Last night at the Rockit Room

Last night I played a show at the Rockit Room in the Inner Richmond district of San Francisco. I don’t know that I have anything particularly profound to comment about it, other than that it was important to me, and that as a result I’m sleep-deprived and a little sick today, therefore not feeling particularly moved to do any other deep analysis or commentary.

I’d been excited about this show ever since I landed it a month and a half ago. Truth is, though I’ve considered myself a serious musician for over ten years, everything I’m doing now is pretty new territory for me. It’s the first time in my life I’ve devoted nearly every spare moment to music, and actively sought to create as many extra spare moments as possible. It’s the first time I’ve tried to actively and unabashedly self-promote, the first time I’ve really hustled for gigs. And this was the first paying show at a specifically-for-music (as opposed to food) venue that I’d landed without having any preexisting contact.

The night before my band had our first rehearsal with everyone present. Guy Brown on guitar. Erika Oba on keys. Sarah Thompson backing me up with the vocals. For sure I was nervous about it coming together on short notice, but they’re all superb musicians, very responsive and present with what’s going on in the moment. Just as important, they’re all totally serious about making good music and not dicking around. We got everything together with about three weeks of hastily scheduled rehearsals. We came up with our band name, or rather I suggested four or five I’d had floating around in my head and they ranked them. Right now we’re Shareef Ali and the Radical Folksonomy, which basically speaks to my own obsession with categorizing/relating all that I encounter (see “Wikipedia Brown” as an example) and my belief in the right of common folk to reframe the world in drastic departure from tradition. Anyway, I think we all like the name pretty well, and I hope that some version of it sticks. We agreed to all wear button-downs and jeans, and I brought a supply of bandannas the day of the show so that they might better relate to my own presentation.

I am a fan of all of the groups I asked to play, and none of them disappointed: many thanks to Scotch and Bones, S.A. Bach (and Jonathan and Allie) and the Tenderloins for joining me on the bill last night. For my set, I was joined by the band on four songs: “World’s Oldest Profession”, “The State Of The Garden”, “Red Balloon” and “Broken Record”. It felt amazing to have all these other subtle musical elements woven throughout my songs, adding color, nuance and touches of each of the other players’ personalities. Simply put, the songs are sounding more like they were meant to than they ever have before. I was perhaps even a little distracted during the solo portion of my set because I kept thinking about how great whatever song I was playing was going to sound with everyone else doing their thing on it. As we were playing last night, I was feeling thrilled that we had pulled it off, and even more thrilled by the knowledge that if we could sound that good after just three weeks, how much we had to look forward to as a band. After our set ended, we had a big group hug onstage. I meant it, guys.

Also making my night totally special were all my wonderful friends who came out, not least of all two people who drove up from L.A. (not counting Sebastian and Co.); a buddy from middle school whom I still owe a drink; another friend who lives in SF but I stink at getting back to; and Cortnee Rose from the Starry Plough.

I had sensed earlier in the day that my throat had been feeling a little ticklish, and mid-set I knew that it was getting thin. But I powered through, and promptly afterwards I lost my voice. Today I’m alternating between honking and whispering. I should go to bed and really get serious about recovering, because we’re maybe going to have band practice on Saturday. But I’ve just given myself license to quote Conor Oberst:

You should never be embarrassed by your trouble with livin’; because it’s the ones with the sorest throats, Laura, who’ve done the most singing.

Shareef Ali joins the company of Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman and Kate Miller-Heidke: Web 2.0 Love Songs

Last year I wrote a tune titled “Wikipedia Brown”, using the format, policy and idiosyncrasies of that wholly addictive interweb entity as a literary vehicle to illustrate various aspects of my romantic past and present.

I did not realize at the time that my title was shared with some bigshot actor-comedian jerk named B.J. Nor was I aware that I was soon to become a pioneer in a groundbreaking new sub-subgenre of love songs: those making explicit mention of Web 2.0 phenomena.

Exhibit A: “Google You”, a forlorn lament penned and set to music by art-star couple Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer:

Exhibit B: “Are You Fucking Kidding Me? (Facebook song)”, by Kate Miller-Heidke (who admittedly is otherwise unknown to me):

Despite the surprise and humor of hearing references to relatively new fixtures in our cultural landscape, there’s nothing extraordinary about communications technology making an appearance in our popular sentimental songs. 1899’s “Hello! Ma Baby” mentioned the telephone, developed a mere thirteen years earlier (I hope you’ll presume with me that new gadgets did not pervade our common life so swiftly a century ago). More recently, I recall cocking my head when Billy Corgan sang about Caller ID, or when ‘Licia said in the love rap to “You Don’t Know My Name“: “Hold on, my cell phone breakin’ up”. Though I suppose it’s worth noting that these newest works are distributed virally by the very media used as subjects.

Each of the two examples, however, seem to have clear antecedents in terms of sentiment. “Google You” is a stalker song, not unlike “Every Breath You Take“, while “Are You Fucking Kidding Me?” has clear strains of “I Will Survive” in its lyrical code.

Not to toot my own horn whatsoever, but I’m having a hard time identifying the ancestor to my own number. Can anybody think of a song that obsessively catalogues one’s amorous trials and triumphs without analogizing to an interactive, collaborative, user-oriented information hub? Do you know of any other Web 2.0 love songs, so that our new musical movement may have more than three hallmark compositions?