PARIS – I sense a new movement on this blog toward a few uncharted territories in the way of Paris’s spoken word open mics…but also pushing the limits at the music open mics too. Is that a sentence? I mean the grammatical thing I just wrote, not sentence in terms of what lies before me. Anyway, to cut a long introduction short: Over the last week I have twice performed in a small excerpt of the monologue that Ornella Bonventre and I performed in Milan last month, and written about on this blog. But here, we have done it in Paris, first at the Paris Lit Up open mic of spoken word at the Cabaret Culture Rapide, and then at Sheldon Forrest’s open mic at the Osmoz Café, near Montparnasse.
Paris Lit Up presentation
Our first step was to translate a portion of the show from Italian to English. Then we rehearsed, Ornella – of TAC Teatro Italy and TAC Théâtre France) acting the role of the unfortunate woman of the piece, and me on the guitar providing soundtrack and a couple of acting moments. Then we went to the Paris Lit Up spoken word eventand performed it for the first time, just an eight-minute segment of the hour-long show. Then we continued to work on the translation and to rehearse. Then we performed last night at the Osmoz. The plan is to continue like this, finding new open stages that cater to spoken word, but also finding the music open mics that “allow” spoken word, poetry, etc. A fabulous adventure. Paris Lit Up reading
While I have attended and written before about the Paris Lit Up evening – which has not changed, by the way, and remains an excellent evening – I had never attended Sheldon’s open mic at the Osmoz bar, near Montparnasse. But when I prepared to go, I was pretty sure it would be like Sheldon’s fabulous long-standing
Osmoz open mic
open mic at the Swan Bar (now closed down), and I was right. But actually, it was even better in the sense that the atmosphere at the Osmoz Café open mic feels much freer, anything-goes, compared to the often slightly uptight feeling that the Swan Bar could give….
Another Paris Lit Up Reading
It was his usual deal of Sheldon playing piano, and singers taking the mic to sing their favorite pop standards. Sheldon was joined by a violin player as well, by the way. And at the end of the evening, long after Ornella and I had done our act, Sheldon invited me up to play some songs with my guitar, if I wanted to. Naturally, I wanted! It was a great way to close the evening for me, and especially since I had not been playing music in front of an audience in that way for a while…. Singer at Osmoz Café open mic
Stay tuned for the further adventures in Spoken-Word-Land….
PARIS – It is only now after a trip to Milan and back in Paris that I have finally had the time to sit at the blog again and dream about the past…without any jealousy, but many warm memories. I’m talking about yet another night at the Joy bar jam that I have not been able to note; about a fabulous visit to an annual variety show in a very neat theater; and about actually taking part a couple of nights later in another such annual show in a bigger theater and event space. All of which has continued to allow me to dismantle, bit by bit, my feeling that Milan is as boring a city as its mostly boring outer appearance of the streets and cityscape would have us believe.
There IS a mountain of “underground” activities in Milan, you just have to know where to look for them. And how strange and in some ways ironic can it be that it is in this city that I used to classify as “boring” that I would find myself performing for the first time since my early 20s in the area of my life in which I started: In the circus arts!
Yes, it may have been the last of these events, but it stands out first in my mind not just for its proximity in my memory, but especially because I got to dress up as a clown and clown around with a fabulous little troupe of clowns and actors, to ride a unicycle through the event, and even do a little bit of juggling. And, now that I think of it, I managed at one point to gate-crash a musicians’ group and take their acoustic guitar and perform a song – along with them singing along with me.
Brad Spurgeon with Ornella Bonventre of TAC Teatro
I’m referring to the annual “Irreality Show,” which took place at the fabulous associative theater and event space known as, Arci Ohibo. I was invited to join the troupe of actors and clowns of the TAC Teatro – which I have written about before on this blog – by Ornella Bonventre to clown around during this fabulous event. Naturally, having not done such a thing since my teenage years and early twenties, I was a little bit worried. A little bit reticent. A little depressed at the prospect of looking lack a fool – in the bad sense. Especially next to the fabulous talent of the TAC Teatro troupe.
