Career Advice for a Wayward Pop Star

I was driving up highway 17 the other day, top down despite the threatening weather, ZZ Top playing slightly louder than strictly necessary. Inexorably, inevitably, sure as night follows day and a pilot for a terrible television series follows the Super Bowl, my mind turned from Tres Hombres to Britney Spears.

To call me a fan of Ms. Spears would not be terribly accurate. Her music and schoolgirl-slut image is interchangeable in my mind with that of several other forgettable young women. Presented with a song by one of them, I expect I’d guess the correct singer at a rate only slightly higher than random chance. I’m pretty sure she did one called “Not That Innocent” or something like that.

Recently I learned that she was a Mouseketeer, along with another of the interchangeable popsters, and Justin Timberlake. I didn’t even know they still had Mouseketeers. Maybe now they’ll reconsider. If memory serves Britney and Justin were together for a while, but I might be thinking of some other guy.

I’m not a fan, but I think about Britney every once in a while. Somehow she came to define the whole pop-bimbo image, the platonic ideal of sweaty teenage jizz-bait. Then something went wrong, and I heard even less about her than I had before. A year or two ago she tried to stage a ‘comeback’ (it says something about us that someone in their twenties can come back), and I read that it was a disaster. Recently I saw her face on a perfume commercial, so I’m pretty sure she’s not dead.

The things I read about her comeback meltdown were almost giddy in their celebration of the crash of one of the most famous people of the previous decade. While I was never a fan, I also took no pleasure in her downfall. I could have told her that her comeback was ill-concieved, however, had she taken the time to ask me. Britney the schoolgirl cock-tease won’t work anymore. There’s too much history. Under my sage guidance Britney could come back, however — just not as a recapitulation of what she was before.

This is what occurred to me while listening to crunching electric guitars while driving a curvy road. Britney is now in a position to make an album I would buy, and I suspect a lot of other people would too. The title would be Mea Culpa and it would be about her real experiences, the mistakes she made, her lessons learned and her hope for the future. She would tell us of the fear and insecurity and the agents and handlers and the drugs and all the other stuff that can make anyone’s life go haywire. It would be her taking responsibility for her life, and showing the strength to rise up and move on. That would be a cool album.

It would be Britney evolving from a singer into an artist. Does she have what it takes to make an album like that? The artistic power and the courage to open her soul? I doubt we will ever know. Her people would never stand for it.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

As I was driving across the desert yesterday, I heard a song for the first time. It has a little hook that goes like this:

One thing

To do

Three words

For you

The first time I heard the rhyme, I thought it was kind of clever. The second time it’s repeated in the song, I thought, “Hallmark”. The third time, I was done with it. By the end of the song, I was pretty sure I never needed to hear it again.

It seems, however, that the tune is question is in heavy rotation right now. As I searched the airwaves for stations as I scuttled actoss the surface of the earth, the song kept coming up. Each time I listened to less of it before changing stations, no matter what I thought of the music that had come before. I was more tolerant of commercials than I was of this song, and I don’t much like commercials.

The Last Bluesman

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Rene Trossman and band in an empty room.

I have in the past complained that for all Prague’s charms, the live music scene isn’t that great. I still think this is the case, so much of the music here is from DJ’s, and not very good DJ’s at that. However, over the last few weeks I’ve seen more live music than I would have thought possible, and discovered some pretty cool venues in the process. (My ‘discovery’ of these places is much like Columbus discovering America. There were quite a few folks who already knew about those places before.)

The evening started with hockey (Sparta won in overtime), and after the game we paused at the French Creperie while the crowds dispersed, then headed over to Mala Strana for the show.

Apparently, it’s February. Apparently, February is an unpredictable month when it comes to putting on shows in Prague. Rene Trossman, whose sweet home is Chicago, normally pulls a good crowd but tonight the joint was d-e-a-d dead. There was one person in the place besides fuego and me, meaning the band outnumbered the audience. They put on a good show, but there just wasn’t the energy in the room that leads to a memorable performance.

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It’s the blues!

I really liked the band, though. Piano (required for our story), upright bass, and a drummer with a minimalist kit who played tight and clean, with occasional flashes of humor — on one song he provided the punctuation at the end by letting go of his sticks. The bass player has the closest look I have seen for one of the roles in Moonlight, but he’s Ukranian, and his voice won’t be convincing audiences he’s from Detroit.

