Open Mic Alchemy by Sarah Azzara

Posted: July 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

Sarah and Dom at Summer Conference Reception

I showed up for my first Southampton Writers Conference in 2009 with a lot of enthusiam, a bite-size chunk of terror, and a huge, unmistakable shiner under my left eye, courtesy of a would-be Romeo with a pocketful of rohypnol.  Upon my arrival, I was mortified by the shiner.  I wanted to wear a t-shirt that said, “I’m not like that – really.”  But by the time I had to leave Writerland and return to the real world, I decided that black eye was my new best friend.  After all, these people were writers. My mark of shame made me fascinating before I even uttered a syllable.

The first MFA student to approach me was Dominick Quartuccio, a fiction writer who featured an uncanny Christopher Walken impersonation.  I was sitting alone at a huge, round table.  Dom asked if he could sit down and proceeded to dump a cornucopia of organic vegetables on the table, dirt still clinging to the roots.  During the delightful exchange that followed, he got my shiner story and challenged me to come up with a better one.

Dominick ran the open mic night.  Ham that I am, I could not resist signing up.  I brought my guitar down to the tents, grabbed a beer, and shook.  It was odd for me to be nervous – I’d played indie pop show after indie pop show, often ending up on the bill with several other bands that had nothing in common except a lead singer with a uterus.  I was used to being a juke box – pouring my pearls out on to the stage while the audience caroused and conversed and completely ignored me.  For a lyricist, it’s the kind of artistic frustration you have to swallow like a horse-sized antibiotic if you’re going to play in public.

Dom called me up, and I wove through the folding chairs, hoping not to brain anybody with my favorite acoustic.  It was so quiet. I sat down and tried to look cool, hands visibly shaking as I fumbled with the pick, and started the song.  The intro chords crested, and I gave it my all.  Somehow, I remembered all the lyrics and hit all the notes.  When I stopped, there were five eternal seconds of crickets, then a crescendo of cheers and applause that knocked me out like a tidal wave.  They had listened.  Not only had they listened, they liked it.  I had never been more astonished in my life.  Years of hack-flavored horse medicine left me wondering why I even bothered.  On that muggy, starry night, it all made sense again.

Now that Mr. Quartuccio has graduated, I am attempting to fill his great big Hush Puppies as host.   They’ve even named it Afterhours, which is cool not only because it’s the name of one of my favorite Velvet Underground songs, but also because it’s a fun word to coo into the mic, all sexy-like.  Open mic night is a dream for both the voyeur and the ham. It’s your first chance to see how that sweet little old lady next to you in the lunch line is not only a delicious pervert, but also a genius poet.  The scary-looking biker guy has a memoir piece that will make you cry and offer him a hug afterward because you went through the same horrible thing.  The botox queen you couldn’t help but make fun of is not only conscious of her predicament, but has written a hilarious, tragic masterpiece of sarcasm you’ll be thinking about long after she’s gone home.  And that guy who was serving you drinks earlier has a collection of short stories so brilliant you’ll have to restrain yourself from throwing your panties at him.  And guess what?  This daunting company will listen to you, and you’re probably just as good as they are.

I believe it was the Mary Tyler Moore theme song that said, “love is all around, no need to fake it.”

You’re gonna make it after all.

  1. This is a great recounting of the first time we met. I am moved that you think so much of me to believe that you would need to fill my shoes. Sarah, you’ve always been a great performer and you will rock the podium as the emcee of “Afterhours,” just as you did when I called you up that night long ago. You will fill my shoes and take them dancing through the streets. From one ham to another, you are sultry siren of song and lyrical seduction. Writers, beware: once you attend Sarah’s open mic, you may never want to leave.

  2. Diana says:

    Amen, Sarah! Love this!

  3. Matthew says:

    A sparkly, swirly piece of writing, full of wit and ornament but always driven by a clockwork momentum underneath that keeps the story going. Beautifully written, Sarah.

  4. Cynthia McHale-Hendricks says:

    A great piece, Sarah! Keep on blogging.

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