:
 

Cpt Matt Sparrow

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Both fascinating reads - (wow, night fall already! they didn't seem they long...:) )

Jesting aside, a very happy birthday, always a pleasure conversing with you online.

Matt
 

huw

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Happy birthday, Mud!

Hope it's a good one.

:)
 

Sin Nombre

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Have a magical mojo BD bro.
Maybe you can get in some beach yoga if the rain lets up.

large.png
 

jlu52

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Happy Birthday, Mudfinger! May your birthday and the days and years ahead be filled with joy and fulfillment.:thumb:


Rob, one helluva fine birthday tribute. You are a good brother, indeed!:thumb:
 

Ed B

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[ame]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W12NxRQdSb8[/ame]

Have a great day, man!!
 

LtDave32

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Rob, that was a thirty-dollar post if I ever saw one. :laugh2:

Mud, happy birthday man. Next time I'm down in my home town of Long Beach, I'll PM you, and hopefully you'll have a gig there that I can visit. I'll buy you one of those fallootin' downtown fancy brews.
 

Kamen_Kaiju

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Lefty 'Mudfinger' Phillips is an awesome guy and the real deal. A fellow gypsy and meat machine.

Born, bred, honed, and charged with one mission in life.

To be one of the worlds most kick-ass guitar players.

[ame=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKDWJuMdGug]Lefty Phillips Trio Boom Boom - YouTube[/ame]

Pick? ..Lefty don' need no stinkin' picks to rip yer face off. :dude:


Happy birthday brother. I hope the day is spent in celebration and in the conceiving of love children. :D
 

KP

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Happy Birthday Mud. I hope you enjoy many more.
 

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