Keith’s Song

When I first arrived at Top of The Hop for book group he was playing the piano, and I paused at the top of the stairs. He continued playing, but asked, “Too loud?” And I said, “No, beautiful.”
There was another guy standing near him, and I thought maybe they were playing together, or studying together, or waiting for other people — there was a box of doughnut holes and a NY Times on the nearby table.
After I took off my coat and sat a ways away, he asked what kind of music I liked. “Everything, pretty much,” I said. “Well, name a song, maybe I know it.” At a loss for words I eventually said, “How about something from the bebop era?” “Yeah!,” he said. And then proceeded to knock out a perfect rendition of a complicated Thelonious Monk song. Not only was it perfect, but it had soul, and swing, and he was really into playing it.
Then, again, “Name a song! What bands do you like?” I finally admitted to a Grateful Dead habit in college, which moved toward jazz, and now exploring the edges of “classical” 20th century art music. He said, “Do you like Led Zeppelin?” “Sure,” I said, thinking, how funny — just this past weekend Bowfire played a Celtic strings arrangement of a take on Kashmir (!!) at the Lebanon Opera House, and before that I hadn’t thought about The Zep since I bought that archive DVD and played it while Lynne and I were getting ready for a party a couple of years ago. “Really takes you back to high school, huh?,” she said. Sure does.
So anyway, he starts into Fool In The Rain (don’t worry, I had to look it up). And then as I’m sitting on the couch with my tea, waiting for friends, he takes Fool In The Rain to places Page and Plant never dreamed of. Probably a dozen, or even two dozen, bright and blinding references to other composers and entire genres of music. Each time, returning somehow, some way — sometimes quickly, sometimes briefly, sometimes with great harmonic dexterity — returning to the Zep theme. He was moving in the seat, moving in and out of the theme, swaying, humming, and really knocking himself out.
Meanwhile, the other guy has moved to a table behind him and is working on marking up a paper or something.
I asked about a Chopin concerto I heard on the radio Monday, and he launched into it: “Is this the #7? Or was it this one?” I had no idea, but he probably had one of them right.
So then Maureen arrives, and Suzanne, and we start talking a bit, and suddenly Keith stops and comes over to a couch near us. And then we experienced a very interesting and unpredictable 45 minutes. It’s not everyday that you get to meet someone who was at turns brilliant, scary, thought-provoking, deep, and duplicitous. Absolute genius, and possibly dangerous. I’d never give him any trackable or identifyible details of my life.
He was a quick conversationalist, though monologuist might better describe it. One of us would ask a question, and he would go off on a lucid, raving, coherent explication of the topic. Common touchpoints included: the relation of the self to others; understanding your self, and coming to know it; how society is constructed to keep people down; the beauty and love of children; how the grace and beauty of children are squeezed out of them by parents, teachers, bosses, friends, and assorted others; how love is the only thing that can heal you; how he feared his dad, and how long it took to get that voice out of his head; how one of the ways he’s defying convention is to marry a 41-year old wife, though he is only 27; how doctors need power over others to maintain their ego; how rich people are so boring; and on and on and on.
Meanwhile, the other guy has now moved across the room, far, far away. And I’m wondering, has this guy Keith been up all night tripping, or is he a crazy genius, or what?
Along the way, I started to wonder about his truthiness. It began early, when I said I liked the Grateful Dead: “Oh, I love the Dead. The Dead are great.” But he didn’t know any of the songs.
When Maureen mentioned that she was playing at the hospital rotunda later that day: “At Dartmouth?! Do they have a piano there?” Then, a few minutes later: “Yes, I played there yesterday.”
In the end, I wondered if he was 27, if he was married, if anything he said were true. But I did know, first hand, what a brilliant piano player he was, with a memory and soulful skill that was rarely heard in a casual setting.
By and by that other guy left the Hop without saying goodbye. Did they even know each other?
As we wrapped up, Keith took the doughnuts and left, remembering our names, and who knows what else. Later, when I looked up the Zeppelin song, I was astounded at the lyrics I read:

“Fool In The Rain”

Well there’s a light in your eye that keeps shining
Like a star that can’t wait for the night
I hate to think I’ve been blinded baby
Why can’t I see you tonight?

And the warmth of your smile starts a-burnin’
And the thrill of your touch gives me fright
And I’m shaking so much, really yearning
Why don’t you show up, make it all right?
Yeah, it’s all right.

And if you promised you’d love so completely
and you said you would always be true
You swore that you would never leave me, baby:
What ever happened to you?

And you thought it was only in movies
As you wish all your dreams would come true
It ain’t the first time believe me, baby
I’m standin here feeling blue
Yeah I’m blue

Now I will stand in the rain on the corner
I’ll watch the people go shuffling downtown
Another ten minutes no longer
And then I’m turning around

The clock on the wall’s moving slower
My heart it sinks to the ground
And the storm that I thought would blow over
Clouds the light of the love that I found

Now my body is starting to quiver
And the palms of my hands getting wet
I’ve got no reason to doubt you baby,
It’s all a terrible mess

I’ll run in the rain till I’m breathless
When I’m breathless I’ll run till I drop, hey
The thoughts of a fool’s kind of careless
I’m just a fool waiting on the wrong block, oh yeah
Light of the love that I found…

This lyric seems to perfectly sum up Keith’s story, as told in fragments to people he doesn’t know, on a Friday morning when I thought I’d be thinking about 3rd and 4th order consciousness and how we relate to other people. In fact, I was, but never did I expect such a wildly radical approach to the topic.