Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Not Ready For Prime Stage Players: Open mics

Ah, the open mic. As a passively active musician who really only plays gigs when they're offered to me, sometimes I scratch that performance itch by resorting to one of these esoteric soirees. An open mic is a delicate habitat; without any one of these key roleplayers I mention below, there'd be a palpable imbalance and perhaps the atmosphere would struggle to thrive. But alas, it never fails. It's a mishmash of personalities; a room where the emotions like anxiety and false confidence hang like thick fog.

The Emcee

Usually a burned-out musician or poet who never really had a goddamn snowballs chance and claims to be satisfied with the mild (I mean mild) local acclaim that sprouts from the cracks of failure that zag his aging visage. He derives a very false sense of superiority, viewing himself as the alpha-artiste in attendance, when in reality any number of the participants are more qualified or appreciated. His jokes, anecdotes, and poetry garner false praise from those jockeying for an early spot.

Overheard: "Alright, thanks to Alex, give it up. OK, before we move on, just want to remind everyone that there is no outside food allowed in, so don't bring anything over from Breugger's next door."

The Regulars

Always the first to show and the last to leave, the cadre of regulars have developed an abiding sense of relevance and artistic validity based on nothing more than their persistence. Likely frequent several other stops on the open mic circuit throughout the week. Are on first name basis with the emcee and each other, and often dedicate poems or songs to comrades. Will also proudly announce "I'll do this one because Trevor likes it," or "This one is brand new, I wrote it today," with the hopes that his audience will be astounded by his prolific output. In many cases, a certain coterie of readers might assume ridiculous monikers.

Overheard: "This next poem is for Tony Stanza, Morpheus, Big Rudyard, Shade, Copernicus Lite, and the rest of the open mic crew."

The Self-Deprecating Praise-Fisherman:

A dumpy, skittish weirdo who'd prefer a thorough cavity search to making eye contact with anyone while performing. Will waste no time in gutting the expectations of his audience. "I really suck, but I'm gonna play anyway," he'll chuckle with a quiver. "This poem really sucks but I don't care." He will then, as announced, read a horrid poem, or play an insufferable song. The audience will clap politely, believing his work is every bit as terrible as his preface suggested. Here's the thing though: He doesn't really think his stuff sucks. Rather, he's making a plea for ego-padding praise; for folks to say "Dude I don't know why you say you suck, you're really good!" But make no mistake; he sucks. The only person who'll say otherwise is the overanalyzer (see below).

Overheard: "Oh man, hang on I messed up. Lemme start over. Crap."

The Falsely Confident Suck:

Antithesis of the praise-fisherman, except for the part where they suck. Often a Regular, he'll hop up to the stage and ditch the formalities, setting right into his newest mindspew. He assumes his work is flawless and will often dole out unsolicited constructive criticism. Considers himself somewhat of a celebrity; conveys this by wearing a driver's cap. Lacks the endearing qualities of the praise-fisherman, therefore invokes no pity from his audience. Will receive heavy applause from regulars and a hearty affirmation from the emcee ("Man, we never get tired of this guy!")

Overheard: You know a lotta people can't believe I'm self-taught, but it just kinda comes naturally to me. My uncle played piano, so.

The Plugger:

Usually a decent artist, the Plugger suffers through the acts preceding his own. When his number is finally called, he'll deliver a few competent, enjoyable pieces and then announce his upcoming gigs. "Thanks guys. I'll be playing at Grinders on Tuesday night and then a full set here on Saturday." The Plugger is loathed by most, not only for his ability, but for shedding a comparative light on the shoddy performers preceding and following. Will usually draw sneers for leaving after he plays. He's suffered enough.

Overheard: "My girlfriend Paisely--raise your hand, babe--she's got a few of my CDs back there, or you can find me on iTunes."

The Angry Goth Poet:

Considers herself a credible poet, but in all reality doesn't fucking get poetry. Doesn't read it or study it, beyond her other goth friends' Myspace blogs. Appearance indicates that she's spent considerable time time dolling up, yet somehow plays nonchalant. Occasionally uses laughable stage name, like "Shade" or "Medusa" or something. Subtlety is not a quality embraced by the goth. Her poetry reads like a laundry list of first-person observations, rather than a cohesive work. "There is darkness all around me. I shiver in the cold. I am alone." Pretty damn funny when the milk steamer goes off while she's bemoaning her internal struggles. Coveted sexually by the Regulars.

Overheard: "I mean, I guess I'm just weird, but I would take Robert Smith over Bon Jovi or whoever any day."

Creepy Old Guy Poet:

Also usually a regular, broods quietly in the corner until he's beckoned stageward. Reads wistful poems that net some credibility due to his grizzled delivery. He considers himself sagelike; wizened; like a sort of father figure to the others, especially the emcee. In reality, just an aged Regular. His poetry is more introspective and less whiny than his younger comrades, and will endear himself to the females in the audience because girls love a 'cute old man'. But don't be fooled; he would do awful things to them.

Overheard: "When the loping willows caressed the crystal waters/so then did my sweet Beatrice le--" (interrupted by barrista's Nokia ringtone)

The Overly Analytical Mystic Lady:

Bio: A local patron of the arts who can't afford symphony tickets, she portrays herself as a Stevie Nicks type through her long hair, faded sundress, and bead necklace--not to mention her proclivity to meditate during readings and to nod thoughtfully or coo "oh yeah" at an especially affecting line. She'll never read her own poetry or play music, and she'll always bite when the praise-fisherman is on stage. "You're marvelous," she'll proudly suggest, indifferent to the utter disinterest clouding the room.

Overheard: "Bravo! Waiter, another cup of wheatgrass and a vegan scone, please."

The Frustrated Grad Student:

Bio: Macbook in tow, has repaired to the coffee shop in order to make headway on his dissertation in someplace other than his studio apartment. Upon entering, sees the sign-up sheet and thinks "Ah goddammit, I forgot Tuesdays were open mic. Whatever, I'm already here." Activities include temple-rubbing, pencil gnawing, resenting of regulars, and an occasional break to watch someone play "Knives Out." Inwardly thinking, "Maybe I should get up there and slay with some of my stuff," before deciding not to stoop to that level.

Overheard: "Goddamnit, what's another word for 'ephemeral'? I can't concentrate with this guy butchering 'Flagpole Sitta'."


And then there's me, drinking it all in. Now despite the ridicule, I'm glad these exist for folks like myself and those others who don't take themselves overly seriously, but really just get a kick out of playing for a crowd now and again. It always makes for a good time, while providing a smattering of awkward moments courtesy of the aforementioned characters. And one more at the expense of myself, when I'm sneaking out during the act that followed my own.

1 comment:

Thomas said...

If HSW had a greatest hits, this would be at the top of the charts. Bravo.