Now that summertime is here—its fleeting glory passing quickly, like the glorious smell of cooking grease after leaving the fast food district—I’ve been able to get back out to some open mic nights. Most of these events shut down during The Age of The Virus, but a thirst for easy revenue and cheap entertainment has finally seen many venues bring them back.
During the school year I’m typically so slammed with work, lessons, and the desire to see my dog that I tend to miss out on open mic nights, as they’re almost always on weeknights. By the time I’m done teaching L’il Billy how to play “Polly Wolly Doodle” on his Fender, I’m ready to go home to enjoy a night of reheated spaghetti and cheap horror flicks.
Two songs. Eighty-eight keys. Half a chance.
This is Open Mic Adventures.
The open mic night I’m frequenting the most lately is at a joint called F.E. Pop’s. It’s the spiritual successor to Lula’s, which still exists, but which only just resumed its once legendary open mic night just five days ago—long after anyone stopped pretending that The Virus is even a big deal anymore.
Pop’s hosts its open mic on Tuesday evenings around 7:30 PM, and it’s become the epicenter of the indie music scene in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina. At least, it seems that way to me, but that’s probably because I’m there.
Anyway, it’s quickly become the highlight of my Tuesdays. A bunch of musician buddies attend, and I’ve been meeting some musicians I didn’t know. Even one of my former students who struggled with severe stage fright is getting up there almost every Tuesday to sing and play. A former music composition student has been sharing his piano compositions. It’s super rewarding to see students get up and play, and I’m proud of these two young men for sharing their talents.
The beauty of open mic nights is that networking, to use a yuppified, corporate phrase. But it really is a community-building kind of networking, in which musicians are meeting up, collaborating, supporting each other’s gigs, etc. It’s really cool to witness and be a part of it again after two years away.
So I was thrilled to receive a message from the guy who hosts the open mic—a good friend and a stellar classical pianist and multi-instrumentalist in his own right—saying a friend of his wanted me to learn a song. The song, of course, was “Just Another Day” by Oingo Boingo.
Oingo Boingo was film composer Danny Elfman‘s experimental New Wave band in the 1980s. The song “Just Another Day” is from the band’s fifth studio album, Dead Man’s Party (1985), which included the song “Weird Science,” the theme song for the film of the same name.
When I heard the song had been requested, I began listening to it quite frequently. It is a weird song—but it’s a good one, too. I very quickly realized there was no way I was going to be able to figure out, much less execute, the rapid sixteenth-note synth part, but I found some chords online and realized I could do a decent treatment of the song.
The biggest challenges to “Just Another Day” are two-fold: the book-lengthy lyrics and the stratospheric vocal notes at the end of some phrases. That, coupled with the piece’s atypical structure (the chorus only really shows up twice—once early in the song, and then not again until nearly the end), would make it challenging, but entirely doable. The chord progression is not too difficult, and the piece sits in a comfortable E minor—pretty easy for anyone to play, even when the tune shifts on the bridges.
So one week ago, on Tuesday, 12 July 2022, I debuted my cover of “Just Another Day” at F.E. Pop’s:
It’s a… decent performance. I played way too fast, which resulted in the fumbling of the lyrics on the third verse. In listening back to the original tune, I need to sloooooow down. In practice, I was wondering why I was able to hold those sustained high notes as long as I could (I can’t pull that off when singing along in the car), and I think it’s because I sped the tempo up so much.
But the friend-of-a-friend who made the request loved it. What made that even more satisfying is that he told me he’d been listening to me perform for a few weeks, and realized that I would be a good pick to attempt a cover of the song.
That felt amazing to hear. Most musicians are rarely appreciated for our craft. People think we’re performing monkeys who can just do anything on demand, but also aren’t worth being paid to do so. So for this young man to a.) listen intently to my other performances and to therefore b.) decide I was the person to cover this song was incredibly gratifying.
So, a big “thank-you” to the young man who made this request. “Just Another Day” will now be a staple of my live shows—and it’ll sound a lot better next time!
Until next time: Rock On!