Monthly Archives: August 2012

Multi-Tasking, Haight Street Style, on a Saturday Afternoon in June

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Good Evening:

I flagged him down because I feared that his bicycle was on fire. Not true.

Bicyclist with Working Grill, Haight & Pierce, 23 June 2012. Taken with an iPhone 4.

His bike was smoking. He was multi-tasking.

San Franciscans, despite our reputation for living in a vegetarian/vegan Nirvana, love grilling. We might grill summer squash on occasion, but most of the time we are a bovine nightmare: “Eat your grass, Junior, or the Boogeymen from San Francisco will come in the night when you’re asleep and turn you into hamburger.”

San Franciscans also love exercise, especially bicycling. You can see mighty packs of them riding to work on specially designated bike lanes on Market Street. Finally, San Franciscans love to party. Oh, yeah. We do.

So I probably should not have felt too surprised to see that his bicycle was not on fire. This gentleman and his buddies were taking a trip throughout the city. Now their destination was a party, but they were expected to provide some of the burgers. Simple problem, simply solved: he strapped a miniature grill to the back of his vehicle, loaded it with charcoal, lit a fire and threw some brurgers on the grill.

Cooking, exercising and partying. Simultaneously.

This is how we mult-task on Haight Street on a Saturday afternoon in June.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–Is his T-shirt slogan appropriate or what?

Urban: Running for the Italian Trolley in San Francisco on a Sunday Afternoon

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Good Morning:

I knew I had an “Urban” picture in my collection that also represented San Francisco, and yet did not feature the usual cliched destinations. I also wanted to find something that represented this modern, high-tech techno-hub of a city with its high-tech economy. And nothing represents this like foreign streetcars that are almost 100 years old:

Urban: Running for the Italian Trolley in San Francisco on a Sunday Afternoon

During the Willie Brown administration, someone had the neat idea of running vintage streetcars from around the nation and around the world on Market Street and along the Embarcadero. The first additions to the collection were a set of vintage 1925 streetcars from Italy, complete with their Italian advertising placards. They have proved wildly popular with visitors, and even more wildly popular with San Franciscans.

This photo seems a bit above average for me, and I suspect it’s a matter of pure dumb luck and accidental good timing. The eye focuses on the woman, not on the brightly colored streetcar, because there are so many lines that point to her: the Muni signpost, the safety railing at the trolley stop, the green paint on the street constitute three examples. Enjoy studying it.

Vonn Scott Bair

Someone Notices the Contrast of White on White

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Good Evening:

My sincerest apologies to Counting Crows for slightly twisting the lyrics of one of their best songs. During my latest probably doomed efforts to organize 22,111 photographs (!), not including the dozens not yet downloaded from my Nikons and my iPhone (!!), I noticed that the Instant Minimalism series included a few hundred exploring textures and shadows involving the “color” (or lack thereof) white.

Exterior Wall of Orpheum Theater, San Francisco

White Onions

The irony is that white is rarely white; shadows have a way of affecting the color. Light is critical to the pictures in the Instant Minimalism series. Light casts the shadows that bring out the textures and help the human eye see what is really there.

I think the above picture represents a portion of a wall at Yerba Buena Park. I think.

“Diamonds 6.” From an exterior wall near Theater Artaud.

I do feel fairly certain that the pictures are color, not B&W–but not completely certain.

I didn’t have geotagging on my Coolpix 4300; who knows where this is.

Nature does a pretty good job with white; here are some mushrooms from the Civic Center Farmers Market. But note how nature knows when to add a little color:

White Cultivated Mushrooms at the Civic Center Farmers Market

The next one illustrates the never-ending change that is San Francisco. The last time I looked, this wall near the Museum of Modern Art looked nothing like this. But it’s been awhile and the wall probably looks still more different today.

Wall Near Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco

The next time you find yourself next to a “plain old white” wall, take a closer look. I hope everyone had a good weekend.

Vonn Scott Bair

Urban: 181.

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Good Morning:

My submission for this week’s Photo challenge. Living in San Francisco, my collection contains thousands of possibilities, and I might submit a second photo if I can find something that screams out, “Now this is San Francisco!”

