Social distortions

I accompanied Harry to an open mic last night in Ridgewood. I crossed county lines. The weather was good so why the hell not?

I’ve never intentionally attended a music open night. I had no preconceptions of what would be played, only that it might be fascinating from a character assembly perspective. People don’t go to open mics to watch. They go to perform. So for once I got to be a disinterested fly on the wall.

The host is a 20-something woman in a wrinkled blue sundress. The aesthetic of this generation is very misleading. The dress could have been thrifted or she could have bought it at Forever 21. Her level of grooming and posture said this is someone who does not care about the husk of her exterior. She’s all about what’s on the inside. I know this girl and so does anyone who pays attention because, if you’ve ever been in this world, you run up against them.

She gets up on stage and explains the rules. Eight minutes or two short songs. Breaks. Anyone who plays after 11 gets one song. She calls people’s names. There are three Emily’s in a row. Which was not coincidence. She’s reordered the sign up list. Front loaded it. It’s the purview of the host.

People were talented. At songwriting, at playing their instruments, at singing. Everyone had their gimmicks. There was the Dua Lipa girl who couldn’t hear herself and said as much, so she unironically put her finger in her ear. And at the end when she mentioned it again, someone said she sounded good and she responded with “Whatever.”

I’d put money down that she was in drama in high school. That’s not a value statement. I just got flooded with a lot of probable inferences about her from her demeanor on stage. Super cute girl. Knows it. A little broken. Doesn’t know yet how to detach from the need for external validation.

There was a guy in the front row of the audience who was enthusiastically supportive. He looked older by an order of magnitude, mostly because everyone dressed like a 20-something kid in Ridgewood should dress according to the style manual. He looked like a sloppy bro in a baseball cap. He was there with another man…the kind of guy who dressed like early Elvis greaser meets later bloated Elvis if Elvis had been a fan of Joy Division.

Bro in a baseball cap has a gravely voice that, only later in life, did I learn comes from consuming cocaine for decades. He sounds like Mike Ness of Social Distortion fame.

They have this incredibly affectionate rapport and, at one point, they kissed. Men my age don’t look like that and do that as a rule. You might say that’s closed-minded and I’m gonna say back to you that it’s the aggregate of a lifetime of experience around dudes and punks my generation and older. Something was going on that didn’t make sense.

Until the rest of the information came in.

Bro in a baseball cap gets up and gives a monologue while sitting on the kick drum with his back to the audience about how the night before he was a manager at Gotham Comedy Club but he got fired. He said he hadn’t drank and he hadn’t used coke his entire shift. It’s now the end of the night and he goes to do the count (count the money in the register). Does a shot and a bump…which is not extraordinary. My grand theory of service industry people is that many if not most are neurodivergent who gravitate towards night jobs and self-regulate with widely available substances.

The money disappears. And bro in a baseball cap gets fired. So his buddy, cue goth Elvis, suggested he do an open mic, even though he hasn’t played in 10 years. I’m not gonna lie. I felt for them.

Is bro in a baseball cap erratic and verging on chaotic? Yes. And this frightens the host, Queen of Emily’s. His first song is not bad. He’s singing, playing the house guitar and playing kick drum. He think out loud what he wants to play. And he’s eating up time, which is stressful for everyone in the room but me because they all want to go in before 11 so they can play the two songs they came to do. There’s tension in the air.

Host/Queen of Emily’s tells him to move it along. He says ok and says something about getting a drummer. She says, “You sound fine. Just drunk.”

He responds, “I’m not drunk. I’ve been walking on eggshells my whole life trying to please everybody.”

He will go on to sing another song. Well.

But Queen of Emily’s has chosen to do the mean girl gatekeeper thing of :

• insulting someone
• who has just shared something very vulnerable
• in front an entire room
• of aspiring and professional musicians
• because she had the power to do so.

If you asked her why, she’s defend herself by saying one or more of the following:

• he was taking up time
• she had already told him to move it along
• she had responsibilities

And then she’d pull out the sword and shield of the 20 something crowd: he triggered her trauma response.

Because if you can’t beat them, use victim language and a relative position of privilege to shut down a meaningful discussion of professionalism.

Professionalism? Yeah. This girl works in marketing for a major corporation. She knows what that is. She has to operate in that context. But not here. Not in this basement. Not at her show. At her show, Queen of the Emily’s gets to say whatever she wants.

After that, the open mic didn’t feel so open or friendly. And any time she cheered anyone on for something, it felt hollow.

Harry went up after 11. He did one song. It was as a good thing. He mentioned that the night felt clique-y. And the music group he met up with felt clique-y.

The long and short of it is this: power corrupts. But it also shines like a light through bone China and reveals the cracks in the person who possesses it. That’s invaluable information if you can sit back and observe.

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