After the first break a few more people showed up (including some of fuego’s long-lost in-laws), but even though the venue was very small, it felt deserted. A pity, but that’s February for you.

Tomorrow we must decide which musician to recruit, and rope that guy in.

Scouting for Bluesmen

There is an American-owned bar in town that serves good beer (for a bit more than I like to pay) and has a cozy underground chamber that has live music fairly often. U Malého Glena (roughly, “Little Glen’s Place”) is a very comfortable bar and it turns out Glen is a pretty good guy. Monday fuego and I made the pilgramage to the neighborhood of Malá Strana to scout listen to Stan the Bohemian Blues Man. It was a very good show, and he had that Stratocaster blues sound that I always imagined when working on the story.

While there we also judged whether U Malého Glena would be a good place to shoot the blues concert, but while it had a lot going for it, it is just too small to give us room for the film crew to work. Nice place to hear a concert, though. Our most likely location for that part of the movie remains Blues Sklep, but we would have to shoot during the day. That’s not a real problem as long as the extras can maintain energy. The alternative is to find a place that is available at night and sponsor an actual show. That would be more fun, except maybe for the editor.

I thought it was going to be my last late night out, and fuego had promised his family that the late-night sessions were coming to a close as well. However, talking to Glen before the show (and echoed by the owner of another blues joint in town), we really should listen to one more guy before making a decision. Luckily he is playing at Glen’s Place tonight. By an interesting coincidence, he is already scheduled to play at Blues Sklep the week we would like to shoot. Could we coopt his gig? An interesting thought…

An Eclectic Playlist

The radio is playing in the bar where I find myself right now; it’s tuned to a station I’m not familiar with. It was turned way down, but the bartender bumped the volume up when ther was a Czech cover of the punk Classic “California Uber Alles” on. I appreciated that. The next song: “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel. Wow.

Something fuego Said

I got a text messge from fuego yesterday with all sorts of questions in it. One was, tribute to Get Crazy? For those who don’t know, Get Crazy is one of the finest movies ever made, and includes a lot of good live music scenes. There really should be a a little something in our show that the ten people in the world who know Get Crazy will recognize instantly.

Any suggestions?

Talent and Location Scouting, and a Long Friday Night

Another local blues singer/guitarist was playing in town Friday night, and fuego and I were on the job once more! Jonathan Gaudet is a French Canadian who loves the Mississippi Blues. He and his harmonica player Jaromír Hůla had a gig at a place called Zlat

Lookin’ for a Bluesman

zlato proved useful once more, sending me the info about and American guitarist and singer who works regular gigs here and there around town. It turns out I’d heard Brad Huff play once before on a night spent hanging with zlato, but I had forgotten the guy’s name, along with everything else about him. Last night he had a gig at an American-owned bagel place. “Looks like we’re having bagels for dinner tonight!” fuego replied when I sent him the info.

As the day wore on, I was overcome by deep and profound sleepies. Brad plays often enough, we could miss one night and the world would not come to an end. Through the innefficiency of text messaging fuego and I were not quite on the same page; I was getting writing done and was not inclined to go out, but by the time I stated that explicitly fuego was already on his way.

As well he should have been. Really it should have been me dragging him. This is my sandbox, my budget, and if I don’t drag this bastard project forward through sheer force of will, then who is going to? I resolved to rally. While I was getting my act together I got another message from fuego. He was quite a bit early for the concert, so he’d gone to another place nearby, a potential location for the film. He told me how to find the place and I started on my way.

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A lonely bluesman at Bohemia Bagel

It took a while to get there by tram. fuego’s directions were excellent, and the place was easy to spot. I got inside and realized that finding the place and finding someone inside that place are entirely separate challenges. It is a crazy labyrinth of stone and metal, filled with mood lighting and kinetic sculptures made from old engines. It’s contrived, but damn if they didn’t get it right. The levels have levels, there are nooks and crannies everywhere. They had Sailor Jerry Rum, which I did not try. I didn’t take any pictures. We had a coupld of beers, discussed it in the context of “Moonlight.” It’s much busier and more modern than I imagined the location in the story, but it’s also way cool, which counts for a lot. It’s a place that is without a doubt Prague.

