Friday, September 02, 2011

Keep Thy Gigs Relaxed

"Teach us to care and not to care

  Teach us to sit still."

Enter all ye olden money and worship
at the shrine of the ass kiss.
When I decided to re-enter the world of public service in the musical realm, I knew full well what I was getting into. Late night hours, keeping my chops up, making sure equipment is up to par, rehearsals and the endless variety and dull sameness of the gigs afforded the functional professional musician. There was a point when I needed a good reboot and time away from the horror of weddings, wine tastings, and other soul sucking gigs that are the bread and butter of the local musician. I'm cool with all that now. It's all good, baby. Just pay me.

My partner, Li-Li, gets a little tense sometimes. Particularly when she has some relationship or friendship with any of the people contracting us for music. This time, we were to play an hour of background music in honor of the 90th birthday of a wealthy matriarch. This was an intimate affair - family only.

On the phone, I could tell that this gig was already getting to her because she reminded me of a well-known King Crimson song that says, "I repeat myself when under stress, I repeat myself when under stress..." She was talking faster and basically saying the same thing. Hell, I do this, so I know the signs.

Which brings us to a handy rule: Keep Thy Partner Calm.

I have been the victim of nerves under numerous occasions and although I can name all the symptoms, I cannot understand why I still get nervous. What am I afraid of? Failure? Sucking? Losing the respect of my peers? Even if I hit the perfect fuck-up trifecta, I would like to believe that my peers, colleagues and friends would forgive me (Now, if that kept happening, people might smile and tell me nice things, but calls for jobs would dry up). I get nervous because I wonder if I can still pull off the fireworks and honestly, I still care. I want to bring the music to life, not just plow through it with precision with no passion (I could name names of players who do that very thing.). When you play music, you must be aware of everything because it's an all or nothing activity. Even in a pretentious country club.

Even if you have the jitters, if you see the "deer in the headlights" look on your partner's face, better be the calming anchor. Li-Li was so worried and tense because she let the tension of this family get inside her head. We envy the wealthy and rightfully so, but wealth does not happiness make. You can rent it for a while and have lots of pretty things, but family is family regardless of portfolios. Besides, nothing says fucked up like family.

She made it worse by observing the family dynamics as we played. "The women (the wheels of power in any family) doing this and the women doing that"-I ignored all that and concerned myself with chord shapes and bass lines. Most of us having been playing for so long that much of this is automatic, but if your attention is elsewhere, you're asking for the occasional derailment.

I thought the music got better the longer we played, but still she was whispering her observations about what family member did this and "Oh, did you see that?"

I saw a relatively uptight family gathering for the birthday of an aged matriarch who probably was used to ruling the family with an iron hand and a tight control on the undoubted millions scattered around banks and investment firms. Control the moolah, control the adult children. Quite honestly, I didn't give a shit about who sat next to who and all the social power games. I am not concerned.

I am a musician for hire. I will be nice, but ass kissing is not in my job description. You get two hours of music out of me. You also get someone who still cares, but you do not get to rent a room in my head.

You can't afford that.

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