As an Audience

What I’m aiming to write about here is plain old inspiration. The stuff that I have been so fruitlessly searching for these past few weeks. It was only last night, as I swilled whiskey on the rocks and pretended to enjoy it, that I realized my friends and my city are a constant source.

Most Monday nights, when I can be bothered to put on my eyebrows and some pants, I can be found in the back bar at Stella’s among the troubadours at The Drunken Retort. While my friends bravely march (or stagger, depending on the hour) up to the microphone to spew new, old, memorized or written down “shit”, I get to sit in a cozy booth and practice the art of facial expression and observation. It truly is something to behold.

There are the regulars:

When Poe oozes with the suave-yet-rugged charm of an inappropriately sexy English professor, the ladies and gays listen, chins cupped in sweaty palms, sighing their intentions into the electric air. When Fable skips fearlessly along the edge of emotional, daring anger and flirting with punchline the atmosphere feels solid, like if he needed it, we’d all form a human chain around his life to keep the badness away. When Autopilot switches on and positions himself atop the lyrical soapbox, he makes us nod along, both to the cadence of his diatribe and in agreement. Because of course, he’s right. NoMic bellows into the packed space about simply being decent humans. Decent to ourselves and by extension (but not hair extensions) to our loved ones. Our chests collectively puff out as we all try to instantly assume a more commanding posture, to match even a hint of his confidence. And then Rachel. Rachel who merely touches the microphone and elicits goosebumps throughout the house. Full-body ripples. Skin that rises and reaches out to be even millimeters closer to her haunting voice. The lyrics are a tad morose but “Whiskey” has become our anthem. Fifty women in black, sitting at a table in back, maybe hoping for the opportunity to scream at someone to “Get the f*ck off the stage!”

Because it makes us feel better, right? We like when someone is terrible because it reinforces our fears of participating while also helping us maintain a charade of being even marginally talented. At least for me, it does. When I hit “publish” on a new blog, nobody can ring a boo-bell and force me to stop opining. It’s already done. Already out there and I’m safely behind my computer and away from raised eyebrows of criticism.

Maybe it’s easy for the regulars. For those surrounded by familiar faces that allow bravado. But what about the virgins? The ones who get belled time after time and come back for more. Fifty Shades of Punishment Gluttons. Last night was a virtually bell-less evening. All beast. The guitar-toting crooner, mopping up the void-puddle left by an absence of Jason Mraz, stirred the familiar excitement that comes alongside cute boys with pretty voices. There’s the big bang in a tiny package that is Brooke Bing. She needs a soapbox, but only to reach the mic. Bing somehow has the ability to drink her way into flowing genius. Her night-ending freestyle put the seasoned rappers to shame and prompted me to toss aside my stoicism and scoop her into a lifted embrace.

The only things I can drink myself into are bathroom best friendships and outrageous claims. So I sit as a member of the audience. Close enough to belong, but with none of the responsibility. All take, no give. And it is taking. The performers give so much to us as an audience. And it doesn’t hurt that everyone is beautiful. I don’t mean beautiful in the Aguilerian sense of “everyone has inner beauty”. I mean that I wouldn’t turn down the invitation to see any one of them naked. Bing and Rachel included. Or maybe especially. The teenybopper in me can’t help but note the aesthetic value of this group but don’t mistake the fact that their talent and sheer ballsiness would be enough.

So if you are a performer, a writer, a painter, whatever…keep doing what you’re doing. Somewhere there’s a shy soul, watching you and (not so) silently adoring. Be their inspiration.

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