After a while we headed the few blocks to Bohemia Bagel for the show. We had no idea how crowded things would be, so showing up a bit early seemed like a good idea. In this case, there was no need to worry. Bohemia Bagel is simply not a place people think of when they’re going out for an evening. I assume booking a blues player once a week is part of a campaign to change that. We arrived, sat, ordered munchies and beer, and waited. Before long Brad sat down in the corner and started to play. He was good, and when we talked to him on his break he turned out to be a personable guy who understood what we were up to and was interested in working with us. Not only that, but his wife is a pianist and has worked as a hand double as well.

We talked about all sorts of things; the story he told about being abandoned in Tuba City, NM was especially good. No two ways about it, that man has some tales to tell.

The vltava at night

The Vltava, looking toward the castle and old church

After the show he joined us again for a while and we had a round of Becherovka for good will. Then we went our separate ways. In what has become a pattern fuego decided to do a bit more “location scouting” while we were out. We walked across the river down into the center of town, where the basements are the coolest, and trod the cobblestones looking for likely venues. Nothing presented itself right away, but we stopped off as a place called (something like) Fat Boy Bar, a place neither fuego nor I had even been before. It was fairly quiet in there by then. We got beers and made ourselves comfortable.

A while later I looked up and there was Brad, still dragging his little wheel bag with his amplifier, his guitar slung over his back. I waved, he laughed, and came over to join us. “I got on the wrong tram,” he said. “I used to come in here all the time, but I haven’t been in ages.” Yet there we were, as if guided by some divine practical joker, and more stories ensued. And more beer. Maybe some more Becherovka. Maybe not.

Time continued to stumble ahead toward dawn, clumsily but inexorably, dragging us with it. Eventually it was time to go home. We walked out into the quiet Prague streets. I really like the city at that time of night; one of my favorite Prague moments was a similar walk through fresh snow. We bid Brad goodnight at his (correct) tram stop and fuego and I started tromping homewards. We made it as far as El Paso.

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I wonder if he can play the blues…

El Paso is a bar I pass often but rarely go into. One of those visits was on a very similar walk home with fuego, late at night when we both know better but are willing to forget for a while that we do. El Paso is open almost all night, just closing long enouogh to clear out the drunks before they start a new day. We sat, chatted a little more, mostly about the project, and eventually there was just no denying that it was time to go home. I walked part of the way but I was passing the tram stop just as the night tram pulled up (still night trams — at least it wasn’t as late as last time) and I hopped on for the last half-mile or less. The tram itself was a fairly modern number, but all night trams come equipped with a sleeping drunk guy. This guy is living in luxury; he’s not forced into the standard slumped-forward posture you see on the older trams. I’ll tell you a story about that sometime.

Finally, home, happy to be there, I spent a little while chatting with That Girl. She called me a dork. (She loves dorks, luckily.) I didn’t last long, and then I flopped down on the Curiously Uncomfortable Couch and was asleep almost before I was horizontal. Quite a productive day, overall…

Golem Club

“Moonlight Sonata” leans heavily on two elements (give or take): locations and music. When we heard that zlato knew some skilled musicians who owned their own place and only opened it once a month or so when they had concerts, I allowed myself to get pretty excited about it. Purely by luck, there was a concert there the day after zlato found out what we were looking for. Attendance, of course, was mandatory.

The morning started out under the shadow of the previous night’s beers, and the last wheeze from an annoying head cold I’ve been carting around. (An aside: on mornings like that I ask myself, “why don’t I have any aspirin in the house?” There is a drugstore literally a stone’s throw from my house. Yet once I’m out and about the hassle of figuring out just what to get outweighs the future benefit. It takes me a good twenty minutes to choose a medication even when I can read the labels. So I tell myself I’ve made it this long in this country without ever setting foot in a drugstore and I may as well keep the streak alive. Who knows how much productivity I’ve lost for lack of a bottle of ibuprofen?) Anyway, I slept very late, schlepped around, and when the appetite was finally back I went down to the local Chinese place and wrote the previous blog episode. From there is was tram 11 up to fuego’s, and away we went.

zlato (rhymes with gold, by the way) had emailed the information on how to find the place. He had mentioned several times that the place was always packed, and the email advised arriving by 20:00 to get a seat. I figured showing up even earlier couldn’t hurt.