But I decided that part of my new life approach over the last decade with its philosophy to do “everything” (except destructive things), I really ought to give this a try and hope that I could have a George Plimpton moment again, of the kind that I had the first time I dared go on stage with a band at the Jazz-Si open mic in Barcelona of 2009. And man, was I right to try.
more of the TAC Teatro clowns
It only took entering into the Ohibo space to see that I loved it immediately and would feel at home. The Irreality show consists of multiple little shows and events spread throughout the space, and performing at the same time. Spectators pay 5 euros and get to walk around all night from room to room, stage to stage, space to space, and take in the various acts and activities. The TAC clown troupe were just about the only ones who had the luxury of being itinerant within the space, an free to roam all over the place. What better way to see everything and take part than to be part of that roaming troupe.
Brad Spurgeon unicycling TAC show
So it was that I could see it all, and take part in what I wanted, riding my unicycle, clowning, juggling and playing music while also remaining a spectator of the amazing collection of acts: An Irish harp player, a mermaid, three or four actors and actresses doing one-person shows, a band of traditional musicians, a folk music trio, a body painter, a marionette act, a cross-dresser, a musician playing a saw, painters, photographers, and performance artists like the depressed man who sat in the same spot all night looking depressed, or the other itinerant one, the Andy Warhol with his head in a picture frame.
There may have been other acts, but the point is, this strange evening of drinking, socialising, and watching the acts through the very hip and cool, sprawling Ohibo, did as I say, renew my faith in the coolness of Milan – once you find it. And while I felt somewhat rusty and ever so inhibited at times as a clown, I also felt amazingly liberated in returning to my own personal roots for an evening. I’m hoping to do much more of it in future, too….
And then there was the skit show at the Scighera Teatro
A few days before that, I found myself the envious spectator at the other space I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the Scighera Teatro, where the stage and space was given over to an annual kind of clowning competition show. This is a fabulous space with a bar in the front part of the building, and the stage in a vast room off the back, which includes the performers’ dressing room/off-stage in a kind of bird’s nest above and next to the stage.
The show consisted of several clowning skits, a Mexican trapeze artist, musicians and a storyteller. And it was entertaining almost start to finish. My two favorite acts were, first, the pizza dough chefs with their battle with the dough – this was so Italian and yet so universal, it was crazy. It could be understood in every country in the world, since I think every country has its pizza chefs! And yet here we were in Italy.
And the other act I loved was the incredibly skilled, mind-boggling one of the man who threw and caught paper airplanes in a kind of paper airplane ballet. Hidden behind the dance was a skill of a kind I could not even imagine existed. Unfortunately I had problems with my camera throughout, and particularly during this act – but I did manage to get a little bit of video of the paper airplane guy, as well as the pizza chefs. So check out the videos.
And then finally back to the Joy Bar jam…and then a return to Ligera….
Finally, I’m a little late on getting it up on the blog, but I’ve got a video or two or three of the latest Joy Bar open mic/open jam that I attended. In one of the videos I show the atmosphere as you approach the bar, with the music blaring inside, and the outside, dull, dead, depressing Milan environment from which springs this…joy….
And now suddenly, I remember there was another night of a fabulous, interesting discovery. This was at the great Spazio Ligera, which I have also written about several times on this blog. I was attracted this time to go to a concert in the large and cozy vaulted cellar room with its magnificent stage and regular music concerts, thanks to the appearance of an interesting story in the form of Julith Ryan, of Australia. This is an Australian musician who by complete freak happenstance ended up recording a CD with a bunch of Italian musicians in Italy, after a career in local Melbourne bands.
Julith was on a mini tour of Italy with the release of the album. When I heard the recordings on youtube and soundcloud, I was very intrigued to see her live. I didn’t put it all together until I did see her at Ligera, but that is when the parallel finally came to me: There’s something of the Marianne Faithful to Julith.
But it was the open act soloist on acoustic guitar and vocals who really blew my mind: That was the intriguingly named Jennifer V Blossom. A very powerful mix of strong rock vocals and nifty rhythmic guitar with a mesmerising delivery. And the sudden, surprising rendition of Edith Piaf’s song about regretting nothing. I sure did not regret this discovery….
