06-15-05: promotion

On Saturday, June 18th, my beloved Knappuccino's will be closing its doors for good. I'm very proud of the accomplishment, and the experience has been a roller coaster ride of ups and super-way-ups. There was very minimal suck tied to this endeavor. It gave many first-time performers a chance to get over their jitters, and it gave the slightly more experienced guys a chance to hone their craft and get comfortable working a crowd. And for guys like Joe Trainor, it was a rare opportunity to perform for a crowd that actually listened and asked thoughtful questions post-show. I liked the fact that I gave newbies a 15-minute slot to get their feet wet. Everyone has to start somewhere, right?

For me, it was a chance to immerse myself in fantastic music every month, and in that sense Knappuccino's was a self-serving endeavor. I did things how I wanted them to be run. When I didn't like something, I changed it. If a performer let me down, I banned them. I told the Knappuccino's story every time Brian Turner played the venue. It was my baby.   I think my favorite part about the experience was hearing all the music out there. I'd get demo tapes and mp3s and links and press kits all the time in the mail. It's exciting to be on the receiving end of those things, especially since I'd been on the sending end for so long during my stint with The Evelyn Situation.

Speaking of The Evelyn Situation, I'm sure by now you've heard that Andy Durkin and his Industrial Jazz Group are playing at Knappuccino's. It's a very ma fin est mon commencement moment, really.1 Durkin is the one who believed in me waaay back in 1987 and made me recognize my voice as a valueable and unique instrument, and he helped shape my musical tastes by making me mix tapes of stuff he procured from work (yay, he was the music department coordinator for the strangely impressive Morris County Library). South African township jive from Soweto, The Rustavi Chorus from Georgia (as in ex-Soviet Georgia, not yeeeeeha Georgia), Joan Armatrading, obscure David Byrne and Talking Heads cuts, Marillion, Captain Beefheart, Zappa, Nancy Griffith, Joni Mitchell, Hovhaness, and even Stephen Sondheim. When I would hear music I really liked from other sources, I would ask him about it and he'd research the heck out of it and make me mix tapes of that artist and complementary artists as well... The Roches spring to mind.

Durk and I went through 1,000 musical projects. We had a sultry jazz combo going on for a while (Joe Bergamini, Paul Badalamenti, George Colwell, Durk and me), various nameless studio-only projects, we did a lounge thing for a while doing really beautiful covers of standards, and then Brooklyn Ferry, Tolstoy for Fun, and ultimately The Evelyn Situation which was by far the most popular.

Durk's approach to writing vocal music was so cool. The Evelyn Situation had three women singers, and we had very different voices. Mines low and loud which later developed a lot of warmth, Donna/Carolyn had a mid-range innocent sound and a clear top end, and Danielle had this operatic top-end and a bluesy R&B middle. One thing I could never do was sing high in a pop-music vein; I was uncomfortable and my voice was unreliable. Andy knew this, and there were some songs where he really wanted to illustrate human frailty, confusion, instability... so he'd write the part in a higher part of my range and make me sing it. I would bitch and fight and say, "Why don't you just let Danielle sing it? It's so much more comfortable for her!" but Andy said, "I want you to be uncomfortable. I don't want it to be pretty or clear. I want you to struggle with it, because the character in the song is struggling." It took me a show or two to let my ego deal with not singing in the most solid no-brainer part of my voice, but the effect was really powerful. Longtime fans of the band even commented on it. I grew a lot from that experience.... so much so that it gave me a mantra that has carried me through some rough life patches: It doesn't have to be perfect... it has to be real.

I really mourn the loss of The Evelyn Situation. The music was creative, intelligent, political at times, satirical at others, and above all a lot of fun. People would sing along, they'd clap and stomp and have a rockin' time. After a while we got sick of making set lists, so we improvved this song called "Pass the Hat," during which Paul's pseudo-girlfriend Lori would walk around the audience and have them pick the next song from a hat. We even had groupies, and we got little perks from our very minor celebrity. I'd get free coffee all the time from a bunch of places in Madison and Summit because their owners or baristas were fans of the group. When the band broke up we got letters from people who were genuinely sad about it. I got a card from some guy Dave, so to thank him I made him a custom mix-tape of our stuff.  Durkin even got a fan love letter from some chick from Rutgers... she mailed him some guitar picks and hoped that he would use them and think of her.  :-)   Good times.

