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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Open Mic Night

Yesterday was open mic night at Espresso Royale Cafe on Goodwin in Urbana. I didn't know this when I went in for some hardcore XXX studying but when the "host" set up a microphone and amp directly behind my head on the table behind me, I got the hint.

Miffed, I migrated upstairs. Hector was up there studying the variance and mean of a simple random sample drawn from the population of people who take the ACT. After a few hours of correcting each other's mistakes and double-checking for errors we were done with our Stats homowork. I got a better sense of the "two minds are greater than one" idea.

Downstairs was open mic night and performers used guitars, violins, flutes, a bongo, and kazoo variously. As I was walking downstairs for water I heard a young woman bleating and strumming her way along to a Janis Joplin song. She had that same distinctively Janis crackle and grit in her voice.

But he wasn't a she. As I got downstairs I could see that she was really a tween boy with a thin frame and babyface that sounded remarkably like Janis Joplin. I wasn't his only audience. It seemed as if the majority of the cafe migrated over to him and we all remained in front of this tiny young man, captive. "Can I play one more?" he asked the host with a squeaky voice. Then he began the opening chords of the lullaby "We're Going to Be Friends," by White Stripes, the opening song of Napoleon Dynamite.

I always felt that there was something adolescent about that song with the lyric "Teacher marks our height against the wall." Now it all came together. This song was made for adolescents and now here was one playing it. He made a few errors and kept on playing, defiant of the cynicism and smirks of his elders and peers surrounding him. His performance was courageous and unobviously fragile and as I clapped my hands with true applause afterwards I felt that we had something in common.

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