Insulting People at the Open Mic is
Harder Than I Anticipated
WEEK ONE: DRUNK
I got to the Mercury Café at 10:00 and I settled down at the bar to soak up some ambience. I soaked up ambience aplenty. Six or twelve glasses worth. Fleeting memories of the evening include: a middle-aged guy singing about chickens while playing the piano with his chin, a youngish woman strumming an out-of-tune guitar while her boyfriend sang “Knockin' On Heaven's Door”, intense boredom, getting kicked out of the woman's restroom, being told to leave the bar.
I woke up the next morning and vowed to try again the next week. But this time, I promised myself, I would remain sober.
WEEK TWO: NOT DRUNK
Ashamed at my behaviour from the previous week, I glued a moustache to my lip, put on sunglasses and stopped smoking. I walked into the Mercury at 8:30 , sat down at the bar and BOUGHT A BEER FOR THE GUY NEXT TO ME. In the ensuing conversation I learned his name was Randal Toughly. He comes to the Mercury every Wednesday for the open mic. “I'm not gonna get famous here. But the crowd is always nice. I'm a bad singer, but I can play the guitar like, uh...”
Trying to be helpful I said, “Like Clapton?”
“NO NO NO! More like Jimmy. Jimmy Vaughan , that is.” He chuckled and gave me a knowing wink.
I told him about the time I sang “Born to Be Wild” with Shaft and he nearly blew his top. “I know that song. You wanna sing it with me?”
One mustn't reject a golden opportunity.
Before the show begins all the musicians write their names on a list to determine playing order. The good spots are those right in the middle. Nobody wants to go first, because the crowd hasn't warmed up yet. No one wants to go last, because the crowd has already split. Randal elbowed a couple his way up to the list and came back with his fist in the air, “We're number four.”
The host, introduced the first singer, an Aquarius who proceeded to illustrate the First Rule of the Open Mic: sound bitter, depressed, wise, or angry. The Aquarius managed all four with the line, “I'll never let you hurt me with your socratic emphatic/Immature nature as long as the gods may live, asshole.”
After the Aquarius finished her three songs, Randal confessed that we was “friggin' nervous.” I bought him a beer and a shot. Then I bought myself a glass of wine. The wait WAS nerve-wracking. My hands sweated, I chewed my lip. Randal and I stopped talking. The stage disappeared. I remember nothing about the next two singers.
Finally the host called out, “How ‘bout a hand for out next act, Randal and Strapping!” A deafening applause filled the room (had they clapped this loudly for the other acts?). My heart beat like a jackhammer.
I stood and Randal put his hand on my shoulder. He said, “Dude, I been thinking. Maybe you should sing with me some other time.”
“No, dude. I got a thing goin'. I don't want to risk it. There's GIRLS watching.”
He walked to the stage. I sat back down at the bar. Randal tuned his guitar, adjusted the mic, and said, “Hi,” to crowd. The crowd said, “Hi,” to Randal.
I left before he could begin. When I got home I spent an hour in front of the bathroom mirror singing, “Getcher motor runnin'. Head out on the highway...” Yeah. One day I'll be good enough for Randal. One day.
--Strapping Danforth, June, 2001