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Sunday, April 18, 2021

A Chronicle of a City on the Edge

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Open Mike Eagle, a spoken word poet and punk rock DJ from Pittsburgh, is in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to fund the recording of his seventh and last studio album, which he plans to release at the end of this year.

“It’s the last album I’m ever going to make,” the 43-year-old said. “I wanted to finish it by not using technology. It’s a punk rock vibe, a raw, organic, DIY album.”

Open Mike Eagle, who named himself after the Ice Cream Cone-Eating Man from the new film “Green Book,” is best known for his artful words in short pieces, which he stages with elaborate costumes and props. He began working with camera and recording equipment in the mid-1990s after moving to the city and becoming a DJ at Charles A. Mojica’s club, the Exit.

“I was going out to my local bar and I was carrying a camcorder,” he said. “One night a friend of mine wanted to be a filmmaker and he said, ‘Maybe I should shoot the show.’ I started filming the show and over time started shooting the show, shooting clothes that I’d create, taking photos that I wanted to put on Twitter or Instagram, and doing pop-up poetry.”

In 2009, the artist and producer Ari Shaffir approached him to produce and host a series on his website, Navl. If he had a level of success with his unique storytelling style, he’d produce a weekly series for the Web. The show was a success and Open Mike Eagle followed by producing and hosting a show for another Web outlet, music website Indiewire.

This concept led to a remarkable expansion of his presence in his city, and his work on the landscape and art of Pittsburgh inspired both action and reaction. In 2014, he created the Manspreading Brigade with another city performer, and in 2016 he was one of four poets invited to participate in the White House poetry competition hosted by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

In the wake of the election of Donald Trump, however, Open Mike Eagle had to alter his methods.

“I almost started writing songs again — I was kind of feeling like the only ones out there, in pop and in the world, talking about this stuff was against Trump,” he said. “And then I just kept wondering why am I singing to some poor people. Nobody from my own generation talks about their own politics.”

Open Mike Eagle, whose birth name is Mike Cuforio, said that he tried the politics chat room GloFlo on Facebook and decided to keep his lighter, more personal work going.

“At that point, I was like, ‘F you. Fuck you. I’m not having any of that anymore. I’m writing songs. And I’m gonna put a record out for my mom,’” he said. “The theme is how I wish I had been able to get to know my parents and their childhood, what they went through and why it did not turn out the way I wanted.”

The result of this book-length study is an album called “At the Edge of Falling,” which can be purchased on iTunes, Google Play or Amazon. The album, and its implications, are an ongoing commentary on what’s happening to Pittsburgh today.

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