It turns out this was a short-notice event, and we were the first ones there. We poked around and discussed what it would take to make the place look right for out project.

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A clean, well-lit place

Unfortunately it turns out that the answer to that is “quite a bit.” The place is the right size, but it’s too clean and too white for the sort of dive where an old bluesman would play his last concert on this Earth.

Still, at least it’s there, and it has musicians, to boot.

People began to arrive in dribs and drabs, and we got our first look at the guitarist for the band, someone we hoped might be a candidate for the role of Old Ray, the bluesman. Not a slam dunk by any means, but there was definitely potential there.

(My apologies, by the way, for the quality of the photos; I was using my phone camera and there’s only so much it can do in low light.)

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The band at work

The place had perhaps twenty-five people in it when the show started. Tonight it was just pianist and guitarist; the drummer was apparently one of the many regulars who couldn’t make it to the show. Right away I knew I was going to have a good time. When you go to a concert billed as ‘jazz’ it can fall anywhere on the spectrum from “so boring it’s not music” through “inoffensive” to “good” to “great” to “so random it’s not music.” Happily, while musically very ambitious at times, Tony Ackerman (guitar) and Martin Kratochvil (piano) never went so far over the edge to where one needs a doctorate in music theory to appreciate it. It was also obvious that they really enjoyed what they were doing. Some of the music I recognized, other bits were original. Tony is American(ish) and enjoyed talking to the group and the whole place had a friendly vibe.

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Bohdan Mikolášek

Then we came to the reason for this hastily-called show: it turns out that it was the 40th anniversary of the immolation of Jan Palach, a student who burned himself to death to protest the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. A freind of Tony’s is a musician who wrote protest songs back in the day and wanted to mark the day. Bohdan Mikolášek’s songs were in Czech, of course, and most of the audience was English-speaking, so he spent some time before he started talking about the time, and what some of his lyrics were. Some of the most poignant came from the song “ Ticho, which was about Palach, and the quiet acceptance of the invasion he struggled to end. “A living man died, but the dead live on.” Lots of good imagery in his lyrics as well.

After the show he paused to talk with fuego and me. He is distressed about the way the world is going, about what it remembers as what is forgotten. For instance, he said more than once that he doesn’t think Jan Palach was a hero. It’s not his act we should remember but the apathy that brought him to that act. We should remember a world where it took some guy doing something like that to wake everyone up. Are we all sleepwalking, waiting for the poignant “heroic” act to get our asses in gear?

All of which has nothing to do with finding locations and talent for “Moonlight Sonata.”

During the post-show milling-around period I introduced myself to Tony, we chatted for a bit, and eventually fuego brought up our project. The venue is definitely a possibility, but Tony immediately took himself out of the running for being the bluesman. He did give us a lead though, a name that sounds vaguely familiar to me. He’s a yonger guy, but if he can move old it might work out.

In the end, it was a good show, but provided no answers. fuego and I wandered the town for a bit, looking first for a couple of places fuego thought might be worth looking at. The one he was most excited about showing me was closed. After that we decided to repair to Pizzeria Roma for a planning session. On the walk I realized (again) how out-of-shape I am, but once in the friendly embrace of the all-night pizza joint (complete with time-warp capabilities) all was well. We ate, discussed the three (rhymes with Holy Cow!) vodeo projects we want to get done in short order, considered Roma as one of the locations (could do a lot worse), and generally had a good time. When I left fuego was still there, chatting with the locals, and when I left I caught a day tram home.

Road Music

Is it just me, or is the dinosaur rock of my youth fundamentally superior road music? ZZ Top or Boston just seems to lift the car a little bit. I wonder if the loss of roadliness in modern pop music is a reflection of changing values in our country, the fading of the American Road Myth.

I figured if the road was anywhere in American music anymore it would be country, but you know what? If the sampling I found on various radio stations today is any indicator, it’s not. A couple of tunes displayed a sense of humor missing in other pop genres, but the road wasn’t to be found there, either.

