Last year when the German Grand Prix was at the Nurburgring out in the middle of nowhere, I stayed in Cologne, one of the nearest big towns. And I happened upon the only open mic in the city on the Thursday I arrived – and never had another chance after that (since I don’t do Karaoke). This year the race is taking place in Hockenheim, which is also out in the middle of nowhere. So I decided to stay in Mannheim, which is a 25 minute drive away.
Last night on my first night in Mannheim I found lots of bars, restaurants, monuments, pedestrian passages and shopping streets…but no live music. This looked from the point of view of live music, to say nothing of open mic or jam sessions, to be even worse than Cologne. A veritable nightmare, in fact.
So I finally dropped my arms after arriving anyway after 10 PM after along drive from Paris and then a day of work in the Formula One paddock. I went into a restaurant overlooking the Wasserturm place and ate some schnitzel, had a beer and a glass of Rioja (since they had no local wine). I decided to jump at the offering of the dessert of strudel as well, since, after all, this is Germany.
But after I stuffed all this down very quickly and got up to go back to my hotel to get some well-earned sleep after the long day, I suddenly felt heavy and began to think that I needed to do a little exercise as I usually do in Paris when I am at home. The advantage of driving to a race in my own car from Paris is that I can bring with me easily not only my guitar, but my unicycle. I ride the unicycle for cardiovascular exercise because it is the only form of exercise that I find any pleasure in doing. Oh, sure, it looks a bit weird to see this 52 year old guy riding around on a unicycle at 1 or 2 or 3 in the morning, but I never claimed to not be weird.
I really only wanted to go back to my hotel room and crash and just blank out in bed for a well earned sleep. I was tired, wrecked, wanting sleep, and knowing I’d go out like a light without effort. But I decided that I had to push myself as usual. If I wanted to be in as good physical condition as Michael Schumacher, I had to stick to my exercise whenever I could get it and get rid of the goddamn strudel and schnitzel calories.
I returned to the hotel and took my unicycle out of the car trunk and began a ride. Mannheim is a great cycling city with paths all over the place and no population to get in the way. So I was feeling really good riding along the moist streets when it occurred to me as I had gone about 300 meters away from my hotel that this might be a quick way to check out the neighborhood for further possibilities of musical venues. But I did not even finish processing that thought when I heard some music coming from an open bar door on my right.
I hopped off the unicycle, took a look inside and although the music came from a stereo, I saw to the left of the door a little stage area, a guitar plugged into an amplifier, a microphone, a serious sound system, a chair on which sat the guitar…. I entered and went to the bar where a bunch of foreign looking women stood around talking to the bartender and I immediately barged in and asked if there was some kind of musical thing happening.
To cut the story short: They said they had a guitar player singer last night and especially a band on Friday. I asked if they had an open mic thing going and the bartender – who was the manager – said no, but then he began to query me about what I was looking for and what I could do.
I told him I could play, would love to play, that I played guitar and sang. So he said if I wanted to, I could use the guitar that was there and I could play and sing right then and there. I could return the next day perhaps and do the same, depending….
So I ran up to the mic and began playing and singing. The sound system was sublime, the guitar was a classical one with nylon strings, and I’m not used to that, and there was no capo, so my repertoire was very limited. But the result was that all the people in the bar gathered around and listened to me and loved it and made requests – I managed to know one or two! – and it was a fabulous evening. I played twice, the first time for perhaps 45 minutes.
After the first set the other musician played, and he was a splendid guitar player and his vocals were not bad at all either. He played Brazilian music, especially bossa nova. And it turned out that this was a Brazilian bar called the Papaya Brasil, and that there were Brazilian flags circling it high up top the walls, there were other Brazilian artifacts, and to sum it up, my thought was, “Leave it to the Brazilians to bring a little live music to Germany….”
Indeed, the manager told me that he had been trying to push the live music and make a great nightspot out of the Papaya with live music but, he added, “the Germans don’t really care. I can’t get them interested.” Yes, just about everyone in the bar/club, last night was of Brazilian or Portuguese origin, both blacks and whites and mixed. And the main language was Portuguese as far as I could tell.
But the lesson I learned, ONCE AGAIN, was don’t give up. Don’t stop. Follow your heart, follow your discipline, take the extra step, roll on and you will hit the jack pot in life. Even, yes, at the most unexpected moments. If I had decided to quit and give in and crumple up in bed and say life’s shit and I’ll never find anything and should not even go out to exercise… then I’d never have had the time of my life amongst the Brazilians and Portuguese in Mannheim.
Oh, and I’ve been invited back to play again tonight. So I just may do that….