Rickie Lee Jones
Friends The Story of how i met Sal Bernardi

"Sal was working at Nyro's Nook in downtown.
selling articles of congress to the people downtown...."

There is a statue of Sal's grandfather in a park in New Orleans. I know this because late one night in 1981 we stumbled upon it and he told me so. I think it was his grandfather. It looked more like Yoda than Louis Armstrong, I thought, but that night in the dark we saluted the ghost of Sal's
grandfather. Sal remembered standing in his grandfather's garden among the basil and tomatoes plants. I grew up eating mashed potatos and gravy, but Sal has no use for meatloaf.

I met Sal Bernardi at The Comeback Inn in Venice, California in 1975 or so. He was playing piano for a couple of comedians who played there on the weekend. I came and sat in sometimes on Tuesdays, singing 'My Funny Valentine' and 'Since I Fell'. Rags Baker was a big draw there back then, so charismatic and what a singer. His real name was Becker and he was from Ohio, legend had it. Of all of us I thought he would be the big star. But he was oh so James Dean, and rejected
it all. I think he is a construction worker or something now.

Sal knew some west side story, and so one night we were all out there on the patio with the African Queen, Rags, Duke McVinney, and even Sam Provensano the drummer, and Sal and I began singing some of the better known qualities of that score, and soon we were looking at each other on rather friendly terms. I invited him down to Santa Monica College, where I was a
full time sophomore, and we went into the practice room and I listened to him play piano, something about getting all hunky dory in the sky. He was exotic and very beautiful, calm, dark, wore red tinted glasses, which made him look a bit sinister, and people always treated him with suspicion. He looked like the guy Honey-Bear would have beat up in Baretta.

He had to move downtown to stay on welfare, and they got him a job at Nyro's Nook porno book store, with adult acoutrements, down near the bus station. One night Mark Vaughan and I drove down there to visit him. I had never been downtown before. It was pretty seedy, and there was Sal behind the counter, a hunky dory in the sky kind of guy, offering dildos and blow up dolls to the
filthy customers who requested a look. He also ran the film machine in the back.

Needless to say, he didn't stay in LA long, and went back up to San Francisco for many adventures of his own before we hooked up again. I got a job working as an operator at the school, and placed a call to him at a number I traced him at in New Jersey through his friends in San Francisco. I called him up and he said, wow, I was just telling my friend about you and the way you sing My Funny Valentine.

A couple years later, then, when I was sitting pretty up in an expensive hotel room, the St. Regis I think, trying to figure out if I was supposed to tip the bellboy every time he came up, and how much, and I called Sal to come and see me in New York. "I wrote a song about you," I said, with some trepidation, knowing that it wasn't the most flattering refrain, a weasle in a white boys cool, you know. He listened. when it was over he said "I like it, you know, but....a weasle? "

We drove around that night in his car, which had cardboard where the windows use to be. He still had on his long johns under his clothes, and he drove like Mr. Ed, which is ten times worse than Mr. Magoo, since Mr. Ed is a horse, and the cab drivers were honking and yelling, and he didn't even know he was cutting people off. It was funny if it wasn't dangerous, not so much from hitting someone but from someone getting out of their car and beating us up.

Sal doesn't drive anymore. He lives in Paris, the good life, the hunky dory in the sky. Surrounded by the syntax of a people he is not one of, the percussive and soothing sounds of language he does not have to recognize, and the soothing river and wind of the lovely cultured Parisians. He visited New Jersey last year or so, and I was worried that it had sucked him back into it's black vinyl vortex. But he got out. He works sometimes in Paris, and I often ask him to play with me when I tour Europe in the summers.

We wrote beautiful songs together, Traces of the Western Slopes, where he sings and plays harmonica through some effects Buzzy Feiton concocted. He deeply influenced the whole language of Pirates, with his stories about his friends, Cunt-Finger Louie, and lines like 'sad-eyed Sinatra" and remarks like 'there we were with glue all over our faces'. He is rich in language and humor, and no one meets him that is not on the floor laughing from the great story he tells. He brings much joy to a tired routine. He doesn't spell very well, but who does these days, ahead of his time as usual.

So this is Sal Bernardi, from Lodi New Jersey, pardner and friend, a cowboy in red-tinted glasses and a beret. well, a flying cowboy. A great harmonica player and guitar player full of lovely melodies. He's kind of a kinks/zombies singer. Liked the rollling stones more than the Beatles. He's co-written with Willie DeVIlle, and Buzz, and others I think. Women, beautiful women love him. He never gets angry. Except that one time when a certain tour manager lost his passport on the way to Spain...but that's another story.

rlj
October 19, 2000

 

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