MONTREAL – I have always felt quite reserved, even grumpy, about taking part in open mics that are a mix of comedy and music. I’ve always felt there is nothing worse than getting up on stage to play a sad, sensitive, woeful song just after some humourist who has had people falling off their seats with laughter and mirth. How do you turn around that feeling of lightness and well-being, even a sense of the absurdity of life, with a quiet intervention of a song immediately afterwards? How, even worse, does the singer switch from that very same feeling of being elated by comedy to reaching into the depths of sadness or melodious sensitivity in a split second?
Well, last night at Grumpy’s open mic, which mixes comedy and music, I decided to set myself up for the ordeal again. Grumpy’s bar is one of the rare places I’ve taken part in a comedy and music open mic, by the way, and last night it got far, far worse than usual, as 95 percent of the acts were comedy, with just a small handful of musicians, most of whom were tagged on at the end. But something I did not expect happened last night.
I’m really sorry to be so nasty in saying this, but my feeling – and maybe it was warped, since I was sitting in a back room, freezing from the winter breeze wafting in all night – last night was that there is a situation in which the comedy night can turn in the favour of the sensitive, suffering musician. That situation is when the comedians have failed to send the audience off the deep end of laughter and delight.
Was it just my imagination, or was there a lot of off-colour, not-so-funny comedy at Grumpy’s last night? Am I just being Grumpy? I’m really sad to say no one sent me to the floor dying of laughter. OK, that’s what an open mic is for; I recall many an act at the original Yuk Yuk’s in Toronto in the mid-70s being not so funny – and others, killing us, of course – and look how many great acts came out of that movement? (Howie Mandel, Mike MacDonald, Jim Carrey, Rick Moranis, to name just a few.) But last night, was I really just too Grumpy about the cold and being a minority as a musician, that I was not rolling on the floor with laughter a single time?
So that, much to my delight AND surprise, by the time it was my turn behind the mic, I found myself facing not an aggressive, angry audience, but not either an audience that had washed out its emotions of all pent up whatever, but an audience that was ready to break out and release some emotions. Still, I felt that it was not the moment for calm sensitive stuff, and I tried to crack a few jokes myself, like repeating that one from Monty Pythons (or wherever) about the folk musician who goes up on stage and says: “I suffered for my music, now it’s your turn.” (No one got it.) And then I laid into my song Borderline, as a warm up. The joke on that was that if all humour is at someone’s expense, and that song was at my expense, then it must be humorous….
OK, so after that, I said to myself, this audience wants to break out: So I sang “What’s Up!” and then “Mad World” and to my great, great delight, the whole place sang along and several couples danced along in front of the stage. They were ready for ANYTHING that moved by that point!
And as it turned out, there were some very cool musical acts to follow, primarily an acapella group of women from Sweden – who did not want me to put up my videos of them, but said I could put up their promo videos, which I flatly refused (does the New York Times print press releases instead of doing real reporting????) and then a very funny and entertaining song and dance man from Japan.
In the end, I found that what had started as a catastrophic night, primarily because I wasn’t ready to laugh, ended up a fabulous, warm experience, and great for the ego too…. In fact, I left feeling not grumpy at all. And I can thank the comics for that….
PARIS – Now that was fun. Really fun. And, actually, funny too. I rarely ever go to stand up comedy open mics, and when I do go it is usually because I have heard that there is a chance to play music as well, and I’m desperate to play a song or two. Last night, it was neither open mic nor desperation on my part, but I ended up attending a very cool evening of comedy by a Paris group of comedians, and I ended up playing a bit of music too.
That invitation came after I had thoroughly and relaxedly enjoyed the first half of the evening. Needless to say, while I accepted to play my music for the end of the evening, I spent most of the rest of the evening in a state of nervous stress about playing in a medieval cellar with arched ceilings amidst a group of people who came to laugh, not cry! My experience in the past of playing music during comedy nights is that either the audience has been so laughed out by the time I get to the stage that they’re ready to laugh at my sorrowful sounds of music and it doesn’t go over so well, or I have laughed so much that I cannot reach the depths of my soul to find those sorrowful sounds of music and emotion and I end up wishing I hadn’t come.
