I’m rarely one to turn down an opportunity to perform, no matter how odd the venue.
I’ve played basements, attics, porches, open fields, backyards, street corners, art galleries, cafeterias, gymnasiums, and worse. If you wanna’ hear, odds are I’ll give ya’ something to listen to.
So when my colleague, MTV 360 EVP Ross Martin, emailed me a link to NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts and asked if I’d be interested to do the same in his office (a corner office, natch) for his website Something Burning, I quickly and enthusiastically obliged.
Surely Ross has bigger things planned, I reasoned. This is one of the guys behind mtvU’s Woodie Awards, the only show that awards “the music voted best by college students.” The show and the channel are like the farm leagues, spawning breakout players left and right: Death Cab For Cutie, Vampire Weekend, Santigold, Asher Roth. I expect to big names perform in his northwest facing corner office (you can see The Meadowlands from there, for God’s sake) any day now. When he followed up his email with a phone call, tellin me he finds my music “really compelling and authentic,” hell, I was more than happy to be his guinea pig.
The truth is, I fight pretty aggressively to assure that my colleagues know there’s more to me than overwrought PowerPoints, obsessive data crunching, and Future of Journalism speeches peppered with punk rock references (although they could do worse). For whatever reason (you could ask a professional, but I imagine it was something to do with my reluctance to fully embrace my corporate reality), my elevator conversations are perhaps overly concerned with marathons, triathlons, documentaries, and rock shows. Which led me to Ross’ office.
I’d planned to pop down around three forty-five on Friday afternoon. I figured the week would be winding down by then. My departmental meeting would be over, and I’d be slipping out of business and into weekend mode. Ross called about thirty minutes early, though. “Can you come now?” he asked. “I have some people I want you to meet.”
I hit send on an email soliciting a budget for our forthcoming Outside Lands coverage, and bound down to his office where I found Ross and six strangers chatting away. “Holy moly,” I said. “This is gonna’ be a rock show!”
His guests included a few of our work colleagues, a new, as-of-yet unannounced mtvU VJ, plus two star college athletes (who, if I knew anything about sports, I would have known) and their speed coach. We talked about running for a while as Ross had an assistant fetch a (pretty decent) Takamine acoustic guitar some visiting rock star left in the Music Department, then somehow transitioned into our little show.
It wasn’t my best, or my favorite. The performance I’d planned (well, thought about in advance, anyway) was for Ross’ camera; it could start and stop on command. Suddenly, though, I had half a dozen spectators (including three teenagers, yikes) in a confined space awkwardly (though enthusiastically) onlooking. What’s more, the brain (my brain, anyway) doesn’t transition well from logos to eros (aka “math to art”). Making matters worse, Ross requested something “fast,” which (as you know) leaves me just a handful of my songs. I chose “California,” and went for it. It wasn’t half bad. “I Can See Clearly Now” — the Johnny Nash hit made famous by Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Gladys Night (which I discivered via Hothouse Flowers) — went over even better (because “slow” is more my wheelhouse). I hacked through a version of “Wonderwall,” packed up the guitar, and awkwardly extricated myself from the scene.
Ross uploaded the uncut videos to his website shortly thereafter. Within a few hours, comments on the post exceeding the number I receive in a matter of weeks. One commenter even said, “He is fairly hot, hotter than I thought from someone in News. And almost as hot as Sway!”
So there’s that.