Snippets from an Open Mic

by Sam Buntz

Dreadlocked white boys narrate Rastafarian basics, while a single, tinny chord continually issues from a guitar. It whines an arrhythmic protest against the proceedings as a whole.

The bar is full of ethnically ambiguous dudes wearing hip-hop-style, flat-brimmed baseball caps with the stickers still on, nursing Malibu Rum and cokes, draped in extra, extra large black t-shirts, some bearing illegible yet menacing graffiti-stylized slogans. It’s a kind of Tiki Bar of the Damned.

This one kid could play the piano O.K. but his lyrics were terrible: “Romance is ephemeral! Romance is eph-eph-ephemeral!” (not a stutter, just the way the song went). If he had been bad at both playing piano and writing lyrics, it wouldn’t have mattered much—in pitch dark, you can’t really get too disturbed by what’s in front of you. But a little light brings it home.

Monday drunks examine little, pink umbrellas, half-conscious of baseball on the TV (the Sox aren’t doing too hot). Monday drunks cackle and guffaw, alternately, hanging with their boys. You gotta hang with your boys.

This next guy can’t play the guitar and he can’t sing—and now it’s really 3 A.M. in the soul. Pitch black! He’s howling, “Maaaaaaadison! I loved you, Maaaaaaaadison!” Of course that’s the girl’s name! He plays but one chord, the same high-pitched, non-chord as the white Rastas. Somehow he’s managed to put a capo on the guitar for this song—it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the single chord he’s playing, a misaligned barre chord of sorts.

Dreams pulse behind the broad, flat curtain of nothingness. Some tender shoot sticks up through all the corniness, the soil of thick oblivion. We see the failure to align, the wish which is just a wish and not a discipline—there is only will and desire in these quarters, but no contemplation, none of the stillness from which an actual piece of art can emerge. You know—like Keats’ Greek vase or whatever.

The emcee fiddles with dials on the amp as the performers strum—you hear only bass notes, now only treble.

The emcee is a small-time operator who never really quite managed to profit from his operation (whatever it may have been). His eyes have that perpetually wet look, a weird indication of despair, like there are always tears hanging inside them. They’re not going to fall and probably wouldn’t be able to. A chorus of elves peer out from under the floorboards and cackle at him. He will eventually get the DTs.

As I take the stage, someone points to his own girlfriend and yells, “See if you can get her panties wet, bro!” I maintain a decorous silence, and look at him the way Confucius might have in the same situation.

Almost everyone leaves the room, and I play to about four people.

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