I know how I can make it sound like I’m not blowing my own horn: By starting off by saying, crap, I could have done SOOOOOOO much better during my cameo appearance. But of that, I will say more in a moment. The fact was, after careful reflection after my performance – and after pulling out the remainder of my hair in the bald spot on top of my head – I realized that I had had an exceptional evening at the Ullmann Kararocké, and so, I could see, had most of the hundreds of spectators who showed up to watch the show AND play as extras in the TV segment that was being recorded.
Last month I mentioned that Arthur H, the French rock star, had shown up and sung in the Kararocké. This time, Arthur H brought a retinue of people and actually filmed a segment of a short film for the French national pay TV channel Canal +. From what I could make out in the evening’s filming, Nicolas Ullmann plays a karaoké presenter named “Eddie,” and Arthur H plays the world champion of karaoké, Gaspard Gaspaccio, who is Eddie’s best friend. But he’s a little bit of an eccentric champ, this Gaspard, a little moody, a little bit in his own world, and a little bit, “I’ll sing when I feel like it….”
It was a real pleasure to see the ambience of a television recording going on, as I recalled such things from my youth, and it was an even bigger pleasure to have been invited to take part in the film. I was part of a medley in which three couples – I was paired with Céline Perrier – were invited to learn to sing three Arthur H songs from his latest album, “Baba Love,” released last month. We were filmed onstage during the real Kararocké in front of the real live audience.
But that, for me, was not the high point of the evening, although it was a fantastic culmination. My disappointment, let me say, was simply that although I spent several days listening to and preparing the song, which is about Jean-Michel Basquiat, I only managed to do a short segment in French, where the spot I could really have shown off with and brought something to the table, to the spectators, was the English part of the song. This was written by the well-known Slam artist, Saul Williams, who does a major contribution to the Arthur H record. I loved the lines, the feel, the sound, but as it turned out, the medley had to be cut to a very limited length, as there were three songs to cover, and so I did not get to that rap….
Having said that, the evening was fabulous for me for having met and worked with the delightful Céline, and for having met the director, Joseph Cahill, who is a young American film director living in Paris who has a very interesting career for the moment, and for speaking to Ullmann for the first time to any great extent. I introduced myself to Cahill at what I perceived to be the first down moment, and we talked for a few minutes, including about my own open mic film. (I had to mention it.) The moment I chose to talk to him, in fact, coincided with when I saw that he was talking to one of his actors in the show. After I spoke to Cahill, I then spoke to this actor, whom I heard spoke English with an American accent. I told him what I was up to, asked him what he was up to – an American musician and actor living in Paris.
“Cool,” I said, before telling him that I had this monumental task that night of singing and reciting this song about Basquiat, with a lyric that was as challenging as a Bob Dylan song to learn – think “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).” I then added, “But it’s really good, the English text is by Saul Williams…”
“That’s me,” he said, this actor.
Crap! So it was I ended up having this nice discussion with one of the most famous participants in the Slam movement, and star of the film “Slam.” He advised me on the text: “Don’t worry, it’s more about the sound and the emotion, the explosion,” he said, or something like that. So it’s all right if I fuck it up and change the words? “Yeah, no problem….”
This was turning very sweet. Too bad, in the end, I didn’t get the chance to do it. But that talk with Williams was very cool, and I learned that he found as much or more pleasure in the open mic thing than the pure slam thing. He had grown up doing open mics, singing, and now continues to sing. And of course, act, do poetry and generally create. In addition to acting the lead role in the film Slam, he was also part of the documentary film called SlamNation. And in 1996, he won the title of Nuyorican Poets Cafe’s Grand Slam Champion. I had passed by the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in NYC in August when I did my week of open mics there, but somehow the open mic hour and my schedule did not coincide. Can’t remember why.
In any case, last night the evening was pure delight. But not only for me. The audience was clearly delighted to be part of the ambience, part of the TV show, and the regular Kararocké continued as usual, just cut up with scenes from the film. There were some great singers as usual, like Kristov Leroy, who has put out an EP of songs in English and is now finishing an album in French, and who did a great Bowie rendition. And then there was Syd and Félix from the Burnin’ Jacks doing a Hendrix, and a woman from the Crazy Horse doing a Brigitte Bardot/Gainsbourg, etc. Really quite a unique night out, when you think of it….
PS, I must not leave out that the audience was also treated to a special warm-up act featuring a magician – a kind of drunken magician, who did a cool act with a bird: