In Pink Floyd’s masterful “Echoes,” guitarist David Gilmour and keyboardist Richard Wright harmonize to Roger Waters’ always-astute-and-imaginative lyrics, the beginning of the second verse particularly so. The video is cued to that exact moment, but just in case you’re not up to watching the centerpiece of the band’s Pompeii performance, those lyrics are:
Strangers passing in the street
By chance two separate glances meet
And I am you and what I see is me
I’ve loved that verse since I first comprehended it in 2003ish, though I can’t say I’ve experienced such an encounter. That is, until about two weeks ago. No, I didn’t watch Jason Mraz’s latest video; it was something else, something of the sort you will only find here, on this blog.
The night of May 9 started simple enough: I had returned to the Hopvine Pub’s Wednesday night open mic after a 10-11 week hiatus. Slots tend to fill up quickly, and not wanting to be relegated to the accursed 11:36 p.m. set, I arrived near 7:15 p.m., well before the sign-up time, which was around 8, I think.
I stood between the bar and the stage, where the sign-up sheet would soon be placed, in order to better position myself for the mad rush obtain a desirable performance slot. Open mic coordinator and local musician Eric Miller (of no relation, at least to my knowledge) was running late, so I passed the time watching an inconsequential Clippers-Grizzlies playoff game on the pub’s only TV, the bitter sting of the Chicago Bulls’ untimely yet inevitable season-ending loss still fresh in my mind. (Aside: Please, Derrick Rose, do whatever is necessary to get your old, explosive self back!) Fortunately, Zach Warnes and Mariko Rose Rohle showed up before long, thus saving me from my post-Bulls-loss depression.
When the signup sheet was placed on a nearby bar stool, as per usual, Eric announced that first timers and those over the age of 60 (referring to a sweet, elderly lady who read her poetry that night; she was fantastic) get first choice. About three or four newcomers went to the front of the line, but I still had a good position. By the time I picked up the pen and looked for vacant slots, I noticed my name was already written — on slot four. The weird thing was, I didn’t know any of the people in front of me, so how could they’ve thought to volunteer me for a time. That is, unless … no, it seemed too implausible. Could it be?
“Excuse me,” I asked one person who signed up before me, “is your name Steve Miller?”
He gave me a quizzical, confused look, as if I’d just asked him if I could borrow a kidney.
“No,” he said before walking away. He wasn’t the only one confounded.
I had never asked that question, which would explain why it felt so weird coming out of my mouth. Out of context, I probably seemed hopelessly narcissistic, as if I were trying to draw even more attention to that fact that, like Michael Bolton in Office Space, I, too, coincidentally share names with a famous musician. Unlike the fictitious Bolton, however, I don’t hate my better-known forerunner, though I will admit that I’ve grown a little weary of the “fly-like-eagle” quips. I’ve accepted it comes with territory, and long have I yearned to meet someone who has also carried that burden.
This fellow wasn’t he, so I resigned to the fact that, whatever odd circumstances led to my name on being fourth on the list, that was where it was. But just in case there actually was another other Steve Miller, I signed up ninth.
I don’t recall who played first, but as Eric announced third act, he added, “And we have Steve Miller up next to sing us some of his hits,” which he said while looking at me, smiling. I nodded back, still perplexed at my placement in the evening’s entertainment, and reluctant, but not unwilling, to accept.
During the third performer’s opening number, I mentally tried to cobble together a killer two-song in the moments before I played. While the performer — who was the person I though to be another other Steve Miller — played a soothing number in D major (I think), I considered asking Eric to let me go ninth; it may’ve seemed a bit rude and uncool, but should a man be forced to play an open mic time against his wishes? (Such a philosophical postulation keeps me awake at night.) But I kept silent, and readied myself for the premature performance.
Then, it happened.
Having finished his first song, the guitarist-singer invited his friend up to the stage. His friend’s name: Steve Miller.
Could it be? Answer: yes.
I stood up, introduced myself, and shook whichever hand wasn’t carrying his guitar.
“Your name’s Steve Miller, too?” I asked. “I’ve never met someone else with that name.”
“Do you have a band?” he asked me. I told him yes, but he repeated the question, this time more insistant. “Do you have a band?”
Why he asked again didn’t register at first, but a few seconds later, it struck me.
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “I get that all the time.”
“It’s fucking annoying,” he said.
A pain I know all too well.
He hopped on stage and started to play a midtempo tune in E minor, and he was good. Very good. His vocals were dynamic and soulful, his guitar playing was learned and virtuosic. The crowd responded in kind. He ignited them. It looked as though I would be the second-best Steve Miller to play that night.
(Unfortunately, this performance was ruined not by my disorientation of the camera — which, I learned, can be corrected on YouTube — but by inaudible audio. I think my hand may’ve been covering my iPhone’s microphone. Another rookie mistake. His second song fared slightly better, but the audio still cuts out for long stretches. The third song, however, turned out great in comparison: It’s a solo number, and you can hear his adept finger picking and soulful baritone all the clearer. That one is farther down the page.)
Sometime in between songs, Steve Miller asked me from the stage, “When was the first time someone told you you had a famous name?”
I didn’t have to think very hard: It was during a summer basketball league practice after my fourth grade year. One of my coaches — named either Chris, Chaz, Mark or something of that ilk — asked me if I’d ever heard of the Steve Miller Band. I said no, not at all, though I was very familiar with Seal’s version of “Fly Like An Eagle” from Space Jam, played during the pivotal scene in which Michael Jordan decides to help the Looney Toons in their battle against the skill-sapping Monstars. But I had no idea that was a cover, whose original was written by someone of the same name. I told Coach Chuck/Rod that I hadn’t heard of him, to which he responded by suggesting that I come to his car after practice and he would play me a cassette of SMB. He didn’t seem like the miscreant type, but I’m glad I didn’t take Jaddacus up on that offer. And thus, the Steve Miller Band remained a mystery until I was a sixth grader, when somebody at some point in time showed me some Steve Miller Band song.
But I spared Steve Miller the details and only told him it was a basketball coach in fourth grade.
“My school janitor told me in first grade,” he replied before beginning his last song. And I thought my story was bad.
I tried to find a clip online of the touching discourse between the two Milhouses, but alas, plain text will have to do (trust me, it’s much funnier on the show):
Milhouse: Is this the untimely end of Milhouse?
Shelbyville Milhouse: But Milhouse is my name!
Milhouse: But I thought I was the only one!
Shelbyville Milhouse: A pain I know all too well.
Milhouse: So this is what it feels like … when doves cry.
Perhaps I should collaborate with this Steve Miller. Wouldn’t that be novel — and awesome!?!? I even have a band name in mind: The Steve Millers. Or how about the Other Steve Millers? And we could cover the Prince song Milhouse mentions.
What do you think, readers?
Oh, and there was also this: