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She Ain’t a Creep, She’s So F… Special and She Belongs Here – at the Cavern and Everywhere Else

May 17, 2012

Sarah Manesse

Sarah Manesse

O.K., so I’m sitting there at a table beside the stage at the Cavern club in Paris last night at the open vocal jam session after I played at the Highlander, when up comes this perfect woman who sits down at the table opposite me. She has a perfect face, perfect lips, her eyes are covered with glasses, but I guess the eyes are perfect too – and I can only imagine she has a perfect body as well. So I had to talk to her, right? I mean, there was a little potential awkwardness because she had not sat down at my table because of me, but because of a friend of hers, another woman, from Quebec, with whom I had spoken a little before the perfect woman arrived.
“Do you sing too?” I ask, as her Quebecoise friend sang, and was very good.

“Yes,” she said.

“Are you going to sing tonight?”


Not one to know much about making moves, I make my moves slowly, carefully; but nothing will stop me.

“So, what do you do, I mean, do you perform?”

“Yes, I play guitar and sing.”

“Oh, me too. Are you mostly a singer or a guitar player?”

“Mostly the singing.”

I won’t give more details of the conversation, but let’s put it this way. We spoke, she told me her name was Sarah, and I learned that she was working on her singing and performing career, she was tempted to sing on the stage last night, but was not sure what to do. Moreover, she seemed pretty nervous about it. She did not want to go immediately after the break – during which time we had been speaking – and really was not so sure what she could do.

When the break ended, Guillaume, the bass player of the house band, asked if she wanted to go up. She said not just then, and looked very nervous. A little later, please….

So the house band played a song. Then Guillaume asked for another singer, no one presented themselves, and he saw me at the table and knew I had performed there a few times and asked if I wanted to sing. I DID! But I had been also discussing with Sarah about how I found it really difficult to sing with a band without my guitar in my hands, and I had not much experience doing that and that it was really like karaoke and you had to do the songs just the way they were normally done, without much room for interpretation – or free flowing personal whatever….

But I wanted to sing to finally break through my incessant failures at the Cavern. And I kind of wanted to show Sarah and her friend that I could sing! After all, I had just come from the Highlander where I had done three songs different to what I usually do there – “Unchained Melody,” my “Except Her Heart” and Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son,” and it had gone over wonderfully. I was still basking in my success but ready for the blow of failure at the Cavern.

So I got on stage and did “Wicked Game,” and it was pretty much a fuck up from beginning to end. Oh, it was better than the last few times. But I still did not let loose, get into the musical groove and do what I am capable of doing with my own guitar in my hands. It feels like riding a bicycle with no handlebars to hold onto – of course, I do that on my unicycle, but it’s not the same…. Anyway, so fresh from my latest failure – and noticing during the song that neither the perfect Sarah nor her Quebecoise friend had actually listened to me, I rejoin them at the table.

It takes several minutes, but finally the Quebecoise and then Sarah, say of my performance, “Oh, that was good.”

I say to Sarah, “No Sarah, it was not good. It was nothing. Really, you KNOW when you have flattened your audience, knocked them onto the floor, killed them,” – and I might have added, You know yourself when you have reached the emotional pitch you are capable of, the flow. And you know when you are putting the audience to sleep, and singing “outside” the song. “That,” I say, “was putting them to sleep. It was not good.”

She looked at me with her eyes intent perhaps for the first time. We left it at that, and after a few other performers did their thing, Guillaume got Sarah up on the stage. He said to her that she had better go now – because she was still shy about it – because otherwise people suddenly all wanted to play at the same time at the end of the night and there was no more time.

So up goes Sarah, and she still had not decided what song to do until she was right on the stage, looking at the blue book of lyrics. Then she says, “Creep.” And I’m thinking, how is this perfect young quiet and shy girl going to pull that one off.

She starts out real slow, quiet, but I hear a beautiful and interesting quality to her voice. And then slowly, bit by bit, perfect Sarah explodes vocally and physically on stage. She is brilliant. The best of the night. I am entirely subjugated, hypnotized, as I realize that Sarah has a perfect voice too. Sarah has a truth and and edge to her voice. For a moment as she is singing, I’m saying, hmm, behind the light softness of this perfect girl there is a Nina Hagen boiling inside too. No, she is not a Creep. But that perfect body and all of that stuff that she calls out for in the song, well, it’s there. That bit about not belonging? She DOES belong there.

And so after she comes of stage and rejoins me at the table, I take a few minutes to calm down, then I say, “You see, YOU killed me! Destroyed me.”

She thanks me, and a few minutes later, when the Quebecoise goes up to sing, I turn to Sarah again and I say, “There is no competition here in this, but you were by far, far, far the best one here tonight.”


“Yes, but you know that,” I added.

“No,” she said sitting back and smiling.

I tell her I have a blog and would like to put up the video, and I give her my card with the blog address. Then I ask if she has a myspace I can link to. So she gives it.

I’m so totally destroyed that I leave for the evening in the middle of the Quebecoise’s song, and tell Sarah to say goodbye for me.

