I still remember one chorus from that night:
Got a slow car and I’m outta gas
tryin’ to bum from bums on the way to class
Going to make a way to a better life
These rappers were fantastic. And it didn’t stop there. The slam poetry with the visceral sensational performances, the sensitive ponytail boys with their guitar ballads and the taut women ready to be angry and transgress, handwritten papers clutched as they
Poetry, baby. Open mike night at the local coffee shops with something to say. My first real world-class coffee shop was in my belated senior year of college, 2001. Good times in that dangerous downtown two blocks from campus.
These eclectic people, ready to give their dramatic best and say what moved them, what made them laugh or what made them dance. Don’t come too late or the signup sheet will be full.
Anybody could have a chance. Showing up counted more than anything else.
So we sat with our coffees, and let the amateur variety show play out. We had come, a composition of amateurs, to get up and speak our piece. Back at the college it was local and pure. I loved it.
Then I moved to Hollywood. Then it took on teeth and desperation. The now defunct Babble Cabaret was the world-class open mike night that can never be repeated. That’s how I feel it. It was something really really special. Six to eight minutes of anything and everything. Censorship? Hell, no. Originality was the only rule.
And the quality was wide ranging. Some jaw-dropping performances that stick with me to this day. Some performances whose main redeeming quality was unswerving self-confidence in the face of complete lack of quality.
In Hollywood, see, there is a chance. Some people do make a living off this stuff. And some of the people went on to do just that. Others hoped and fizzled.
Then there was me. Like a magpie drawn to the shiny bits.
You can do this?
There is a place to try that?
The people will clap?
So I sat and listened, always with a notebook. Even sitting listening to the other performers, I was inspired to right my next piece.
All week I would know that I’d have a change, a forum, to be expressive and creative. I’d scribble down possibilities between meetings at work, knowing I could make them really happen.
It’s part of a well-balanced life, I think.. A place to feed that fire. I know in New Orleans, the musicians know that they have a big parade to march in at least once a year on Mardi Gras. Gives a reason to keep practicing the trombone.
I liked who I got to be in those performance spaces. And I really liked the company. We were all ready to appreciate one another and appreciate creative expression.
Six to eight minutes on a clipboard handed around is not that much, but it colored my whole life.