Urban: 181.

Vonn Scott Bair

600+. Thank You Again!

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Good Evening:

And the next thing you know, The San Francisco Scene–Seen! crosses the 600 views/month mark. Once again, I can’t tell you how grateful I feel that my little creative outlet has entertained so many people. As thanks, here are a selection of recent photographs I took at my beloved Civic Center farmers market.

Bike Messenger Relaxing During Lunch

Anaheim Chilis

Multi-Color Bell Peppers

The cherries have gone for the year, but Melon Season has arrived, and my oh my, does that ever compensate for the loss.

Melon Season Has Arrived!

There’s a gentleman at the market who sells nothing but mushrooms, but he sells vast quantities of vast varieties. He always has something unusual, even pink ‘shrooms.

Oyster Mushrooms

The farmers’ market is also a haven for musicians. I haven’t seen this gentleman before:

Busker with Silver Guitar and Amp

Busy weekend ahead: an eight-hour rehearsal on Saturday, performance on Monday night, and much work on my upcoming stage reading. I hope you will also have an entertaining weekend.

Vonn Scott Bair

Vonn Scott Bair, Danger Photographer!

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Good Evening:

Welcome to another exciting episode of “Vonn Scott Bair, Danger Photographer!”

Well, what can I say; amateur photographers are suckers for dark and mysterious places illuminated by only one or two stark overhead lights. So when I was wandering through the Mission District late at night, and walked passed a small parking lot near Guerrero Street, naturally I would be a sucker for the deep shadows that filled the lot except for the metal stairs. A single floodlight at the bottom of the stairs illuminated the first few steps, plus the metal double doors at ground level. A second floodlight illuminated the top of the stairs and the double metal doors to which they led.

Classic film noir scene, except it was better than the movies.

There was nothing in the parking lot except for an old three-ton truck with the back doors wide open, so I figured there was no harm in taking a few pictures. I walked into the lot, framed my shot of the stairs, and starting snapping shots.

“Whuh you doon?”

I had no idea where this came from–it just seemed to float on the air.

“I sai’, whuh you doon?”

The truck was talking to me.

I looked into the jet blackness of the truck’s cargo hold and for the first time spotted a tiny orange dot in the darkness. The dot grew brighter and larger for a few seconds, then faded back to its original size and brightness. A few seconds later, a puff of smoke billowed into the light.

“Fo’ duh las’ time, whuh you doon?”

“Uh, I’m a photographer.”

The dot said, “I can see duh camera.”

“I’m taking pictures of the stairs.”

“Pitchers uh duh stairs.”

The dot grew brighter and larger for a few seconds, then faded back to its original size and brightness. A few seconds later, a puff of smoke billowed into the light.

“Why you doon ‘at?”

“Because it’s, um, art.”

The dot grew brighter and larger for a few seconds, then faded back to its original size and brightness. About five seconds later, a puff of smoke billowed into the light, followed by a short dry cough.

“You lyin’ a’ me?”

“No, not at all. Look at the stairs, the metal contrasting with the brick wall behind it, and the very shape of the stairway itself, plus the doors at both the base and top, and the chiaroscuro of light and shadow caused by the floodlights is really beautiful. This is really am impressive and artistic scene.”

“Key-R-what?”

“Chiaroscuro. It’s an Italian word for the interplay of light and shadow.”

The dot grew brighter and larger for a few seconds, then faded back to its original size and brightness. A few seconds later, a puff of smoke billowed into the light.

“An’ you think that stairs is a work of art?”

“Yes I do. It looks like a scene from those black and white detective movies from the Thirties.”

The dot grew brighter and larger for a few seconds, then faded back to its original size and brightness. About five seconds later, a puff of smoke billowed into the light, followed by a short dry cough.

“You so craz’ you migh’ be tellin’ duh troot.”

“So it’s OK if I take some pic-”

“No.”

“OK, so I’jll just leave now.”

“Now tha’ a good idea.”

“And I’ll just get rid of the pictures I’ve already taken.”