Last night would turn out to have none of that existential problem once I got on stage. For the comedians had been of a high and entertaining level from the beginning, and the room itself is an absolutely fabulous one. I had actually played in a music open mic in this bar three or more years ago on a single-night open mic that started there and then moved to the Ptit Bonheur la Chance. For this bar was called La Pomme d’Eve, and it is located on the rue Laplace, just up the street from what used to be called the Ptit Bonheur la Chance and is now La Tireuse.
Pomme d’Eve Walls
The Exceptional Location of the Pomme d’Eve Historical Monument of a Bar
And the Pomme d’Eve is a bar that everyone in Paris should go and visit at least once, because it is a 12th Century Gothic cellar that is so impressive in its architecture and history, that it has been classified as an historic monument by the French government. The bar is run by a congenial South African named George, and he loves putting on shows: The stage is fabulous, and the feel of the place is really 1960s beatnik New York. That is what inspired me to sing “Just Like a Woman,” and my own song, “Crazy Lady.” Raphaëlle did a couple of her own songs, an it was a pleasure to hear her sing without a mic in these intimate surroundings.
The comedy night was a real pleasure as well, as I said, and is an excellent idea put together by Olivier Bergot et Mikaël Bianic. Bergot, by the way, was one of my favorite of the evenings performers, as he had a very funny sketch about being an alcoholic!
Someone ought to try doing a worldwide open mic comedy guide and blog like this one I do mostly about music open mics. That would be a real adventure! Of course, the advantage of music is that you don’t have to speak the local language to be understood…. Which brings up a point about my brief videos from last night: My apologies to readers who do not speak French….
I am not proud to be a Canadian. I never was, in fact. Always hated the concept. I am just a Canadian. I was born in Toronto, and grew up there and in Ottawa. I have two passports, two citizenships, a British one and a Canadian one. I have spent most of my adult life living in France. But I will never tell anyone I am British. I am Canadian, that’s where I’m from, how I was raised, where my whole early essence of life comes from. Now, my life is all about the entire world, as readers of this blog will know, as I travel the world for my work and seek out music everywhere – the common language. All of this long introduction is just to say how “un-proud” I felt this morning as I picked up my copy of the May 2012 LRC, or Literary Review of Canada, and my eye was suddenly caught by a stamp, a logo of approval on the bottom right corner of the cover that read: Genuine Canadian Magazine.
bob and doug mckenzie
What?!? Suddenly now images of Bob & Doug McKenzie, the yokels from SCTV in the 1980s designed to fulfill Canadian-content rules come to mind. This morning what came to mind was the incredible Canadian inferiority complex, the extraordinary need for Canada to assert its cultural identity by announcing that it has one, by promoting culture for the very fact of its Canadian-ness rather than its quality. But coming on the cover of a literary review, I was struck almost like as if in the balls as I said to myself, “Man, if I saw Genuine Canadian Leather stamped on my Roots shoes or some Canadian souvenir, I would not blink. Just like I might expect to see the same thing on a Malaysian, Brazilian or any other product around the world.”
But having not read the Canadian Literary Review ever before in my life – it is more than 20 years old, but I have been in France longer than that – I suddenly felt as if a), my intelligence had been affronted in a place where I had gone to make use of it, and b), as if the quality of the magazine itself was most certainly going to be about as thick and impenetrable as Genuine Canadian Leather, or even worse, it would read like as if Bob & Doug McKenzie – sorry for the ancient reference from pop culture – had written it. How could any self-respecting literary review stamp itself as a “Genuine Canadian Magazine”? And why, above all, with a title such as “Literary Review of Canada,” would I in my wildest dreams have any doubts as to its origins or cultural background?
literary review of canada
The review, of course, looks and feels like a Canadian version of the London Review of Books, the LRB. It is about the same size, same paper, same layout – more or less. I have read such reviews for years, the LRB, The New York Review of Books, or NYRB, the Magazine Litteraire and Lire, in France, etc. Here I was now eager to break into the pages of the Canadian literary review and immediately being reminded of all I hated about my native country on the cultural level. I used to be well-liked at the University of Toronto in the early 1980s if ever I brought up any such topic of criticism of Canada’s effort to ghettoize its own literature by calling it “CanLit.” Give me the Lit, you keep the Can, I would say.
