In a street behind Manly Wharf, folded away like a love letter from a past flame, you might come across a tidy little second-hand bookshop. Safe from the rolling slopes of sand and sun-crisped flesh, Desire Books is a haven for the Northern Beaches literati. Stocked with beat poets, new-age philosophers, and creased best-sellers from 1999, you’re bound to discover a treasure, or five.
On the last Tuesday of every month, they hold an open-mic night called Bonfire Desire. A red curtain drops and the book shop is transformed into an intimate performance space bordered by pre-loved tomes.
When I began playing ukulele last Christmas, I set a goal to perform at an open-mic night this year. [It’s important to note that I am petrified of singing in front of people, which made the fulfilment of this task particularly difficult.] A darling friend of mine is a regular performer at Bonfire so I mustered up a pinch of courage and cleared my calendar for the night.
This month’s Bonfire had fallen close enough to All Hallow’s Eve to warrant a call for costumes, so Tuesday evening I found myself desperately rifling through my wardrobe for something to wear. I’m not known for my casual stylings, but considering this would be my first time attending Bonfire, I decided to choose a somewhat-understated outfit. A subtle nod towards the macabre, if you will.
On top of a cascade of ivory polyester hair, I fixed a glittering life-sized skull, and, pressed for time, decided to skip foundation, instead favouring slashes of white paint across my face. Married with a floor-length black and white skirt and top, it would be sufficient to say the dress-code was met.
Unfortunately, my interpretation of ‘under-stated’ is generally an understatement, and walking towards the book shop, I could see a small crowd in the window dressed as, well, just normal people. But that, of course, is the delight of Bonfire at Desire; you can be the Voyeur or the Viewed.
The stage is set to serve creative ejaculations of all types. Perhaps you’ve been working on a Brechtian belly dance, or a splatter-punk sonnet inspired by Megan Fox? Bonfire is the equivalent of live Youtube, so anything goes!
The playing order is set using raffle-tickets. On arrival, you’ll be greeted by Katy, Desire’s owner, and if keen to sing, dance, rhyme, you’ll be given a ticket. Through the course of the night, numbers are drawn and if it’s yours, for five minutes, the stage is too.
After a face-melting performance by a man playing an alien-saucepan-instrument, my number, 7, was called.
Through crossed legs and bodiless coats, I tripped my way to the stage, nearly landing in somebody’s cup of goon and as I regained my balance, I felt a little sad I hadn’t fallen. It was now unavoidable that I would have to attempt to sing. On a stage. In front of people.
[Comparatively, death in a goon cup seemed like a perfectly acceptable way to have ended the night. My family could, at least, find comfort in blaming my untimely end on the poor sod, inside whose cup I had perished, and the whole situation would be passed off as an Unfortunate Event. Instead, they would now be cursed with disappointing memories of their late daughter who foolishly pretended to be a musician, choked onstage and died of humiliation.]
Escape plan thwarted, there was nothing to be done but to face the…music. Ha.
Stepping awkwardly onto the stage, I pushed away the microphone and sat down on an old green arm-chair in front of the crowd. As an aspiring actor, I’ve encountered a fair lump of expectant spectators. (Once, I was even sodomised by a lusty duke, in front of an audience that included my mother and grandmother.) Singing a simple country ditty for a salad of book-lovers should have been ‘no sweat.’ But sweat, I did and as I started to strum, my fingers rattled so hard they couldn’t form the first chord. Close to tears, eyes sticky with fear, all the lyrics vanished from my mind.
And I froze.
In that moment of silence, every mask I have ever worn fell away, and I was completely naked. For the first time in my life, I had nowhere to hide.
Then the audience, the loveliest most-encouraging bunch a musical neophyte could ask for, began to clap, and then the claps turned to cheers, and although the wet slicks of terror shone on my face, and a bowling ball I never swallowed stayed firmly in my throat, I sang that damn song, and I finished my first ever open-mic performance. I ain’t no Dixie Chick but, fuck, I felt proud, and though I sounded like a drowning duck, I am so happy to have popped my mic-night cherry with those super-talented, super-supportive human beans at Desire Books.
Located a safe distance from the stench of frying chips and tourists, you can find Desire opposite the Library Car Park on Whistler Street. Next time you’re wandering around Man-town, have a looky-loo, and if you’re interested, check their website for details on the next Bonfire and get your Kerouac/Gaga/Poe on. Go on, you know you want to. Hashtag YOLO.