“Tha’ ‘nuther good idea.”

“And I won’t come back.”

“You gettin’ smar’er alla time,” said the dot.

“Have a good night.”

The dot grew brighter and larger for a few seconds, then faded back to its original size and brightness. A few seconds later, a puff of smoke billowed into the light.

“You be careful, man. This ain’t a good neighborhood.”

And thus the truck with the tiny orange dot in the back and I parted.

Tune in next week for another exciting episode of “Vonn Scott Bair, Danger Photographer!”

Yours in the Everlasting Pursuit of Great Chiaroscuro, I Remain,

Yours Truly,

Vonn Scott Bair

500+. Thank You.

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Good Evening:

At some point within the past 6 hours (I’m write this at 11:25 Pacific Time, 20 August 2012; I just returned home from a stage reading of a work in progress), my blog hosted its 500th visitor this month. That is the first time that The San Francisco Scene–Seen! has received so many visitors in a single month. To all of you, and of course to all of my followers, thank you, thank you, thank you. The post which provided the most powerful push was Merge: Building & Reflection, the picture that I submitted to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Merge blog. Thanks to Gary Ng for moderating this week’s Challenge.

To show my gratitude to everyone, here are a few more pictures covering some of my favorite themes with links to earlier examples. First, Ocean Beach, San Francisco.

Ocean Beach Boulder, 30 June 2007

A picture of leeks from my beloved Civic Center Farmers Market.

Leeks at the Civic Center Farmers Market, 20 January 2008

Something from “The Instant Art of Instant Abstract Art.”

To be honest with you, I’ve forgotten where I took that picture. Now for something from “The Minimally Artistic Art of Instand Minimalist Art.”

Finally, a portrait of some of my fellow San Franciscans, some of the most creative and colorful creatures cavorting throughout creation.

Fire Spinners at Ocean Beach, Three-Kidney Formation, 1 July 2011

In case you’re wondering, one way to attract visitors is to include “Photography” and “Digital Photography” in your categories and tags. WordPress is unquestionably one of the great online feasts of really, really, good photography (I feel humbled on a daily basis). My posts without pictures tend not to draw as many visitors as the posts that do. Anyway, thanks again for visiting, and I hope you like the new set.

Vonn Scott Bair

Of Melky Cabrera, Hero Worship, and Possibly the Greatest English Bulldog in History

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Good Evening:

The San Francisco Giants have lost Melky Cabrera. Cabrera had violated Major League Baseball’s rules regarding performance-enhancing substances and has been suspended for 50 games. The story grows more bizarre by the day and sadder as well, because the All-Star Game MVP had done more than provide a serious boost to the Giants’ anemic offense, he had fit in with San Francisco.

Certain Giants do that; Brian Wilson has inspired fans to wear fake beards, you can see any number of Tim Lincecum wigs in the stands, and Cabrera has that great first name. You see, San Franciscans love masks, masques and costumes.  Hallowe’en (I still resort to that archaic spelling) is like Independence Day and Christmas combined to a San Franciscan. Melky Cabrera had his Melk Men and his Melk Maids, fun bunches of people who help make the Giants Ballpark one of the best parties in any of the major sports. I doubt we’ll see these folks in costume again:

The Melk Maids with Orange Reflection

I’ve seen at least one photograph of a fan in a “Got Melk?” tee shirt with the “Got” crossed out and “Spoiled” written over it.

But spoilsport that I am, I must ask one question: why was Melky Cabrera (or any other sports figure) a hero? I can see why an aspiring NBA basketball player might study hours of a favorite Hall of Famer, but let’s face it, 99.9999% of all people who have a sports hero will never have even a remote chance of playing at the same level as their hero. And when you consider that an athlete who cheats and gets away with it stands to make tens of millions of dollars in salary and endorsements, one must conclude that the odds that a great player is a cheating player have only improved.

