SAQ, Seldomly Asked Questions, is a new “feature” where I’ll write about myself. THe topics will be things that no one has ever asked before, so it’s even debateable I should attach a monicker to it like SAQ at all, but, well, sometimes I just think I’m clever.
Sometime in the fall of 1980, I’ll say late October or November, during my first semester at college, I got a call from this buddy I’d been hanging out with at Northern, Karl Ketcham. (He’s a story unto himself, perhaps to be told another time.) There was an open mic going on at the student activities center, and I should come. So I bagged studying, something that was frightengly easy to do that semester, and headed out with my guitar on the long walk from the dorm to the café at the student activities center.
Once I got there, I discovered that I had been signed up to play. I had been thinking that I’d watch and maybe play if it felt safe. But I didn’t have to decide that, I guess. Karl was there, but I don’t remember anyone else I knew. The Ott Lake Rambler was “wasting” his evening studying, I think.
I was spooked a little by the sudden prospect that I was going to play, but I didn’t have long to wait till my turn came up. I don’t remember whether I got to play three songs or two; I only remember two for sure. The first one was John Prine’s “Paradise.” Great song, but the only thing is, I’d led a sheltered musical life up to that point, and I had learned the song from John Denver’s version on Rocky Mountain High—missing a verse and in different key. The other song I did was another Denver cover, “Readjustment Blues,” a song about a Vietnam veteran coming back to the States after his tour of duty—timely in 1970, not so much in 1980. Hey, I was new to this, and I didn’t have the bugs worked out yet as far as repertoire goes.
If I did three songs, then there’s a good chance the middle one was “The Snow is Falling on the Mountain,” which the Rambler and I had written a few weeks earlier. I just can’t say for sure now, 28 years later. I wish I did, because it would’ve been one good song choice for the evening.
Still, I think I got a pretty good response from the audience. Me, I was happy to have survived it, and I even felt like had fun. It certainly didn’t turn me off from open mics, although I don’t remember there being many more of them during my years at Northern.
Postscript: “Paradise” is still in my repertoire, much improved by my actually hearing the definitive version by John Prine long ago. “Readjustment Blues” fell away well before I graduated. Not to knock the song, but… singing other people’s songs is kind of risky, especially serious message songs, and you kind of have to pick the right ones for you; that one probably never was “my” song.