Notorious Travelin ‘bum Jack Steinway died last night in Arizona. He was 76 years old.
Although not traditionally the most ostentatious profession, Jack was truly one of the protagonists of vagrancy throughout his long career. He is perhaps best known for his unusual choice of instrument. While many prefer the harmonica, or occasionally the guitar, Jack has been known to travel most of his life with an elegant grand piano on his back, sometimes prompting a lot of funny jokes from his contemporaries.
Born in Tennessee to his own parents, Steinway and his family were often forced to, in his own words, “do whatever it takes to make ends meet.” It was never made clear whether this meant literally making their feet touch their heads like a human donut, or a more metaphorical monetary goal, but one thing was for sure: doing the impossible was a bad way to earn a living. Jack and his family would often stand on street corners for hours, flexing and writhing for all they were worth, only to walk away with a few pennies from disinterested passersby.
At the age of fourteen, increasingly disillusioned by the family business (few if any people wanted to swap families with the failed junior contortionist), Jack threw himself in and took a job as a bartender at a strip club. . Due to his distracted eyes and the resulting shaky hands, Jack was soon fired for spilling more alcohol than he poured, but not before he learned rudimentary piano from the jazz pianist who often accompanied the acts, “Keys” Lockwell.
Unfortunately, bad luck seemed to follow Steinway, and as a result of a mostly semi-literate audience, Lockwell himself was soon fired from his post because people were uncomfortable with the sound of a strip club featuring “girls with pianists.”
With no luck, Lockwell and Steinway made a fearless midnight foray into the club and left with a piano and some rather attractive feathered boas, a now-extinct species of snake.
Having sold the boas to the local zoo, Jack and Keys decided to travel the rails to California in hopes of better luck. As the duo’s youngest member, Jack was assigned the job of carrying the concert grand piano that had been stolen the night before. He would later recall, with his astute sense of description, that it was “bloody heavy.”
However, carrying the piano had an unexpected advantage; After years of walking at an unnaturally reclined angle due to his badly past childhood, crouching under three tons of excess weight soon resulted in a miraculous posture correction.
When they arrived in California, Steinway was on his way to becoming an accomplished pianist, but Lockwell had higher ambitions and tempers began to fray. After an altercation over a woman, the two separated and vowed never to speak again. Lockwell apparently committed suicide that night by throwing a piano at himself, although the police were always suspicious of this explanation and many questions were left unanswered.
Without Lockwell’s influence, Jack was soon derailed. Furthermore, “Keys” Lockwell had possessed much greater financial acumen than Steinway, who was both dumb with money and also extraordinarily unlucky. On August 5, 1945, he invested the little savings he had collected in a fledgling Japanese electronics company based in Hiroshima. A cunning move, but one that failed spectacularly with the bombardment of the city into atomic dust the next day.
Ultimately deciding that he had been happier riding the rails, Steinway embarked on a permanent career on the road. Despite the urges of his contemporaries, he steadfastly refused to learn a more portable instrument and stubbornly carried his piano around the southwestern United States well into his old age.
In fact, the Travelin ‘Jack Steinway legend was always big enough that he could show up in a city and trade it to burn a drink, smoke, or repeatedly a full spine transplant to replace. their ridiculously compacted vertebrae.
Still, age and injuries couldn’t crush his spirit. When Hobo Monthly caught up with him last year, his trademark ingenuity was on display for all to see when he said dryly “What the hell do you want ?!” before hitting our reporter on the head and neck with a bottle of Jack Daniels.
With his death, the great American highway loses one of its most colorful figures. May it be remembered for a long time.
Edit: An antique grand piano is for sale. Well spent. Offers welcome.