The problem with the living heroes is that too often they have little, shall we say, secrets. You won’t need to think long to think of cons serving long sentences who used to be heroes to their own victims. Perhaps we’re better off with heroes who have long since passed on, heroes of whom we already know everything, people whom we can forgive for their inevitable flaws. I do know of exactly one hero in my life, an absolutely perfect exemplar of love, loyalty and courage. This fellow:

Ask any expert: Archy is the cute one.

Dogs are the best heroes. The minute that five-day-old me came home from the hospital, Archy, without any training at all, took up a protective position next to me and stayed there for the rest of his too-few 12 1/2 years. I won’t write that Archy possessed the loudest bark in the history of canis lupus familiaris, but I will write that his almighty roar sometimes registered on the Richter Scale. If anyone is studying that peculiar wave of 1.5 – 2.0 quakes that struck San Diego for two years in the late 1950s, and then disappeared forever, that was Archy, and yes, it was probably a good thing that we moved to the East Coast. His all-powerful Bark of Thunder saved the life of yours truly twice.

Think about it: if humans emulated all of the qualities of dogs, positive or negative, we’d be better people, even if we did shed a lot and sniffed each other’s butt. If we restrained ourselves from those two flaws, we might finally live up to our potential.

Vonn Scott Bair

Merge: Building & Reflection.

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Good Evening:

I hope this isn’t too late: today, finally, I noticed the Weekly Photo Challenge at the bottom of the Freshly Pressed page. Last month, I observed this curious phenomenon on the 500 block of Mission Street in downtown San Francisco:

“Merge: Building & Reflection” San Francisco, California, 25 July 2012, 1:51 p.m.

Nikon Coolpix S9100, Landscape Setting. The reflection in the mirrored glass windows of the building in the foreground lines up with the grey building behind the glass tower to yield a curious optical illusion. I hope it amuses and intrigues you.

Vonn Scott Bair

White & Blue, 18 July 2012: The Larkspur Ferry Terminal

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Good Morning:

Did you know that my “White & Blue” series now includes 640 photographs? Neither did I. Last night I took the ferry to Larkspur for a rehearsal of Ben Jonson’s Volpone, part of Subterranean Shakespeare’s summer reading series, and whilst awaiting a ride to the director’s home, snapped about 40 pictures. Here are five pretty good ones, all taken with a Nikon CoolPix S9100.

Utility Building at Larkspur Ferry Terminal

This is the terminal itself. I ask you: does this look like it could possibly offer shelter against the Bay Area’s legendary wind and rain?

I have a funny feeling that the overhang at the terminal was designed less to protect travellers from the elements and more as a work of sculpture to be photographed in “artistic” poses by amateur photographers:

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Vonn Scott Bair

I Defeat Satan—Yes, That Satan—in a Tenderloin Dive

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Good Evening:

You probably know that Satan resides in Hell. Here’s something you don’t know: it just so happens that God owns Hell. Therefore, Satan doesn’t just live in Hell–he also has to pay rent. Trouble is, he can’t always scrounge up enough cash to make his payment on the first of each month. Therefore, God allows Satan to work menial jobs in the world of humans to earn enough to avoid eviction (and if you get evicted from Hell, where the h— might you end up?). However, God has a sense of humor, which you might expect from the Supreme Being who designed evolution to allow for the creation of the Duck-Billed Platypus. So when Satan works his menial jobs on Earth, he has to assume the form of a 4′ 11″ human female with broad shoulders, stringy blonde hair, and a hoarse, harsh, raspy voice that sounds like Louie Armstrong with the mother of all sore throats.

Satan herself told me so.

During the late 1990s, Satan tended bar in a Tenderloin dive bar/restaurant at the intersection of Ellis and Mason on Friday and Saturday nights lo these many years ago (it’s now a Thai restaurant). I had asked the young woman how she got the name Satan, and that was the story she gave me, just before resuming her usual evening’s entertainment, which consisted of insulting all of the male patrons at the bar, patrons who had gathered at that bar on that night specifically to get drunk whilst being insulted by the great Satan.

Satan’s insults were spectacularly funny. She could have taught Don Rickles. The guys loved her.