Has America lost its musical road mojo, or am I just imprinted from my golden days of youth?

Blue Monday

I walked into Little Café Near Home Monday afternoon to discover a jam session going on. Some kids I more-or-less recognized were playing guitar, singing, and improvising percussion instruments. “It’s a blue Monday” Martin said. The music came out sounding pretty good, so I settled in and popped open a book. (I was too far from the electricity to work, and really not that sorry to have an excuse to leave the computer in the bag.)

I’m reasonably sure it was just coincidence that the harmonica player happened by; he didn’t seem to know any of the others, and he didn’t bring his own harmonica. So, in one of those delightful convergences that the universe likes to offer up now and then, my ears, a harmonica, and a very good harmonica player all followed different vectors to arrive at the Little Café Near Home at the same time.

Good singing’, good playin’. The guy playing bar stool was pretty good as well, but his performance degraded steadily (and increased in volume) as he drank. That notwithstanding, there are a lot of worse ways to spend an afternoon.

Jose Drew a Duck

Yep, Jose was learning Flash and at one point was doodling while resting his brain. He drew this duck. Then I made the duck’s wings flap and beak move. What fun!

Of course, once one has a duck with flapping wings, one must make the duck fly around. Thus clouds and other accessories were required. But once things get longer, you really start to need some music. I poked around and there was the Polkacide version of the duck dance.

Once there was music, then the animation needed to be much longer to match, more ducks were required, and the whole effort had to tell a story of sorts. Far too much of my life later, this is the result. I may still tweak it a bit — there are some dead spots that would be good to fill in — but on the other hand I’ve wasted far too much of my life on this dang thing already.

I haven’t been able to test the loading screen on a slow connection, so I really don’t know if it works or not. It’s supposed to give you the button to start the animation when it estimates the download will finish in time. If anyone out there can tell me if it works, that would be cool.

Um… that’s all there is to it, I guess. Hey, John! Can you give me permission to use this music?

1

About Last Thursday…

I was interrupted as I began to chronicle the day, and as a consequence there is now much more story to tell. As days pass the immediacy of the events is lost, which may be a good thing — the details swiftly forgotten are probably the ones that would only have cluttered the narrative anyway. When last we broke off in this narrative, the Cute Little Red-Haired Girl was smiling at me, and bringing me tea. That in itself is enough to make for a fine day, but this day things were just getting rolling. Sitting in Café Fuzzy I had no idea about the twists and turns awaiting me that day.

As I had my American Breakfast (bagel with bacon and egg, hold the ketchup), I struggled with my NaNoWroMo offering for the year until blood was seeping from the corners of my eyes. As I was writing Yet Another Political Discussion rather than action or characterization, my phone chimed. I checked and it was a message from Graybeard. “Casting today, US commercial, period piece.” Just which period was not specified. The message included a very large number for the compensation. Literally a year’s rent. Certainly worth checking out. Graybeard and I worked out that we would get there at the beginning of the casting period and hang out in the bar attached to the casting agency.

My condition at that moment could charitably be called ‘scruffy’. Some work was going to be required before I presented myself for the camera. (You can leave your sarcastic comments below. Jerks.) Thus, a mere couple of hours later, I was scraped clean and gussied up, heading out on the town. Not wanting to waste the effort on a casting that would almost certainly prove to be a waste of time, I dropped a line to Don Diego, telling him that I would be out and about. Things happen around Don Diego.

I got to Jam Café a bit early, and sat and had the official One Too Many. Tea, that is. I was a little twitchy from the steady stream of Earl Gray provided by the Cute Little Red-Haired Girl, and as I sat at the café I told myself, “No caffeine. Whatever you do, no caffeine. You’re twitchy enough already. It’ll show on the tape. No caffeine. No caffeine.” “What are you having?” the waitress asked. “Black tea,” I answered.

I was, it turns out, making two big mistakes at the same time. (Generally I’m not that good at multitasking, but sometimes I manage.) I was making myself unnaturally twitchy before going into an inherently nervous situation, and I was doing so while not signing in and getting a place early in the afternoon. I dropped Graybeard a line to discover that he had decided not to come out until later. When the official start time of the casting rolled round I signed in and was assigned number 70. Dang. I sent a message to Don Diego saying I would be a little later than expected.

