The Thursday preceding my victory at the CMC my mother and I discovered some potentially distressing news (which seems to have been merely a scare) which impelled me to abandon my plan to depart Gainesville that following Monday, 1.24.11. So instead of boarding the Greyhound that day I again traipsed off to the Laboratory Open Mic. I prepared no set list with a mind to take inspiration the night’s events. On arriving I first noticed the presence of seven non-regulars, the show’s audience being so normally static that any new ones stick out instantly. Reverend Angel Dust started us off as usual with ode to Proposition 19 and the fruits of the dumpster. As delightful as ever, if slightly less inspired.
Immediately after my older brother Kevin rang me and I therefore missed Dave and Jesse’s performance – according to Chase, who detained me outside for the rest of their act, talking about his drag act and how he’s old and can suck the life out of young people as he said he was doing right then with me, it was transcendent. Happily I escaped his beer/cigarette suffused breath for a listen to Helen. She sang an entirely a capella set of two German songs and a variation on the Song of Solomon in Hebrew, nerves as quivering as ever. A nice act, nonetheless.
Some time afterwards Tom Miller mentioned that “We are all James Wesson’s bitch. We tolerate his damage to the furniture, to the equipment, to our bodies…” which got quite an appreciative and knowing roar. To fill time between the two acts he started a limerick battle with another Tom, which became the defining thread of the night. Sometimes the limericks stayed true to the AABBA format and retained that recognizable meter, but often they’d stray overlong or try forced rhymes that earned terrible groans from the audience. During one interlude Miller began taking limericks from the audience to champion his cause – which he instantly regretted with the first abysmal three. I think the limericks kept our new audience members entertained, too, as they’d spend the rest of the evening coming up with their own generically sexual and family-offending lines.
Heather, the bellydancer of questionable pregnancy took the stage to an admirably deadpan introduction by a mousy “theatre” woman – “Hi, this is Heather. She’s great.” Wahoo followed with his standard Tom Miller introduction, but with a me-specific twist. He opened his three song set with “In honor of our resident busker, Terrence, all of the songs tonight will have a common theme.” This theme proved to the French language, gringo as before. Maybe I’ve become accustomed to his voice/style, though, as he rather charmed me with his singing.
Chase and his brother Dave, the hand dancer/singer from the previous week asked me to video them for a duo performance to the music of Tarzan after their usual YouTube commercial sharing. I’ll let that video commentate in my stead:
The one female new audience member had been incredibly vocal and enthusiastic throughout the night and when she took the stage next, Brandi explained she’d been psyching herself up. She sang three songs a capella in a soulful way, though often off pitch and off rhythm. I sympathized with her – her screaming and drinking and smoking for her nerves no doubt affected her ability to hit notes, but I don’t think her propensity for melisma helped at all. After two song from Showboat our conspicuously large white southern girl retired for a drink before singing a strange, overly vocalized version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Tom filled the interim with limericks and she finished to rousing applause.
My older brother’s childhood friend Ryan read a hilarious poem sexualizing religion in a similar style to David Moss but with defter and more clever strokes. I can’t remember the half of it’s brilliance, but one line stood out: “You make my sac… religious.” Two more poets followed – Bayou with a bitter eight year old poem about an ex which he’d never read aloud and needed to be drinking steadily til’ the moment of delivery to spit and Astrid, who read a nice poem with a matter of fact voice. Jack Mason visited again with an incredible display range to the lyrics “If I wanted to go up high I’d go up high” in a reedy voice to maybe a B4 down to a rumbly C#2 “If I wanted to stay down low I’d stay down low.”
And then, finally, moi. I took my violin along in case I wanted to play it, and with Tom Miller’s mentioning a violinist, Kim, who now played with Barry Manilow and used to play at his show many times I thought that a sufficient excuse. I fashioned my set to describe the reasons why people may or may not tip. With Wahoo’s mention of me I knew I needed to begin with a discussion of my racism experiment. I sang Ue Liang Dai Biao Wo De Xin – sketchily and somewhat weak – unintentionally but appropriate to my story. I then whipped out the violin, explained how people tip just for seeing “Oooh a violin, talent, it must be an artist down on his luck.” Rather than “Feh, I can play the guitar too, get a job.” I improvised a passionate G minor variation and theme for a few minutes. It felt natural and I certainly had the entire crowd with me. That short bout underscored my reason for not playing the violin on the street, though. In order to play well I needed to close my eyes and delve into myself – I wasn’t connecting with anyone and I may as well have been alone. I perform to be with people. When I finished, the other Tom came up to the stage and tipped me a dollar. I finished my set with Hallelujah – my most lucrative song in non-racist locales and appropriate to the slew of anti-religious poems and comments throughout the night.
When I returned to my seat the other regulars surprised me – David clapped my shoulder with “To me the most emotional instrument in the world is the violin. I was bawling the whole time you were playing.” Tom told me “Maybe people tip you because you’re really good.” And best of all Ryan: “How you (an artist) came out of the Ho family… it’s a beautiful contradiction. It really speaks to the existence of a soul.” Jesse and Bayou congratulated me too. I felt so supported there I sent my card around and chatted with everyone a little – flattered but somehow nervous.
In classic Tom Miller fashion, he followed with a rebuttal poem called “Flea in my urethra.” Perfect and smoothed the way to transition to Joe Willis. Joe played the same songs with the same quality with James backing as usual – but a “freestyle drummer” on hand lent a new sound to something I’d become both immensely weary of and acclimated enough to enjoy. Wesson insisted on playing before Tom announced the night’s “winner.” He sang his songs in Mrs. Doubtfire falsetto while Joe looked foolish and added random plucks and yeas. They’d shown up during my set and Joe “won.” I felt a bit indignant and Tom later intimated he hoped I’d win the $25 tab. Damn random.com.
Earnings: $1.00, 15 minutes
Song of the Day: Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen