Punta Gorda, BZ.
Sitting outside his beloved homestead of a bar, in a dark corner all alone, off to the side, I found Oscar Burke. I arrived back to Front Street after sundown, it was a quiet night. Oscar sat in his chair, with his Fender Telecaster and 10 Watt amp sitting beside him. Clearly the jamming had given way to the intoxicating for the night. I walked up and stood before him, he slowly glanced upward. “Do you remember this face?” I asked, in an attempt to reach through the hold of the rum. Oscar looked back down into his absent gaze. “No” he said.
I took the chair beside him, wanting to give him a clearer look… “I played night after night at your bar last year. We Jammed!”
He gazed on in silence… “Maybe if you sing me an original tune I might remember”
I started snapping my fingers…
Well I woke up this mornin’ guess the hangover won
What with all the drinking me and Oscar gone done
There’s puke in my beard, and I lost both my shoes, Dear Lord
I got the Punta Gorda White Boys Blues
Oscar’s face formed into a subtle smile. “I juss fuckin’ wit you man. Of course I remember you” Of course he did. For as I first arrived, completely foreign one Decembers day in 2015, with guitar in hand, Oscar took me on as his apprentice.
I remember getting off Georgia the bike and untying my guitar. A much livelier day-time Oscar noticed me from one building over and paced straight over. He told me of all his big ambitions, upon learning I like Country, he assured me some sort of Country Music Night is in the works. Later that night he came hollering outside my hotel window, “Bring your guitar down!”
Him, Myself, and Jordan sat on the front steps of ‘tourist information’ and took turns playing songs back and fourth late into the night. He was a Rasta Man, I’m not sure his age, but I’m almost certain he looks even older. He gave off such a peaceful complexion, most of his attention was always on the music. And though he can be a controversial figure in some circles through town, I only ever saw the musician. That said, serious musicians didn’t much care that he would rather pay you in wisdom, instead of money. An occasional BadMan Jimmy (250ml Rum). A smooth soulful Raggae guitar player, with a hint of Jazz, using those silent notes to accentuate an already captivating performance. His voice, mumbly like Ozzy Osbourne, abused and jagged like Lemmy, but chill to the bone, and Caribbean… like Bob Marley.
Well It wasn’t long before I was pitted up in the hostel next to his bar, coming over most every day. He would set the Amp and the Mic up, and let me play as long as I wanted. Some afternoon’s he was my only audience member. He would sit with his back to me, staring into the abyss, just listening. Anything I’d want to try. Then we’d sit down over a beer and he would pass on his wisdom. I was happy to have the gig. He was happy to have music in the bar. That was the foundation of our friendship.
Soon the shows were being offered elsewhere, bigger events in nearby villages. I was running out of available nights to come jam quietly. But we always saved Thursday’s for “Country Music Night” at the Central. And he kept doing his thing. A few months later I saw him break open the shell of a relatively quiet ex-pat American who lived out in the country. His name was Jake and he had mad skills, with similar vibes to Oscar’s, but no one knew this until the two of them began taking over the mic the occasional night.
Jake loved the appreciation, the passing of wisdom, all the things that drew me in not 2 months earlier. Jake was bursting into the musical collective we had going at the time. Sorry to say, we lost him in a drunken incident involving 2 officers and an intoxicated driver as he was heading home from a gig in the Country. Just days before I was set to go home.
Coming back to Punta Gorda, a lot changes in such a small town. Some friends went home, some got hooked on crack and haven’t been heard from. Realizing now, the musical energy I experienced last time around was but a peak of the ever fluid momentum in life. It’s quieter this year, but there was always the consistency of a man like Oscar, sitting outside his Bar, guitar by his side, waiting for an excuse to set up the gear.
I don’t suspect I’ll stay here too terribly long. I’ve much to see, or would maybe feel like I didn’t do anything new for myself while I’m out on the road again. But in time. For now, as it clearly seems, I’m having a good enough time revisiting the dream that was.