Time and memory are a peculiar couple — when memorable events are happening quickly the experience of the moment seems to flash by, but in retrospect memory, which is partitioned by events rather than by the ticks of a clock, will represent that whirlwind of experience as a longer period. On the other hand, when nothing is happening at all, the subjective time is endless, but the memory is just a blink. My next hour is now just a forgettable moment. I had a book, but it was boring. I put it away and put my brain in neutral.

Time crawled by. I was going to be even even later. I sent Don Diego another message. “Wanna be in a commercial?” “Why not?” was the reply. I was happy that I would at least have someone to stand around with. He arrived and signed in, and was given number 140. As we waited, a tall blonde girl arrived. For convenience we’ll call her 147.

Not too long after the arrival of Don Diego (recognizing the time-accelerating effect of having an interesting person around), it was my turn. With a whole bunch of people I was herded into the studio. We were lined up by number and were photographed in turn (I concentrated on my face and let my posture go slack, which is not good – modeling is actually pretty complicated). Then it was time to talk to the video camera, and in my group I was easily the best. Hands down, far and away the best. Only one other person in the group spoke English well. Then he asked for a couple more facial expressions, including “a little smile.” My little smile was about the most forced and unnatural expression imaginable, stiff and strained, and while I was working on that I lost my focus on the camera. (Note to self – it’s video – you can move!)

“How’d you do?” asked Don Diego. “I’m not changing my travel plans,” I answered. Now it was time to wait for his turn. “I’m going to flirt with her,” he said, referring to 147. He did. Across the space of five meters he focussed on her. She smiled, blushed, looked away, and was beautifully charming. Don Diego decided to escalate. “Do you think I should sing to her? I’m going to sing to her.” he walked over and sang to her. Not just any song, but “Some Velvet Morning”, which is a really odd song to start with. For a moment (though 147 later denied this) she had a look of abject fear in her eyes, which quickly gave way to a mighty blush.

I won’t go into all the details, but later as the three of us conversed, she asked him, “aren’t you going to ask for my phone number?”

They never auditioned. She was minutes away from going in but had to catch a bus home to Brno.

*****

This seems to be the episode that will never be written. Another day has passed since I wrote the above, a period in which more beers were sacrificed to the gods of conviviality, a night in which I was mocked by a pretty girl for the way I said Záplatím (I said it more like Záplatim) only moments after she has chastised me for not using my Czech enough, and a night in which the Little Café Near Home did not close at the posted hour.

My only hope now is to finish the description of the first part of my day, and leave the second part alluded to in my previous post to your imaginations. Perhaps it will show up in some fiction some day.

*****

They never auditioned. She was minutes away from going in but had to catch a bus home to Brno. She left to catch her bus back home, Don Diego followed. I got a text from him later thanking me for my excellent wing-man support, though I don’t think I did much.

Meanwhile, Graybeard had arrived with two other folks; one was student of his, and the other was the daughter of another student. I joined them in the café section of the casting agency and ordered a beer. Graybeard had tipped them off about the audition as well, and the more the merrier. They were numbered in the 240’s, so they still had quite a wait in front of them. We chatted, I had another beer. I coached the two rookies about what to expect inside, and about the mistakes I made, so perhaps some good would have come of the adventure. It turns out that Miss 241 lives near where I do; she likes to go bowling at B&B. Maybe I’ll run into her there sometime.

Finally Graybeard and 241 were called in for their moment before the camera. 248 and I chatted for a bit, and then another face I recognized came in. Prague is definitely a small town. The new arrival was Lucien, a good guy and a poet to boot. (Lucien is his real name; and he has written some poems I like very much. If you run into him, be sure to buy his latest effort.) He joined us, the others left, and the two of us hung out chatting about writing and stuff until his number came up. I could have waited for him, but by then I was feeling the effects of my hang-out-a-thon and made excuses.

I decided to walk home, but spontaneously dropped into a place called fuego to write about my day. As long as I was at fuego:the bar, I decided to drop a line to fuego:the brother and see if he wanted to join me. He did, and his arrival at fuego:the bar is what interrupted my previous episode. We had a beer or two and discussed the writer’s strike and how to best exploit it.

