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Waiting for Guffman, Randy, er ehh Godot...

92BPM (apriori@slip.net)
Mon, 27 Jul 1998 18:25:31 -0700

SF -- Mission Cultural Center -- July 18th, 1998

As part of Labor Fest, there was to be a concert dedicated to workers, with
songs from around the world relating to working people. Dad in visiting from
the east, we decided to make the 'hit'.

[sidebar, Mission Cultural Center, is basically a resource for the Latino
and Spanish speaking community of SF]

Upon arriving there appeared to be a few people connected with organiizing
this event, but no one greeted us, or smiled. We sat as we were early in the
lobby. A Japanese woman set up cookies and juice on a table, and there
seemed to be a lot of Labor Party materials sitting about. Several formally
dressed elderly women in heels speaking what sounded like Hungarian entered.
Others were munching a burrito and looked very Berkeley.

At this point, I didn't think much, but something felt amiss...

A few more seemingly disconnected people showed up, and eventually we walked
into the theater to get a seat. No one ever announced the beginning. The
audience at that point had some 20 or so odd folks. No one spoke to anyone
else. No one sat near anyone else. I saw no Spanish speaking persons at all,
which struck me as odd in and of itself.

After a time, a man came out to the floor/stage area and started to talk,
but he was very awkward, he made some quick references to the Labor Fest,
and kind of gave a wimpy "pro-worker power" gesture. I was getting an odd
feeling.

The first woman comes out of the audience and is introduced as a longtime
Berkeley activist. Clad in loose Indian like garments and birkenstocks, she
revved up her folk guitar. She started talking about her third injunction
and all her political activities, the audience was dead. I suddenly felt I
was in a time warp to 1967.

She sang 5 or so songs, all cliched folky politico stuff that felt dated and
strange. What was most strange for me, was that this was somehow still a
current and relevant sound and aesthetic for someone in 1998. My dad had
wondered why there were no young people there.

The comments in between, and lyrics with references to Bill Gates and the
fat cats, had to be the most naive, unsatirical and simplminded rhetoric I
had heard in a long time. This was going down hill. Even more scary was the
glazed over expression and the eyes rolled back in her head as she animated,
strummed, bellowed and apparently "got her groove on".

The surrealness only had just begun.

Exacerbating the situation was that as soon as she started, someone's
children in the audience started crying and running around. This seemed of
little concern to anyone.

Every so often from outside the hall were sudden tremendous loud bangs and
rattling. "Was anyone in charge, who was running this affair".

Finally, after the 3rd ofr 4th "everybody now", with no response except a
couple straw hat clad women in their late 40's...the folky left the floor...

The MC, aka LWS, (little white stiff) came on and banged with piercing
fervor the mike several times as it was feeding back on and off all night.
He made some motions about the next artist, a Russian singer and her
pianist.

I assumed at this point, as more strange and disconnected persons entered
the hall, that these folks must be the last strains of the CP in the Bay
Area. I guess the revolution won't be tomorrow...

Anyway, I expeceted we'd get some Russian worker songs, but to my shock,
Ludmila Anachranoba and her pianist Olga Dramatakova started to do Broadway
show tunes.

WIth all the micorphone problems, the singer just ripped the mike out of the
stand and held it in her hand, however this mike was too sensitive and not
designed for such use. She swayed, and suddenly I thought maybe I had been
kidnapped taken on board the SS CP a little dingy of a cruiseliner making
its way form the Catskills. Finally we got to the encore, which to my shock
was the most dramatic rendition of Hava Nagila I have ever heard, with piano
cadenza and all..."whose grandmother was this?"

All the time 3 400 pound women were clapping along and a resounding applause
followed.

THe rattling from wherever kept up its pace, and I could see out the corner
of my eye, that my dad was looking my way for reassurance or some sort of
grounding, I feared that if I made eye contact I might lose it there and
there was no way to get out cause the exit was all the way on the other
side.

At this point, I couldn't imagine what was coming next.

I braced myself.

The MC, still fumbling unsuccessfully with the microphone simply said and
now from Ireland, "Peter". OK...

A man late 30's with short cropped receding hair and work boots came out. He
made a few remarks in a plainly Irish accent, and said he would sing worker
song from a Colorado strike in the 20's or something...

I got nervous.

But suddnely to my surprise, this guy had a beautiful voice and was busting
out a serious accapella. He too of course had to wrestle the mike finally
lashing out that he hated em anyway and stepped away from it.

I felt that whatever happened the rest of this evening, this was a treat.
Some guy named Peter had just moved me. He followed with his finale a song
about imprisoned wokers in Ireland. Again haunting melody, beautiful voice
and his whole body gesticulated and motioned as he hit these high notes, and
then the thunderous clanking of the wierd noises from the sides. He stopped,
in the middle saying he couldn't hear himself. This was a jolt and I was
personally offended that these shleps couldn't show enough respect to let me
enjoy the one high point of this bizarre evening.

He started again and I clapped hard.

At this point, I was plotting my getaway, as I heard the phrase open mike, I
got nervous. Before I could motion to my dad, the Japanese woman entered and
said something about not being able to sing but then started to sing. In
Japanese. The melody sounded western, and her voice was loud out of tune and
husky. She held the whole time a little yellow sticky like for a phone memo,
and what amazed me most, was that she sang two long long Jpaanese songs and
read every word off the yellow sticky. I could not for the life of me
undestand how she had managed to get all those words on there.

Abruptly she stopped several times to read her own writing better, and then
plowed away with the cultish smile plastered on her face, and the strange
vortex into a Guffman like world of amateurnight was overwhelming me, when
they announced the folk singer was coming back for another round, I had to
bail...

And I could not but think of Randy over and over. He would too have seen the
humor, and both been fascinated, and compelled by this coalescing of
oddities. The feedbacking mike, the random blasts from the wings, Ludmila's
animated unrealted renditions, and the truly beautiful songs of an Irish guy
named Peter.

And he too would have laughed but loved every minute.

When we got into the car, my dad and I lost it, and I almost ran into a fire
hydrant i was laughing so hard.

We settled in for a bite at Radio Valencia around the corner, and I looked
up on the wall, and saw all these cool LPs from the 60's hangin
there...Pyschadellic, Funky R&B, and general oddities, "THe GUnslinger
Ballads" Somehow it was a perfect epilogue as a DJ was spinnin cool latin
grooves, and this whole experience was so Randy, I couldn't stop smiling and
thinking of his delight...

In the end, it was eventful.

------
Rick A.