I get home and I look on the Internet for Sarah’s myspace and I discover that this quiet, shy, nervous and wildly talented singer was a star of X-Factor, that Sarah is now playing in Sister Act in the Theatre Mogador in Paris, that she is indeed a young singer starting out, but that she already not surprisingly has a history of success and subjugation. Just take a look at the crying judge on X-Factor when she does the Adele song. The man obviously had the same reaction as I did.

But more importantly for me, I know nothing about this and may be wrong, but I think that participants in things like X-Factor, the Voice and all those other music reality shows, probably end up having a hard time shaking the reputations they get on those shows of sugary, middle-of the road teen idol kinds of singing and have a hard time breaking out of that mold into something with more of an edge and truth to it.

I saw clearly that Sarah has that edge lying beneath the perfect everything. She just is not a creep, that’s all. She did not tell me anything about her TV stardom, her role in Sister Act, she was just another musician trying to make her career. And knowing full well I wanted to use the video on my blog, she had no objections – as more and more rising performers I have met do for fear of hurting their “careers.” This was REAL. (Too bad I was sitting in the shadows beside the stage without a good perspective for my camera either for the sound or image, but it still shows and allows for a hearing of enough to know it was a great performance, growing better as it progressed.)

Anyway. My apologies for the outpouring, but it was very cool, and my own failure faded into the background. But I must learn how to sing with a band without my guitar, for God’s sakes! Or for Sarah’s sake!

Circumstances Beyond My Control Meant a Wonderful Evening at the Batofar on the Seine

April 5, 2012

I don’t know if this is the same for everyone, but I find myself learning all sorts of fabulous life-affirming lessons that make me resolve to rise to higher levels of existence – and then I fall back into the old habits, entirely forgetting about how important it is to force myself to apply myself to exercising what I learned from the lessons! That long-winded statement may better be illustrated by the story of last night’s sortie in Paris.

I wrote in my post yesterday that I was rushing off to go to the Highlander open mic and that I was making excellent time and could not waste time writing too much on the blog. I also said that it would all come to nothing as it always does, this rushing about to go early to the Highlander, that I would find myself being delayed by the Paris metro and arriving late as usual. So, hey, guess what? I was right!

So I get to the Highlander at around 9:30 and find that the place is just bursting full of people and that I am No. 20 on the list of potential performers. That means certain death, as the playing only goes on until about 1 AM, and that seems to be capable of hosting maybe 18 performers maximum. That’s my experience, in any case.

Well, the point to this is that before I went to the Highlander, I knew that there was a new open mic taking place on a boat on the Seine called the Batofar. This is a very cool venue in the neighborhood where I used to live, just below the Tres Grande Bibliothuque – that massive national library building built by Mitterrand.

So anyway, I knew that my new friend Vincent Lafleur – the Frenchman with the Quebecois name – was hosting this new open mic, and I had already attended his new one at the El Tonel on Sunday. But instead of getting up off my butt and getting out of my old habits and becoming a fossil in the habit of going to the Highlander and the Cavern on Wednesday nights, I had decided I would not attend the Batofar open mic and would keep up my old habits.

This is entirely counter to my whole new philosophy of life since this open mic adventure began a little more than three years ago. Since it began I have always found great adventure, fun and love of life in making changes and trying out new things and patterns of existence. But there I was saying, “It’s Wednesday, I’ll do the Highlander.” And yet I knew that the Batofar was a great venue, a very cool boat on the quay of the Seine, with several floors, and a veritable hive of musical activity and innovation.

Yet the draw of habit kept me away. Until I found myself No. 20 on the list at the Highlander.

“Sorry, Thomas,” I said to Thomas Brun, the MC, “In fact, I think I will be adventurous. I know of another place doing something tonight, so I will go there.”

So I went, found the deck of the Batofar just buzzing with revelers, a DJ was playing dance music when I arrived, I ordered a beer, met Vincent, he introduced me to some musician friends, then within 15 minutes of my arrival, he started the open mic. The crowd was large, none of them had ever heard my music, and with the exception of Vincent, I had not heard any of the others.

Unfortunately I made few videos, and the video of the best performer of the evening … well, he asked me to please not put it up on the internet. He has a bit of a reputation and was not happy with what he thought his excellent performance would do for that reputation. Of course, I’m always disappointed, but he was so kind – oh, and massively complimentary about my performance – that I said to myself and to him, “No problem!!!”

Anyway, the videos I made do not properly show the great vibe and scene of doing an open mic on the deck of the Batofar. But if it happens again, I’ll be there. Until another one arises on a Wednesday and I have to change my habits again. (Nor will I abandon the Highlander.) In fact, the point of all of this is that I had an exceptional night at the Batofar, it was wonderful to play to an audience that had never heard my songs, and I loved the image of the Seine beneath, and I met several interesting people…. Conclusion, again, don’t get stuck in habit.

Gearshift in Paris Open Mics

June 30, 2011

Okay, so what, it’s normal that after two exceptional nights the gears shift down a little for the hairpin turn. And if yesterday’s lede was not forcing it, this one surely was. But last night my own particular evening at the Highlander and the Cavern was a little bit of a comedown after the two previous nights.

