Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Velvet Papers, Pt.4

"We're in the pipe, five by five."

Reentry Is a Bitch

When I graduated from Peabody, I had gone through a very high pressure recital in order to receive my degree. That is to say, that if that live performance was a total wreck, then no degree for you, Senor Stupido. This was proceeded, of course, by months (4 years if you really count it) of practicing guitar music 8 to 10 hours a day. While this significantly ups your guitar game, eventually you must enter the world of making a living. It sucks, but it must be.
Adjusting to the real world was difficult. At one point, I had imagined I would want to stay in college forever. Methought I would teach college and after about a month of celebrating my graduation, I dutifully and hopefully sent out my resume to various colleges. The response became predictable and quickly became a needle that said "failure.": 

"Thank you for your interest in {insert college here}, but currently we have no opening in your field. We will keep your resume on file (file 13) in case there is an opening in the future. Yours most insincerely, Mary S. Inflated-sense-of-self Administrator, DMA, BA, LSD, BS."

Every letter I sent, save the one I sent to a local university, returned the same reply. No one had told me that you at least needed a doctorate to rate even an interview and it best be in something like history, early music or theory or to the soup kitchen for you, buddy. "Gee," me thought, "No one gives a damn that I graduated from a prestigious conservatory." I didn't expect a million offers, but none? Staying in Baltimore seemed stupid to me because I saw graduates scramble to teach at senior citizen centers. Really? This is why you spent all that time? It seemed pathetic. I felt helpless as well. (Author and guitarist Glenn Kurtz actually quit. His story is a great read and quite poignant.)

For the Blue Hairs

I played a few recitals at home, much to the delight of my parents, the local choir director, and classical music aficionados. I  teamed up with a professional singer and explored the repertoire of guitar and voice. We took our show to Pittsburgh and auditioned for a concert series. We were turned down, although the singer said they were impressed, but didn't know what to do guitar and voice as we all know violin (or cello) and piano rule the chamber music universe. Local recitals and even a master class with David Tannenbaum were part of our time together. I was still affected by my accomplishments and though no one would ever accuse me of being a purist, this time was the closest I would ever come to that description.

So, I was living at home, which was driving me insane, and only had a part-time teaching gig at the local university. I had nothing basically. Then, lightning struck!

My parents, told me that they wanted to move from Charleston to Pennsylvania so that my mom could be closer to her twin sister and family. Did I want to make the move with them?


Somehow, the safe haven of one's childhood becomes a prison for the young adult. Besides, I could just picture what life would have been like, as pleasant and supportive as they were, I would have been a man-child. A rotten, spoiled, man-child sponging off his parents. No doubt fat from home cooking, mean and miserable. Besides, I was too old to be living at home.

After a glorious summer (full of "romance") spent at a lakeside cabin, I moved in with my pal, Craig.

Life at the "Transient House"

This was gonna be so cool. Just Craig and me hanging out, playing when we wanted to, partying when we felt like it. We were young bachelors, living wild and free, especially me. I had two part-time jobs ( a theme that was to follow me for quite a while) and neither of them demanded much. Craig however had a full-time gig as an architect for a company that designed coal loaders.

When the evening came around, he would wander back to the house after work, mix a cocktail and we would jam. Usually I had spent the day practicing or writing, so I was raring to go.

Craig and I weren't exactly the Odd Couple, but of the two of us, he was infinitely more social. Plus he had four brothers and a large extended family. People were always stopping by unannounced. There were times when I welcomed a house full of people and others when it felt like a huge intrusion. Perhaps it was spending so much time alone, wrestling with composing - always a private act of soul searching. Most of the day spent "in my head," as it were, always presented a disconnect for me between that quiet, sacred space of music and interacting with people. I felt awkward around some people anyway, so this isolation only heightened my reticence.

There were so many guests at the house that years later I found out that the neighbors called it the Transient House, as they could not figure out exactly who lived there. Who could blame them? We came and went at all hours of the day and night. Perhaps that's why no one ever broke in and nabbed any of our equipment. Who could guess who was home or not? Craig's brothers might be lazing on the couch when you walked in the door.

He bought a used drum machine and of course, what else? We programmed it for Latin beats, adding a soca beat for more variety. As much as we enjoyed the shelter of the basement band, this might have remained only a footnote to my musical life. One key element came into play and we dubbed him, "Greg True."

And Then There Were Three.

Why the stupid nicknames? Why did we call ourselves Johnny Velvet and CR Smoothie? That's not funny. Probably to you, it's not, but to us, it was hysterical to imagine these two lounge lizards living la dulce vita without a plan, a code or moral compass. A life of booze, broads and gigs. But as we realized, you can't sustain a joke for a 45 minute musical set. There has to be something more. And much, much more was to come.

Greg was already in one of the city's hottest bands and by the time he was coming around to the Velvet way of doing things, they had matured into quite a solid unit. They weren't fucking around. They were out to rock. But, let's back pedal a little first.

But Greg had always been an open minded musician who dabbled in just about everything. He and I had spent many an hour writing songs back in the early 80's and recording them in his bedroom (never a good place for a recording "studio"). During that time, I do believe that Greg and I were in what I call the "knucklehead" stage of a musical journey. We did what we wanted without regard to whether or not anyone but us liked it. Although it feels inferior to those involved, it is actually a very innocent time of music making. One could call it a time of "creative incubation." I can also see the sense of searching, chaos and time wasting.

He and I spent a rather dark summer where we going to bars as much or more than our pursuit of music. I remember one night when three girls walked by and one of the them, ironically the least attractive, barked like a dog at us. That hurt. We certainly did nothing to deserve it. It killed my enthusiasm for the night anyway.

During the time I was in school, Greg had gotten away from working solely for the family business and began to work as a waiter in a popular downtown restaurant. This matured him and his self-confidence blossomed. At first, I wasn't sure if I liked this new and improved Greg, but nevertheless I knew I wanted to snag him into some kind of band.

Next: Do We Have to Pay the Drum Machine? and The Kids Get Their First "Real" Gig

1 comment:

Karan said...

"Thank you for your interest in {insert college here}, but currently we have no opening in your field. We will keep your resume on file (file 13) in case there is an opening in the future. Yours most insincerely, Mary S. Inflated-sense-of-self Administrator, DMA, BA, LSD, BS."

That made me laugh right out loud... and, you know, I'm in the library where that type of thing is generally frowned upon.

Also, I'm thinking my karanagogo is more "creative incubation" than anything. Thanks for the kinder, gentler phrase.