About jamesfromtheusa

Musician, writer, teacher

Open Secret Feature Performance

An audio recording of my August 3, 2016 Open Secret feature performance at Le Bistrot des Artistes in Paris…


The original recording was very hard to hear. Many thanks to master sound engineer Paul Priest for getting this track in decent shape!


Open Secret

What a great time I had featuring with Didier Cornelian at last Wednesday’s Open Secret. The event was held at the Bistrot des Artistes in the 5th arrondissement (the Latin Quarter) in Paris. A brief version of the invite can be found on the Spoken Word Paris website.

A longer draft from Open Secret promoter David Leo Sirois’s Facebook invite follows…


Open Secret! Wednesdays @ Le Bistrot des Artistes, 6 rue des Anglais (a passageway that passionately kisses Boulevard Saint Germain & rue Lagrange) 75005 Paris. 8:30 open mic sign-up, 9pm show. Métro Maubert-Mutualité (line 10) or Saint-Michel (line 4). Experiments in writing, song, comedy, performance art, theater, & dance, eeeeeven – whatever you got cookin’!

’Sup? David Leo Screw-Up Idealist Blew Up His To-Do List Threw Up Both Hands While Dancin’ Sirois reporting…’Member the time when the Open Secret theme was “Freedom is dancing with both hands in the air?” Well, that holy badass 😉 Buddha said that – just as radical as Jesus or Madame Blavatsky or Lao-Tzu or Amma, the “hugging saint,” who gave me an electric embrace I’ll never forget)…yet sometimes in the exercise of my freewill I make more than a few blunders, & muddle up either my own life or tread on the toes of others.

I was always taught that we are free to do whatever we choose, as long as it doesn’t infringe upon others’ freedom. Thusly, in honor of Wednesday’s special guest artist James Berg’s brilliant song, “Trouble,” this week’s theme shall forthwith be: “I’m in trubble now!” Has a parent ever called out to you by your full, long & complicated name? What did that mean? 😉 Have you ever felt like everyone was mad at you? What did that feel like? Well, “I’m in trubble now!”

We actually have a double feature this Wednesday (for a double-date @ the drive-in movie): James Berg has been charming & moving & grooving audiences on both sides of the Atlantic for years (hear his SoundCloud here: http://www.soundcloud.com/jamesfromtheusa)…but we will also have the great good fortune to witness Didier Cornevin’s reinvention of radical (not just for its time) French verse into vibrant song: the works of Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine – as well as his strong original songs & dramatic recitations. Wowie Kazowie!

James’ bio:
Dividing his time between the United States and France, James Berg performs as a poet, storyteller and musician. Often collaborative, his songwriting has been performed and recorded by American folk/rock musicians and was included on Old Shoe’s CD, Family, named by WXRT as best Chicago album of 2013. James’s poetry was most recently published last month in While You Were Waiting by Poems While You Wait in Chicago. His past and upcoming poetry, essays and short fiction are available in Paris at Shakespeare & Company bookshop through Spoken Word Paris and Paris Lit Up publications. Visit jamesfromtheusa.com for more info.

See ya @ the Bistrot for our Wednesday soirée!!


I performed an original song, “Trouble,” last week at Paris Lit Up’s open mic at Culture Rapide in Belleville and a few days later at Spoken Word Paris’s event at Au Chat Noir in the 11th arrondissement.



These recordings were made with an iPhone in my pocket. The sound quality is surprisingly good, not at all sophisticated but clear enough to capture the music and to represent the vibe at these weekly events.

Paris Lit Up

Pleased to find an email yesterday morning from one of the editors of Paris Lit Up

“Thanks so much for sending this amazing work to us. We would love to put it in the next print issue of PLU magazine.”

Paris Lit Up is an annual print journal published by the Parisian expatriate community. Like The Bastille, a separate series in which I have two publications, Paris Lit Up is sold at weekly open mic events and at Shakespeare & Company bookshop near the Cathedral Notre Dame.

My contribution, titled “Girl in a Box,” is about a sensational experience I had several years ago with a student who asked for my help telling her life’s story.

I’m honored to be included in these collections and to have my work prominently displayed in the Beats section of the bookstore that nurtured writers like Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.


