CATERING TO THE SOUL WITH MUSIC
NIGHTCLUB ON WHEELS PROVIDES TINY STAGE FOR COMIC PHILOSOPHER
February 11, 1997
By Carlos Alcala Bee Staff Writer
--This Sacramento King is truly an irreplaceable one-of-a-kind. Harrington King's card identifies him as the "Spiritual Optimist," but that's just the Cliffs Notes description of this entertainer, a man who operates out of the tiniest nightclub in town: five stools around a baby grand piano inside a purple truck.
King is also the human nickelodeon, a philosopher, a comedian, rector of the Acoustic Sanctuary (the purple truck), the master of a score of musical instruments and the master of one dog named Rusty.
"He's pure gold," said David Latta of San Francisco, after a visit to the Acoustic Sanctuary, which was parked in a lot at 10th and R streets Saturday night.
King's resume includes one more thing: "I was Mozart 300 years ago," he said. More on this later.
King, 41 years old in his current lifetime, has created the Acoustic Sanctuary out of what he said was a surplus Army truck, once used as a mobile missile launch station.
It looks like an old bread truck.
He painted it, put steps in the back and hinged the walls so they open like a catering truck.
Clear plastic shower curtains line the sides, there are mirrors on the ceiling and propane heaters on the floor.
When his patrons entered the Acoustic Sanctuary on Saturday, they were cramped but not cold, despite the chill outside.
His rolling nightspot drew many of its listeners from people headed to the nearby Fox & Goose who were drawn by the odd glow of the truck.
Others were returnees, who seemed to have come to assure themselves that the Acoustic Sanctuary was not an illusion.
"Fast or slow?" King asked his listeners. It was his standard way of asking for musical suggestions. "Fast or slow?" he repeated.
He sat behind a baby grand with a Plexiglas top and a Spanish American War-era compass inside. He was surrounded by instruments, most of which look as old as the compass.
A partial inventory includes kalimba, string bass, violin, trumpet, steel guitar, saxaphone, trombone and a patchwork contraption like a mini-tuba he calls the "moanaphone."
King played drum and high hat with one shoeless foot. With the other, he played about 10 pedals attached to bass notes on the piano. He claims to play five or six instruments at a time.
He also said he knew musical notes before he learned the alphabet. As a result, there was confusion when he was told there were 26 letters.
"I was real adamant," King recalled. "It doesn't go past G."
His operation is all acoustic and human-powered. He has no patience for modern electronic conveniences.
"People like to see real instruments," he said. "Drum machines are like blow-up dolls. They aren't gonna argue with you, but they're not alive either."
There is no charge for the show, though there is a goblet with business cards on the piano and most listeners throw a few dollars in as tips.
"I don't do it for the money," King insisted. "I do it for the soul."
The soul seems to be nourished largely on blues, jazz and idiosyncratic covers of popular tunes.
A list of his repertoire would look like a phone book, King said, but requests for specific songs and artists are not always honored.
Latta and a couple of friends couldn't get Chopin or Blind Faith, but they got Eric Clapton and a song titled "My Dead Kitty Blues," they said.
When Latta asked for Wynton Marsalis on the trumpet, he got something from Chuck Mangione's "Feels So Good" album, but played on the strap-on moanaphone.
The quality of music is not strained, but it isn't exactly virtuoso either. King's pastiche of "Rhapsody in Blue" sounded practiced, but his moanaphone licks sounded like he was making it up as he went along.
"You write that?" one stool-sitter asked after a song.
"What I couldn't remember, I did," King responded.
He announced the title of a Brazilian tune by Antonio Carlos Jobim, adding, "That's Portuguese for "slightly out of tune,' " which indeed it was.
In a more serious vein, King said his philosophy doesn't let him fret about the musical details.
"I don't worry about what's it going to sound like two beats ahead or how out of tune it was five minutes ago," he said. "The only way to do it is to focus in the now and block out your delusions of the past and your projections of the future."
King focuses "in the now," and prefers not to talk much about the past. He did leak out a little:
He is a native of Florida, who came to Sacramento eight years ago while in a short-lived marriage, he said. He ran a vegetarian juice bar a couple of years ago, and sometimes goes by the first name "Winko," stuck on him by his family because he was born with one eye open and one closed.
He has developed a philosophy, called the Spiritual Physics of Salvation.
He does not push this philosophy on his audiences. In fact, he often answers questions about "spiritual optimism" with deflecting wisecracks.
That attitude leads to inevitable questions about how serious - or sane - he is when he says he was Mozart, or that Rusty, the dog, has been with him for generations.
"When I say I've been around for eons, (I mean) so have you, so has everybody," King said. "Life is supposedly hard until you realize you've been around forever."
He knows that not everybody is going to swallow his spiritual concepts whole, and maybe not even partially, but that doesn't bother him.
"I'm not responsible for what other people swallow."
Harrington King's Acoustic Sanctuary can often be found Friday and Saturday nights near 10th and R streets. During the week, his truck is usually parked, though not necessarily playing, at the Towe Ford Museum, 2200 Front St