Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

Premature Exit at the Highlander

August 2, 2012

If you feel like you want to walk off the stage in mid set, do it MAN! If, that is, you are performing in an open mic and not doing a professional, paid gig. That’s what I did last night at the Highlander.

Of course, there is a very strong argument to be made for being 100 percent professional at all times and in all situations, whether you are professional or not. It’s like that old Hollywood guy talking once about flighty actors who think certain roles are beneath them are useless, whereas if he found a bit-part actor treating his role like the most important thing in the world, then that is a future star.

Having said that, one of the great things about doing open mics, as opposed to paid gigs, is that it really is acceptable to just decide mid-set that you only want to do one song. You do the song, get off stage and that’s it.

Last night at the Highlander, I arrived so late that I was No. 17 on the list and had a nearly 3 and a half hour wait until my moment to play. So that moment came well after 1 AM, and I had been drinking beer after beer – okay, three and a half – and talking to people all night. I had had a busy day, and the Highlander was so full it was elbow-room-only. There were a lot of interesting musicians, interesting people, and it was just a fabulous evening.

But by the time I got up to play I was really nearly overcome by fatigue and the beer, and the audience had all but disappeared. I told everyone that I had counted 14 people left in the room…to which one attractive young woman then decided to make a joke/heckle, and said, “Then let’s start the orgy!”

It was kind of funny. In fact, it completely knocked the wind out of me, as everyone started joking about her comment – including me. So how do I plunge into the seriousness of the emotion of a song after that, especially the one I planned to play, my latest concoction. Well, behaving “professionally,” I did just that.

But oh, dear, it did not feel good at all! I did not feel into the emotion, and I felt my legs shifting under the lightness of the beer and fatigue. I could not, in short, find the center within, the zone that is needed to connect with to sing. I decided to sing a completely different kind of song, “Only Our Rivers Run Free,” but as I thought of the orgy and thought of the lyrics in the song about laying down one’s life for one’s country… I could not mix the two, and the fatigue and the drink, and I simply stopped the intro chords and said, “Well, I think I will just leave it at one song tonight…..” And I left the stage.

It felt weird to wait 3 and a half hours to play my three songs, and then to do just one and walk out. But in the end, it felt right. And this being an open mic, it actually meant that there was still another musician waiting to get up, and an equally fatigued audience, so I did a few people a favor.

Still, I had enough energy and balance to go home and ride my usual 5 kilometers on the unicycle, to encounter some people in the street who wanted to try the unicycle, to let them – one had done it before – and to go to bed quite contented. There had been, after all, a lot of good music before my mini-set at the Highlander.

Riding My Unicycle Up (and Down) The Wicked Eau Rouge Corner at Spa

August 29, 2010

The Eau Rouge corner is the most wicked, steepest, craziest corner in Formula One auto racing. It is the corner that separates the men from the boys, to use a cliché. Or at least it was until they made a few modifications to it that made it so that pretty much all the Formula One cars go flat out up through this wall of a hill in the Ardennes Forest where the Belgian Grand Prix takes place.

So it was that because the corner no longer is entirely what it was in a Formula One car – not so long ago only fools like Jacques Villeneuve attempted it flat out, and ended up in the tire barrier off the side in a mess – I decided that I would measure myself against the drivers by attempting to take Eau Rouge on a real man’s machine: My unicycle. (It just turns out that there was a story in the New York Times today about unicycling, too, so you can get the background for unicycling on that.)

As a teenager for a brief period I worked in a circus in Canada called Puck’s Canadian Travelling Circus, and also for that circus’s predecessor company called Puck’s Rent-a-Fool. So I guess once a fool always a fool.

Eau Rouge has hung there for me as a temptation for years now but it was only yesterday that I finally got my courage up to attempt to ride my unicycle up the legendary hill.

The day before I did so, I sent off an email to a media contact at the McLaren Mercedes team to invite Lewis Hamilton, the team’s world champion driver, to join me if he cared to. For Hamilton too knows that Formula One cars are not entirely a man’s machine anymore, and he too rides a unicycle. I never heard back on that one, and I have assumed that Hamilton was too scared.

But he is certainly not afraid of unicycles. In fact, you could say he is part of a trend, and it all started off with an Irish former F1 driver named David Kennedy, who now runs a team in a lower series. Kennedy, in the 70s – when I first started unicycling – rode a unicycle. Then Mika Hakkinen, the Finnish driver who also became world champion at McLaren – like Hamilton – in 1998 and 1999 also rode a unicycle. (He went to circus school and, like me, occasionally rode his unicycle to high school.) And today there is Hamilton’s friend and competitor, Nico Rosberg, who drives as Michael Schumacher’s teammate at the Mercedes team, who also rides a unicycle. (He’d be better off here this weekend on the unicycle than in the Mercedes, where he qualified only 12th and then got a five spot grid penalty for having to change the gearbox.)

To quote from my story today from my Belgian Grand Prix Special Report about the Spa circuit, Eau Rouge “is end of a back straight where the cars run at 300 kilometers an hour, during a 23-second period at full throttle from La Source hairpin to Les Combes, at the end of the straight after Eau Rouge. Eau Rouge is the only corner in the series where the drivers have negative G-forces, here measured at up to -3.5g.”

So the challenge was there and I had to take it. I was warned by many colleagues in advance that the corner was like a wall, that it was difficult to walk up, almost impossible to ride up on a bicycle, and that I had no chance on a unicycle. What’s more, it could be dangerous for me.

Yeah, but I had to do it. I took a video of the feat, and yes, I made it!!! Not without looking like a fool and like a man on the verge of a heart attack, however. The second video, of me going DOWN Eau Rouge, was much simpler as a feat and I even managed to have the time to make a telephone call.

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