I have yet to find the right way to record videos and sound in the new layout of the Highlander, so I produced very little worth posting from last night. Unfortunately I thought I found a great little corner of a table to put the Zoom Q3HD, but even as I did it I worried that with the speaker behind the recording device I would not pick up good sound. In fact, the sound was crap. Abysmal. Too bad, because I particularly wanted to get in some of the fine vocals of Nico, who used to play at the Highlander a few years ago before moving to the UK, where she now lives. She returned to play a few open mics, and I missed her at the Galway, and got her last night, but with absolute crap sound quality. Nevertheless, check out when she really gets revving up towards the second half of the song below, and you can guess at the power of her voice.

There was a bit of blues stuff again, and a few other interesting people. I did my Tom Petty song, “I Won’t Back Down,” and “Borderline” and “Cat’s Cradle.” It worked all right, I could feel good about it. But it wasn’t exaclty “tear the house down,” stuff.

But it all left me still hungry, so I went over to the nearby Cavern club along with Tory Roucaud, whom I recorded playing there a few months ago when SHE tore the house down. But for some reason I cannot pinpoint, the Cavern was not its usual self either, last night. This is one of those places where the house band plays and you go up and sing, as in a karaoke, doing only the repertoire of the house band. It is an excellent, together, mean and tight. And for only the third time in the two years since I discovered the place, I decided to do a song. Previously I had only dared try “Stand By Me.” This time I tried “What’s Up!” since I’ve been doing it myself on my guitar and it is pretty straightforward. Unfortunately, they did it in a different key and my voice was too low on all parts, so I could not belt it out the way I like to. Moreover, the sound system was uncharacteristically bad on the vocal mic, so it was almost impossible to hear anything of my voice – still, a lot of the people in the room sang along with me, and that was great moral support. Tory did “Creep,” and I know she did a fantastic job, but there again, the vocal mic was absolute crap. So we did not get the quality of her voice we should have had. I’m putting up the video of that anyway, just for the atmosphere, and hoping you can see that she did a great performance.

When Brad Runs in Circles, it’s a Very, Very….

May 12, 2011

“When people run in circles, it’s a very, very, maaaaad world….”

I sing those lyrics often when I do “Mad World,” my version falling somewhere between that of the original by Tears For Fears, and that of Gary Jules. But in the last several days I can really apply those words literally to my life, as opposed to the figurative sense that I play in my head when I sing the song.

There has been an uncommon break on this blog, because I’ve been running in circles in all sorts of senses. First, my third cold in about six weeks meant that upon my return from Istanbul I was more wiped out than at any time in recent memory, and therefore did not go out to an open mic on Monday.

(I later learned that despite my doctor’s belief that the cold might be allergy related, the entire Lotus Formula One team apparently came back from Istanbul with the same cold.)

Well, that was the first running in circles: a third cold in six weeks and never seeming able to kill the virus, or whatever it is.

Second, I decided to sit down and read into my computer from my Canon HV20 HDV video camera the footage that I took in Istanbul, including my interview with Safak at the Kooperatif. And that is when the real running in circles began and has still not ended.

There is no problem with the ultimate fate of the footage. It is on mini DV tape, so I can read it into the computer with any HD DV camera. But with MY camera and MY computer, it has been a full time job for the past three days trying to overcome technical difficulties that I see on Internet forums are very common for people with this and other camcorders, but that no one has a solution for.

The problem is that the computer does not recognize the existence of the camera through firewire, which is the only way to connect to download the video from the tape to the computer. This had happened repeatedly with the camera in the past, but I was always able to somehow eventually hook into the camera and it would pop up on the computer.

Now, no luck. Dead! So that led me to deciding finally to download Windows 7 and loading it on my Vista computer…. But THAT process has now taken two days and my computer keeps on rejecting it!!! I am currently using my work lap top to write these words, as my computer has been setting up Windows 7 for about six hours….

In short, between the cold, the video and the Windows I have been running in circles, and going very, and completely MAD.

I did, however, decide that while I might get a little behind on the blog entries, I could not let myself go completely mad. So I went to Ollie’s open mic on Tuesday, and I went to the Highlander open mic last night – and in order to run continuously in circles I took a brief break from the Highlander to walk the 10 minute sprint walk over to the Be There bar on the Ile St. Louis to see a friend’s band. I missed his band, but I saw another, and it was good mad world fun, so check it out – the C*caine Rodeo.

But the highlight for me at Ollie’s was most certainly Victoire’s rendition of “Look What they Done to my Song…” of Melanie. I had mentioned her on this blog a couple of weeks ago after that wonderful women’s night, and I said that I told her she ought to do the Melanie song. She listened to it on my iPhone, liked it, and two weeks later, there she was performing it in public for the first time. She did an excellent job, and I think her voice DOES match up well with it. She was a little more at ease on her next song, but once she gets going on this Melanie one, Victoire will definitely wipe us out.

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