What: the Michael Jayne Project
Where: Wagon Wheel Flea Market, 7801 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park
When: Mid-day on a Saturday
Must-Do? Says Who? Billy Leather and a bunch of drunk bikers
Casualties: Possibility of death-by-laughter. You might enjoy yourself that much.
Ted and I approached building B at Wagon Wheel Flea Market with high hopes of haggling for the most absurd item we could find. We had done some role-playing in the car, imagining booths full of tarnished Purple Hearts and chipped Nazi dinnerware. I had emptied my wallet of everything except for a crisp $5 bill. Ted brought no cash at all. We were ready.
But after twenty minutes wandering past vendors hawking crates of Crocs (those hole-ridden rubber shoes designed for the fleet-of-foot, $5), exotic forms of weaponry, and bulk shipments of incense sticks (which come in a variety of fragrant flavors including âChurchâ, âCountry Potpourriâ, âMusky Amberâ, âMidnight Loversâ, and the ever-odiferous âJuicy Pussyâ), nothing had enticed me out of my moneyânot even the âJP.â
And then we heard him. The strains of his powerful tenor wafted above the buzz of bartering in the marketââYou are so beautifulâ¦to meâ¦canât you seeâ¦?ââtranscending the transactions and drawing us trancelike to the performance pavilion. There stood a thin man in his 40s. He had long, wavy, golden locks, and wore tight black leather pants, biker boots outfitted with chain metal, a silver pistol-shaped belt buckle, a black leather vest on his bare torso, a crucifix around his neck, and two pairs of yellow sunglassesâone on his eyes, and one perched high in the nest of his curly blonde hair. He grabbed the mic stand passionately as he belted one high note after another over the karaoke track, flexing his biceps and rocking his hips to ascend into the songâs climax, knees bent in a scandalous Elvis-stance, blood vessels bursting through his sweaty forehead. âYouâre everything I hoped forâ¦Youâre EVERYTHING I needâ¦â
He had more stage presence than Evel Kenevil. It was called the Michael Jayne Project, and as far as we could tell, he was an intensely professional karaoke-ist.
The whole scene was surreal. Michael proceeded to cover the canon of American popular music from the 50s and 60s, using a remote control to cue up the background tracks. He gave shout-outs to his fans and also to Billy Leather, a Billy Idol tribute performer whose bleached-blonde head sometimes blocked my view. Mr. Leather wasnât the most conspicuous member of the audience, however. There were the numerous lipsticked 60 year-old women, including one sitting at a picnic table next to me, who danced as frenetically as one can while still sitting down. And then there were the hecklersâa table of wasted, grey-bearded bikers (one of whom wore a hand-crafted cut-off t-shirt which proclaimed âI <3 STRIPPERSâ) who, when they werenât falling over each other, somehow mustered the wherewithal to shout obscenities, insults, and Southern rock requests at the performer.
âHeyâyou canât handle this audience!â âLynyrd Skynyrd!â âJust end it already!â âMy brown-eyed girlâyeah, right!â âFree Bird!â
But the striking thing was that so many people seemed to know and love the Michael Jayne Project. âThereâs something you guys always stick around for, isnât there?â Michael asked, and the audience erupted into excited (albeit inebriated) cheers as he began âMack the Knife.â
The other striking thing was Michael's talent. He sang those standards well, and we couldnât stop laughing because his washed-up 80s metal exterior truly belied the tuneful warbler within.
âMy third set is always for the diehards,â Michael announced. âWe actually push the limitsâwe do some Doors, we do some Gregg Allman.â
I wasnât sure who besides himself Michaelâs âweâ referred to. His remote control? Billy Leather? Was Mr. Allman himself about to show up? Maybe thatâs who the second pair of sunglasses wa
Ted and I left the pavilion dumbfounded and even a bit star-struck. Ted shook his head a lot. The strange thing was that the whole experience seemed indicative of a larger sceneâa Flea Market Circuit, if you will, frequented by the bleached and bearded and tattooed and fake-fingernailed and tightly leathered, brought together by their common love of Olâ Blue Eyes and Bobby Darin.
On our way out we saw a full suit of armor with a yellow sign taped on the pectoral area:
Handmade Stainless Steel Medieval Armor
Please Do Not Touch!!
Take ME Home TODAY!
In another state of mind, I might have tried to bargain this baby down to $5. But on this Saturday, I was content to stroll on by with my beer in hand, snapping my free fingers and whistling âThe Girl from Ipanema.â