During the life of that band, I was working at Cuyler Burk, a law firm in northern NJ. They (unbeknownst to them) funded every mailing the band did; we sent out postcards for all our gigs and they paid for the postage-- our mailing list was pretty impressive. (Ahh, the years before email...)   Andy worked at Cuyler Burk for a little while as a file clerk, and his stint there prompted him to write "Secretaries and Their Bosses / Coffee." The song is called that because it has this little out-of-nowhere middle section extolling the virtues of coffee. My favorite line: "And when I die, please places my ashes in the urn..."  

Anyhoo, for the Knappuccino's shows this weekend, Durk has asked me to sing a few numbers with them; this "Coffee" bit is one of them. We expanded it into an entire song, and we're doing a verse retrograde (which is just fancy musical terms for "basically backwards"). Andy just wanted me to scat it, but I think it'd be funnier if I phonetically figured out the words backwards. So I've been working on that.

People have asked me why I'm closing down the coffeehouse, and I have a few reasons, each of varying degrees of importance and truth. I'll put them all here and I'll let you draw your own conclusions. Whatevah.

Reason 1) Knappuccino's started to become an obligation instead of the "holy crap I am so excited to do this" it was in the beginning.
Reason 2) It was hard getting people to attend every month. I advertised and advertised, but I was always competing with the local theater scene and if there was a popular play going on the same weekend, I was hosed.
Reason 3) The logistics became hard to navigate once John and I were doing the long-distance thing. Seeing him every other week and then having Knappuccino's on the third weekend gave me very little free time for myself. Something had to give.
Reason 4) I was figuring I'd be moving some time soon, so closing it down while people still thought positively of the venue seemed right.
Reason 5) Because I felt like it.

The night before the Knappuccino's show, the Industrial Jazz Group is playing at Twelve Miles West Center of the Arts in north Jersey. I'm singing at that show, too. I took the opportunity to ping my old NJ pals and let them know about the performance. I sent out a blasto email last week, but I was missing one email address for someone from high school I really dig: Joe Pisano. So on Thursday after work, I did some web-stalking and found his work phone number and left him a message out of the blue. He called me back on Tuesday and we gabbed for an hour-- it was so awesome to talk to him. I haven't seen him since 2000, and before that, since 1989. He's married now. I can't believe it... little Joe Pisano, all grown up. Scarier thought: his baby brother Darren is now 21. Aiiiigh!

Anyhoo, it seems like the universe and their brother are coming to this show; it's gonna be the high school and college reunion I never had, featuring only the people I like. Wheee!   I'm hoping we get a good turnout. Durk needs to sell a minimal number of tickets to break even. (Crap, come to think of it, so do I. Yikes!)

Allrighty. I have more to update y'all on, but it's really late and I'm tizzzz-ired.

Oh, hey,if you're bored, go get your pimp name.

1 "Ma fin est mon commencement" is a piece written by Guillaume de Machaut (1304 - 1377). I first discovered this piece in college, and it rocked my socks entirely; it definitely pushed me towards my current status of Early Music Geek. The text, "Ma fin est mon commencement et mon commencement ma fin" translates to "My end is my beginning and my beginning my end," and I refer to this phrase pretty often, in an "everything comes back around" kind of way. Anyway, the extra-cool thing about this Machaut piece is that the melody is a palindrome: a portion of the melody for the tenor voice is first played forwards then backwards.

The "ma fin est mon commencement" metaphor is extra-appropriate here, because in addition to Durk being the one who kicked off my singing career, he's also ending my coffeehouse. And we're also doing a similar interpretation of the old Evelyn Situation song "Coffee." We're singing it once through normally, and we're taking the last verse and playing it retrograde. Wheeee!

Hey! Look what I found while cleaning off my computer desk!
Fortune Teller Miracle Fish today tells me that I am: a mix of In Love, Indifferent and Passionate. So I guess that makes me passionately indifferent towards love. Or passionately in love with being indifferent. Hmmm.   (We've got a moving tail and a twitchy head, and then it sprung up shut.) Go figure.