At last. I wasn't Irish any more. The first time I heard it, before I was properly listening, I knew for absolute sure. It took me by the ears and spat on my forehead, baptised me. There was a whole band of men on the bandstand, a little woman at the piano, all thumping and blowing their lives away. Two horns, a trombone, tuba, banjo, drums, filling the world with their glorious torment. There were two trumpets blowing but the spit on my forehead came from only one man's. I looked at him through the human steam - it was too hot there for sweat - and I knew it.
I was a Yank.
It was like nothing I'd heard before, nothing like the American songs the Piano Annie had played on my spine in Dublin, before I'd had to run. This was free and wordless and the man with the trumpet was driving it forward without ever looking back. It was furious, happy and lethal; it killed all other music. It was new, like me.
--You got a name, honey?
There was a gorgeous thing beside me, checking out the fabric of my suit. The suit was old -- three years since I'd bought it -- but the collar was hours-old new.
-- I've got several, I told her.
-- That supposed to impress me?
-- No, I said. -- When I'm impressing you, you won't have to ask.
-- Now ain't you a man.
-- And ain't you a woman.
I was recovering. I was Henry Smart, and there was a woman here who was interested in getting to know me. I looked at her properly.
She wasn't black. She wasn't white. She was new too, invested seconds before and plonked in front of me. Just for me, the new American.
But the trumpet was butting at me; I had to look. She wasn't put off or put out. I could feel her breath, and it was new too, made of things I hadn't tasted. It was stroking my neck.
--Who's that? I said.
I nodded at the stage.
--You don't know him? she said.
--He the man all you white folks come down here to see.
--Who is he?
She told me. I learnt all his names that night. Dipper. Gate. Gatemouth. Dippermouth. Daddy. Pops. Little Louie. Laughing Louie. Louis Armstrong. The names danced among the crazy lights that jumped from the mirror ball above the dance floor. He was dancing now as he played, as if his legs were tied to the notes that jumped from the bell of his horn. His steps were crazy but he was in control. He was puppet and master, god and disciple, a one-man band in perfect step with the other players surrounding him. His lips were bleeding - I saw drops fall like notes to his patent leather shoes - but he was the happiest man on earth.
--Any man worth a damn need more than one name, said the woman. --Ain't that the truth?
--Roddy Doyle, Oh, Play That Thing