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.
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.
Great night, lightly attended by excellent people. We did a second round, so here I am performing 6 songs. For the second set, I indulged myself by singing a vulgar song that–as my pal and would-be manager, Geoff, observed–has the structure of a children’s song. Hopefully children will not sing it.*
* Incidentally, the aforementioned vulgar tune was inspired by a recent visit to Gettysburg, which is documented at:
Saying goodbye to something can be difficult, even if the thing you’re leaving is damaging you. This song was inspired by 7 months’ alcohol free. The instrumentation is particularly sparse, which left room for some detailed production work. It also features a melodica solo. This reedy instrument can impart melancholy better than no other in my own repertoire of musicianship.