To abbreviate the night, more people I knew arrived, completely by coincidence. Eventually I was with a boisterous group of Americans, a loud bunch made all the louder by the hot acoustics of the room we were in. This is why I prefer my Americans in small groups. The female of the species was underrepresented, but there was Delilah. fuego:the brother was about the only guy there not to hit on her. She was worried about getting home, so I promised that I would walk her to the train station before it was too late.

Suddenly it was time for her to go. I tossed fuego:the brother some cash so he could pay the tab (which was going to be complicated with all the table-shifting going on — sorry about that, bro, but trains wait for no one, not even pretty girls). At last I was going to be in a setting where we could talk quietly, and I cold be myself (whatever that means). Only… one of my own buddies, I guy I’ve known for some time, pulled the complete anti-wingman move of tagging along, bringing his large, energetic (and rather loud) personality into the mix. Bird-dogged by a buddy!

In fairness, he was probably unaware that I was interested in Delilah, as my main goal while in fuego:the bar was to not be an asshole like everyone else there hitting on her. The thing was, it was working. In all likelihood nothing would have come of the walk to the train station, but chances like that are, for me, ridiculously rare. When we reached the metro station I decided to walk home rather than stick with them. I was rather annoyed by then, and that’s not the way to be around people.

So, guys, when you’re hanging out having a few brews and the quiet, unassuming guy manages to get some quiet time with the belle of the ball, let him have his moment. In Top Gun terms, when the wing man has a target, the lead plane should get out of the way or planes will crash and lives will be lost.

The brisk walk home was pleasant, and calmed my nerves a bit. (It is not the walk through Prague of the previous episode; that happened the next night.)

Delilah doesn’t know it yet, but since then she has saved my life. That, however, is another story.

A day well wasted.

It started off as an ordinary enough day. I woke up at a usual time (not as early as it used to be), and got over my general business stuff (comics, email, bug reports for Jer’s Novel Writer), and still had time to catch the American breakfast down the hill at Café Fuzzy. I made myself comfortable and the cute little red-haired girl smiled at me. “Čaj?” she asked.

——–

That’s how far I got relating the events of the day before everything accelerated. What followed was music without soul and men without honor. Plus beer. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.

A damn good night.

Live band karaoke. Beautiful women everywhere. Free beer. Can it possibly get better?

Yes, it can.

I was pleased when Don Diego invited me to the shindig. As you may have noticed from the sparse entries lately, life has settled into a routine around here. Routine, and not terribly exciting. People invite me to stuff, but if I’ve got a groove going in my work, I tend to back out. Also, most people tend to go out on the “weekend” (some sort of business ritual, I understand), and so everybody has plans at the same time, and the bars are at their most crowded and smoky. How can you get any work done in a place like that?

Don Diego and I scan the list of songs and go to sign up. Although we are just about the first ones on the list, the girl in charge tells Don Diego that his song is already taken. He chooses another. I scowl at the list again. There is nothing really in my wheelhouse, and fortunately for the bar there is no Billy Idol, either. I make a choice and scribble it down.

The outing was organized by a local language school where Don Diego teaches English. “One thing I have to tell you,” he had to tell me, “there are a lot of really good-looking women there.” I put this factum in the “good” column and was all the more eager for the night to roll round. When we learned that the karaoke was in front of a live band, I didn’t quite know which column that belonged in. On the one hand, it’s simply a kick to get up and front a bunch of talented professional musicians, to be a part of their act if only for a moment. On the other hand, you are limited to what they know how to play. For instance, there might be relatively few songs in English, and you might find yourself singing a song that’s just a little too high for your rusty vocal cords.

The first regular takes the stage and the band begins to play. “Hey, that’s the song I was going to do,” Don Diego says. Obviously the girl has sung it before; she belts it out with confidence and more than just a little style. This is not going to be your average drunks-with-microphones sort of karaoke. Oh, no, not at all.

The party ostensibly started at 19.00 (rhymes with 7 p.m.), and we got there only a few minutes after that to find that things were still pretty quiet. Don Diego decided that his first entrance (and consequently mine) wasn’t grand enough, so we took a mulligan and arrived a second time. He was with the circus; he knows the importance of showmanship.

