ConstantCommentary® Vol. XII, No. 173, February 28, 2011



Blow your Turkish flute

A couple of weeks back, I played a benefit for Faith In Action Caregivers, a charity organization that provides food, companionship and transportation to senior citizens.

It’s a good cause and non-denominational, which means as long as you’re some kind of Christian and not sacrificing farm animals or wearing a turban you’re in.

So it’s only natural they would ask someone dark, moody and foreboding like me to perform.

The show took place at Jones Auditorium in the Ragsdale Center of St Edward’s College, a decent venue that holds about 250 people. It was definitely one of the larger audiences I’ve faced in a while.

Okay, it was definitely the largest audience I’ve had in more than ten years—and that includes shows where I’ve opened for Slaid Cleaves and Jimmy LaFave. (It’s not called name dropping any more, it’s called being search-engine friendly).

I got there late and missed the opening act, a classical guitarist who played Brazilian music, but I did catch most of the mariachi band. The band was followed by the bubbly St. Ed’s choir, which was followed in turn by two elderly women who played classical piano at the same time (you had to be there), and the first half of the show concluded with a condensed play performed by some adults with Downs Syndrome.
The play was funny. Intentionally.

During intermission, FIAC took up a collection, just like church. They also served refreshments, cookies, coffee and sodas—also like church, or at least an AA meeting.

Are you beginning to see the picture here? I did not fit in at all. True, I can eat cookies and swill soda with the best of them, but otherwise I might as well have been wearing a turban. I opted for the bottled water and struck up a conversation with Deb, the show’s organizer.

 “I’m kind of the odd man out,” I told Deb.

“Not at all,” she said. “You’re the odd man in.”

She was funny. Intentionally. Who knew?

After intermission, an enthusiastic group of white people performed Taiko, aka traditional Japanese drumming. Everyone was dressed like Benihana cooks as they beat their drums and clicked their sticks on the sides of their impressive instruments.

I leaned over to the guy next to me. “Aren’t they supposed to toss us food at some point?” He didn’t get the joke.

After Taiko came the terribly cute Austin Children’s Choir, which was followed by what turned out to be my favorite act of the night—a guy performing on the Turkish Ney flute. I’m still not sure if this was some kind of hoax however, since he sounded like a cross between Borat and Andy Kaufmann’s Latka Gravas.

“The name of the first tune is called ‘Lament,’” the performer said. As he started the first few notes, he stopped suddenly and asked, “Is this microphone on?”

I also wondered if the mic was on. Here’s what the Turkish flute sounds like: Clasp your hands together and blow air through your thumbs. Hear anything? Maybe a little whistling underneath the breathiness? That’s the Turkish flute.

I leaned over to the guy sitting next to me. “Can you believe we’re watching this guy blow his own Turkish flute on stage?” Still nothing.

After his opener, he told the audience the title of his next number. Unfortunately, it was in Turkish and no one understood a word.

“But coincidentally,” he said, “it also translates to English as ‘Lament.’” He introduced the third number, an improvisational piece. I forget the name of the song, but it was just as lamentable as his first two selections.

The Turkish flutist was followed by a trombone solo by a high school boy (better than you’d expect), and trombone boy was followed by me.

Deb asked me to headline, since I was the only performer who had been on both national TV and radio. And while that’s all true (it’s in my bio, it must be), the national TV appearance was a performance on The Gong Show during the late ‘70s, and the National Public Radio appearance in 1999 had nothing to do with music at all—I read one of my online columns for NPR’s All Things Considered.  

But the show (like this column) ran too long, so I suggested to Deb that I cut my four-song set to two. She agreed, and soon I heard the emcee call my name.

“Is Mike Jasper in the house?” the emcee asked as I clip-clopped my boots to the stage, my Collings guitar strapped around my neck.

“I’m going to need two of these mics,” I told the emcee as I lowered one of the microphone stands to waist level.

“Cool,” he said. “Which one would you like to use as a vocal mic?”

“Really?” I asked, almost involuntarily. Before he could answer, I just grabbed the other mic stand and put it in front of my face.

Since the charity was about senior citizens, it got me thinking about my dad before he passed away, so I decided to do a song I had written about him called “Blue Tonight.”

“This is a song I wrote about my dad the night I learned he was dying from cancer,” I said.

Nice move, idiot. Look at the audience. They’re all dying of something. I tried to back peddle.

“I promise, I’ll play something cheerier for my second number.”

Despite the awkward mic set up, the guitar and vocals sounded fine and the song went across well. I think they were just glad I wasn’t playing trombone, Turkish flute, Japanese drums or something equally as arcane.

After my first number, I played “Ten Years From Now,” a song about how relationships can be resolved in ten minutes or ten years depending on the approach. Not exactly a Bobby McFarren “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” ditty, but not about death and dying either. (Go to myspace/jaspersongs if you’re curious.)

When I finished, the emcee said, “By the way, Mike Jasper has been on national TV, national radio and once had a song on radio station KUT.”

People started coming up to meet me, since I was suddenly this celebrity they’d never heard of before. One woman in particular kept eyeballing me suspiciously, and she finally approached me.

“You know, I didn’t think “Ten Years From Now” was all that cheery,” she said.  I told her she made a fair point, but she wouldn’t back down. “Hell, I don’t even know if I’m going to be alive in ten years.”

I took a deep breath. There was nothing much I could say except, “I know, I know. I’m just a bleak, bleak man.”

* * *

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: This column aims to be funny. If you can read anything else into it, you're on your own.




Mike Jasper is a writer and musician living in Austin, Texas.

Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, he claims strong ties to Seattle, St. Petersburg, Florida and North Platte, Nebraska.


© 2011 by Mike Jasper, All Rights Reserved. ConstantCommentary® is published whenever Mike Jasper feels like it. All material is the responsibility of the author.