C’EST LA VIE IN THE METAL BAR

I’d had enough of the Metal from the digital jukebox
Late at night, in the mostly empty bar
I walked over and put on Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s C’est la Vie
Lush, strings and flute trills, accordion, ringing picked acoustic guitar steel strings
Overwhelming choral background harmonies swell amid Greg Lake’s
Melodic clear voice and echoed cavernous in the bar and the waitress’ incredulity
Of kick-drum rolls thunder, growl and hollering stomp stark jarred shock
C’est la Vie’s lyrical echo labeled me through the subsequent months
Until COVID shut us down and there was no more bar or incredulous waitress
Funny, that the song bored me in the Detroit arena when I first heard it at 18
While Keith Emerson strolled in front of a set depicting lamplit French streets
Playing an accordion to a restless, chattering crowd, my last year of high school
And they got away with C’est la Vie and the Motor City packed Cobo Hall—
Home of Ted Nugent and Alice Cooper—in fact, had the crowd on their feet,
And a Billboard article called them Heavy Metal with Keith Emerson’s orchestral
Piano Concerto no. 1 on the vinyl album featuring C’est la Vie and Aaron Copeland.
I don’t know how they got away with it.  I couldn’t get away with it that evening
But there was Yes, then, and Ian Anderson invented rock flute and Death Metal
Hadn’t arrived yet like in the incredulous bar I played echoing C’est la Vie
Keith Emerson had enough of us that concert and played Nutrocker twice in a row
—A rocked-out version he didn’t write of Tchaikovsky’s March of the Toy Soldiers
“Did you like it?”  Keith taunted, “Would you like to hear it again?”
And played it again note for note and the crowd cheered a second time
I wondered if a girl in my high school named Marca liked Emerson, Lake & Palmer
I asked her and she said, “I like Nutrocker.”   Despite those packed concert arenas,
Keith Emerson never got the validation from Aaron Copeland that he wanted

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