Try a Little Love Potion No. 9

Remember Love Potion Number 9? If you’re a baby boomer, you do. For those who are ready to click off in confusion, it’s a song, a hit record by The Searchers from 1964. Remember the famous line when the music stopped and singer sang, “I held my nose, I closed my eyes, I took a drink”? After which he says, “I didn’t know if it was day or night. I started kissing everything in sight.” When he kissed a cop at 34th and Vine, the cop broke his little bottle of Love Potion No. 9. They don’t write ‘em like that anymore.

Check it out here on YouTube. The guy up front is not really playing that guitar, is he? If he is, he has a pretty weird picking style. But he’s having fun.

That song came out a long time ago. I was 12. Many of you were not even born. Yet yesterday at our South Beach open mic/jam session, when our leader Renae started playing it, we all knew all the words. In a minute, we knew all the chords, too: Am, Dm, C, D, E7. That goofy song brought us together in ways that very few other things do. And that led me to a revelation, one of those God knocking on my head moments.

I’ve been struggling with a bad case of the “why bothers” lately with my writing. Why struggle over poems and essays that I send to literary magazines and mostly get rejected. Even when I get something accepted, the readership is so small, and nobody I know reads those publications, so why bother? I’m sending out my novel, and nobody’s buying it, so why bother? I’ve written a ton of songs, but I don’t exactly have a record deal, so why bother?

Here’s why. Because when people know your work and share it, magic happens. When my words touch just one person’s heart, magic happens. When people sing together, magic happens.

Music has a special power. Think of all the good old singalongs that everybody knows. “Down by the Riverside.” “Amazing Grace.” The Jeremiah was a Bullfrog version of “Joy to the World.” “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” “You are My Sunshine.” Somebody wrote those songs, and somebody shared them. And it was worth the bother.

One of our local high school teachers brought some of his special ed students to perform as a band at yesterday’s open mic. Most are developmentally disabled, some severely. But they ran up front with their tambourines and shakers and sang Prince’s “Purple Rain” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” It wasn’t on pitch, and the words were slurred, but they were so full of joy, the rest didn’t matter.

Other singers paid tribute to the late Merle Haggard and the late David Bowie by singing their songs. The writers are gone, but their songs remain. We will sing them forever. Even if we get dementia and forget everything else, we will remember the songs because music lives in a different part of our brains. It matters.

So, write your writing and sing your songs and don’t worry about the rest. If you’re not a writer or singer, that’s okay. Do what you do. It matters.

Next time, maybe we’ll sing “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” Man, we had good songs back in the 60s.

Hugging the open mic in Yachats

Sometimes I think to myself that Yachats, population 688, is where all the old hippies from California have gone. Here you still find people with long hair, long skirts, tie-dye shirts and flowers in their hair. They gather for peace rallies and palm readings, craft festivals and Celtic festivals. They also gather for open mics. (Some say open “mike.” I disagree. Deal with it.)
I had had the note on my refrigerator for six months or so before I finally headed south on Friday night. Most of my music time these days centers around church music, but the new song circle in Yachats spurred me to check out the open mic. There, I could sing anything I wanted.
I have been to so many open mics. Bars, restaurants, coffee shops with loud espresso machines, community halls. Drunks, rockers, stoners, Bob Dylan soundalikes, kids just learning to play an instrument, pros reliving their glory days. Good microphones, bad microphones, no microphones. But I’ve been missing the open mic we used to have here in South Beach and my friend and former bandmate Stacy was involved in this one, so I thought I’d give it a try.
The usual venue, the Green Salmon coffeehouse, was not available, so we met at Ona, a restaurant on the west side of the highway. When I arrived a little before 7, not late, there was no parking to be had anywhere around the building. Parking at the grocery store down the road apiece, I lugged my guitar to the restaurant, arriving just as another woman was opening the door, and walked into a noisy, steamy-windowed, orange-walled room loaded with Yachatsians clustered on a variety of chairs and sofas. Stacy beckoned me to the last empty chair, right in the front row, just in time for the festivities to begin. We could barely hear each other talk over the roar coming from this room and the bar/dining room behind us.
You’d think I wouldn’t get stage fright after 30 years of performing, but I do. I get anxious, and I start thinking I’ve had enough of the music business. Why do I keep doing this to myself? I’m too old. These are not my people. Why drive all the way down here when I’m not getting paid? Yada yada yada. I have learned not to take these thoughts seriously because as soon I get behind the microphone, I will change my mind and want to perform every minute of every day until I die.
Our hosts started us with some guitar and mandolin with vocal harmony. Nice. Then “Rambling Ruth” played “Three Coins in the Fountain” on her violin, along with a couple of other oldies. Stacy performed with her brother and a friend. Delicious music. A brand new quartet of women got up and sang gorgeous a capella harmony about peace, love and . . . harmony.
I was number five, thirsty, and nervous as hell. I had been clutching my guitar between my knees for an hour. I had expected to plug my guitar into an amp, but there was just one microphone that nobody seemed to be using. I had pictured us at a white-tablecloth restaurant where we sat at tables and ordered food and drinks. I had thought I’d have dessert. But no, we were just packed in this hot room and told we’d have a break around 8.
The break came after number 4. I bolted to the bar and waited in line while the bartender with the braided beard served actual drinks to paying customers. He gave me a glass of ice water. Ah. That helped.
Then Stacy read a poem written by her mom, and I was up. “Sue Lick?” The MC looked around. Me. I hugged onto the mic, wanting to be heard. I started singing and playing. By the end of the first tune, some people were singing along. They laughed at my jokes, applauded, and made me feel like a star. They also quieted down for my second song, a new one. I couldn’t hear well enough to do the fancy guitar licks I had practiced, but I sang as well as I ever have. And the last song went over big. I said thank you about a hundred times and went back to my chair, feeling happy, wanting to do this forever.
Every act after that was genius. The poets, the woman who sang “Look to the Rainbow” a capella, Ian playing originals on guitar, the woman in the red velvet mini-dress and leg-warmers who fumbled through a song she just wrote on the ukulele, the guy reading from his memoir, the mayor leading us in Roger Miller’s “You Can’t Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd.” Loved them all. Promised to come back next month.
I’m aging into an exact copy of my mom, but inside, I’m an old hippie from California, too.
Next open mic: April 19, 7 p.m., Green Salmon. Check the City of Yachats page online for details.
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