[I'm archiving some old weblog writing, and a few bits seem to fit here. This is from 7 november 2000]
Every couple of weeks, friends of mine from the Well meet at a bar called Revival. Monday nights there are poets performing upstairs. Though we never left the main bar area, performance poetry could not be escaped last night; we were treated to a special Ambient Lunatic show from a caved-face anger merchant who would be kicked out of your local Tourette's Society for inappropriate behavior.
I missed her opening salvo, in which she apparently overheard Betsy describing a Bush supporter in her office, and loudly asked why they didn't just throw her out the fiftieth floor window? I assume an uncomfortable silence followed.
When I arrived she was scribbling and grunting at the table behind us. I had put on some tunes on the jukebox. The Clash's "Lose This Skin" came on, and she was apparently quite taken with Ellen Foley's long growly vocal lines, and started chiming in with her own loud humming whine, not exactly on pitch but clearly attempting to follow what Foley was doing, or maybe drown it out as a toddler might. I couldn't see her, but I'm told she was also recording herself doing this.
Very well; I like Ellen Foley myself, and it's possible I express some of my enthusiasms in socially questionable ways. But when "Lose This Skin" ended and Blur's "Charmless Man" came on and her Foleyesque wail continued unabated - if anything, her keening got louder and more abrasive -- it began to be a little alarming.
In time she subsided to muttering, with occasional exclamations of a politically confrontational nature, most of them crude and childish enough to make even an east village politico squirm with embarrassment. They weren't especially coherent, though, till eight o'clock performance time neared; suddenly she declaimed in a carrying voice, "Goddess in a world of fucking assholes!"
While we were attempting to recover from this declaration, she added, muttering, "Should have seceded from the union in nineteen-fifty-fucking-five," and, "Morons with no political sense whatsoever," possible referring to us, possibly referring to her fellow poets, possibly referring to voices having a party in her head.
This was nearly the end of the show, but as it happened a couple of our party needed to use the bathrooms at the same time she did. Poor Michael was next in line and when the door opened she poetry-slammed him out of the way, explaining that she needed to fucking piss.
She emerged twenty minutes later.
Am I the only one* who thinks the Joshua-Bell-in-the-Metro experiment is not a sad commentary on our culture's anything, and that the main lesson is the obvious one that a train station at rush hour is not the best time to try to expose anyone to beautiful music?
I think I'll call people up at random, declaim Shakespeare at them, and see who stays on the line.
*This transparent rhetorical ploy brought to you by the makers of "I know this isn't a very popular thing to say but".
Velma sings "Adelaide's Lament" in piano bars. It's one of her most reliable numbers. She made the decision from the start that she wasn't going to mess around with the accent, and she was right: the song is a great song independent of the character of Adelaide. Velma sings it dramatically and humorously, in her own voice with comic exaggerations.
Last night a woman sang along loudly from the audience. Singing along is of course part of the piano bar experience, though you ought to understand that you are singing along as a support voice, even when -- especially when -- singing the lead melody rather than harmonies, and that ideally no one should be able to particularly note your voice. This woman, besides singing loud, insisted on singing the song in character, copying Vivian Blaine's voice and every nuance of her comic performance.
It was of course rude -- get up and sing a damn song yourself if you want to be the center of attention, lady -- but it was also socially clueless, the kind of blithely dorky behavior that I used to think was exclusive to a section of science fiction fandom until I started getting out more. After all, what was the point? Was she being helpful? Was she hearing the song being performed "wrong" and providing a correction? Was she pointing out that she could do it better? Was she showing off that she knew it, imagining that more than a couple people there did not? Was she just blissfully singing along the way she would at a concert surrounded by ten thousand people? I don't know, but I think it's likely that she was entirely unaware that virtually everyone there, including the uncomfortable-looking fellow accompanying her, would have preferred she shut up.
There are professional singers at the bar who would have shut her down cold if she'd done that to them. For Velma or me, it's practice: learning to sing, and keep singing, no matter what.