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.