We sat and I found myself chatting with a very pleasant bunch of people, all involved with the language school. It was an easy-going bunch, and I was very happy to have on my right a particularly charming young woman, who we will call Lily. Across from me sat the recruiter for the language school. “Do you need a job?” she asked early in the evening. I had just been looking at my finances earlier that day, and I had to admit that the time for gainful employment was looming. She gave me her card. Apparently the screening process is pretty rigorous, so there’s always a chance I’ll wash out later on in the process. We can hope, anyway.

‘What are you going to sing?’ People ask me when they see I am holding a lyric sheet. I show them the song. ‘Oohhh… nice. I like that one,’ they each say in turn. I nod. I like it too, but I’m not sure I can actually sing it. The regulars are, as a bunch, pretty dang good.

More good news followed. Yes indeed, the company had opened a tab at the bar, and until the money ran out, beer and wine were free. Of course this can be a dangerous situation, especially when one is trying to make a good first impression on a new group of people. Don Diego and I reached the same conclusion at about the same time. The trick was to get the free alcohol into key other people at the party.

The group ebbed and flowed around the tables, and while I had some time alone to contemplate my good fortune, I was never lonely; there was conversation to be had all around me, and Don Diego never left me hanging, although most of his attention was on the girl who had first recruited him into the school; he had gone to the interview just to spend time with her. She struck me as a Czech version of Cameron Diaz — something about her smile just charmed my socks off.

Don Diego takes the stage, loosens his  shirt, and strikes a pose. He isn’t just up there to sing a song, oh, no. He is about to put on a show. The music starts, Don Diego puts away the lyric sheet. He kicks ass.

I found myself talking to Red, a very pretty and very pleasant girl who worked at the school. Her eyes lit up when she heard I was a writer. Yes, her eyes lit up. Halogens, I think. We talked about literature for a while, about favorite writers (making it obvious I don’t read enough), and she asked me if I was published. “Short stories, yes, but I’m better at writing than I am at selling.” My current line. “Have you tried publishing here?” she asked. I told her I had not.

In classic bad news/good news fashion she told me that her boyfriend is an editor at a publishing house here and is looking for American writers. Did I get her contact information? Of course not. I was too busy downplaying the literary merit of my stories. A big opportunity falls in my lap, and I drop it like a hot buttered potato. Hopefully I can pick it up before it rolls away completely.

A confession here: I’ve got a pretty major inferiority complex when it comes to presenting myself to people who know and love literature. This set includes almost all Czechs. It makes me say and do the stupidest things imaginable, and turns me into the same sort of asshole that I most dislike among the American writers here in Prague.

I had signed up right after Don Diego, but my name is not called next. Just as well; that’s going to be a tough act to follow. Another song goes by, and another. Had I been forgotten? Is that a bad thing or a blessing in disguise?

The night wore on at a gentle pace, with plenty of good conversation with interesting people who are not afraid of being happy. Eventually the band was finished, and the party started to dissipate. Don Diego and I resolved to go somewhere quiet for a nightcap and to chat about the most excellent time that was, apparently, had by all. Lily was still there, and determined to stay, despite our attempts to lure her away into the next phase of the party. We bid her farewell (after exchange of phone numbers), and in an I-can’t-believe-I-just-did-that moment I pulled the old kiss-on-the-cheek-sudden-shift trick. Grand larceny smooch.

As the dude finished his most perfect rendition and the crowd when wild, I turned to Red and said, “My worst nightmare is that I’m next.” After a bit of confusion I heard, ‘Let it Be’. My song. Shit.

I looked for Red to say goodbye. I never got her contact information, but I know she’s out there somewhere, and I will find her again. In the (relative) quiet of another bar whose name I’ve already forgotten, Don Diego and I sat with our final Gambrinuses of the night and reflected on what a damn good evening we had had. I’ve got to get out more often.

There is clapping and cheering among the language school people as I take the stage. It’s show time! I am about to sing “Let it Be”, a beautiful song of sorrow and hope, a song carried by the vocals, that rises steadily to a grand conclusion: There will be an answer, Let it be. I set my posture, getting into character, and the exercise calms me. I am ready. I will not be taking the chorus down an octave; it’s all or nothing tonight. The music starts.