Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Can't Be Cruel If It Doesn't Matter

This has been bothering me for 24 hours now. I'm not precisely sure how I feel about it. My reaction has ranged from pity, to rage, to unkind laughter, to simple acceptance.

Because I have not just let it go, I finally decided to write about it. At first I thought, "This is one odd event that I will never share with anyone.". But, eventually, I came to the conclusion that I had no reason to fault or belittle myself.

As I have mentioned previously, I met a couple of young guys at an open mic, and I liked the potential I saw. It seemed like I could enjoy jamming and playing with them. They thought the same and got contact info, then gave me a call.

We went over some of their stuff at a couple of practices, and played a couple of open mic venues with which I was unfamiliar. One was particularly good as far as the set up and the players. The other was interesting, and we played better, in my view. They definitely played better; smoother and more on time.

So, Monday, I get a text asking if I can play Monday night at the well set up venue. I was working in Rancho Megabucks, and since they didn't think we'd be playing too early, I thought it would work out fine. The place is not much out of my way if I take the highways home instead of the back way. I was working into early evening.

About 6:30 I get a text that says it doesn't look like they can make it. OK, I say, sorry to hear it. I didn't mind. I figured, since I was already in the mindset, that I'd go on my way home from work to check out the place; see who plays, the demographic of the crowd, etc. The other time I was there, we played and that was that. I never got a good look at the crowd or the other players. Stage lights, back door, and all that.

I showed up about 9, and after circling around in National Heights or whatever that artsy place is called, finally scored a good parking place, maybe 100 feet from the entrance. It is free so what the heck. I sat in the back and caught a few acts, most of which were OK, even if they didn't overly trip my trigger. I liked them for the most part. There was one combo that I liked fairly well.

My coffee and water were in the car so I went out for a little break. As I'm out there, who do I see meandering in with their instruments? Yes, the brothers Grim. The kids who couldn't make it.

On our last outing, I did sense some indication that the vocalist/guitar/front/man may have been letting his ego get the best of him, and that he might have a tendency to foolishly become a little too high on himself. Previously he'd kept the front man antics toned down, without the overly affected thing that makes a lot of people sound and look like asses. He seemed to be drifting in that direction.

Needless to say I was a little bit shocked when they cruised in. I was not sure if they saw me, but I figured the ball was in their court. I went in and sat down again in the back. At one point the younger brother walked right by me, but he does wear glasses and had come from the front where the lights shine in your eyes. He's in many ways more about the music than his brother, the self styled star.

So, after awhile the MC introduces the next act and there they are. This place is good with the sound and they work it out before each individual performance. The MC was hanging around up there, sitting on the piano bench while the guitar guy is talking into the microphone. Guitar Lad started talking about the other times they'd played there and how last time they had a harp player. The MC chimed in, "That guy was really good!".

Guitar guy, "Yea, yea, he's good, but that guy is really OLD. Really, he's xx years old!" (talking over the MC's reaction of So What?) "Old! An old man, geez. OLD man." The tone was one of disparagement, not awe or respect.
MC--What? xx is a spring chicken. The guy can play.
Guitar player--clucking into mic "test test test"

I'm sitting back both enjoying this discussion, and horrified, all at once. I'd been nice to these kids, and thought I could help them be better. After hearing their set, I know absolutely they were way better when I played. The guitar player started doing all this affected guitar face stuff, and his licks were too lame to make it work. It was embarrassing. When someone is too stupid to nkow they aren't smart, or too convinced they are charming to notice that none are charmed by them, I cringe.

He was so convinced that he was wowing the women or someone that he let his posing and jumping around take precedence over playing. The tempo was so inconsistent that the bass had to stop several times trying to get him back on it without being so far apart that the notes clashed. It could have been worse, and obviously I have a resentment which might make me a bit more critical.

The truth is, I had hoped they'd do great so I could assume my job was done there, and not worry about it beyond feeling sorry that the kid is too inexperienced or cowardly to just say they wanted to go it alone. I'd made it clear that they should do that if they ever felt like it. I don't know all their songs, and some things may not be what I should, or want to, play.

What stung or seemed like it ought to sting, was being publicly described as REALLY OLD as if that was a reason any self respecting young super star wouldn't have me on the same stage. Many in the crowd had heard me play last week. No one was laughing or gasping in horror when he gave his assessment. I think, to this crowd, he was sounding a bit idiotic.

Believe me it was all I could do not to stand up and say, "Hey, I'm the Old guy, come on down kid and let me kick your young ass into next week!" Which I could. Another impulse was to stand up and yell something as I gave the finger and walked out. Didn't do that either.

I stayed for the set, felt pleasure at the lukewarm applause, and the guitar guy saying the last tune, which included the most outrageous of failed theatrics, is better with more distortion and something(?) else. They use the house amps at this place. Believe me, effects would not have made it work, unless there was something that wouldn't let you change the beat mid-measure. I tried to keep time to it and it was impossible.

Justice, I suppose, but never in my life have I been classed as some really old guy who repels an audience or children or talented musicians.

I still don't know what to think, except that I overestimated the maturity and musical passion of this kid. I give the bass player a pass because he just stared at the floor while this went on and said nothing.

What may have had something to do with it was that when we played the tea room/hookah parlor, people were commenting afterward that the harmonica "really made it. That rounded out your sound, and made it work". Comments like that are always tough to hear when you are the front man. What I know, and they don't, is that I am the spice. What's a baked potato without some butter or sour cream or something? And how much butter or sour cream by itself can you really handle? It's the combination that is worthwhile.

I wasn't planning to go to music heaven or anything, but I thought I might record some tracks when they do the studio time they plan in the near future. From what I saw, they are not ready. The only word I will ever speak to them again is "no". I don't plan to ever even say hello if we cross paths.

It is odd that they knew who I was, and my age, prior to the last couple of times we played, and that they asked in the middle of the day if I could play, then hours later lied about being able to make it. But to be publicly defamed as a player for something other than my playing, as if I had done something to them, kind of indicates that the kid is unaware of how I play, and/or his focus is not on what the product should be--delivering a musical experience. It does put him on my forever list of people to leave bleeding in a ditch if I should ever happen by when they are in such a circumstance.

And another thing; did he not know I was old until late Monday? That is a compliment in an odd fuckwit sort of way.

Bless that MC guy. Having him immediately give his gut reaction when I was mentioned, and for it to be complimentary, was perfect. It left the kid sounding stupid--but, but, but he's old old old!

Well, I've aired it out, and now I hope to deal with something more healthy, interesting and --for God's sake!!!- age appropriate.

Considering the source helps, however this has affected me. I've been very quiet for a day or two. I played with my Ballistic Mountain buddies tonight. They are both older and younger than I, and classy enough not to ridicule me for being too tan, white, black, old, sexy or anything else I can't help.

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Ballistic Mountain, CA, United States
Like spring on a summer's day


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