Realised today that in this context, "off" is taken to have two meanings – we have Days Off, and behaviour or speech also said to be off. I wondered if they were in some way related.
Got up at what turned out to be 10:30. I dithered for an hour before finally leaving to explore Kiel some more.
Fabulous day – lots of sunshine, but the chill breeze coming in off the Baltic stops it from getting too hot.
I decide to find the Irish Pub, but first to have breakfast. Hernan was thoughtful enough, when I visited in March, to introduce me to Le Buffet (where the only German I need to get a meal is "Danke Schon", which I manage comprehendably two times out of ten). I’ve missed the breakfast menu, and can’t really work out what of the current menu doesn’t have meat in it , so have a fruit juice, a coffee and a plate of pommes frittes.
After that I walk generally eastwards and northwards. I find the little lakes, and the Rathaus. In fact I find them twice, coming from different directions. Eventually I reach the Irish Pub.
I realise immediately that this place is my personal idea of Hell. And tonight is the Open Mike night. So I have to go. I could spit in the eye of Destiny, but I suspect that Destiny would only sit heavily on my head in retaliation. Anyway it’s closed until 6:00. I shan’t worry too much, just turn up with my guitar at a respectable time and see what happens.
I walk up the hill, past the I.P. to an area which has classier bars and shops than previously. It seems that in terms of classiness, Kiel shades vaguely northeastwards, low to high. Vaguely, and there’s a lot of it I haven’t seen yet, so that’s to be taken only as an interim report.
I buy a street map of Kiel in a transaction that goes swimmingly until he asks whether I want a bag and I go glassy-eyed with incomprehension.
I buy a large Latte in a cool, studenty sort of a place, with lots of fliers for events. My minimalist German does me no favours, but I manage to get my coffee, my bill settled and out of there in roughly that order.
Then I wander back House-wards, trying out what I hope is a short cut, but turns out not to be. It seems that one important detail of the city is that planners have made it as difficult as they possibly can for people on one side of town to get to the other side. One might almost imagine they were trying to keep us out or something…
I go back to the house put some clothes in to wash, and then take a couple of books to the Bambule, where I eat a pizza and read them. I’m trying to divine exactly why I brought some of these books. This particular pair were Image, Music, Text by Roland Barthes and Knots by R.D. Laing, and now I think I have some idea of why they’re on my bookshelf.
Back at the house I take a potted plant that Mariana gave me to the garden. She gave one each to Dani and me, perhaps an act of generosity, or a way of getting green living things into the Boy’s Dorm; perhaps we’re involved in a secret race to see which of us will kill our plant first. Normally I’d win something like that hands down, but now, after getting expert advice from Ruth as to what should be done (and it was a gift, after all); I decide to shuck my reputation as a herbicidal maniac and I transfer it to a larger pot (probably too large, I hope this is better than too small); which I line the floor of with stones (I vaguely remember something about that from my childhood) and then use earth from the garden to fill the pot up around the sides. I notice that the earth, which is drying in the sun, seems quite thin and grey, very dusty. Since I’m not an expert on earth, I don’t know whether this bodes ill or well for the crops.
The plant is now sitting back on the window sill in a pot a couple of sizes too big for it, like a schoolboy in his September blazer. The label says that I should feed it, but I have no idea what with. Hopefully this won’t turn into Little Shop of Horrors
Then I have a shower, during which Dani and Fernando return to the house. It appears the Germans have hidden the beach again.
Now I’m preparing myself psychologically to go out and play at the open mike in the Irish Pub, and posting Day Off Part One in case I get back very late.
As Neitzsche said (according to the film Conan the Barbarian, anyway): that which does not kill you makes you stronger. I’m not sure what he has to say about that which does kill you. Hopefully I won’t find out this evening.
00:45 Yes, potted plant. It’s a peperomia, for any botanists out there. There are certainly none in here.
The Irish Pub was an experience, I have to say. It was an authentic open-mic of the kind that I know from the UK, except – and this was the touch of genius – it was not organised in any way whatsoever.
I arrived at the place at ten to nine, and asked for a grapefruit-juice-and-soda (it took me a very long time to find a soft drink I could drink pints of, and this is it. I would really not recommend drinking pints of Coca Cola, especially several pints. I have done this, so that you don’t have to); and details of the open mic (says 21:00 on the website). Apparantly they kick off at 22:30 is anyone turns up. This strikes me as very un-German, but then it is the Irish Pub. It’s an authentic Irish theme pub, which isn’t the same thing as an authentic Irish pub, The (Irish) bar staff are good, efficient and polite. I’m sort of hanging around for an hour, slowly falling asleep, almost off my barstool for a while, then I go for a walk, find the groovy cinema (or at least it looks groovy from the outside, groovier than the multiplex, anyway); and then get slightly lost. At this point, I’m almost at the point of cutting my losses and going home, but decide that I need to do this, if only because I’ve told you lot that I will, and I don’t feel like making anything up particularly.
