Hat in the ring

A somewhat belated editor’s note:

In college I learned to play guitar a little bit, even played in a band for a year or so with my roommates. I never got very good, but I can accompany myself singing Dylan tunes and similar stuff. Mostly I keep my playing in the bedroom for my own amusement.

A couple of years ago I got the itch to perform again, so I talked my friend Lisa into going with me to an open mic. Lisa is an amazing performer; she earned a living for a while as a lounge singer in Japan. She went first, did three songs, and by the final one (a go-for-broke acoustic version of “Dancing Queen”) the crowd was eating out of her hands. I took the stage nervous, flubbed some lyrics on my first song, flubbed some flatpicking on my second song, and by the third song was settled down enough to have a good time and actually crank out a decent rendition.

The most disconcerting part of the whole experience was the noise from the crowd. There were at least 100 people in the place, and they all seemed to be having very loud conversations that got louder as I walked onto the stage. “Are they paying attention to what I’m doing at all?” I had to close my eyes and pretend I was back in my bedroom so I could concentrate. When I opened my eyes again, I noticed some people not talking but looking at me and listening. One girl in the front row was smiling like it was the greatest thing she’d ever heard.

And when it was over, I made my way back to my friends for another beer, filled with a warm adrenaline afterglow. I was complimented by a few cute girls and a cute guy. And we stayed long enough to hear more performances, some forgettable, some pretty great. Overall, a good time.

In grad school I discovered I had some space on the school’s web server. I started a blog (this was back in probably 1999 or 2000), but I never had much to write about. When I left grad school I bought a domain name so I could keep a constant e-mail address. The e-mail host also provided web space, so I started another blog, called The Great Whatsit. The name comes from the delicious 1955 film noir Kiss Me Deadly — a movie so classic it contains practically every trope of the genre. In a crucial scene, the proto-fascist private detective Mike Hammer’s secretary, Velda, gives a marvelous soliloquy about the small but heavy box that everyone in the film is desperate to possess:

They? A wonderful word. And who are they? They’re the nameless ones who kill people for the great whatsit. Does it exist? Who cares? Everyone everywhere is so involved in the fruitless search for what?

So it’s a cool name for a blog. Unfortunately, I had no idea what the focus was going to be and no willpower to write on a regular schedule. Ultimately, an unsatisfying performance experience.

But now that’s all in the past. One week into this venture, I’d like to present the new incarnation of The Great Whatsit. We’re kinda halfway between a blog and an online magazine, with content on a regular schedule, Monday through Friday. And as you’ve noticed, there’s really a “we” — an amazing crew of about a dozen contributors with their own areas of expertise (you know: knife combat, demolition, that kind of stuff, just like Charlie’s Angels). Because our expertise and enthusiasms are different, you never know quite what you’ll find when you open The Great Whatsit each morning — a point made quite clear, I trust, by the already-infamous fur jockstrap photo.

The name “The Great Whatsit” suggests an elaboration on our grab-bag approach. Velda says, “Everyone everywhere is so involved in the fruitless search for what?” For me, writing is searching, but in a way I don’t know what it is I’m searching for when I sit down to write. I just know I need to be out there looking for it, and keeping a kind of alertness so I can recognize it when I stumble across it. Whether this search is fruitless depends, I guess, on what you consider fruitful; as for me, I just know there’s this small, heavy box out there that shoots out a marvelous light when you dare open it. My fellow contributors are foolhardy enough to join the search as well, though they will probably each find something different.

As for our audience, I’ve found that the blogging/webzine world is a lot like an open mic night. Everybody wants to be heard, but most of what’s out there is frankly not as good as loud, beer-fueled chatter with friends. Still, there’s always some good stuff to listen to — and unlike a real open mic, once you find some websites you like, you can ignore the rest. So we’d like to hope we’re at least interesting enough that you can stop slurping your beer, pause your IM conversation about Brad and Angelina, and listen for a spell. We’ve thrown our hat in the ring. We’re stepping up and plugging in our guitar. We’re clearing our throat and taking a couple of strums to get the shakes out. “Hey everybody, thanks for being here tonight. For our first number…”

4 responses to “Hat in the ring”

  1. Jeremy Zitter says:

    I trust, Dave, that the next time I’m in NY and there’s an open mic night nearby, you’ll be breaking that guitar out of the closet…

  2. Lisa Dickey says:

    Oh my god. You should have seen those giggly girls chasing after Dave. He was a god that night.

  3. Riptide says:

    …and they weren’t just giggly sorority girls. they were cool giggly indie girls with tattoos in indie bands. they wanted nothing more than to take dave home with them and have group sex.

  4. […] Looking back on TGW’s first year of its reincarnation as a group blog, we’re excited to announce nomination categories for the first annual Whatsie Awards. […]