The Musing John Mayer

At a packed benefit, the pop heartthrob offers gays his approval

The popular pop singer John Mayer may not have set out to raise so much money, but he managed to anyway, raising $10,000 for an agency for homeless New Yorkers living with AIDS. In fact, ecstatic fans who flew in from as far as California and Europe to hear Mayer perform gave the event more of a Madison Square Garden aura than the laid back and erudite feel of a typical afternoon at Housing Works Used Book Café, a non-profit bookstore just off Houston Street.

Proceeds from the store’s donated books, and sale of beer and coffee, help provide housing, health care, job training, and advocacy for people living with HIV/AIDS. Two years ago, the store began a monthly music series, “Live From Home,” which has featured such artists as Lyle Lovett, Ryan Adams, Bright Eyes and the Cowboy Junkies, but never anyone who generated as much mania as did John Mayer on November 19.

“We have not had a bigger show,” curator Alan Light told Friday’s audience. Mayer’s latest album, “Heavier Things,” just went double platinum and debuted last year at number one on the Billboard top 200, making it almost as popular as his four-time platinum debut album, “Room For Squares.” Light, a music critic and editor-in-chief of Tracks magazine, used his connections with Mayer’s management to book the pop icon, said Mollie Michel, the bookstore’s marketing director.

Yet, Mayer appeared somewhat oblivious to the benefits of his benefit appearance. Between songs during his 45-minute performance, the young Berkeley-educated, Connecticut-born singer, rambled about his new album, girls, and told a few jokes and thanked the audience for “being into what he’s doing,” without mentioning any of Housing Works specific programs. He even mentioned his upcoming album, which he said “won’t come out until it’s kicking ass” and “it’s going to be a genius record.” As he tuned his guitar at one point, at a seeming loss for words, he blurted, “I’m not against being gay.”

Pardon? Older, more urbane audience members recovered quickly enough and politely chuckled, the teenage girls still too enamored to notice anything awry had occurred.

“It was a weird thing to say. I didn’t hear it and didn’t hear any rumblings about it afterwards,” said Michel after the performance. “It’s too bad that he said that. I’ve only had great experiences with artists understanding and supporting the cause. They usually understand Housing Works and want to support us.”

Michel said Mayer’s comment wasn’t threatening at all. “You run the risk of not knowing when you book somebody if they’re going to understand. He’s just a kid. The money he raised all goes back into Housing Works, which makes a big difference, and the shows give Housing Works a bigger profile in other communities by being a music venue. It helps raise awareness.”

Housing Works sold low-cost tickets on their Web site, some of which later sold on eBay for up to $1500. Michel said she had no control over this and the selling actually assured Housing Works an opportunity to raise more money than it might have with a lesser-known artist.

“We began our own auction on the Web site for packages which included admission, a CD and reserved seats,” said Michel. “If people wanted to pay that much money, we could give them something better. It’s also tax-deductible and it benefits Housing Works.”

Housing Works Used Books Café is at 126 Crosby St., one block east of Broadway between Houston and Prince Sts., available at 212 334 3324 or housingworksubc.org.

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