This particular bar, and this particular bartender, were popular with the actors who performed at the Exit Theatre, around the corner on Fell and one of San Francisco’s great theater treasures. In 1999, I acted in a show there and after the performances would join the rest of the cast for beer and abuse. One night, I forget how the conversation started, but Satan had started bragging.

“Let me tell you something, boys: no one has ever grossed me out. Never. No one has ever grossed me out, and no one ever will. Period.”

I had been silent until then.

“Really? No one has ever grossed out the great Satan?”

“Nope, and thanks for calling me great, jackass.”

Everyone laughed, including me.

I said, “Are you sure no one ever has before?”

“Never.”

“Ever?”

“Never ever never ever never ever.”

I held absolutely still until I knew that everyone in my party was looking at me. I reached for a half-empty bottle of catsup on the bar. I slowly unscrewed the cap. I held the catsup bottle up high for all to see.

I drank the entire bottle in one gulp.

I rescrewed the cap on top of the plastic catsup bottle, slammed it on the bar, and shoved the empty to Satan.

“Gimme another.”

Satan bent over at the hips, clutched her hands to her stomach, and almost threw up.

And that’s how I defeated Satan—yes, that Satan—in a Tenderloin dive.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–Did Satan reward me with a free drink, a free burger, or even another bottle of catsup? Of course not. Of course she wouldn’t. Remember, she was Satan.

West Coast Contractors Services on a Saturday Afternoon

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Good Evening:

So what do you think of this question–do the good people who work at West Coast Contractors Services think of their workplace as a work of art?

West Coast Contractors Services, 11 August 2012, 12:38 p.m.

This shot, of course, is a matter of pure luck; I happened to walk past at the right time of day on the right day of the year. My iPhone 4’s camera is very weak at handling shadows; therefore, I lightened them a bit using iPhoto. I have thought about cropping the top and bottom edges even if it results in a non-standard size; that yellow rubber traffic mat at bottom right might be disposable. In fact, what the heck, let’s show you the original picture:

As you can see, the shadowed areas are much too dark.

Most of what one needs to become a decent photographer can be learned, and in the case of the technology, can be bought. Even composing the shot can be learned by practicing at will with today’s digital cameras, since one needn’t spend money on film. If you can’t learn how to compose in the camera, no problem; crop the shot in your favorite software program. Don’t take my word for this until/unless you first consult with the great photographers, but it seems to me that the one innate talent a photographer can have is the talent to be the only person to realize that something ought to be, or even needs to be photographed. Sure, everyone recognizes that the Golden Gate Bridge needs to be photographed (although we can disagree as to when it looks best). But what about some weird object on a wall? How many people can see the beauty in that?

This talent makes one photographer different from the rest; there are millions of photographers out there who are better than I am, but they would never notice that West Coast Contractors Services needed to be photographed on that Saturday afternoon. Of course, they would have recognized that something else needed to be photographed that I overlooked and taken that picture. It’s fun to show someone a picture of something they use every day, yet this is the first time they see the inherent beauty therein.

Still, I mostly reflect upon the people who work at West Coast Contractors Services, and wonder how many of us work in beauty and never realize it.

Vonn Scott Bair

Why American Theater Sometimes Annoys Me (with some unsolicited advice for actors at auditions)

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Good Evening:

I attended a lot of auditions today for a lot of film and stage projects, and whilst awaiting my Sunday Night Acting Class (you call it Breaking Bad, I call it my Sunday Night Acting Class), I must–well, please accept my apologies, but I must vent a little. No, a lot. Again, my apologies.

I love theater.

Of my 25 scripts that been produced, 20 have been plays. Of the 218 acting jobs in my career, about a third have taken place onstage. It hurts to write this, but I might have learned why the average American doesn’t want to see theater very often unless the play is Shakespeare, or perhaps the kid is creating the role of an onion in the school play.

All too often, American theater doesn’t give a bleep about the audience.

