Saturday, November 27, 2010

Village Voice: Dining with Dr. John


Not long ago several friends and I enjoyed the most recent of a series of meals with Mac Rebennack, more commonly known by his stage name of Dr. John. One of his earliest incarnations was as The Night Tripper, a psychedelic-era character who wore African-inspired duds and melded the popular music of New Orleans with that of San Francisco. A student of the legendary pianist Professor Longhair, Mac is a multi-instrumentalist whose guitar playing career was cut short early on by a gunshot wound to the hand received while defending a friend in a bar brawl.

Though he was once a heroin addict - a defect he readily admits - he has been clean for many, many years, and now won't touch drugs of any sort or even a drop of alcohol. Nevertheless, many of his stories from the psychedelic era revolve around drugs and his many contacts with other musicians of that period. In fact, there's almost no figure you can't ask him about that he didn't know, and can't come up with a story about.

Bearded, still dressed in dandified outfits, old in years but still keen in intelligence, he is a master storyteller, and his tales are capable of distracting an audience from the world's best-tasting food.

Here, then, are some tales told during a meal at the Upper East Side's Szechuan Chalet, followed by some early videos and a few shots of the food we ate that evening. Apart from some occasional questions on my part, the rest of the prose is Dr. John's, just as he uttered it in his gravely New Orleans drawl.

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