In today’s installment of “Where the Grass is Greener,” Penelope Summers talks with Bert “Dandelion” Williams, a local open mic night favorite, and the only known living ukulele player in 3 counties. He claims to have been born with all of his adult teeth.
Penelope: Hello, Bert, and thanks for taking time out from your busy schedule to talk with me today. How long have you been playing the ukulele?
Bert: No problem, Penelope. It’s a pleasure to be here. I like that it doesn’t smell of moth balls and gin here. I like to think that I was born with a uke in my hands, but really, it’s been more like 2-3 years. Or months. No, years.
Penelope: Why the ukulele? Why not a guitar or the piano or something more “normal?”
Bert: It’s like uncle Rosco used to say: “Ain’t no two blue ticks in heat, what for a dozen coons done eat all the mushrooms by the morning.” And you can take that to the wood shed.
Penelope: Um. Ok, then. Can you tell us a little about the unique style that you bring to your music? What kinds of influences have had an impact on you?
Bert: Well, I grew up on a lot of different styles. The theme song from Gunsmoke. The theme song from Gilligan’s Island. The theme song from I Love Lucy. The theme song from The Beverly Hillbillies. Even some foreign stuff, like the theme song from Dr. Who. All kinds of different stuff. Al from Happy Days certainly made an impact, as well, but let me ask you this. Have you ever eaten ALL the jelly beans in the world?
Penelope: Well, no . . .
Bert: Well, sister, I have. And let me tell you. After that, I pooped unicorns for 3 months straight in the magical forest out by the quarry. While I was there, a tiny elf blew rainbows from an invisible bubble wand into my ear. My playing hasn’t been the same since.
Penelope: Right. Yeah. I can only imagine. So, do you have any favorite modern ukulele players that you admire?
Bert: Here, click this.
Penelope: What? What do you mean “click this?” We’re just talking here. You’re not even making sense.
Bert: Trust me. Right up there. It’s awesome. It’ll all work out.
Penelope: Whatever. Moving on. When did you start playing at the open mic?
Bert: I once made a real ostrich egg out of string cheese, puppy breath, and the shavings of a thousand fermented acorns.. I hung it from my rear view mirror as a hurricane deterrent.
Penelope: This is Illinois . . .
Bert: I know, so far so good, right? Stop interrupting. As I was saying, I hung the egg from my mirror. One Wednesday, I was driving to the gas station to stock up on paper funnels for my “funny hats and squeeze cheese” party, when all of a sudden BLAMO! The egg pupates in an instant and a giant moth pops out and covers my entire windshield! The moth looks right at me, and says, “It’s for your own good!” I screamed and swerved left, and hit a lamp post right in front of the coffee shop. I got out of the car, hypnotized the talking moth with my mind-beam powers to keep it from flying away (could be useful later, right?), and was about to call the police when I noticed the sign: “Open Mic, every Wednesday at 6:00.” I looked at my watch, and guess what? 6:00. On the button. I grabbed my ukulele out of the possum cooler in the back seat, and that’s when I started playing at the open mic. And you know, in retrospect, that dang moth was right.
Penelope: Yes, well. That’s a, um, fascinating story. What happened to the giant moth?
Bert: What moth?
Penelope: The giant moth that pupated from the egg you hung on your rear view mirror.
Bert: That’s crazy talk. Moths don’t come from eggs. They come from caterpillars, which is the second stage in a complete four stage metamorphosis. The second stage, when they’re a caterpillar, is the larva stage. During this time, they eat a lot. After that, they form a chrysalis and enter the pupa stage. During this time, they sleep a lot. This is where the magic happens. Here, the caterpillar undergoes a total transformation into an adult moth, and emerges ready to find a mate, lay some eggs (the first stage), and start the cycle all over again. It’s really a fascinating miracle of nature, don’t you think?
Penelope: But you said . . . I just . . . What the? Never mind. Let’s just continue on with the interview and get this over with. What’s your favorite song to perform?
Bert: I’d have to say my favorite song is the only song I ever play: Tiptoe Through the Tulips.
Penelope: The one by Tiny Tim? You only play that one song?
Bert: Yes, but don’t think that means you’re ever going to hear me play it the same way twice. Sometimes, I use all four strings to play it. Sometimes, I just use the top string. Sometimes, just the bottom. Sometimes, I’ll tune all four strings to the same note. Sometimes, I’ll tune them all a quarter tone apart. Sometimes, I’ll just read the song as a poem, turn the ukulele over, and bang on it like a bongo drum, beatnik style. Sometimes, I roller blade through the crowd screaming the lyrics while red foam made from Alka Seltzer and cherry frosting spews from my mouth while I swing the ukulele violently at the patrons like a baseball bat, all the while my pet moth swoops down and steals everybody’s hats (told you he’d come in useful later). Actually, that last one just happened last night, which marks the end of Bert “Dandelion” Williams’ open mic night run at the coffee shop.
Penelope: Oh, really. So, you’re done with open mic nights then? What will you do next?
Bert: I’m thinking about raising caterpillars.