I accepted the invitation to host with a heavy heart. The Thirsty Soul was closing, and it was the last open mic night. I was the first guest performer and the last host. I met many talented people. Some were just peeking their heads out into the world to share themselves for a night. Others were jumping from open mic to open mic in the city. And some, like myself, were reliably present each week.
This particular open mic was sparsely populated: It was Bongo Billy, Pete, and I. With an empty Red Room, I hooked into the Bluetooth and Bongo Billy and I jammed to the Alley Cat and Mama Don’t Allow It. I unremarkably rolled into the last Facebook stream and acted out my best open mic night host impression and belted out some tunes, followed by the others.
The furniture tapped their legs. The chandelier shrugged. The sound system reminded me how much it dislikes acoustic guitar pickups. And so it was. With Pete’s Taylor in arms, I eeked out Redneck Vacation and finished up with my final performance of Chinese Buffet in the lush, comfy, New Orleans-styled parlor to the applause of a small circle of friends.
I briefly toyed with click-bait ideas when titling this post, for this video received a copyright claim related to my version of John Prine’s Please Don’t Bury Me. However, it’s just the sort of non-troversy that I’ve grown bored of in other facets of my life, so why contribute to the demise of civilization in such a fashion? My punishment is that–if I were to join YouTube’s partner program–I could not monetize this video. My interpretation is: I rocked the piano so hard I broke the algorithm.
Do not allow this contemporary tale of woe overshadow the first tune I play in this set, though. Overstayer Question is a brand new tune that is short and easy to remember and perfect to play if someone sticks around too long at a party.
The thing about open mic is that it is a good training ground for learning to fail gracefully. Here I pay tribute to Jay Russell, a dearly departed bandmate from yesteryear, by unsuccessfully muddling through The Pledge. However, my inability to complete the song did not surprise me: I had only learned it the day before, and practiced it a handful of times. I learned firsthand that the concept of “turning failure into success” is real. Interestingly, the fellow directly in front of me immediately embraced the chorus, “I pledge allegiance to cigarettes and booze,” as though it were a song he has stumbled down the sidewalk blurting at 2:17 am several times, despite having only heard it this very night.
Also, in a performance situation, having an old standby like Chinese Buffet to cap off the performance in a positive way is an excellent arrow to have in my quiver of performance strategy. Also featured: Spam.
In 2004, I holed up in the basement of a window factory in New Jersey with my friend Jay Russell. Two years later, we had recorded Break It Up (playable below). We never released it, but his untimely death at 48 years old has sparked interest in it among his friends and family. I spent the last 3 weeks re-mixing the songs and set up a Bandcamp account with which to publish it.
I feel honored to have worked with Jay; he put an abundance of trust in me when I had way more ambition than understanding of how the heck to produce and engineer a proper album. He was extremely talented, funny, and a great pleasure to work with; these songs represent Replacements-style classic rock, with blues, punk, and R&B influences and an enormous guitar presence throughout.
Please have a listen and, if you are so compelled, share it and send a few bucks to his family.
Production and Engineering Notes
I finally got a chance to perform the songs I had planned for Independence Day. This set features a few never-before-performed originals: Penniless Adventure, Freedom Is In, American Dream; and, I couldn’t resist putting a bow on things with Chinese Buffet. I’ve realized I enjoy performing on guitar more than piano, but I’ll definitely dive back into pounding the 88s from time to time, especially if I can back a blues act.