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Poets and Lyres I – The Baltimore Hostel, February 27, 2010

February 27, 2010

Mike Tager guarding the donations jar . . . but the music is more interesting to watch.

My thanks to Mike Tager (at left) at the Baltimore Hostel for giving us the venue for the night and doing his part in promoting the show despite the sort of activities schedule that makes me wonder when he finds time to sleep.

Chris Myers’s (below) set was a particularly nice surprise for me, because I’ve never heard his solo material. Originally, before he knew what the format for the night was, he told me (through Mike Ward) that he wanted to play a bunch of Eagles tunes. I don’t know whether he was serious or not, but I asked him to play originals. Chris’s stuff sounds like Jackson Brown in all kinds of good ways. And he has a song about

This was a very sincere song.

a Ferris Wheel, which I might have to ask permission to borrow. Mike backed him up on piano. Chris lays it on a bit thick with the self-depreciating humor (he’s obviously more than competent as a songwriter or I wouldn’t have invited him to play this show), and there was one point in the set where someone asked Chris if he wanted a hug when he talked a bit about being down about yourself as a “good place to be be for writing.”

Smiling Chris Myers fans.

Chris certainly isn’t an unhappy person, and I don’t think he was entirely serious in this remark — he followed this up with “That’s why I only have five songs.” This is common idea among artists. I personally don’t buy into it and find not only that I do my best work when I’m happy but that I can more easily be passionate about something — cheerful subject matter or otherwise — at such times. I don’t believe that the greatest explorations of humanity can focus only on one side of this coin. You can find conflict at a happy moment and a glimmer of hope in a bad situation. Writing is supposed to teach us another way of looking at the world — and by “teach us,” I mean for both the writer and the audience. I try to keep this in mind when writing anything.

Chris singing a song about writing.
“I’m sick of this pretentious pop music
That I have learned to play
I got to admit that I love it
And that I wouldn’t have it any other way

Except for the fact that I’m longing
For things that I’m not finding
Like having a way with the words I say
And being able to talk when I’m not rhyming
I wish I could be just a little more like I used to be
.”

'Mike, do you know this one?' 'I think so . . .'

________________________________________________________________

Andrew unloads his van. Shortly afterward, Jon goes to find another camera.

Andrew Grimm’s set — not unusually for those familiar with June Star’s material — focused on songs about loss. Aside from the obvious sorts of songs about this (losing a lover or family member), Andrew played a few songs in a row about losing band members. I can sympathize with this. Music (when it’s good) has a lot of emotional context, and losing a colleague you’ve spent hundreds of hours getting angry, elated, depressed with can feel like losing a good friend.

Although I think I enjoyed Chris’s set the most, I definitely learned more from Andrew’s set.

Andrew and Mike Ward had to leave after his set to play another gig that night (and I told Mike that we should do a gig together sometime so he can hear my band play), and in the meantime we set up the screen to show Andrew Mausert-Mooney‘s wonderful short piece of magical realism “Flok.” It was a nice change of pace after two hours of music.

Right to Left: Alex, Jen, Tim, and Andrew Mausert-Mooney during Andrew Grimm's (June Star) set. Yup, that's a large naked woman hanging by her ankles in the background. There were some interested objects d'art in the room.

Our set went well. Our overriding theme for our set was “stealing” songs — I am, in some ways, a deconstructionist, taking old ideas from many different sources and finding a way to use those motifs and turns of phrase to say something that I find interesting or relevant. I think too many artists shy away from, rather than embrace, their influences, thinking that if they can just distance themselves from others enough that they’ll find something original. But that’s not originality. Being the opposite of something doesn’t make that something any less of an influence. Going left when everyone else has gone left just to be contrary isn’t thinking for yourself. And it’s somewhat disingenuous. What makes an artist original is that they are themselves and no one else. A duty of writers is to strive to be as much ourselves as we can, and that means sharing all our life experience, including the works of art that we think are great.

The most encouraging moment for me came when a few Hostel guests (the first of the evening) wandered in during the first song and stayed till the end. And we’re now officially internationally renowned after a gentleman named Mouricio from Argentina bought an album. This was also the first CD we signed as a band. I don’t know how that hasn’t happened yet.

As usual, I forgot one thing: I was supposed to film some 15-30 second “interviews” with people asking them to describe who they think we sound like. Maybe next time.

We have more videos from the show posted on our YouTube channel.

Oh. You’ll notice there’s an “I” after the title of the gig. We’ll be doing this format again sometime.

-Jon

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