I started playing my first song — “Little Bird, Little Bird,” a folk elegy about a Second World War soldier. I stood at the front of the stage but stepped down on the floor after sensing that the lyrics couldn’t be heard at the back of the hall. Before I got too deeply into the song, however, I borrowed a trick from our old drummer, Dave Clark, and divided the audience in half, getting the right side of the room to whisper Zzzzzz-Zzzzzz-Zzzzzzz
on the first three beats, and the left side to shout Ha!
on the fourth. After I demonstrated this to the audience, Wilfred bounded out of his chair and began conducting the crowd on my behalf, swinging out both arms and counting in the air to show them where the beat fell. The Finns and the Chinese — with the exception of crowds in Joensuu and the Hunan — had been perplexed by this kind of razzmatazz, but the Liberians grabbed it by the neck. Soon their chanting had grown louder than my vocal, polyrhythmically transforming the song. The hall rang with voices, and I was free to take it all in, experiencing one of those rare instances when the musician feels both inside
the performance, as conscious of how the song is being perceived as it is being played.
Then I played “Horses.” I went over to where the drummers were sitting and repeated the song’s opening riff until they
started thumping along. I sang a verse, then a chorus, and Wilfred sprang to his feet once again, waving his arms through the “Holy Mackinaw, Joes!” and getting the crowd to sing along as the King’s Jubilee had done the day before. My eyes fell on Stephen from Harmony Rocks, who was singing “The glory of God will take you over!” at the top of his lungs. Wilfred was quick to him too, and within moments, Stephen was on stage standing over Abbie as she held the microphone in the air as if putting distance between herself and a foul-smelling sock. Meanwhile, a tall, willowy woman dressed in a long African gown with her hair bundled in a cloth turban stood up, tightened her fists above her head, and wailed along with Stephen. Others in the crowd followed her lead, and, once again, the Liberians
gloriously wrested my song from me and made it their own.
I’ve played “Horses” at outdoor rock festivals over enormous speaker towers wired through mighty guitar cabinets
juiced to fill stadiums and speedways, and the version at Buduburam sounded just as big without any kind of amplification, Abbie’s microphone notwithstanding. The song was driven by the cries of the crowd, the pounding of drumskins, my strumming hand slashing down on my guitar, and the whoops and screams of a pack of small children Wilfred had organized into a choir near the front of the stage. This natural accompaniment sounded intense in the same way that the wind hammering at a houseface is intense, or an axe thunking into cordwood, or a freight train shaking a quiet neighbourhood. It was all the more visceral for having been created out of nothing by the crowd.
Because of this, the Buduburams were reluctant to let it go easily, and as the chorus looped and looped, I thought that “Horses” might never end.
When the song finally began to lose steam, I turned to the drummers and shouted the song’s final bar — “One! Two! Three! Four!
” They took this as a metronomical command, and played loudly and more frenetically in an attempt to straighten the groove into the tepid Western time signature I’d requested. I shook my head at them and counted out the song a second time, but my voice couldn’t be heard above the drums. I looked at the front row and saw Wilfred slapping his hands together and laughing at me, at which point I realized that it wasn’t that the drummers didn’t understand my signal to conclude the song. They just didn’t want to.
I put down my guitar and walked over to where they were drumming. I fell to my knees and joined them, pounding one of their fangas
with the flat of my palms. But they were too fast for me, and I soon picked up my guitar again. I strummed hard for a few more bars, stared gravely at the crowd, then did the only thing possible: I leaped off the stage, scissoring my legs and landing in a groin-stretching Townshendian pose at the feet of the crowd. The song tumbled to rest in a hail of laughter.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Around the World in 57 1/2 Gigs by Dave Bidini. Copyright © 2007 by Dave Bidini. Excerpted by permission of Emblem Editions, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.