Monday, May 24, 2021

The Curse of Lee Litif


Lee Litif and Bassam Habal, 2010

Part One

In yesterday's post, I talked about why I allowed Lee Litif to feature at Stone Soup for so many years. I left out one big reason.

You might think that Lee Litif featuring at Stone Soup, penis paraphernalia and all, holding a dildo gunslinger style, is a bad idea. However, there's an even worse idea. Refusing to feature him.

I've learned it's bad luck.

The highlight of my years with Lee was his Fifth and Sixth Horsemen feature in 2011.  It was this night where the open micers (many newer members) not only accepted Lee's style but also gave as good they got in outrageous behavior, becoming as much a part of the show as the features. If I reminded Lee of Michael F. Gill riffing on Frank Zappa's "Uncle Meat" with Lee all too quick to join right in, I think even he would have to admit that was one of his best nights.


After that amazing show, Lee stopped featuring for a bit. He skipped featuring 2012. Part of it was miscommunication. Part of it, well, he told me this: " best years with the poetry scene was tt the bears 1991 to 1999 i don.t have the extreme love anymore for the poetry scene or boston brookline or cambridge..."

{I don't think I'm betraying any confidences by sharing his correspondence. He'll rant about the loss of T.T. The Bear's Place and the glory days of Stone Soup and his frustrations with Boston and Cambridge at the drop of a hat.} Any hat at all.

So in 2012, I had an unexpected opening in April. Who else to feature but a noted Slam Personality who never missed a chance to complain online about Stone Soup and usually ended their criticisms with "Blah blah Lee Litif." While Lee could often be the wrong poet to walk in on if you were a young poet exploring the venues, to say Litif represented all of Stone Soup is about as fair as saying that conservative pro-G.W. Bush poet Aaron Goldstein represented the entire Cantab poetry scene.

Nonetheless, Lee Litif was out by sheer chance, and I had an opportunity to show Slam Personality the "new" Stone Soup I had been cultivating for nearly a decade. I asked if they wanted to perform, and they said yes. Finally! With Lee not around I would finally show the slam elite why Stone Soup was different! And Slam Personality wouldn't have any reason to knock Stone Soup!

The feature went well, and then Slam Personality found a reason to not say anything nice about Stone Soup. 

Slam Personality went on to host another open mic on Mondays, same night as Stone Soup as the time. This open mic was billed as a not old fashioned open mic. An more modern and better open mic, even. New and Improved Open Mic, dare I say?

It served me right. I didn't turn down Lee Litif myself, but I may as well have given how I reached out and lost a little of my self-respect just to try and win the approval of people who would have pointed at any number of the old guard or given any number of excuses to put Stone Soup down.

No, I had to wait another four years to purposely mess with Lee. And the reasons were just as bad.

Bassam Habal and Lee Litif at Stone Soup Poetry, May 6, 2013

Part Two

In 2013, Lee Litif returned without Chris Robbins, who had to retire as a Horesman for his own private reasons. He was replaced by Mark Hänser. The Fifth and Sixth Horsemen title was dropped for good. It was a different vibe for many reasons, but Lee was still Lee. Plus, he got to open Stone Soup's 42nd anniversary that May. Of course, that's because their original performance date was cancelled due to the Boston Marathon bombing. They probably felt less fortunate for that.

Fast forward to 2016. Stone Soup actually seemed to be in the middle of growth. I was working with people who promised good intentions, and I agreed to book two BIG TIME POETS FROM OUT OF TOWN for two different dates. 

BIG TIME POET FROM OUT OF TOWN #1 visited us during National Poetry Month. It lightly snowed the day he came, so no one showed that night. I paid for our rent out of our then-dwindling savings, but my partners agreed to pay the poet out of their funds. It was a disaster given all the promotion we had done.

I really should have seen the signs and said no to the second poet coming later in May. But I didn't want to make my partners upset.

Lee Litif, on the other hand, I had no problem being stern and absolute with. I convinced myself he stood in the way of progress and was determined to put my foot down. My behavior towards him and his trusty guitarist, Bassam Habal, was shameful.

I moved Lee and Hänser's originally planned feature to one week later to accommodate BIG TIME POET FROM OUT OF TOWN #2 Lee, in many ways, was in the same boat because he had to coordinate with Bassam, who flew down for the show from the west coast. 

All these years, and I never knew that fact. But even when I did understand his situation, I didn't change my mind. In the end, Lee accepted the new date and chose a new guitarist. Bassam didn't fly down. And that night when Lee and Mark finally performed? Well, if the mood wasn't a little awkward before with the loss of the Horsemen mystique, it certainly was awkward now. Sad energy when I look at the photos from that night.

Lee never came back to feature. He was very understandably bitter. It was a complete dick move on my part. I used my muscle in a very inappropriate fashion with someone I had known for years. Just because I wanted to avoid a conflict with my partners. 

BIG TIME POET FROM OUT OF TOWN #2 came and went on Lee's preferred date. No snow, but once again no big attendance and no money made. It cost us. Especially my partners, who once again paid the feature out of their own pockets.

I should add that neither big time poet did anything wrong. They were fine poets, and I follow their work still. Things were happening that year. The mixes of different people at Stone Soup never fully gelled. By the end of 2016, with tensions among people already on the rise from Trump's campaign, everyone seemed to retreat back to their own safe spaces and brace themselves for the next four years. 

By all logic, the visiting poets should have done great. It's a weird tradition that out of town poets often do better business than Boston's hometown heroes. The one exception seems to be Stone Soup's audience, who takes good care of its regulars. 

Up against Stone Soup's different vibe and the dildo voodoo of Lee Litif, I should have known better. 

Lee and I still converse online. he still teases a return now and again, all while expressing his disgust with the constantly gentrifying Boston and Cambridge. I'd like it to happen, but I'm sure the memory of 2016 sticks in his mind.

So the main reason for this word salad, ultimately, is to apologize. 

Lee Litif, if you ever read this, I am sorry for being an ass and messing up your last feature. 

Maybe we can get Bassam down and have one more jam when Stone Soup meets in person again. Maybe not. Still, if I can right one more wrong during my tenure as host and organizer, I'd like to try.

Lee Litif, pointing towards me and camera
I accept your final judgement, Lee.

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