Wednesday, September 11, 2013

jawlines

I always wake up to the radio.  But, this morning, the radio sounds strange.  I'm not awake yet, and all I can tell is that the voices that are on (and it should be music) are fervent.  They sound scared.  I roll over to my sleeping wife, and shake her, gently.  "Something is wrong," I say and get up and go out to the living room and turn on the TV as I wipe the vestiges of last night's sleep from my eyes.

Our TV is old.  It takes awhile before the picture comes on.  While the picture tube cracks to life, I can hear the voices on it.  "We're not sure what we're looking at," they say, and they are genuinely confused.

The picture comes into focus.  It's a very tall building with smoke billowing out of it.  No- there's two tall buildings, and they are both on fire.  Then I recognize them, and I feel a catch in my throat.  My wife comes into the room, belting her robe around her.

Holy Lord God, I think.  I realize that life is changing; that the gears of history are grinding louder today, and I'm on the teeth.  I'm 37 years old, with a 36 year old wife, a 13 year old son and an 8 year old daughter, and suddenly I realize just how great a thing that is.  To be together.  I call my parents and can't get through.  I call my work and I can't get through.  I'm not going anywhere right now, and there's no way to let anyone in my life know that- but it's ok.  I have my family.  The kids are up and they know that something is terribly, terribly wrong, and my resolve to stay in my little suburban house gets a whole lot stronger. This is the day of days, and my family and I watch in horror as we learn more and more.  Somehow, I manage to keep it together, emotionally, but just barely.  My wife and kids not so much, but I have to be resolute in being there and protecting them, no matter what happens.  No matter what the cost.

By 9AM our time, things are starting to settle down, but the news reports are still coming in.  I dash downstairs and grab our little TV/VCR combo, give my wife a kiss and a very long hug- the same for my kids- and I dash out the door to get to work.  There is data on work servers that needs to be backed up in case this gets worse, and that's my duty.

"I'll be back in 2 hours," I tell them.  

"I don't think the kids should go to school today," my wife says with a serious look on her face.  I agree, dumbly, without words.

I start driving, and I'm taking the route I always take, albeit some 3 hours later than usual.  Traffic is unusually heavy.  And, that's when I notice it.

All the drivers are obviously listening their radios.  Their hands are all at 10 and 2 on the wheels, and they are all holding the wheels like it's a life preserver- it's keeping them afloat in a sea of emotion that is set to swallow each and every one of them at any moment.  They stare, bleakly but focused ahead of them, vainly trying to find a meaning to what is happening.  The entire freeway is moving at the same pace under this constant forward motion, driven by cars driven by people that all have the exact same look on their face.

I go to change lanes, and check my mirrors, and that is when I see it.

I have the same face as everyone else.

In that tiny moment of clarity, that's when it dawned on me- that we are all in this together.  All of the political trappings of the day; personal opinions; small, esoteric minutae that makes up our own individual experiences- all of that had been swept away by a shared experience of three separate airliners that had gone down.  No one on that road was different from anyone in that moment- skin color, political leanings, sexual orientation, occupations, social classes perceived or real- none of that mattered.  We were all the same, and more than that- we were the same as the people who had been aboard those airplanes.  And, everyone on that road knew that, too.  In a way, that was somehow comforting, but it was at the same time extremely humbling.

Work took a little longer than two hours, but the phones were working again.  I called home.  "The kids are outside, playing, but I can't stop crying," says my wife.  I understand that, although I haven't had my cry yet.  It's coming, though.  

"I'll be home just as soon as I wrap up here.  We're closing the office for at least the next couple of days," I tell her.

"Good.  No one needs to be working right now." she replies.

I surface street it home at about noon.  Now, there's no one on the streets.  The air overhead, usually full of airliners on final approach to Seattle-Tacoma Airport is empty.  I take every corner and sidestreet at no more than the speed limit, even though my travel is completely unopposed.  I want to take in the view and the scenery because, at this point 12 years ago today, I don't know if this is the last time I'll be able to see it or not.  We just don't know.....is all I can think.

Home is still relatively quiet, except for my wife who is watching our old TV with the volume down.  It's on every, single channel, including the Home Shopping Network.  It's all you can see, hear, taste and smell.  More reports coming in- and the first set of death tolls.  It's too staggering to contemplate.  The kids are playing on the street right outside, but in my living room, there is nothing but the constant blur of reported chaos and death, conjecture and rumor, talking heads and reporters who have clearly been affected by this day.  

And, every single one of the people on TV have the same look as I had seen on the freeway.

That look- the overly focused eyes and squared jawline of the people that I encountered all day that day - and, my own countenance being the same - because we were all the same - that is what I remember from 12 years ago.  In the days to come, we would be tested again and again and in different ways, and I would see that look in the people's eyes and those same jawlines.  12 years later, that look is gone, and it seems as though many in this country have forgotten what a watershed moment that was- not because we were attacked and almost 3,000 innocent men, women and children were killed - but because for a moment, we were all the same, and that meant something.  

On a bright, sunny September morning in 2001, all of us as Americans were changed.  We shared an experience that impacted every single one of us, and it has shaped this country.  We still bear the scars of that today.  I sometimes wonder what it would take to get this country to get back to at least that sentiment- that we all have to pull completely together and resolve to make a difference in our lives and our world, but to do it without the need for such tumult.  Without the need for partisanship.  Without the need to throw others under the bus.  Without the need for a history and life changing event to spur us on to doing the right thing, and instead just do the right thing.  But, sadly, I don't think we have it in us to do that.  Unfortunately, I fear it will take a fearful loss of life and liberty for people to throw off stupid Right vs. Left arguments and other silly arguments that mean nothing when 3,000 people fall 1,000 feet or are crushed by monuments we make to ourselves in our own arrogance.  