This was a big week for me as a musician. I registered Monday with BMI as a songwriter/composer to ensure copyright protection on two songs I cowrote with Paul Priest for his new album, The Acme Hotel, which was released Tuesday for ‘early bird’ purchase online at priestunes.com. I also formed a band, Central Steel & Wire, and was paid (first time ever) last night to play with Michael “Hollywood” Corcoran at the Roots Room in Chicago.

Here’s the flyer from last night’s show…


I find this image interesting. Highlighted is the last page and a half of a 10,000-word doc I just finished after seven weeks of writing.


It’s intentionally unclear. I was looking just at the colors. The yellow is an interview, green is the main narrative, purple is backstory, and blue is the subordinate narrative. I spent today and yesterday writing and rewriting this section, moving text around. The highlights were to help me keep track of what I was doing, and it just happens to paint a very clear representation of the structure of this section.


Today I finished the Level One course at Improv Olympic in Chicago. My teacher was the amazing Craig Uhlir.

I was introduced to some high-energy warm-ups, which usually concluded with Craig saying something like, “That was some awesome pointing, clapping, making weird noises, etc. You guys are killing it!” I’m already planning to use one of these as my next get-to-know-each-other exercise whenever I get back into teaching English classes somewhere, maybe as a week two or week three class exercise once people have done a bit of writing and are ready for a weird release.

The level one course builds toward what’s called a Harold. That’s what we were doing today: a series of sort-of connected scenes during which actors carry on improvisational conversations, frequently tagging to replace each other to change a scene or running across the stage, called an edit, to end a scene. Groups of scenes are separated by games, which are intended to provide the group with lots of raw information from which scenes can be inspired. Games can be word-association or, my favorite, the monologue.

I especially enjoyed the monologue, telling unplanned stories for several minutes, such as:

  • my power washer running away with the deposit check
  • receiving a haircut and unwelcome sexual touching by my next-door neighbor
  • watching my sister’s dog dangled off a balcony and then somehow accidentally throwing another neighbor’s dog down the stairs
  • receiving a threat that I might be fired from my job as a college English teacher if I didn’t report the Math teacher’s affair with a student
  • etcetera…

All of these monologues ought to be written out and performed elsewhere though I recall now performing the haircut anecdote several years ago at Story Club. I used to tell the story of accidentally (it was, I swear) throwing a dog down the stairs sometimes to my English classes if it seemed I had an open-minded group, comfortable hearing crazy stories by their eccentric professor.

So, yes, improv was a good experience. I certainly found myself “in my head” (as Craig would say) too often. It’s hard to play pretend when you’re self-conscious of the fact that you’re playing pretend. I’d find myself sometimes on stage thinking, ‘This is stupid…what am I supposed to do now…and why am I doing it…and when can I sit back down?’ But fortunately that didn’t happen too often. Usually I was able to embrace the experience, play off others and add to the energy and humor of a moment.

The philosophy of Improv Olympic can be summed up in one brief phrase: “Yes, and.” If someone says something – anything – it’s your role to accept that line and to build on it. A musician friend says that’s similar to how his band approaches songwriting. Someone offers a chorus or a line of verse or a chord pattern or whatever, and the others get excited and try to turn it into a “kick-ass” (again, as Craig would say) song.

So, I appreciated Craig’s positive energy. Hoping to take the level two course this September, and even if I’m too busy to continue quickly, I can imagine ways that the level one experience will support other activities.

here: say

Next week, I’ll be at the InsideOut Gallery in Traverse City, Michigan to tell stories about my life 15 years ago when I was in Paris full-time. I’ll be there for the storytelling series here: say. The theme of the show is “Passport.”

Here’s the summary of my upcoming presentation:

James Berg had no interest in France. He couldn’t speak the language. He had no legal status there. He didn’t even like the French, but he was in Paris working in an office underground, a cave stuffed with desks and computers and dozens of lost souls from all over the world, an undocumented migrant workforce in khakis. His goal, like that of his young colleagues, was to find a way to persuade the owner, a wealthy, temperamental entrepreneur who lied about everything, including his pedigree and even his name, to fulfill a simple promise and pay his salary.