When I get back to the bar, a fairly genial German gentleman is just beginning his extended set of popular rock covers, commencing with Losing My Religion, and proceeding via Hotel California and several other favourites. Directly in front of me are three young women, and two of them get up and sing some folk songs – American-style folk songs, one of them says "Woody Guthrie" and "Woodstock" at one point, but it sounds more like the Indigo Girls to me. The tall one is singing harmonies, bending over quite a long way to get to the microphone. It sounds quite authentically something. If they’re originals, in that style, they’re actually pretty good ones.
While they were performing, I noticed a thin young man, with sunglasses on, just in front of the stage, stage left. He’s trouble, I thought.
These are fascinating acts to watch from the point of view of performance. In a way, it’s exactly what Karaoke (tomorrow night, or last night, I’m not sure) isn’t. Karaoke is all about impersonation, performance (in the sense of projecting a persona) and artifice, so the framework is set up and the performer is sort of plopped into it. Karaokists do perform quite effusively. This was more about self-effacement, and in a way receiving something via the songs. The genial German gentleman seemed at pains not to be performing at all. When he was singing, he kept looking at his hands, so his mouth was always drifting away from the microphone. When he wasn’t singing – for example, where the guitar solo of Hotel California should be, and he was just playing the chords – he didn’t look at his hands, even though they were the same chords. Interesting.
Eventually, one of the bar staff suggest that someone else get a go (and to his credit he was genuinely embarrassed, it was just difficulty for me to get his attention); and I go on.
Technical points: the guitar sounds quite thin – I guess they’ve got all the bass and mid cut for strummy acoustic guitar. The vocal’s pretty good, though, and wherever it’s coming from, there’s a passable foldback, though I’m probably hearing it through the main speakers. Wherever they might be. Nice and full (I have quite a deep voice) and I can go fairly quiet and still get something back, which works for me. In this sense it’s the opposite of playing in the Ballroom the other day, when projection was all. Here, the amplification was enough, and most of the people didn’t really mind if they couldn’t hear me anyway. It’s actually not a very loud PA, just above conversation level. This means that when a particularly loud conversation starts, it’s below conversation level. I decide I’m not going to let any of this bother me.
As I remember it, the set goes something like: Little Games, Mr Wrong, Unison, 100 Horses. Interesting glitches in each of these, the most interesting for me being that I play 100 Horses incredibly fast. It’s a very fiddly song with lots of bits and a guitar solo part. I’m sure it looked very impressive. From my point of view it was a bit stressfull. I mention that it was a bit fast, and a drunk, aggressive, American woman (should I invoke the fact that she was blonde, too, to summon up famous ghosts of certain West Virginia watering holes?) asks me to play something happy. I am non-plussed. These are, for the most part, the happy ones. She really doesn’t want to hear the miserable ones. She’s very insistent. She’s also sitting in the same seat as the troublesome young man with the sunglasses earlier in the evening. The trouble seat.
I see now that a very good reason one oughtn’t talk to the audience is that sometimes they take it as a cue to talk back to you.
There has been an interesting dynamic going on – the genial German, and his friend and the three young women have been very attentive, and I’ve just started to pick up attention from the back and sides of the room. But there’s this table of three young American women having one of those operatic good times. It’s not enough to laugh – they must be able to hear it in Prague. They don’t bother me, particularly (until she starts to heckle); but my audience keep shooting them those please-shut-up stares. I can tell you from extensive experience that please-shut-up stares never work. Nothing does, sadly, short of ejection or, in extreme cases, assassination. Which can ruin the mood somewhat.
So from my point of view I’ve got quite a strong centre of good supportive energy, a pleasant though not totally focused area of not-unsupportive-but-essentially-unaligned energy around the edges and this one table of hell.
I cut and run – I play Comforting Lie, which is ripped from the riff to Kate by Ben Folds and is the loudest one I do, then I declare myself quitting while I’m ahead and unplug the guitar, and the genial German comes back to do his stuff again.
The energy is generally of impressed bewilderment. The playing tonight was quite fast, lots of tricky-looking chords and fast runs. It’s obviously not easy.
(Of course everyone reading this knows that the act of sequentially moving one’s fingers very quickly is a party trick, but it can be an impressive party trick all the same).
However, what I haven’t told you about my material is that it’s cheese. A lot of bossa nova- ish stuff, many jazz chords. Pure cheese. It doesn’t matter how fast you play it if it sounds like How Insensitive. It’s not rock and roll.
I have encountered this problem before and I’m not sure what to do about it. Truth be told I don’t really like rock and roll that much any more, and I increasingly find cheese more interesting and exciting.
They definitely liked Comforting Lie, though. People do. It’s quite loud.
Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps I blew them away. Perhaps I sucked. It was interesting, though, and fun and very informative, and doing it was a bit like flexing a muscle that I don’t use very much any more, and being relieved to discover that it hasn’t atrophies completely.
I walk home, chat to Daniel and Mariana, work on the L4K database and write this. It’s now very late.
Sorry about the length. There will probably be less tomorrow.