Sunday, April 8, 2007

The Imperfect Storm

Last night I played one of those forgettable gigs in a sort of converted Chinese restaurant. Come to think of it, it could have been a dry-cleaner’s. Not only was the money pretty marginal, but the owner gave us a hard time about the pretty thin crowd. Like it is our fault she runs a tight operation which is not conducive to chilling and listening to music and she is always breathing down the neck of drinkers, making sure they are paying up for the less-than 2 square feet of bar stool they occupy, and never ever comps even a dumpling, no matter how many people are in the place, no matter how many times we let the cute bartender sing “Proud Mary’ which on the average musician’s priority list is just one place higher than an enema.

And while you are packing up, the designated driver who is maybe one drink behind his passengers and tomorrow will not only not remember having heard music but how he drove home, comes up and says ‘Hey, youse guys are great! D’you have a card?’ And just to relieve him of the burden of having to empty his wallet of unnecessary garbage, you answer ‘No, I don’t.’ And he gives you his, which is undoubtedly that of a mortgage lender, or a used car dealer, with cell numbers crossed out, rewritten, etc. There are 2 kinds of professional New York City musicians: the kind that throw these cards away with the discarded string packs before they leave the club, or the ones that wait until they get home. Because like the boulevard of broken dreams, card exchanging is not only a thing of the past, but filing them away and expecting any future contact is about as realistic as saving monopoly money.

Besides, there is the internet. Anyone can find anyone on the internet. Except maybe my ex-husband who owes 16 years of child support. But that’s another column. And if I were to have a business card, what would it say? I joked with a band member that I would have one printed up with my full name and underneath it, ‘Negro’. I could have another one that says ‘Caucasian’. I will have one done for the restaurant owner which says ‘Cat Killer’. Or ‘Wanted by the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Guitarists. ‘

A woman I recognized from my neighborhood Citibank where she is a teller, hands out a card in bars with her name and below it ‘Astrologer’. Does that give her authority to predict your future? To write horoscopes? In my local neighborhood cafĂ© there used to be this crazy woman who sat all day with a Macintosh laptop, consuming record quantities of caffeine and running her mouth so that you’d have to use headphones just to be able to swallow. Anyway, I’d overhear her telling people she had a column, and she was working. Turns out she, too, was an amateur astrologer, with a column maybe in the local Marcal gazette. But one day this old loudmouth crank who stalked the neighborhood walked right up to her while she was yapping and said ’You’re not an astronomer… the only way you could see Stars is if I whacked you over the head with that stupid machine. You’re a Quack”! I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe. She had to move to another neighborhood. Actually by now she’s probably doing the Stars for the Daily News. No fact-checking for horoscopes.

Did you ever look up song lyrics on the internet? There’s anyone’s version of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit”, all kinds of variations of Hendrix songs (the famous ‘Kiss This Guy’)--
how many of us admit how many times we slowed down Foxey Lady to decipher that last ‘You make me feel like….???’. And the chord charts—musical transcriptions. They’re so far from accurate you’d think the authors were deliberately trying to mislead hungry young guitar players. Sometimes I think the whole music thing is like a game of telephone where one person plays something cool, then Eric Clapton redoes it, then some 3rd generation guy redoes Clapton, and so on down the line until we wind up in the massive sea of musical mediocrity of today. And for genuine musicians, and I am not counting myself among these—remember, I have no business card, I make no claim--The Perfect Storm. The mega-monstrous tsunami-esque absolute un-navigable monsoon of internet-publishing, computer-generated recording, voracious downloading and unstoppable marketing of musical props that have overwhelmed and swallowed up the tiny little rowboat of what used to pass as genuine music.

So what difference does it make what we put on our cards…we are all the disillusioned and duped losers who happen to not just own guitars but maybe have some experience playing them, and at one point may have had something genuine to say or play. Or not. No fact-checking in the field of musical creativity, either.

Today I was in the subway and some horrific guy was whacking at his brand new badass bass guitar which wasn’t even in tune. One or two people actually put some money in his case. I looked at first for a sign which might have indicated the guy was handicapped or deaf…but no— and he was actually kind of cute. I asked one young guy who threw in a coin—‘are you actually encouraging him?’ And of course he first had to take out his earbuds and ask ‘What?’ because almost every single person on the train platform is now listening to their own ipod and maybe the bass-player realizes it doesn’t matter what he plays because no one is listening anyway. So this guy responds ‘ I just broke up with my girlfriend and I bought this disposable camera and I wanted to get rid of the change’. Good answer. A little more information than I needed, but good answer. So I offered to take his picture in front of the deaf bass-player, with his earbuds in, not listening, to document his very first Kodak moment as a single guy, and he was thrilled. ‘I’ll send you one, he offered…do you have a card?’ Do I have a card! I pulled one from my back pocket which I had forgotten to throw out. It was from the restaurant gig last night, from the last set where people request tunes and we are at that point starving because they are too cheap to give us a foodbreak until the kitchen is actually closed. It was a card with the restaurant's name in Chinese and on the back I had written in my own request to cheer the guitar player up: ‘Anything from column A’, it said.

If my camera-friend is a musician he’ll toss it before the next stop anyway.

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