Friday, August 04, 2006

The festival and all its accoutrements has returned. Droves of American high-school theatre groups plague the city with their flyers and their 'theatrical behavior'. The town chatters in a thousand and one languages and all of them babbling amazement at the city I have somehow been lucky enough to call home for the last four years. I have already seen some great shows. I went to a jazz open session. The house band invited anyone in the audience to come up and jam. Modulo one unfortunate incident the results were incredible. The incident I mention concerned an Australian girl. How do I know she was Australian? Because the first thing she giggled was that she was Australian and she hadn't sung with a band in four years (god please make it another four years before she thrusts her talentless larynx upon the stage again). She giggled and babbled as the band struck up her requested tune of 'Fever'. She knew the chorus and that's it. So here we have some silly little girl who wanted attention standing in front of a group of people who have dedicated themselves for years to hone their art. They have to playback up to someone who should be lifting their shirt for mardi gras beads, not mumbling the lines to a jazz standard. So, it is now my mission to find the themed bar she works at and as she pours a pint of beer, I will flick a dried cat turd at her which is the metaphorical equivalent to what she did to those musicians when they were working.

However there was justice to be had that night. After a couple tenor sax players played a few tunes, another singer asked to perform. There was a palatable discontent in the room that remained until the nervous and shy singer, who held the lyrics in her hand on a crumpled piece of paper, belted out screaming Jay's words, 'I put a spell on you'. That girl had soul and lungs to match. Once the song was over there was the loudest cheer yet heard. The band invited her to do another song which was just as good but I don't know the name of it or the original artist. She got another huge applause when she stepped of the stage. Moments later, the Australian with male companion sulked out.

The final songs also had a singer. A middle aged woman named Rene. She must have been a professional becomes she knew how to control the audience and the drunk piano player. She moved everyone like chess pieces. She invited the shy singer, Iona, back of the stage to sing 'What a difference a day makes'. Rene sang everything with a fierce sensuality that made me blush on every tune. Iona seemed nervous to be singing a song she had not prepared for but Rene was amazing with her patience and encouragement. Once Iona gets the confidence to match her pipes, she'll do alright.

For me, it was an amazing evening. Musicians perform a magic I cannot fathom and when you see them perform these feats it really closes in on witnessing the sublime.

1 comment:

  1. It took me many years to understand what Henry James was talking about, with his stories of expatriate Americans in Europe. I'm an antipodean, and I suppose reading James in the South Seas made it hard for me to recognize his characters or their situations.

    But then I moved to Europe, and I met some of my own compatriots -- almost all of them a strange combination of brash self-confidence with an incompetent gaucheness, unable to sense how they are perceived by the locals until they make a complete fool of themselves. I have seen or heard your Australian singer, or others very like her, many a time, I am sad to say. There are even bars in London, where these expatriates congregate together, as if British culture was too strange or too terrible to be encountered alone.

    She will return home, after her year working in Europe, and tell all her friends about her great success jamming at the Festival Fringe, and the recording contract she turned down. Her children will grow up with the story, and remember it when they themselves visit Europe in 25 years time. They'll even have the address of the bar, perhaps on the coaster or the match-box she kept, to orient their visit.

    How I wish for an Australian or New Zealand Henry James to capture this great embarrassment to all of us from there. Maybe only then, when we've read about ourselves in print, will we acquire some self-awareness.