This event’s title “Open Mic/Spoken Word” first appeared to my post-mid-afternoon nap’s haze as the dyslexically tasteful “Open Mouth/Spoken Mic.” From there I found myself confronted with mixed imagery of 1960’s Gloria Emerson fighting and biting her way through viet police, army jacket in hand above haggard-brown hair, tears pumping down her face for last-night’s-one-night-stand, the late Thic Quang Duc, her mouth gasping for the air to sound out the French “QUA,” just off-screen to CBS’ first-gen color camera, itself within the oxidizing frame I tried to reconcile with my far-left-of-center interpretation of Saigon.
And, left to itself, that interpretation asks if someone out there has finally grown tired of the avant garde pretense usually accompanying these gatherings. Will we mutiny against our very own elite guard of socialites? I mean it was either that or a dionysiac break, my mind thought, a room encircled by expats playing musical mouths, tongue-deep to the tune of some slow romantic beats, all done up with neon lights in cyber-punk ethos.
But the best interpretation of my dyslexic reading of the title of this new venue’s feature would simply be that what’s happening here isn’t reduced to a Facebook like, or a color-enhanced dolly-shot of yours truly appearing beneficially busy. What I’d really like is for people to think about and the content. Even music can have meaning.
Whenever I visit these open mics I repeatedly catch myself searching for sincerity and novelty. Is this art, or are you simply being entertained? Even if all our efforts ultimately prove to be a mere remediation of neocolonial postindustrial refuse, what’s to stop us from making what we love of the west breed mixed cultural children with Viet culture? The west has been supplanting entertainment for artistic expression for hundreds of years. Speaking from that background; we haven’t exactly improved. In fact, the epicenter of American ideology is that familiarly-sarcastic inverted-Romanticism, more endearingly known as the eternally unholy trinity: physical attraction, sex and a vivid spectacle. Saigon is already chock-full of these things, I believe, so, if I may ask, let’s leave our mouths open. Let’s leave conclusions at the door, and see what else we can conjure in this town.
Back in March, I was doing the exact opposite, composing a submission for Brooklyn’s n+1 magazine titled “Saigon, if Disneyland,” jumping through perspectival hoops of Marxism, cultural capital and bootstrapping social critiques when a tall, sexy bella appeared at my door with my landlord. My landlord, a short Viet em, carried on up the stairs to the next vacant room, self-entertained by her manic-pixie voice as usual. I sat hunched over my desk, no shirt and short cut-off post-punk jeans, with my head frozen in a strong left gait, locked onto this new girl. I walked to her with the greatest swag I felt entitled to, half-naked insomniac that I was. She told me her name in a south-London accent. Curious eyes said she’d see me soon.
Five days later she appeared at my door once more, this time with a giant tourist-style backpack in tow. After helping her unload, I convinced her to take a walk around the block for drinks. We settled into the usual cheap night out—two plastic chairs, over-iced beer, and a dozen Viets taking turns trying to find some commonality with our new foreign faces. She said very little, and just smiled, studying me, wondering what half of the things I mentioned were even related to.
The Viets began to approach us, one at a time, staring at her on approach. Yet every one of them asked for my number. Such strange tactics men can take, when out drinking. They obviously wanted her, but out of some misplaced respect or fear, they felt they had to go through me. After three or four rejections, their mood turned sour, as if I had broken a pre-established rule of passive-aggressive dating, the sort where the man’s problem, his insecurity as pathos, is so sickeningly primary that it is not just something to be observed, and certainly not simply to be pitied upon, no sir, this man’s slave morality should be, obviously IS your problem now, “[and how dare you let me suffer this much, knowing that you could achieve a near-buddha-hood level of enlightenment just by being subject to my unbelievably repressed sexual desires].”
So we kept calm, and carried on home, picking up some whiskey on the way. I decided the short ordeal merited a bit of exposition, so I began to expose the reef-and-plastic-laden floor of this shallow psychic sea she’d just moved into. In other words, I began to pontificate about Saigon expat culture—its broad acceptance of any and all social activity as artistic providence in hopes of negating tourist sentiments, its emphasis on the virtual affirmation of each participant into god-like archetypes via facebook, twitter and instagram. Its anti-intellectual rejection of second-person, face to face dialogue and analysis. Pacing in circles on my roof, I told her that Saigon suffers from terminal amnesia, and it’s caused by a complete lack of critical response.
By the time the last subject finally set its pejorative taste on my tongue, we were back in my room. And I suddenly saw that she saw that I saw that she felt the little punk voice inside of me, gawking and laughing at this old man’s lecture, wanting desperately to leave myself, to get out of this cage of language painted around me, not wanting to admit what little room my mind actually has to express itself in this new place I’ve let myself call home. She stopped me with a kiss.
The next few weeks were a typical hippie-honeymoon, and we dressed ourselves only for brief outings, or work, or a few more printed pics of Chan Marshall, Liz Harris, and some British artists she’d turned me on to. She said she wanted to paint a bird on her wall. I quoted Portlandia’s aphoristic “you can stick a bird on anything and call it art.” I developed a habit of apologizing for continually inadvertently insulting her. She started reading and said my heart endeared her.
And so spring passed in peace. She found a job, I continued to write; we shared a bed. We left it at that.