Thursday, May 09, 2013

Nothing But Blues And Elvis, And Somebody Else's Favorite Song

(Author's note: I have no idea who the fellows in the video are, and mean them no harm)

Someone said something interesting to me the other evening.

At the end of my sons' performance, my younger son went home, because he's barely ten, and we don't keep him up all hours for any reason. My older son and I stayed through all the other acts that followed them. We had to wait until the evening was over to break down the equipment, and it's not polite to wander out on the other acts in a show like that, anyway.

I never willingly sit in an audience for any reason any more. I've long since lost the knack of being entertained for the most part. Back when I was a performer, I had no idea how to act in an audience any longer, and always suffered from the sneaking suspicion I was supposed to be on the stage or tidying up or something; and after I no longer was a performer I always had the impression I was supposed to be on my couch. I doubt this is peculiar to the musical walk of life, either. I don't imagine plumbers would get much entertainment value out of watching other people installing toilets on their days off, either.

There was a guitar player on the same bill as my boys. He played well. He played Mississippi styled fingerpicked blues, more or less. He was very inventive, and could play leads and rhythm with equal facility, and sing. He had another singer and a fellow playing a rudimentary drum set with him.

He was as nice as all get-out, too. I'd guess he was about my age. As my son and I were breaking down the drum set and amps, he told me how impressed he was with the show the boys had put on. Effusive and generous with his praise. He invited them to go to some sort of open-mike jamboree thing at some roadhouse out  in the landscape that he either ran or habituated, I'm not sure which. I appreciated his enthusiasm for the boys. Then he said something fascinating, and telling, to me.

"It's obvious your boys don't get their musical ability from you," he said, "is their mother a musician or something?"

I know what you're thinking, but you're mistaken. You don't understand what that man was saying to me, and figure it's a backhanded, unstudied insult, because you don't understand why Sultans of Swing sucks. I understood immediately what he meant, and took no offense. He was being pleasant, and making small talk, but was truly curious about what sort of Zeus's forehead might produce the child act that he just saw. It was exactly 180 degrees on the compass removed from an insult.

As I said, he's a nice man, and he played well, too. But he misunderstands what music is for, and what an audience is for. What he meant by his innocuous comment was that there was no way that he could conceive that I might be able to play any instrument and not go up on the stage with my children-- or without them, for that matter. It is never any one else's turn, not even your own children. There is no reason to worry about what you're doing, or why you're doing it, or wonder if the audience will be entertained by what you're doing. Hell, you shouldn't even worry too much if there is an audience. Open mike night is just taking turns being the audience, for instance.

Ninety-nine percent of the participants are very confused about the music business. Your job is to entertain the audience. What you want to play, what you want to hear, how you want to look means absolutely nothing. Your job is to figure out what the audience wants, and give it to them. Period. The extra difficulty in that equation is the audience often lies. They'll tell you they want to hear, oh, I don't know, Sultans of Swing, and then the room empties out if you're dumb enough to listen to them and play it.

It was assumed that a person like me -- one that could play but wouldn't -- could not exist, and so the question about whose children the two talented kids really belonged to was asked, because if any audience, anywhere, could be cobbled together under any pretext, I was supposed to glom onto it like a cat with a mouse he doesn't want to kill just yet, and inflict myself on it at all costs. I'm supposed to use my children as human shields, or hostages,  or simply elbow them aside if necessary -- or maybe not have them in the first place to keep all my time to myself -- to keep the dream alive: Playing Sultans of Swing, inexpertly, one more time, to an audience of no one.


Leon said...

trust me watching someone install a toilet is vastly superior to doing that duck walk into a narrow stall with a loaded porcelain diaper between your legs, hoping and praying you can hit both those @#$%^&*( brass studs which you can only see one of at a time. after it's all bolted down and i've stood on my head with a sawzall cutting them @#$%^%$ brass studs down i like to go out to my truck and unwind to something soothing, something like oh i don't know Sultans of Swing

vanderleun said...

It takes a big man to admit he can't play Sultans of Swing and I admire you for doing so. But this doesn't mean you have to stand in the way of your sons proper worship of that greatest of all rock anthems. They, at least, have one last chance to rescue the golden chalice of the rock gods for the Sippican clan! As they say, "Lead, follow, or strike up Crimson and Clover."

leelu said...

Well, let's see... you're doing a fine job of keeping Gerard spun up, for sure.

If the boys don't want to play "Sultans", let it be their choice, as I'm sure it will be.

Me, I still think it's a great song. But, I'm a technophile, not a musician, so what do I know?

julie said...

I don't care about Sultans one way or another, having heard it but usually only in the background, but this:

Back when I was a performer, I had no idea how to act in an audience any longer, and always suffered from the sneaking suspicion I was supposed to be on the stage or tidying up or something; and after I no longer was a performer I always had the impression I was supposed to be on my couch.

struck me as funny. I've never much enjoyed sitting through concerts of the type I performed in. Maybe that's part of the reason why. That, and the fact that "Ninety-nine percent of the participants are very confused about the music business." So, so true...

nnaemeka chukwuebuka said...

you are trying in training Gerard spun up. i think its the choice of boys not to play sultans. but for me i love blues. http//

Anonymous said...

For people like your local performer it is not the music business, it is the music community. People who play what they like for the love of it, and others who may or may not appreciate it all but are there, even if only waiting their turn to play. You viewed your time playing as working for a living, a commercial transaction. Maybe some of your audience did as well, or maybe not. Two different worlds interacting. I doubt you miss that point, simply don't care to accept it.

SippicanCottage said...

Er, everybody got paid. Try again.

I use a shorthand term to explain the rights and obligations of a performer: I face the other way.

I viewed my time in front of any audience as an ipso facto, unalterable obligation to entertain them. That's the point I'm making, but you simply don't care to accept it.

Besides, you get paid to carry all that stuff in and set it up; you always play for free.

Sam L. said...

Selfless, you are, Mr. Sippi. Or operating on another plane of existence. Regardless of irregardless, your take is our gift.

'Preciate it, deed I do.

vanderleun said...

It would be of more immediate use to Sipp if your gift was his take.

Expat(ish) said...

I meant to reply to this when it was first posted, but I read it on my phone at stoplights while doing the kid bus service.

All three of my kids fence (sabre, not picket) and the fencing palace owner (I kid, it's in a basement) keeps trying to get me to start fencing. I'd like to, actually, as I think hitting someone with a sword would be fun after a long day at work. But one of the things I like about fencing is that it belongs to my kids, not to me. I didn't do it or even urge them to try it - they chose it. Well, my oldest chose it and the others followed.

I think it's important that they have stuff that they do that they own and figure out and can be the expert in.

I applaud you for not playing with the boys - there will be time for that in the future.