In fourth grade, I played Bob Cratchit in the performance of A Christmas Carol. My sister, who was always supportive, helped memorize my lines. I don’t remember being nervous or anything.
In high school, the senior play for the class just ahead of me was Bye Bye Birdie. I ran sound. Brian Hudson, who played the lead role, was a good friend. My first instrument was bass, and the first guitarist I jammed with was Brian. He impressed me with his knowledge of bar chords. We formed a band with Robby Phillips on piano and someone named Chuckie on drums. We rehearsed in the band room, working on “Johnny B. Goode,” “Louie, Louie,” and a cheap blues number.
They let us do our songs after Bye Bye Birdie, the performance for the students. It was pure exhilaration. The girls were screaming.
Years later, there was a business downtown called The Mushroom Factory. It was run by two grown hippies—a man and a woman. They sold books, artwork, and coffee. I brought several copies of Rip Snap Meow for them to give to customers. She found it offensive, and was glad they didn’t give any away.
The Mushroom Factory sometimes had live music. I put together several songs. The lady insisted that she see all the lyrics before she would let me perform. The day of the performance, there weren’t any customers—it was just the woman and one female employee. I opened with “City of Dreams” by Talking Heads. I had known all along that I was severely off key, but I figured that performing it in front of people would miraculously fix my pitch. It was all terrible.
In the mid-nineties, I was in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The Little Grill was a cool place for live music. I performed at an open mic night. I was so nervous, I went behind the building and puked—just a little. I played a song I wrote, “Hippie With a Dog,” and the Pink Floyd classic, “Pigs (Three Different Ones).” One guy in the front was familiar with the original and seemed to thoroughly dig my interpretation.
Surprise, surprise, when I lived in Nashville, I wrote a lot of songs. You couldn’t swing a dead cat in that city without hitting an open mic night. The city of Murfreesboro was about fifty minutes south of Nashville. That is where I did my only live performance the whole time I lived there. I was drunk and the song was brutally under rehearsed. It was “Psycho Killer,” and my rendition sucked.
Robby and I have maintained our friendship. He would sporadically come in and out of town. When he was around, he would frequent the open mic night at Baine’s Books & Coffee in the historic district of Appomattox. The first time I went, I played “Pigs (Three Different Ones).” No one in the audience got it. I was, however, prepared. It is not too difficult to play, it’s hard to sing—but I had it down. I think the audience genuinely appreciated the effort. One woman complained slightly that only playing one song was a tease.
The last time I performed in front of people was at Baine’s, just before Robby ran off on his latest adventure. The song was “It’s All True,” the first song on I Should be Shot. I couldn’t play it by myself because there was an extended solo. Robby played piano. He shied away from rehearsing—we rehearsed for just about fifteen minutes. It showed. I didn’t introduce the song, we just started playing. I like to sing it—it has a playful melody—I think I sang it well. But, Robby and I were so disconnected, it just sounded wrong. We got some pity applause. I just left as soon as I packed up the guitar.