Blues Under Athens Lugged my guitar on a crowded tram during rush hour. It’s killing me inside that I can’t…move! Fingers getting stiff and cold and I know, I just know they are going to play tricks on me when an audience is watching. I want to shake some blood into them, but that would mean smacking strangers, which of course I’m not going to do, so I shove them in my pockets. Twang! A passenger bangs the guitar and it strums in its case. Wincing at the thought of damage, but she’s been fine on every airplane and bus, so she’ll be fine one more time. Right? Right? Some bartender told me I could play an open mic tonight. Sounded fun. Problem: no idea where the venue he mentioned is. Hoping to find out by returning to the same bar, asking the same guy. But it’s getting under my skin! The thought of playing in front of people. Stomach jumping in anticipation. Some things don’t get better the more you do them, huh? Last time I performed was in Morocco. Squeezed and popped out of the tram. Fresh air and a little personal space. Sun sinks. Shadows pool out vast, dark and cold between buildings. Ah, I can shake my fingers now. OK. Let’s find this place. Hope that same bartender is working so I can ask again. Nope. New faces. This shot of mine is getting longer and longer, isn’t it? Ordered the same drink I had last time. Can’t remember its name. Gin, lick-lipping fresh blended berry juice, and tons of shaved ginger for heat. Salt on only half of the rim for a counter melody. A murky pond to drown a little stage fright in, no? Ah, why not drink two. People party late here, so I might be early yet. Where is that music place someone mentioned? Where you can play an open mic? The other guys said next door, but it’s all dark windows, rolled-down shutters, graffiti. There is no “next door.” No idea, tonight’s bartender says while scooping ice out of the bin. Did I drag the guitar all this way for nothing? Is it dead weight for the night out? Any idea what the place is called? He said it was basement, something. Basement. The place is called Basement? That or it’s in a basement. Details are hazy on this one, my guy. Rumor and hearsay. Urban legends. Local folklore. He laughs, and asks his buddy in Greek. The buddy tells me go to the wooden door on the corner. That sounds like what you’re looking for. Drain drink, pay up, and head to that wooden door in the empty alley. But this is just the door to somebody’s apartment. Greek names written on paper tags next to the buzz-in buttons. I still try it, just in case. It’s locked. No signs for a bar, a venue, a club, or anything. But next to it is a small door. Black door on a black wall. And scrawled in white chalk today’s rain has half washed away, ‘the party is here.’ I test this knob, and it does open. Bright red lighting on dark carpeted steps. A letter U in white backlight. This must be it! Down saggy steps to an empty basement with a few couches here and there. A stage the same height as the rest of the room. You with the band? Someone asks. Nope. Heard there was open mic. Later, maybe. A band plays first. Ah, I might drink for a while then. Ha! Hm. Yes, listen. You guys use the place as a bar, but I’ve been trying to get you all to understand what the fuck is really going on here because there is. He stretches out his fingers, grasping for concepts. More to it. But have a drink, maybe today, you listen, next time, maybe play. Maybe play tonight if you’re ready. But it’s becoming a members only listening club soon. Sure. No problem. Got a place I can leave my guitar? He smiles, and nods. Puts it in the sound room. Walking lighter now – nice. Two Euro beers. No wonder the bar part outshines the other concepts. Signs scrawled in marker. The bar itself is a salvaged bookshelf or something. It’s not meant to be a bar. The place is furnished with scavenged, repurposed, improvised objects. The place fills up with twenty and thirty-something Greeks. Nose rings, choppy hair, tattoos, black skinny jeans, dark shirts, angular, Goth jackets, punky boots, silver rings, cross earrings, and so on. Maybe everybody wants to hear Punk tonight. But no, not Punk, Funk begins. Well above my skillset. This is the band. When the open mic starts, it’s the twelve bar blues of all things. Blues. One of the first things you learn how to do on guitar. The blues really gets the crowd going. Sweet Home Chicago and Miss the Mississippi have the Greeks swaying and nodding. Why do punk scene kids in Athens care about Chicago and Mississippi? I ask someone. I was there in another life, he says longingly. Hmm. Lot of people in those places say that about Greece, you know. The islands. He laughs and shrugs. Must have been a recent past life, I tell him. 1930s, maybe. A girl tells me there is a whole blues conservatory in Athens as well. Fingertips itch and I can feel those same five notes you learn to play for Blues soloing under them – it makes my fingers wiggle to hear guitar playing I like. The Blues. It grooves addictively. It cycles like the seasons, or a woman’s period. It’s sad like life. It howls like a wildcat and it bitches like a bad day. You can do it in a jam session and you get to tell your story or play your guitar solo on it, but then the shape of it stays the same and it’s someone else’s turn. Didn’t get to play that night. Maybe next week, if they play the Blues again. But I did think I began to understand something, like I began to get it. Either that or I was drunk. Get my book Odd Jobs & After Hours in audio, hardcover, or paperback by clicking here. It’s about drifting down the east coast of the USA chasing one sketchy, so-called opportunity after another.