For a few months several years ago, I was a hero among the other singer/songwriters in my part of the world. I’ve told this story to half of the struggling musicians I know, always to the same response. Glee, mixed with envy. Everyone has had his or her share of bad gigs. It doesn’t matter what level of success you’ve enjoyed in this business, sooner or later you are going to have a night when everything goes wrong, or the audience just doesn’t “get” you, or what you are trying to accomplish. As a professional, it is your job to suck it up and deal with it, and try to put on the best show of your life. That said, most of us are tempted from time to time to just react as a person, rather than a performer.
I was scrounging around for new venues to play in Houston, Texas, and at one point picked up the yellow pages and dialed every number listed under the “Coffee Shops” heading. As I was booking myself into one of the java joints, the owner mentioned to me that she had a mostly lesbian clientele, and asked if that were a problem for me.
“I don’t think so. Lesbians like music, right?”
She assured me that they do, and we scheduled a show. Six weeks later I arrived and set up my equipment. I was early, so after sound check I had about a half hour to relax and get to know the young woman that was running the counter. She was really nice, and although she wouldn’t be around when I started to sing, I had a good feeling about the evening. If she was a good representation of the other lesbians, everything was going to be all right.
I started playing just as the crowd began to grow. I finished my first song to dead silence. About ninety percent of the crowd consisted of lesbians on dates, and as I thanked them for coming out (to the show, not their parents) they just stared at me. I started the second song, and everyone in the room began talking to their tablemates. I finished the second song with a flourish, and was again rewarded with dead silence and blank stares.
One of the perks to doing this for a living is that even if the audience doesn’t really “dig” you, they are going to be polite and offer at least a smattering of perfunctory applause. How many professions get an ovation of any kind, standing or otherwise? Can you imagine clapping when your CPA saves you a few bucks on your taxes? And what about when things are going great? No one ever tries to get a chemist’s autograph, or pose for a photo with the guy that sold them a reliable used car.
This group was not polite. I received no smattering of applause, not even a sarcastic comment. They just stared when I spoke, and talked when I sang. They hated me, and it was a little unnerving. I would have preferred to be booed.
It was a three set gig. Forty-five minutes per set, with a fifteen minute break in between. In the middle of the second set I’d had enough, and sang a song I’d written a few years earlier, but never performed. This song is called “Lesbians In Love”, and although the lyrics poke fun at a clueless guy that has the hots for a lesbian, I was certain that the song would piss my lesbians off. I finished the song to a thunderous response. They loved it! Not only that, but nineteen separate lesbians got up from their tables and walked to the stage, each dropping a buck or so in the tip jar!
Okay, I thought. Finally! I broke the ice and I can now enjoy the rest of the gig.
Not so. The lesbians immediately went back to talking amongst themselves while I sang. They continued to stare at me blankly when I spoke. I turned on the charm, and they were immune. Impervious. Cold.
So the third set I did what every musician in the history of modern music has longed to do after the gig from hell. I sang my heart out. I closed my eyes and played for me. I performed the entire last set of the evening with my back to the audience. I'm not speaking in metaphor. I don't mean that I closed myself off emotionally. I mean I turned the boom mike around so that I was facing the corner, and I sang for forty-five minutes with my back to the audience.
After the show I loaded my PA system into my car and went back inside to get paid. The guy behind the counter was nice, but had apparently been paying less attention to the show than the lesbians had.
“Hey, man. Nice sound! When can you come back?”
I told him I’d have to go home and check my calendar.