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Pay To Play : A Curious Interview
Originally appeared in Issue #20

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]

This Plug of mine is working fine
It's right in the middle of my chest
Days go by and it's getting cold
And I'm gonna wear a vest

I'm through with school and I'm no fool
I heard about a Plug
The guy who asked me about it don't look bad
But he might be some kind of mug

ACCORDION:   It's gone forever. [laughs]

PLUG:   [applauds]

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.

PLUG:   Right.

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.

PLUG:   Wow.

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...

PLUG:   Right.

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.

PLUG:   Right.

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.

PLUG:   Right.

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.

PLUG:   Oof.

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.

PLUG:   Right.

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]


Issue #40: Those tears belong to you
Issue #40