Vera's a Natural Blue

I’d heard Vera’s distinctive voice and thought her singing style fell on the right side of a moaning wail. Though I didn't know who she was, with a single verse, I understood a lot about where she came from.

Friday night is one reserved for dinners with friends from my last job but since leaving a few years ago, the threads that connect us are wearing thinner. I’m beginning to resign myself to our drift away from each other, and there was a time I would have waved it off as inevitable. As I get older, though, I'm not so glib. I find something a little mournful in the fact that during a life we go through people. People go through us.

A few hours into this particular Friday's get-together, my sister and I left the restaurant and headed for that tiny hookah bar I keep complaining about but can’t seem to stay away from. Shisha is apparently now good stuff in my book. But it’s a trendy way to spend an evening and we’re aware of wasting idle time with yet another passing fancy. We’ll enjoy hookah bars until the next hip thing comes along and justify our visits with the fact that the establishment supports local artists, including our most talented cellist friends. It's when the artists become overrun by the late night arrival of the fashionista crowd that we’re apt to roll our eyes at their air-kiss greetings and bulky designer purses. Last Friday the scenery was no different. Except for a few minutes when Vera Hall grieved and cried.

There were only a dozen of us in a room meant to hold no more than 30 or 40. We hunkered in groups under dim red lamps and talked mostly about nothing. But when you’re in a hip bar, you feel the need to behave as if you’re engaged. Conversations about nothing aren’t just common, they become necessary to keep the ambiance.

Vera sang a Natural Blues. When Moby’s recording began, and before the sampling of her 1937 song, it was just background trance music softly pumping energy into the room. When Vera's voice rang through, at least ten of us, including the bartenders and servers, stepped outside race and class to cry our natural blues with her. We sang the tune’s repeated chorus to no one and everyone, stopping in mid conversation to become absorbed in the lyrics, letting our gaze wander to a painting on the wall, or to the front door. I watched as we all began a synchronous bob and soft wail, closing ourselves off from everyone and reaching out to no one. For a very short time, in the middle of a place we were supposed to appear guarded and fashionable, our need to sing a common song was greater.

We still hear you, Ms. Hall.

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