Richard Mahler’s greatest performance

“Do it by doing it. It’s gotta be fun, or what’s the point?”

Kice Simko
  • Kice Simko

This happens at the Adams Avenue Street Fair. I’m walking past a storefront with its door and windows wide open. And twanging from inside, the sounds of a guy torturously plucking out the notes of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” It’s electrified, loud, and tremulously uncertain. He’s playing it on what looks like a white Fender Strat.

When he finally gets to the last note, a cheer goes up inside with lots of handclaps. I look in. There’s a man on a sofa and a couple of other guys. A third guy comes off the street through the window and sits down behind a drum kit. I look down and see a streetside sign-up sheet.

“Music Lessons.”

Kice Simko outside his studio in Normal Heights

Kice Simko outside his studio in Normal Heights

Wow. How cool. “Okay, Richard. That was great. What else have you got?”

“‘Row, row, row your boat’?” says Richard, the white-guitar guy.

“Great! Let’s hear it!”

And carefully, Richard picks out the notes. C, c, c-d-e. He makes it through to the end fitfully, but with no bum notes. Which is good, because with all this amplification, there’s a ton of music fans trooping by outside to see Los Texmaniacs a couple of blocks up.

But I bet they don’t get better cheers than here, when Richard makes it through.

“Any more?” says the cool guy on the sofa. Turns out he’s Kice Simko, music teacher.

“‘Joy to the World,’” says Richard — whose last name turns out to be Mahler.

“Whoa. I’m teaching Mahler!” says Kice. This is Richard’s first real day on his electric guitar. He’s just bought it for something north of $500.

“Okay, let’s get creative,” says Kice. “Bill, you could play a bass line.” He’s talking to Bill Purchase, the wannabe bass player. “Start on C. Don’t concern yourself with playing lots of notes or fast.”

And Bill starts with a regular pluck of that deep C-note. After a while, Richard tentatively hits E-D-C-C. Then, from behind, Josh, the Oxford biology grad/drummer who slipped in through the window gets the drums going. Now that they’ve got rhythm, the confidence level rises and rises, and they finish together with everyone singing the last line. “Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea, joy to you and me!”

Kice Simko (right) instructs Richard Mahler

Kice Simko (right) instructs Richard Mahler

Kice jumps up. “Richard!” he yells. “You are a man now! You have balls! Okay. Bill, lead them wherever. Josh man. You are a human metronome!”

When I come back, half an hour later, after watching Los Texmaniacs, all three are still at it, doing their own thing, playing an A-G-F-E sequence, and Kice has joined in too, with his very sexy lead guitar. But Richard is hanging in, and sounding way more confident on his white ax, actually harmonizing with Kice. Who knew that the guy pretty-much played here for the first time ever this very afternoon?

Kice Simko has a simple philosophy: “Do it by doing it. It’s gotta be fun, or what’s the point?”

Up the street, Los Texmaniacs are still shredding up a storm, but here, next to the carwash, Richard Mahler has just given his greatest performance.

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