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A New Paris Art Space, Norman Spinrad’s Birthday Party, and a Ferocious Hangover

September 18, 2010

Thanks to Norman Spinrad’s generosity, I have the most enormous hangover I’ve had for years. I never usually drink enough to get a hangover, but last night at a Creole restaurant in Paris near Montparnasse where Norman Spinrad, one of the world’s greatest science fiction writers had invited me to join in to celebrate his 70th birthday, I started out on Rhum and Vanilla and soon hit the harder stuff…. I had so much fun that it was not until I got into the cab at 2 AM that I noticed my head was just spinning, and Paris was turning over on itself.

But to jump back a step before I return to Spinrad’s 70th.

I had so much to do yesterday that I did not get a chance to mention the opening of the new art space in Paris that I visited the previous night. And I will, in fact, tie together these two evenings with a musical theme, in keeping with most of what’s on this blog. My musical adventure goes not only around the world with the Formula One circus and the open mics and jams I find at each race. It also extends into my daily life in Paris. And on Thursday I could not find an open mic so I decided to attend the opening of this new art space, which I had been invited to via Facebook.

The space of the Collectif OXIII on the rue d’Enghien actually opened up at the end of July, but Thursday it held its official opening. Now, before I left I said to myself, “All right, do I bring my guitar with me?” I always like to be ready with the guitar just in case I pass a bar or other place with music where it might appear I could play.

I decided for the worst of reasons not to bring the guitar. I did not want to look pretentious, or have something encumbering me at the OXIII. I never usually care how pretentious or idiotic I look. But this time for some reason, that’s how I felt and I left without the guitar. Getting the art space, I found a fabulous building of several floors with gallery space, performance space, a room they call the world’s smallest concert hall since it fits only four audience members, and in the basement there was a music rehearsal space with a couple of guitar players playing, oh, and upstairs, more musicians played and some sat around on the floor with guitars and jammed. And I did not have my guitar!!

I would have been able to play had I brought the guitar, and I would have been in heaven. So I failed, made a bad decision. That’s life. Had a great time anyway, meeting up with some friends, members of a band called the Burnin’ Jacks, the lead guitar player of which – Félix – plays on two of the tracks on my songs on my Ephemere Recordings from July.

So how do I tie this in with Spinrad’s 70th birthday party the next night? Well, first, who cares about tying it in? The important thing was that one of the great science fiction writers turned 70 and celebrated it in Paris in a Creole restaurant. I first met Spinrad in 1997 when I wrote a story about him for the International Herald Tribune, when I was writing a lot of stuff about technology, and the American author had put up for sale on the Internet for $1 the rights to his novel, “He Walked Among Us” to the American publisher who would do the best job of publishing it.

Spinrad, to quote my own article, was “part of the “new wave” of the late 1960s when he wrote “Bug Jack Barron,” a novel that anticipated the days when presidential elections would be decided entirely by television.” We kept in touch and saw each other again and he invited me to his 60th birthday party in Paris in 2000 when he lived in the 5th Arrondissement. A very cool man, I recall that at his 60th birthday party he had invited people like his local wine story seller and probably even his butcher – although I cannot remember precisely that fact – along with publishers, writers, artists, etc.

So it was with great anticipation that I returned to his 70th birthday last night, and was not let down. This time it was in the cellar room of a Creole restaurant, and the atmosphere was wonderful. Among those who showed up were the science fiction writer Michael Moorcock and his wife Linda Moorcock, Spinrad’s editor at his French publishing house, Fayard (which, by the way, is publishing “He Walked Among Us”!), and I found out only after everyone had left that the woman sitting across the table from me at one point who looked like the French actress Josiane Balasko, was in fact, the French actress, scenarist and film director, Josiane Balasko. And of course, there were some of his friends of “the common people” as well, which included an RATP (Paris métro) repairman….

Norman Spinrad Celebrating his 70th birthday in Paris

Norman Spinrad Celebrating his 70th birthday in Paris

So how do I tie all this together to a musical theme? Well, I had again debated whether I should bring my guitar with me, and again I had decided against it. As I stepped off the metro and surfaced on Montparnasse, I realized I was right next to the Swan Bar, where I go on Friday nights sometimes to play music. And, as it turned out, the Spinrad party erupted into a musical celebration when the cake arrived, and someone in the party who knew I played music, asked me if I had brought my guitar.

Well, I decided that having drunk so much at that point, that I would ask the DJ if he would put on a track – Since You Left Me – from my Ephemere Recordings on the sound system. I wanted to see how well my music blended in with Bob Marley and the other pop songs that were being played. I wanted to do it without anyone knowing that it was my music, just to see how it blended in – you know, would people stop short, raise their eyebrows and go, “What the hell is this?”

In fact, the DJ decided he wanted to announce to everyone that I was the guy making the music that was piping in through the sound system, so I had to take a little bow, and then behave naturally somehow. But the great news was that people continued dancing to my music as they had to ther music, and they appeared to enjoy it immensely. But then again, I suspect that I was not the only one who had by then drunk so much that anything that was piped in would have sounded wonderful….

By the way, this is not the first time I have mentioned Spinrad on this blog, as I mentioned him just a few weeks ago when I wrote about meeting a French punk musician named Eric Debris, and it turned out that Spinrad had made a record with another writer I know and who is a friend of Debris, Maurice Dantec. And as with the Debris evening, this evening at Spinrad’s birthday was one of those where I felt several of my worlds coming together, and that provides such a feeling of satisfaction and the fullness of life, which has outweighed the pain of the hangover. Next time, of course, however, I will have to take my guitar even when in doubt – even if I did get to put my song on the sound system and have my music heard….


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