Pay To Play : A Curious Interview
If you wave a dollar in front of a street performer, he'll sing anything that you ask him to. Unfortunately, he'll also talk about everything that you don't ask him to. -- Poor grammar, I know. Just read the damn thing.
PLUG: Do you take requests?
ACCORDION: If I know them, yeah.
PLUG: What if I give you a dollar to make up a song? Just real quick.
ACCORDION: About you?
PLUG: About The Plug.
ACCORDION: The Plug?
PLUG: The Plug.
ACCORDION: What do you mean? Like a fire plug?
PLUG: No. It's a website.
ACCORDION: Oh, I know nothing about computers and websites.
PLUG: You can just make it up. No one cares.
ACCORDION: Yeah but, I gotta come up with words, too, right?
PLUG: Uh. No. "The Plug." That's all.
ACCORDION: [singing and playing]
ACCORDION: It's gone forever. [laughs]
ACCORDION: I got you in there. Even if I called you mug, I got you in there.
PLUG: That was worth two dollars, man. That was awesome.
ACCORDION: Thanks. Thanks very much.
PLUG: Do people give you many requests?
ACCORDION: No. Surprisingly they don't. And when they do, well, usually it's something I know. Because usually it's older people that ask me. Younger people, no. I don't play no Led Zeppelin. My kid plays Led Zeppelin. I mean, I'll be seventy-three in September. So I mean, when the guitar came in to predominance, you know, like Elvis and all that, I started playing guitar. Before that I was playing piano. I started playing guitar and then I switched to accordion because it's portable. This was before the days of keyboards. Now they got these beautiful keyboards and I've got several of them.
ACCORDION: I play up here with a keyboard and I get nothing. I bring the accordion up, I get something. [ laughs ] I mean, I've played it from Maine to Florida to California and back. I've been all over the country playing since '73. It's been predominantly my means of income.
PLUG: Wow. That's outstanding.
ACCORDION: Well, I mean, I played in Las Vegas. I played in San Francisco. I played in Los Angeles.
PLUG: So you're touring.
ACCORDION: Yeah. But I've been stuck here for, like, seventeen years. And I got a girlfriend and we're living in a twenty-four foot camper and I can't get the son of a bitch to start. I had it started about six months ago. But that's what our plan was. The only thing really that I can do for a sustained amount of time is play the accordion. I can last two and half to three hours. I used to play six or seven or eight hours. I remember one July 4th in 1980. I was in Venice Beach, and I played from nine in the morning 'til two the next morning.
PLUG: Man! You must have made out like a bandit that night.
ACCORDION: Yeah, I made about a hundred and twenty bucks, which wasn't bad.
PLUG: Wow. No, that's not bad.
ACCORDION: When I was in Vegas, I used to play in two or three different spots. And I used to do very well there. I used to average between twenty-five and forty bucks an hour. This was back in '82.
ACCORDION: Well , in '82 I stopped in Pittsburgh. At that time you could get a bus ticket for ninety-nine bucks anywhere in the country. Well I was fooling around with this Air Force major's wife. He was dead, and she got a big check, so I didn't really have to work too much. I only usually worked two days a week in Las Vegas. Most of the time I drank and chased pussy...
ACCORDION: ...And a lot of times, they chased me. For six weeks I lived there in the jockey club, rent-free, minding an apartment for, I think he was a millionaire. His name was Peter. I never met him, but the guy that put me in there was definitely a millionaire. He came from Los Angeles. His name was Louis Plop. He came to Vegas the first time and lost a million dollars on the tables, went back to Los Angeles, made another million, came back and stayed.
PLUG: Uh huh.
ACCORDION: I left there in '82. May or June in '82, and I haven't been back there since, you know. I was there eight months. The first day I was there I got arrested. I found an ounce of grass in a parking lot.
ACCORDION: I wasn't intending to stay in Las Vegas. I had plans to go to Tucson, Arizona. I had a promise of a job and maybe even a school bus that had been converted into a camper. And son of a bitch, I spot an ounce of grass. So I go into some bushes, and I smoke it. I get as high as a son of a bitch. And I'm walking around in the middle of the desert playing the accordion, and a fucking cop comes after me. He's throwing his siren on and everything, and all I was doing was playing the accordion.
ACCORDION: But I knew I had the ounce of grass on me, so I ran. I dropped the accordion. I jumped over a couple of fences. I got my head split open.
ACCORDION: Cause I run into another cop with a shotgun. And he had me down. He had his foot on my neck, and I started to sneeze, and the son of a bitch hit me three times right here on the top of the head. I got a t-shaped scar up there where the bastard split my skull open. And the young cop, who was only twenty-five, couldn't keep up with me.
ACCORDION: Then when they got me down there... I had a .357 Magnum shell, and he tried to say I threw a gun away in the desert. I say, "I didn't have no gun. I got the one bullet, and if you want me to, I'll show you how I got it." And he says, "How'd you get it?" I says, "I got it in Hollywood and Vine at a bar." I took the bullet and stuck it on the ground and I flipped up. I picked it up with my teeth and did about five handstand push-ups. When the guy saw me do that, he said, "Man, you deserve the bullet. Keep it." [laughs] I mean, I did a lot of things. Hey, what's your name?
PLUG: Uh, Jay. Nice to meet you. I gotta go.
ACCORDION: Thank you. I wish you well.
PLUG: Yeah. You too. Thank you for the stories, man. I love that song. That was great. Have a great night.
ACCORDION: You too. [resumes accordion playing]