The legendary science fiction writer Ray Bradbury passed away yesterday at the age of 91. In all the tributes and obituaries flying around the internet, I haven't seen mention of a poem he wrote about Louis Armstrong. As photographer Lisl Steiner tells it, she shared train trip with Bradbury to Los Angeles in 1980. During the trip--in the midst of polishing off four bottles of wine--Steiner shared stores about Louis's 1957 trip to South America, which she photographed. Armstrong was greeted by so many mobs of people in Buenos Aires, he wired his manager Joe Glaser to send him one of Yogi Berra's catcher's masks to wear in public so he could protect his chops from the overzealous fans! (It might sound too good to be true but there are multiple photos of Louis in the catcher's mask, including this one from the Louis Armstrong House Museum.)
Anyway, Bradbury was so enchanted by this story, he wrote a poem about it titled "Satchmo Saved" and gave a copy of it to Steiner, dated October 5, 1980 and inscribed "For Lisl--who inspired this! Love! From Ray B." I couldn't find it anywhere online so here it is, for Ray, Lisl and Louis:
By Ray Bradbury
They put Louis in a mask
Save him, Lord, they cried, your task
Is save Satchmo's limbs and lips--
On his Buenos Aires trips
May his windpipe be protected!
Louis Armstrong genuflected,
Said: Now duckin' ain't my style,
But this great piano smile
Needs protectin' so, instead,
Hang that wire-mask on my head;
Save me from the mad crowd's sin,
Call the Saints and march it in!
So his grin was nicely caged
Mobs might pummel, love-enraged,
But that trumpet-playing mouth
Was protected, North and South
By a baseball catcher's-mask.
Don't, said Louis, please don't ask
Why I sport this wire lid,
Why my munch mouth is hid;
Cause on other Rio trips,
Nice folks tried to steal my lips;
Mobs around, above, beneath,
Longed to ripoff these sweet teeth,
And I feared there might be some
Who might want an inch of gum--
All because those wild folks feel
What old Louis plays ain't real,
Must be something in his jaw
Sails that Jazz beyond the Law!
So when Satchmo flies a plane,
Rio airport mobs, insane,
Rush to help me off the ship
Then with joy they tear and rip.
Watch out, Louis, no more lip!
In their seething lunge and grip
Louis yells: forget the stretcher!
Lend me mask of baseball-catcher,
Otherwise, no jump, no Jazz,
No mouth, no lip? No razzmatazz!
So with catcher's mask in place
And a sweet smile on his face,
Louis runs the gauntlet through,
Blowing riffs both hot and blue,
Cuts a rug with quails and hips,
And, in midflight, laughs and quips,
"Grab my Jazz, but leave my lips!"