Music in a plastic wrapper

During the week, the stone amphitheatre of Mauer park in Berlin is like any other municipal idea that slowly gathers moss, and indeed has been so until rather recently. On any given Sunday during the summer months, this locale is transformed into a meeting place of the many and platform of the few. The stands were already packed on my arrival, leaving no choice but to huddle up on the outer ring of the stage, right on the edge of where the atmosphere of expectancy became almost palpable.



What started out as a few people huddled around a MacBook, something that looked suspiciously like a Playstation microphone and garage sale speaker, has turned into an underground scene of epic proportions. Word of mouth and the antics of an eccentric karaokerer chock full of entrepreneurial moxie have since drawn larger crowds… around a MacBook, something that looks suspiciously like a Playstation microphone but now with two huge ground trembling speakers on wheels for what can only be described as karaoke on speed; an event that has burgeoned in just two years.



The general idea is that the afore mentioned entrepreneur, who happens to be Canadian, starts the whole thing off with a little ditty and then invites the crowd to come down and take a number. The pickings are slow at first, but soon snowball into the need for an announcement that there will be no more names taken for another hour, so just don’t bother. Now these acts can range from those with little talent, to those with so little talent that it seems they must have skipped the queue altogether the day they were handing this stuff out. Of course what is lacking in vocal mesmerism is sure made up in sheer gut busting, sweaty forehead passion along with the realisation that a few hundred people are in fact, cheering you on.



And that’s just it… now don’t get me wrong, some people were in fact pretty talented, but that did not seem to matter, for no matter how bad some of these people were, by contorting their faces up into an even tighter twisting ensemble representative of something Picasso-esque at the height of his cubist movement, was about all it took to get the crowd frenetic. And that’s about the time I started to think about plastic wrappers, but I digress…



See a few days before, while cruising the Turkish markets in Kreuzberg, I happened across a bona fide all American travelling Dixie band. Now I don’t know about anyone else, but this is not a scene I stumble into everyday. Needless to say I was blown away… I mean the band was in full period regalia, including one half turned up corduroy trouser leg to reveal an old brown leather ankle boot complete with stripy socks, dangerously thin sole and undone laces. Class! And what a band! With a precursor of “a one two, a one two three…” they went off into full Dixie swing; I could swear that I was in New Orleans at the turn of the century. And these guys were tight you know… changes key and tempo, nothing phased them, especially under the protective gaze of the short, light brown curly haired drummer, who seemed to look on his flock with a knowing smile that said he knew that his beat was the life blood they all needed to get into the swing, the groove. Yes, the groove!



So, back at the park, I’m reminiscing about the Dixie band while watching the karaoke, “Pop Idol” extravaganza thinking that what I was seeing here was representative of a whole mood of being for a lot of people. People seem to want the fame, the recognition, their turn in the spot light, their fifteen minutes as it were, but like most things these days it has to come plastic wrapped and ready to go go go. And it does come in an easy to peel wrapper right here in the park. The music has been composed, sweated over nights, tried and tested by history; you get to choose from thousands of these songs, the crowd is there waiting fresh out of the box and the mic is given to you in your hand. It doesn’t even matter if you can sing! So what? Just jump around, look sexy in your spray on blue jeans, gel coiffed hair and what ever else that is “just so you” and there is every chance that you’ll be a sensation, even if it is only for one song. And look, it’s funny, it’s entertainment, I’d go again I really would, but…

See the Dixie band learnt together, played together, travelled, lived and no doubt had band shaky achy drama together, for what must have been years to get so tight. And when they play, they play for themselves, they look to each other for the changes, for the mood and for the vibe. The music is theirs and the crowd dissolves into a haze on the edge of their sound that they sustain themselves with. Now that is called commitment. And to be close to it, to get even a brief electrifying wisp is to be moved, is to be… inspired. I’m not just entertained, hell I want to pick up the nearest sax and pour out my soul too right along with them in their cocoon of sound. But it takes time, it takes passion and those are the kinds of things that do not come in a plastic wrapper.




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