Free Press columnist Tom Sadowski
Free Press columnist Tom Sadowski
Since the statute of limitations on socially improper behavior has expired, I suppose it is time to confess my heinous musical indiscretions.

I hereby publicly apologize to “Sourdough Mike” McDonald who bestowed coveted tickets to the opera on my wife and me. We did not attend. I’m sorry. Worse than that … there is no way to put this delicately: we scalped the tickets to see another show. Shame on us.

My wife didn’t really want to go and, truth be told, neither did I, but come opening night I declared: “We shall put aside our prejudice, dress up and attend the opera.” Well, we dressed up and got ourselves to the performing arts center, and that’s as close as we got.

I should, by all accounts, have more love and respect for the opera. My mother loved the opera and collected 78 rpm opera records in the 1940s. My grandfather loved the opera and even performed as a minor character in shows now long forgotten. The family insists he had some social connection to the great Italian operatic tenor Enrico Caruso but the details of the relationship have been lost. My family also insisted that in spite of our clear roots in abject Polish peasantry, we were descendants of royal blood. But as I got older, I found a lot of Polish village yokels make the royalty claim probably along with the grandfather-Caruso connection.

I never succumbed to the allure of proper opera, although my sisters and I enjoyed my mother’s record of Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore so much that we wore it out. Yes, I know the Pinafore is opera’s disparaged half-brother: the operetta. It lives in the shadow of classical opera in the “musicals” neighborhood. But back to my confession.

The story took place in Anchorage, Alaska, around 1987. Sourdough Mike was a drummer for The Fabulous Spamtones, the house band at the Fly By Night Club that was owned and operated by Alaska’s impresario of sleaze, and prime minister of the piano, Mr. Whitekeys. The club hosted a most irreverent show called The Whale Fat Follies and it often included a sketch where Mr. Whitekeys would verbally spar with Sourdough Mike in the ribald vernacular of the Alaska bush country, ending with a challenge for the Sourdough to sing the state song of Alaska, “Alaska’s Flag.” At this point the audience expected anything to happen except for Sourdough Mike, looking like your quintessential gold-panner, to stand up and deliver a baritone rendition worthy of any opera house. For a minute before the crowd went wild, everyone sobered up and even stood as an emotional wave lifted the audience from their seats. It was just like Victor Laszlo leading the crowd at Rick’s Café to sing “La Marseillaise” in the movie “Casablanca.”

But, that’s another story. Actually, it’s an entire collection of stories — more like a library — that we shall have to save for another time.

It turns out Sourdough Mike had a serious sideline working with serious musicians producing serious opera. Who would have suspected? Since I was part of the production crew at the sleazy bar, he provided me with two tickets at no charge. Was it Puccini’s La Bohème, or Verdi’s La Traviata? I don’t remember; it’s opera.

Arriving at the arts center we spotted a sign pointing the way to the opera and the opposite way to a concert by The Bobs. We looked at each other knowing we took pleasure in the music of The Bobs. We looked at our tickets. They were for the opera and we were still young. We looked at the desperate people standing near the box office who were painfully sad, unable to buy tickets to the sold-out opera. A deal was quietly made where we were compensated for our tickets — enough for both of us to attend The Bobs’ concert, pay our transportation and go out to dinner. And to drinks afterwards, and dancing. And maybe, you know, a little extra.

I’m not proud of what we did but thanks to Sourdough Mike, I shall never forget that night; The Bobs put on an engaging performance. Sourdough Mike passed away in 2002 and mercifully never learned of our indiscretion.

Older now, I wish there could be another opportunity to hear Sourdough Mike in the context of the opera. I would skip The Bobs and, I’m sure, enjoy the experience of classical opera. Anyway, I’ve already been to a Bobs concert.