Monday, June 4, 2012

Accidental Encounters With Musicians

We Rocked The Body

One night in the summer of 2008, I was hanging out with my friends in a karaoke bar in Williamsburg. It was a Tuesday and the place was empty, so we were able to go up and sing pretty much whenever we wanted.  

We'd been at the bar for an hour or two when, suddenly, the door opened, and in walked a tiny, bespectacled bald man. Instantly, everyone at my table made the same joke: “Hey look, it’s Moby.”  

Then a second passed.  

"Wait, shit. Is that Moby?”  

It was hard to tell for sure. The bar was dark, and we were in a neighborhood where a good 15% of the male population kind of looks like Moby. We needed an identifying feature, something concrete to drive away any doubt.  

Someone noticed this guy had an iron cross tattooed on the back of his neck. A text went out to Cha Cha: "Does Moby have any tattoos?"

A minute passed. And then:

"Yes. Moby has an iron cross tattoo on the back of his neck."

Boom. By this time he was seated at the bar with a lady friend, directly to our three (or nine, depending on where you were seated) o'clock.

We were all excited by the revelation, but things returned to normal quickly enough. All of us like his music okay, I think, but there were no Moby fanatics at the table (just nostalgia fanatics). Beyond that, the bar was too empty for anyone's celebrity to weigh very heavily. We were just friends hanging out, and he was just a guy…being Moby, I guess. After a few minutes, I almost forgot he was there.

I say "almost" because I knew we were in a karaoke bar, which meant there existed the possibility of singing to Moby, and that seemed like something worth doing. But what song? I began the search by hesitantly checking to see whether they had "Without Me," that Eminem song where he calls Moby out -- obviously, the elephant in the room during any "I'm in a karaoke bar with Moby" situation. There’s no way I'd have had the balls to sing that, but, I mean…I had to know for sure…

They didn't (phew). I ultimately decided, along with my friend Brian, to sing “Ticket to Ride.” The performance was ghastly. The only thing I enjoyed singing was that part towards the end of the song where John lets loose and slides into the chorus with a little “awwww…” Of course, I blew my wad by doing that before every chorus, but whatever. Still fun. And we got some applause out of Moby, which is what counts.

The Oblivious Child

It was 7:30am. I was on my friend's couch eating a bowl of cereal.

One cool thing about not having a job is that you don't have to go to work. The rest sucks, sure. But it's definitely got that going for it. I'd had an interview with my friend's company the day before this -- the only reason I was in New York -- and in general I was dying to find employment. But sitting there at that hour, watching my friends cinch up their ties and rush out the door, I have to say I felt pretty content. Excited, even. I had a full day ahead of me to spend as I pleased, and with this interview in the books the future seemed bright, full of promise. Every day in the city there are millions of adventures to be had, and as soon as I was done sleeping for an additional five hours, by golly, I was going to find one.

I set out around 1:00, and got off the subway at the first Manhattan stop. A half hour of wandering later, I decided to pay a visit to my friend Brian, who works as a barista at Blue Bottle coffee. I knew generally where Brian worked but not the exact address, so I punched 'blue bottle' into my phone and set off for the only location in that neighborhood. Twenty minutes later, I was inside.  

I didn't see Brian.

Me: Hey, excuse me, does Brian Kenney work here?
Barista: Brian…? Oh yeah! But he works on the Highline.
Me: Oh, cool.
Barista: Yeah, just head up there, you'll see him.
Me: Cool, thank you.

I had no idea what she was talking about. Still, I knew he worked in this area, and it sounded like I was only off by a little bit. No need to press the issue.  

I walked outside. If I were the Highline, where would I be…

I could see a building down the block called "The Highline Stages." It was enormous, far too close to this other Blue Bottle to be its own location, and very clearly some kind of event space and not a coffee shop. Jackpot.

I decided, because I'm an idiot, to investigate. A group of maintenance men were shuttling in and out of the building, carrying equipment unloaded from a van parked out front. I followed this convoy as they made their way inside the building, and slipped in behind them just as the door swung shut.

I suddenly found myself inside a large ballroom. There were 15 or 20 round dinner tables spread out across the room, all with table cloths and place settings neatly arranged. A small stage sat against the wall, with two men standing on it, holding acoustic guitars. The room was empty except for these two, a few security people, and me.

It was immediately obvious -- even more obvious than it already was -- that Brian did not work here. Still, I was already inside and had nothing better to do, so I decided to have a look around. I made my way across the room and passed through some double doors. I was now in some kind of lobby. There were more people in here, all of them wearing security uniforms, and all of them looking vaguely pissed off. I returned to the ballroom.

It felt like only a matter of time before someone kicked me out, and there was nothing exciting going on anyway, so I decided to just bounce. I set off toward the exit, and was halfway across the ballroom, when suddenly one of the guys onstage spoke into the microphone.

"Can I get a little more in this monitor?"

I stopped dead.

Woah...that sounded a LOT like Paul Simon.

I turned my head slowly to the right. There, up on stage, was the 5 foot 3 inch figure of Paul Simon. There was no mistaking it. Even his partner was a tall, curly-haired Garfunkel stand-in.

My jaw hit the floor. Paul Simon was onstage. He was onstage in a room comprised of me and like 4 other people. And he now looked as though he intended to play music.

"Thanks, that's better."

He started plucking a familiar tune on the guitar. Then he started singing.

"Little darling…it's been a long cold lonely winter…"

Holy shit.

The mission now was clear. I had to see as much of this performance as possible without getting tossed. I spotted a support column near the exit, walked very casually to it, and did what I could to obscure myself from view. When "Here Comes The Sun" ended, they took it from the top and ran it through one more time.

Being as understated as possible, I texted a few people in my phonebook and told them what was happening. My dad, as you can see, was very excited for me:

Another friend's response was simple: "pics or it didn't happen." He was right, I needed to document this somehow. But a picture could be risky. The only people currently in the building were event staff or security, and my presence was being accepted for the moment because I was assumed to be another hired hand. This company might have some kind of strict "no photographing the artists" policy, and I couldn't risk getting made by security, not this early in the performance.  

Instead, I took out my phone, pressed record on the voice recorder, and slipped it inside my pocket.*

When the second "Here Comes The Cun" ended, they segued immediately into "The Boxer." That was followed by "The Sound of Silence," then a bluesy song I didn't really recognize, then, finally, "Mrs. Robinson." These were all mumbly, soundcheck-y renditions, of course, but it may as well have been The Concert in Central Park for how much my head was exploding.

I did eventually work up the nerve to take this really crappy picture:

Be careful, his cell phone is really a camera.

After "Mrs. Robinson," he stepped off stage and posed for some pictures with staff (by this point a few more people had wandered in). I hovered around the general area, hoping to snag a picture of my own, but he was surrounded on all sides and I never found a proper opening. When he finally disappeared through a doorway and up some stairs, I took the cue, collected my chips, and left the table.

I walked back inside the coffee shop, glowing like a Christmas tree. The barista from before was still behind the counter.

Me: Hey um, I have a confession. I have no idea what the Highline is.
Her: Oh, you should've said something! It's that big walkway to the left. Just go up the stairs, he works at the stand right there.
Me: Right. Ok, thank you.
Her: No problem.

I turned to leave. I stopped.

Me: …If I tell you a ridiculous story, will you promise to believe me?

*I'm not sure how to upload audio files here, but I will e-mail the recordings to anyone who'd like to hear them.

(And oh, I didn't get that job.)

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