This hypothesis came to mind during several hours of watching actors performing contemporary monologues from American plays. (Advice for Actors #1: If you make an appointment for an audition–show up for the audition. Please.) Time and time again, the auditors heard speeches from the works of Guare, Shanley, Martin, et alia in which characters would whine and moan about their self-doubts, neuroses and insecurities–self-doubts, neuroses and insecurities that frankly have nothing to do with the lives of most Americans. If you take Woody Allen after subtracting his best stuff, then add Anton Chekhov after subtracting his best stuff, what remains is too often the typical modern American play: two hours of narcissistic bellybutton contemplation that happens up there, on a stage, and does not reach out to the very audience without which theater cannot exist.

Specifically, this hypothesis came to mind during my own audition performance, for which I used not a contemporary American play, but a classical and classic French play from 1666, Le Misanthrope. You see, I’m also bored of seeing multiple auditions of the same speeches from the plays of Billy Shakespeare, the glover’s son from Stratford, and I wanted to experiment with something new. Alceste, the title character, has no doubts, neuroses or insecurities. None.

ALCESTE: No! I include all men in one dim view.

Some men I hate because they are rogues; the others

I hate because they treat the rogues like brothers…

(from the beautiful Richard Wilbur translation)

That doesn’t sound like someone unsure of himself. Not one bit. But if you think about it, very few of the great characters of classical theater are whiny losers moaning and groaning about their self-doubts, neuroses and insecurities. Oedipus is so determined to save his people that he will personally blind the bastard that murdered his wife’s previous husband King Laius (Oops.). Shaw’s Mrs. Warren has no insecurities about becoming the Ronald McDonald of European brothels–franchises everywhere and millions “served.” Nora doesn’t whine when she leaves her husband; she slams the @#$%ing door in his @#$%ing smug self-satisfied face. And wow, is Richard III angry or what? Lady Macbeth doesn’t have an obsessive-compulsive disorder about washing her hands; she is flat-out, all-out, bat-bleep bonkers.

(Advice for Actors #2: use monologues from bad-butt characters who want to kick butt bad; bad-butt characters who feel good about themselves because they want to kick butt bad. Bring back Lysistrata!)

My own audition piece went over well, even though I don’t expect it to score any roles for me; as I wrote earlier, it was just an experiment. My director and I were looking for actors for a stage reading of my new play The Land of Hope and Dreams, a play set in 1850 about an Irish immigrant named Margaret McGuinn who has just arrived in New York City with no money, no possessions, no friends, no place to go, no family because her mother has just died on the dock. The only person who even pretends to want to help Margaret find a cemetery is a Cockney London immigrant scavenger who secretly hopes to sell the mother’s body to a medical college because it “…has all ‘er teeth! They pay extra for that!”

Big problems affecting a woman for whom the audience cares.

Exactly what I don’t see at auditions. I do see a lot of audition pieces about characters who are actors who are worried about their audition pieces. In other words, narcissistic bellybutton contemplation. (Advice for Actors #3: directors, producers and auditors want to watch you create a character. We are not interested in your bellybuttons.) And I still don’t see much in the way of big problems or big needs in much of contemporary American theater, although I have some reason to believe that this is finally changing for the better (we are very lucky to have the Tectonic Theater Project). But for now, it doesn’t take much imagination to understand why the classics continue to exert such a hold. They portray big problems, big subjects and make them relevant and real to the audience. The classics reach out to audiences: the performance becomes the audience and the audience becomes the performance to an extent no other art form can match. Sadly, too much contemporary American theater can match it, either.

End of rant.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–Advice for Actors #4: when you perform characters who whine and moan about their self-doubts, neuroses and insecurites in plays that consist of two hours of narcissistic bellybutton contemplation, you appear to want directors and producers to think that you contain nothing but self-doubts, neuroses and insecurites and are inclined to narcissistic bellybutton contemplation. In simple English. you’re telling us that you’re not a fun co-worker. Bad-butt butt-kickers and the actors who portray them are much more fun.

PPS–People have asked me why I don’t write about myself. The simple explanation; I am blessed with the self-knowledge that I am boring.

The Streets of London, Or, the Return of Forgotten Memories

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Good Afternoon:

The dream, a peculiar and disquieting event full of people I have not seen in decades and of people I will never see again, ended not with an image but a snatched piece of lyric floating in darkness, sung by a man with a Scottish accent.