I fear that I will have to see that jawline in a mirror before that will happen again.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

clubbing - and not like a seal.......

A NON-RELIGIOUS POST!!!!

Yep- that's right- I can write about other things.  Doesn't mean I'm not gonna stir things up, tho.

A few days ago, several musician friends of mine posted "An open letter to venues that exploit musicians" from Grassrootsy onto Facebook.  In case you're gonna TL:DR - It was a semi-interesting rant from musicians to club owners about non-promotion, non-pay, poor treatment...yadda yadda yadda.  And, hey- I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel some of those same things.  But, let's get one thing out of the way right now- I agree, pretty much 100% - with everything that's written there, and it's all happened to me, too.

But, here's the deal, kids- that letter isn't gonna do a damned thing about the problem.  You see, we as musicians are an unusually myopic lot.  We think that since we're impassioned about "the craft", that anyone who isn't is a scum bag, and isn't serious.  A lot of times, that actually is true.  But, let's get the expectations out of the way in a cold, clear, calculated manner.

Club Owners Are:Club Owners Are NOT:
  1. Interested in making a profit.  What you as a musician don't know is the minute-by-minute industrial grade BS that club owners go through- from food and services vendors, to surprise inspections by the local constabulary.  There's payroll, taxes, rent, equipment costs, etc.  All of this stuff takes money for them, and the only way to make a buck is to keep a buck.  You'd be very surprised to know how much profit they actually make.  (Yes, it is more than you make.)
  2. Interested in not having to make a lot of effort.  They want to work as little as possible- and, btw, that is right and proper, because you do, too.  You don't want to have to lug in a PA, do the promotions, etc.  The difference is that the club is providing a venue for you, and honestly- that's really all they should do.  If they do promotions, it's rarely because they like you- it's because they want to make a profit.
  3. Generally not dishonest.  Yeah- there's a few that are, but I've found that in 35+ years of playing professionally that "time wounds all heels", and the ones that are dishonest generally get found out, and natural attrition takes over.
  1. Musically knowledgable.  They don't care about gear (or lack thereof), nor do they know about the latest and greatest anything.
  2. Interested in whether or not you make an artistic statement.  Unless of course, you sell drinks because of it.
  3. Interested AT ALL in your crap.  That means if you're at all high-maintanance, you won't get called back.

Now, there are many exceptions to the rules cited above here, but what I've said here covers somewhere north of 85% of the clubs you will ever play in.  And, for the record, I've played at some very high capacity venues (in front of 30,000+ people) and the folks that run those venues are, by and large, no different than club owners (actually, that stated percentage falls to about 60%) - so, if you're thinking that if your band can just play the EnormoDome you can leave all the crap behind- think again.  It doesn't work that way.

What I really HATE about that open letter is that it almost sounds like musicians have no culpability in this- and we really, really do.  Let's face it- most of us are "not exactly normal" - we don't act like normal people, and we certainly don't spend money like normal people do (says the guy with 31 basses in his house right now) - we show up late; we bitch and moan; we're loud and generate complaints; we're out late and up late- I mean, really.  Have you ever taken a good look in the mirror?  I know I have, and I don't always like what I see.

But, there is something we can do about it.

One of the things we need to do is stop allowing this to happen.  For instance, I play in a pretty well known band here in Seattle that is largely original material only.  That means that there are some clubs that don't want us.  So, what we do is NOT PLAY THEM.  Some clubs are kinda small for the crowd we bring- WE DON'T PLAY THEM EITHER.  Some clubs are really openly hostile to bands- WE DON'T PLAY THERE.  But, more than all of this is the fact that we have a "bottom dollar" that we won't go below- and, you know what?  We play A LOT.  The real corker here is the fact that for every band like mine there are 10 other bands who think they are "lesser" (and they are not) and will take less money, or play venues that aren't suited well- and that makes it harder for the rest of us.  In the mid-80's, in the Los Angeles area music scene, the single most heinous thing to ever come up came out there- "pay to play"- that is, clubs that had the band pay to play, or disguised it as "selling tickets" - and bands did it.  That single thing almost killed the live scene there, and some say it actually did.  The fact that bands were desparate enough is all that it took for this to happen- and, the fact that bands are desparate enough now to allow themselves to be mistreated is why it happens now.  Stop doing that.

The other thing is this- and this one really hurts- musicianship these days is just terrible.  I mean it's BAD.  Club owners who aren't musically inclined (and that is the vast majority) can't tell that what they are getting is substandard, and the ones that are can't find anything worthwhile - so they get whatever they can.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard players say, "I just need to know enough to play in a band" - like that's easy.  They don't practice.  They don't create.  They spend their time listening to shit music, and since they don't practice or create, they create even shittier music.  The simple fact is that if we offer a venue a superior product of our making, the discerning ear will eventually win out- and so will the audiences- and the crowds will grow and clubs will start paying better.  Simple economics and good customer service, which, btw, is what we as musicians need to keep in mind.  These venues that you are bitching about are your customers.  Treat them as such- and, remember- it's totally ok to educate your customers.

So, all I'm really saying is that writing an "open letter" to venues to bitch them out about all the things they are not doing is basically playing right into their hands.  Don't do it.  Take it upon yourself to raise your game- both musically and business-wise - and let the chips fall where they may.

And, for God's sake- go practice your instrument.