Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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Cold Turkey Music Lesson

June 1, 2010

Can this really be classified as a lesson? Or was it a freak occurance? In any case, what happened on my last night in Istanbul seemed to go counter to every other musical lesson I learned in that magnificent city, so there might be a lesson there somewhere.

As I think I made clear in the previous entries in this blog about my musical adventures in Istanbul, the city is certainly the most music friendly city I have found in the world. As you walk through the streets with a guitar on your back you are importuned everywhere to take it off, enter a restaurant, bar, sidewalk cafe or wherever, and play music. I learned last year that most of the musicians who play in the bars throughout Istanbul – and it seems that nearly every bar has live music – are from a slightly different caste of people. There is something gypsy-like about them and the way they are regarded.

So is it in that fact that my lesson the last day may be learned? After the race I returned to Istanbul and with a friend and a couple of his associates had a drink on the terrace of a hotel overlooking the Bosporus. This friend likes my music and knows that I am on this musical quest around the world with the races, and he knew that I had not found or set up a venue for Istanbul on Sunday night. He decided to set up this meeting with his associates for fun and so that after the drink we could return to his associate’s nearby apartment and I could play a few songs for everyone.

It turned out that the apartment was a large penthouse with a terrace encircling the full floor – or at least most of it, from what I could see – and it too had a view of the Bosporus. In short, a beautiful apartment above Istanbul in a relatively luxurious building with a view. It was a kind of venue I had not played, and obviously it fit in wonderfully when you think that I’d played in a prison and in the streets, and last year in several different bars. Playing in a private home was one more link in the chain covering the gamut of possibilities in Istanbul.

So after hours of drink and talk at the hotel we arrived at the apartment and our host opened a bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne, served us glasses and I was very quickly importuned to play – it was already close to midnight.

So I prepared my guitar, the three others sat on the couch and in an armchair, and I stood in front of them and decided to sing “Crazy Love” to start with, simply because I find it a good one to warm up my voice and my emotions and my guitar playing. I started tapping my foot and realized that I was tapping on a wooden floor – a thick, hard wooden floor – and I moved over a couple of steps to a thick carpet in order that the tapping not resound too loudly for my audience.

I finished “Crazy Love” and launched into “Just Like a Woman.” I got through a verse of that and I heard the doorbell to the apartment ringing. I kept singing, but I had a bad vibe telling me something was going to happen. The host returned and shrugged and said, “Sorry, we’re bothering my neighbor downstairs. We have to stop.”

That was it. One song and one verse and the woman who lived below had decided that the foot tapping was too strong and not to be had – at least that was the excuse I heard. But when you consider that the floors between the apartment were thick, and that this was a well-built, fairly luxurious building and that we were not yet past midnight and had done only one song by the time she set out up the stairs – it is all very surprising for any city, and even more surprising for Istanbul, where I people love musicians more than in any other place I have been.

The lesson? Was this neighbor a freak? Or was it to do with the lowness of having a gypsy like me playing and singing in a respectable Istanbul apartment rather than in the street or a bar or a restaurant? I don’t know if I will ever learn. But it was a situation that proved the cliché that Istanbul is a city of contrasts.

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