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Another Live Music Lesson

March 21, 2010

As I prepare for my departure on Tuesday for Australia and Malaysia, I have been trying to keep a little warm playing in open mics here and there. After more than a year of playing three to five times per week, in recent weeks I have been playing only around once a week while at home in France. And like when any habit breaks, it’s sometimes hard to get back in the groove of doing it all the time.

I had a couple of interesting experiences on Friday and Saturday that should serve me as a lesson. On Friday I was eating at a restaurant in the 17th Arrondissement in Paris where a house band played classic American folk rock, mostly Dylan. I was surprised to find that the main singer – there was a bass player, drummer, a couple of guitarists, a couple of people sang – sounded 100 percent American. He had the idiom down pat. So during one of the breaks, I spoke to him…and found out he was French. He had learned his English, said one of the other band members, from Bob Dylan. That is to say, from listening to Dylan. The singer then told me, “If I had it my way, I’d only sing Dylan. Nothing but Dylan. But the other band members wouldn’t like that, so we do other stuff too.”

The man saw my guitar, and he invited me to up to play. He said they frequently invite their friends, and some of the kids from the neighborhood go up and play guest sets too. I really wanted to play, but I didn’t. Earlier in the evening I had felt that it was not the sort of place I’d like to play, not the right time and place; and then afterwards, when invited, I chose not to because – ostensibly – I did not want to offend Vanessa, with whom I was having the meal at the restaurant.

After I left, however, I felt a sense of regret. I could have gone up there and belted out a Dylan, and it would have been perfectly at home.

The next day, Saturday, I again found myself with Vanessa, but this time we were at a bar near the Bastille, called Planete Mars. It turned out there was a punk band playing there earlier in the evening, but we missed that while dining at a Couscous place a couple of doors down the street. Vanessa knows the guy who owns the Planete Mars bar, and without me knowing it, she asked him if she and I could play a song. I had my guitar, and she and I have been working on singing “Mad World” together – although I have yet to memorize the words. (Actually, today I think I got ’em down.)

The bar owner said, “Sure!”

But I felt huge, huge wariness. After all, this was mostly punk-like and electro sort of music, hard, fast rhythms, etc. And the place was full of people drinking and talking and laughing and having fun, and there was no sound system. I thought we’d go over very badly – as I thought just about any acoustic duo would in that environment. Nothing to do with us in particular.

So I kept on throwing excuses at Vanessa; “You know, there is a time and a place for everything…. You know, people listen sometimes when it’s an open mic and all set up for amateurs….. You know, are you sure you really want to do this here?”

She just kept saying yes. So I went along with it. We rehearsed two or three times right out in the open in the bar sitting there playing for ourselves while everyone listened to the DJ. Then, finally, we agreed we were ready and Vanessa went over to tell the DJ he could turn off the sound now.

“Listen everyone, we’re going to have a little live music here with VANESSA! … and her guitar player,” said the DJ, getting everyone to cut down the talk a little. (But not entirely.) The small room had perhaps around 40 people in it, which in those tight confines was a very big crowd – especially without amplification.

In any case, we jumped right into the song. I enjoyed myself immensely, and I think we sang the song better than we ever have together – even if I messed up in a few places the planned exchange of moments where she sings and then I sing, etc. Eventually, a young guy began singing along with us. We received applause, and afterwards Vanessa was complimented copiously by several people. And I felt fabulous.

The moral of the story? There may be a time and a place for every kind of singing, but if you get the chance, don’t pass it up for anything in the world. Especially not the stage fright I was clearly feeling beforehand….

The one thing that I did regret and that Vanessa had said I should do, was to record our song on the Q3 video camera.  Again I thought it wasn’t the time or place, and again I was wrong.  I shot a few seconds on the Q3 afterwards, to show what the atmosphere was like, and so below you can see a little look around the bar from the vantage point of where we sang….

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