Let me take you by the hand and lead you through…

And I awoke.

What on earth was that? The most bothersome part of the dream was the invisible singer; he just felt wrong. The singer was not supposed to be a Scottish man, the singer was supposed to an American woman singing with a very quiet Irish accent. Ah, but there’s the rub; how did I know the singer had to be an American woman singing with a very quiet Irish accent?

Busker & Audience, Haight & Clayton, 19 January 2008

“Let me take you by the hand.” After a fitful day at work with that one lyric running through my head, I came home obsessed with The Mystery of the Wrong Singer. “Let me take you by the hand.” Let’s start there. Google. “Let me take you by the hand.” Only thousands upon thousands of results (and I put quotation marks around “let me take you by the hand”).

Very well then. Who is Ralph McTell? And why isn’t he Scottish? And Scottish or English, he isn’t an American woman singing with a very quiet Irish accent.

Ralph McTell is a singer-songwriter from Kent whom I can’t call a one-hit wonder because his career has lasted almost half a century. Perhaps “a one-super-ultra-monster-mega-hit” wonder would do him justice, thanks to the sudden, stunning, sensational success of one song, “Streets of London,” a song inspired by his experiences as a busker on the streets of Paris and the impoverished, lost and homeless people he saw there. Over 200 versions of the song, one that McTell didn’t want to record because it was too depressing, exist today (you can find most of them on iTunes), ranging from the quiet melancholy of Roger Whitaker to the fire-breathing rage of Anti-Nowhere League (and including McTell’s, of course).

But who was the American woman singing with a very quiet Irish accent?

Back to Google, look up the entire lyrics to “Streets of London.”

Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London

I’ll show you something to make you change your mind

And there she was.

Late summer 1974, a small white 18th-Century church in a small town near New Haven, Connecticut. I don’t remember why, but I was sitting in some multi-purpose banquet/meeting room available to the public with a Swedish exchange student living with my family to attend an evening of open-mike entertainment. A series of mostly bad folksingers performed 60’s protest songs for a forgiving audience of about 20. Perhaps one of our friends was performing, I really can’t remember. Towards the end of the evening, a nervous girl of about 18 whose hair formed a halo of flaming red curls about her porcelain white face took the stage. She sat on the wooden stool provided for the performers and said she had one song to perform and asked her girlfriends in the audience to join her for the choruses, but they all chickened out and left her there. So as she grew more nervous by the second, the girl with the halo of red curls talked about the one song she would perform a cappella, called “Streets of London,” and how she discovered it on an imported LP record where side one consisted of several minutes of silence, “Streets of London,” then several more minutes of silence, whilst side two consisted of several minutes of silence, “Streets of London,” then several more minutes of silence. Having made herself even more nervous, terrified and stage-frightened by talking about the song, she finally sang.

In a very quiet Irish accent.

Have you seen the old man

In the closed down market

Kicking up the paper

With his worn out shoes?

Not one breath. Not from me. Not from our Swedish exchange student. Not from anyone in the audience.

Not one movement. Not from me. Not from our Swedish exchange student. Not from anyone in the audience.

When she finished, the woman with the halo of red curls looked down at her feet and whispered, “Thank you.”

Five, perhaps ten seconds of silence.

Followed by the longest, loudest, most raucous standing ovation by an audience of 20 in the history of live music. We didn’t have iPhones and YouTube back in the last summer of 1974, you’ll just have to take my word on this. And I had completey, totally, irretrievably and hopelessly lost all memory of this until a fragment of a lyric sung by the wrong singer floated in the darkness at the end of a dream.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–I have seen something similar on Haight Street, a miraculous recovery of a memory courtesy of a bad version of “Funk 49” by The James Gang.

PPS–To Ralph McTell, should he ever read this: I haven’t downloaded your song. That girl sang your song better than you, Anti-Nowhere League, Sinead O’Connor, Roger Whitaker, and the hundreds of others ever have. I am sorry, and I am not sorry, and I hope you can understand.