The Drunken Yogi was shutting down its back room soon. The venue had just opened two years ago and was on the verge of becoming a not-quite-embarrassing venue to play in Somerville, when the owner decided that the money was in trivia nights and half off appetizers during Red Sox games without the distortion from the backroom ruining patron’s good times. The booker for the back room had a contract that lasted until March though, and it had become a hip place to get into while it was still open. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday became profitable nights, but tonight was Wednesday. So the booker put on an open mic night to wring a few dollars out of the students and start-ups that would show up to play.
The acts had been the standards of Boston open mic. The first was a young kid leaning on a Moog making Thom Yorke-like moans for three minutes. Next was a Joni Mitchell type playing two originals and a slowed down version of Say It Ain’t So by Weezer to finish. Then a Neil Young type who played two originals and was planning on playing Say it Ain’t So, but since it had already been played he did The Quiet Things that No One Ever Knows by Brand New instead. These three didn’t get a lot of attention though, even though a decent amount of their roommates and co-workers had showed up to fill the venue. Most of the attention went to the woman sitting at the bar wearing a hood and veil.
Somerville had its collection of eccentric dress fads, but this one stood out. The hood seemed to go up past where the top of her head should have started, and the veil looked like it was completely solid (though it was actually just a thick mesh). Other than that, she wore a cotton knee length blue dress and black leggings, though no one noticed that.
Her name was Stefania, and if you ever got to talk to her she would tell you to call her Stephanie or Steph. She came over from Greece and had just gotten into a place she could afford two towns over. Her mother hadn’t wanted her to go. She had never been to America and she didn’t like it. But Stefania wanted to make a go at being a pianist/songwriter and America seemed like where you went to do that. She ended up around Boston the same way most musicians who find out they can’t afford New York do. The veil and hood were for the audience’s sake.
She went up after the Neil Young type. She was tempted to start by saying “My name is Stephanie and I will not be playing Weezer tonight” but she needed connections and the Joni Mitchel type might get put off.
“My name is Stefania,” she said, experimenting with her real name as her stage name. “and I have some songs I would like to play you tonight.”
The opening song was called Mycenae, and she often imagined it being described in one of the bigger local blogs as “A dark and anachronistic piano/vocal piece with obscure mythological imagery showing both the singer’s education and country of origin.” She had played it twice in public before tonight. Once when a non-profit group put pianos on the streets of Boston and Cambridge, and again at Club Barabas. She would rather forget that second time.
“Oh, the boy will do/what the king has said/and the king said boy/bring me the head”
She hit the keys on the provided piano hard, which might have pissed off the booker. But she hadn’t seen him since halfway through the first act so she didn’t worry about it. She caught a glimpse of the Joni Mitchel type sitting with her friends near the stage. She winced every time a louder chord was hit, but she seemed into it.
“And a boy is a man/who does not understand/that you can’t look a woman like that/in the eye”
She stretched the last vowel in eye and put some strain into her voice as her left hand let the note ring out. She heard some cheering from a small section of the crowd as she threw herself into the pre- chorus. She wondered if anyone in the audience wrote for the music section of any of the free magazines in the city. She wondered if they knew about Chopin so they could compare her music to his. She had never seen Chopin play live, though she had seen Listz.
“What do you say/ to the girls you have left/ with a body to carry/ without a head.”
She closed her eyes and rocked back and forth to the music as the Joni Mitchell type’s crowd began to cheer and people at the bar began clapping her on. She finished up the second chorus and went into the bass heavy bridge. She wondered how long before she was opening at House, the new warehouse turned club in Alston that you needed to know the owner to play.
“Where did the boy go/When the sisters came home/where did the boy go/When the sisters came home”
She started to reprise the first verse, slower and sadder now. She kept her eyes closed from the bridge on and dipped her head down close to the keys for dramatic effect. She hadn’t heard any cheers since the bridge, but she figured they were holding it in for the end.
“A boy is a man who does not understand…….”
She ended sustaining a heavy C and waited for her applause. After a silence that was too long for stunned appreciation, she opened her eyes.
At first she thought they had brought up the last call lights because of how bright it was. She thought that was strange because it couldn’t have been past 10:30. Then she realized why it seemed lighter, her veil and hood had fallen off during her rocking. She panicked and looked to the audience.
Only a few of them looked scared. The Joni Mitchell typed seemed to have been enjoying herself when she had turned to stone, but the Neil Young type’s now statue form was disinterestedly eyeing her from the bar, now forever holding a tall boy of Narragansett to his lips.
Stefania looked around the room with a disappointed grimace. The vipers that made up her hair stretched and hissed having been freed from the hood. She punched down on the keys of the piano. A dissident F rang out.
“Every! Single! Time!” she yelled out to her audience of statues.
There was no response.