And in recent days as I have not been attending open mics all over the world or even in my adopted home of Paris – thanks to it being August and most of the open mics being closed – I have been doing a lot more reading, particularly of this absolutely superb biography of one of my favourite authors, who also happens to be Canadian, Mordecai Richler. Interestingly, as someone who hates the concept of CanLit, two of my favourite authors are Richler and his fellow Canadian, Robertson Davies. But in reading the Richler biography, written by Charles Foran – whom I also learned in the LRC, is the president of PEN Canada – I have learned that Richler also hated the whole concept of trying to prop up and boast about and support Canadian culture. His point of view was that it should survive on merit, not government support. Even more interesting, Richler was left-wing.
Well, back to the LRC, that Genuine Canadian Magazine. FYI, my dad was founder and editor of another genuine Canadian magazine in the 1960s and 1970s, that I know would not have survived without government support – it was called Science Forum – and so I could not, either, be against government support. The point is not “don’t help it survive with money,” the point is, “allow it to be trashed, criticized, discarded, publicly ostracized and allow it to die…if it is no good. Allow it to be praised, promoted and loved if it IS good – in fact, if it is so good, it WILL be loved and promoted.” Here, yes, we arrive back at the LRC.
My first impressions were completely destroyed by this stamp of authenticity. I had been really pleased to pick up a literary review from my country – I am Canadian, remember – and thought that I would feel a little closer to it in my bones and roots than the ones I was used to reading… only to then be treated like a bumpkin or tourist picking up a pair of Genuine Canadian Moccasins in Niagara Falls. Okay, so then I read it. Cover to cover in one sitting. It is superb. It is Canadian, but not exclusively so. It had stories about books on the failed, disastrous Franklin expedition to the Arctic in 1845 and how it has become a political tool to define Canada and its territorial rights; another on a book about Michael Ignatieff and the death of the Liberal party, written by Peter C. Newman; about a biography of the great theater director, John Hirsch, who had emigrated as a war orphan from Hungary to Canada after WWII; about the Mauthausen trials after WWII; it even had a couple of novel reviews!
The point of this was that in reading the LRC, I felt a closeness to the English Canadian intellectual, creative and cultural world in a way that my life as an expat and my annual return trips only for my work as a Formula One journalist – which is how I bought the LRC in June – does not usually permit me to feel. Above all, the review seemed to me to be very much the equal to any of other such reviews I read or have read from any other country in the world.
There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that I was reading a Genuine Canadian Magazine! And that made that little idiot’s insignia on the front all the bigger an insult. By the time I got to the last page of the review I found a full-page advertisement telling me the source of the Genuine Canadian Magazine seal of approval: “Canadian magazine are unique,” read the ad, which had the face all fuzzy in the background – in a collage of magazine covers – of the ubiquitous and now iconic Margaret Atwood. “And so are you,” the ad continued. “That’s why we publish hundreds of titles, so you know there’s one just for you. All you have to do is head to the newsstands, look for the Genuine Canadian Magazine icon marking truly Canadian publications and start reading. It’s that easy.”
I was then told to visit magazinescanada.ca/ns to find my favourite magazine. I did so, and to my great shock, I found there just about every magazine that I ever knew existed in Canada. And I thought, holy crap, there’s no way I could even protest the culture police if I wanted to – without dropping all association with all Canadian magazines, including what appeared to be the major small literary reviews. At least it is not just the LRC that should be taken to task for this – although they would do well to be intelligent enough to at least drop the logo from the front page…if they are allowed to.
So the point of today’s rant? (Yesterday’s rant was about unicycling and cops and traffic laws in France.) The point is that Canada should really drop its efforts to show and impose its culture as being the equal to any on earth – especially that of its great neighbour to the south – because its best culture IS up to the level of that of anyone else’s…except when the culture police pop up their heads and insult our intelligence by insisting that we hear that. Again, and again, and again. Inferiority complexes are not attractive.
PS, in going to the LRC web site just now, I see there is currently a feature called, “How Others See Us.” Hmm… it’s catchy….
PPS, to add a point about not being proud to be Canadian, that phrase I used to open this rant. I speak in the same terms as one of the daughters of King Lear, when he asked his daughters how much each of them loved him. One of those daughters said she loved him – no more, no less. He failed to understand.