The Liver Spot sits near a major intersection. The Point Diner and the Chicago Dispatcher used to be in the next building over. But that building was demolished several years ago. The Blue Light is still around the corner but it’s unrecognizable. It’s for yuppies now. Or preppies or normies or whatever. I don’t know. I haven’t set foot inside in twenty years. The Liver Spot isn’t what it used to be either.
Back when Carey would show up for unscheduled sets——acting like he was the Stones playing the Double Door——to an audience of five or six blasé whiskey drinkers who’d never heard of him, the Liver was decorated with mismatched furniture and horrible thrift-store art. It was like a cabaret in a junkyard. The bartender never knew my name and I loved him for that.
It’s austere, minimal now. The old owner sold when he saw the neighborhood changing. The new guy thinks it’s Jazz at Lincoln Center. It’s a “listening room” now. The seats have sleek lines and are profoundly uncomfortable for anyone weighing over 140 pounds. It’s no longer a place to linger. The good whiskey at rotgut prices is but a wisp of a memory. So it goes.
Carey now announces his appearance on Twitter, Snapchat, and IG Live. He can’t blow his horn, but he’ll spin you a yarn if you let him. He’ll do it even if you ask him not to. He doesn’t listen too good. He has an insatiable need to tell anyone within earshot about what once was. Who he used to be. Who he’ll soon be again.
The new guy’s thinking of dropping the Liver part of the name. Sacrilege to old-timers like me. We used to ask each other,
——Gonna be at the Liver later?
Knowing full well the answer was always yes, even when we said no. The new guy doesn’t want any of the seedy associations for his jazz temple. He puts up with a few of us still coming around out of charity or compromise or goodwill. But there’s no love lost and no one who looks like me will attract the crowd he’s after. Carey’s a legend so he gets carte blanche, whereas I’m a nobody, so tolerating my presence holds little benefit.
The bartender——the 22-year-old son of the singer of a popular band I hate——has Stereolab on low. Carey’s holding court tonight. Telling us about the last time he was on Carson or Conan, some late-night show. He describes in vivid, wrenching detail how he fought to stay upright on the bandstand. The sickness was coursing through him. Sending lightning shocks that blinded him every few seconds. When he could see, it wasn’t the clapping studio audience, but vibrating electric-tinted worms in dayglo rainforests. He kept blowing the standard the censors approved before he hit the stage, but it was practically out-of-body. He’d played the number so many times his conscience was only nominally required. He has his other four listeners on the edge of their seats. Out-of-towners. They’re at the Liver tonight after reading up about it in an airline magazine. They hoped to run into an authentic jazzbo. It’s their lucky night. What they don’t know is that Carey tells his harrowing tale word for word in bars and coffeeshops all over town night after night. I don’t tell them. I don’t want to burst the old blowhard’s balloon.
When he’s done talking, he signs the records they brought, works up what passes for a smile for their selfies. He’s exhausted. I finish the last of my drink and help him out to the car. He stopped driving long before the sickness. The last time he was behind the wheel he drove into someone’s living room. He’s been paying others to cart him about ever since. He likes it. Makes him feel important. I have a rolling deal with the Liver Spot guy to bring Carey over in exchange for a break on the bar tab. Maybe that’s why he tolerates my presence. If I can get the horn player here a time or two a week, it ups his cred a bit, even if these tourists hardly ever order more than a glass of his box wine or a light beer.