Tiny blonde girl, six or seven maybe. The mic stand was as low as it would go and she kept twisting it back and forth trying to get it even lower, her eyes crossing every time it centered in her field of vision. On every chorus her father would glance at her and nod, and she would grab the microphone and softly sigh into it – recoiling after each phrase with her hand over her mouth, giggling. Half babbling child’s nonsense but half assured harmony, after three songs she was done and she crossed her eyes at us a final time.
Every open mic i’ve ever played has been a little different from the one before it, and this was no exception. Northeast Philadelphia has an eerie quality that it lends to its residents, world worn and weary as they are, so that you can read their lives off of their faces without even needed to hear the songs they had chosen for that purpose exactly. One man, in a faded blue shirt with strong biceps and a cracked and weathered guitar channeled Tom Waits with his slow gravelly delivery, not a surprise at all. A woman, her long blonde hair trailing her and a half apologetic smile on her face, playing self-consciously narrative songs on her full size piano. A thirteen year old girl dressed like a gypsy, holding herself as though she was twice her age until she took the stage behind another piano, this time to play swirling piano compositions she meekly announced that she had “written when she was eleven.” Not so long ago for her, the MC reminded us.
Gina and I must have presented them a conundrum, not betraying our world in our faces. First Gina, shocking them as she revealed her range note by note, first tickling the very highest and then descending to a nearly bass hum as she slowly circled the most basic chords in Bb. And me, i suppose, energetically bounding up and back from the microphone with each line, sticking out my tongue when i missed my riff, and making steady eye contact with anyone who was bobbing their head along. I can’t imagine that we telegraphed our moves, our voices, our emotions as well as the regulars, because our faces just don’t have that quality. Even the tiny blonde girl in her staring cross-eyed at the microphone in front of her face told me all i needed to know before she ever opened her mouth.
I don’t know if i can go back.