Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Wedding Not

My poor old guitar has seen the best and worst of me.
We are one in the same. We both are tired of weddings.
My first "real" gig was a wedding, but it was very unsatisfying.

More than slightly champagne buzzed, I hurled my electric guitar into the back of the car. Angry and disappointed that no one had listened, I wasn't happy. My keyboard playing friend had a good time. You see, he's free of any ego. He doesn't even see himself as a musician sometimes, so he's free of expectations. I wanted attention and compliments- at a wedding.

How foolish and naive.

To the "civilians" out there, the wedding gig is certainly one of the best paying gigs in the working musician's jobs. They come in two distinct categories: really easy and nightmarish.

Why such a dichotomy? Good question.

"What do you mean it's going to be cloudy?!"
1. Bridezillas and/or monster-in-laws make for very tense events.
The tone is set by the bride, the mother and/or the mother-in-law. Period.

The struggles of an ever-demanding bride and her struggle with her mother (or mother-in-law or both) can make the whole day TENSE for everyone. Though the bridesmaids are happy to be all dolled up and the groomsmen are setting their marks on the bridesmaids and the father is rendered perfunctory, it is the women who must muss, fuss and sputter over every mind-bending detail. All to make this day so special, so extraordinary, soooo unique and everyone miserable.

The groom is merely along for the ride. This is not his show, not matter his level of alpha male in his social group. He is essentially, for lack of a better metaphor, castrated until the big day is over.

2. Weather and other unforeseen, uncontrollable forces. God has his little moments. Oh yes indeed. Go ahead, make plans. God smirks at planners.

Here's an example: As the rain swirled around us, we nervously played under a tent. We and everyone else had just dashed from a golf course where hand-of-God lightning bolts were flashing all around. Loud thunder, wind, rain, but the guitar-flute duo played on. Good times. Wet, miserable and playing bossa novas. This is the life. The dream.

Another:  This place was remote, one of those "Where in the hell are we?" West Virginia residences. I remember driving on this dirt road and wondering when we would see a house, any house. There appeared, propped up on hill, was one of those fancy get-away-from-it-all-but-let's-have-it-all kind of homes.

The guests were seated outdoors to watch the sunset as the wedding ceremony was to unfold. Great concept, but rife with problems. Several nightmares: the evening sun was still in blinding and burning mode all the while legions of ladybugs and bees hovered and swarmed. On cue, we began the processional, but not a bridesmaid in sight. When the first bridesmaid appeared, she walked an absolute lethargic pace, taking a good ten minutes. The gap between the bridesmaids was another ten minutes and so forth.

Meanwhile the guitar-flute duo was in sheer agony as we played Pachelbel's Canon until my left hand went numb and her lip deadened. Watching the well-dressed people, already sweltering and sun blind, swatting at the massive insect cloud above them was surely not what the glorious "ah" moment the wedding planners had envisioned. It was Dali meets David Lynch on a codeine jag.

Why then thy glum face over the latest gig?

FYI: Our bride was laid-back, casual and sweet.

In a nutshell, this is what happened:

My partner, the flutist, days from hand surgery, had just taken off her cast. She was very nervous and had some worries about playing and the gig in general. She was right.

My amp had gone south about two weeks before, so we had to use her amp. Two instruments and one amp isn't ideal for clarity.
Despite my casual attire of no tie or jacket ( I hate suit jackets), sweat was pouring from my head.
Giant mosquitoes moved about, looking for victims.
Soon after we got the hardware in place, she discovered that the pickup had broken. I called for Super Glue and a Glue Stick was delivered.
I used it before realizing how ridiculous and fruitless it would be to glue metal to metal with a fucking Glue Stick.
Scotch tape was used in order to "reattach" the flute pickup to make the playing time of 5:30. This caused a terrible hum in the amp.
Of course, since we are the entertainment, most people take a glance at us (some choose to stare-they nothing better to do), but when the entertainment are obviously having problems, it feels a bit like being in a play when things are going terribly, terribly wrong.
All the while, I sense my partner is getting a little close to hitting the panic button. I was irritated, but panic was not going to come. I wouldn't allow it. This is a wedding-one of countless. No need for anxiety.

Experience tempers the temptation to panic. Plus, the musical duo is so much better doing a solo act because we serve as reality check and emotional support for each other. We have to have each other's backs.

Proof positive that guitarists do show up at weddings.
Sidebar: Musicians are invisible are these functions. Li-Li has to sidestep the constant threat of having her flute smashed into her mouth. Guitar playing also involves the ability to dodge the herds, to keep the neck from being stumbled into, and keep playing. I have actually been accused (via a threatening letter by a lawyer) of not showing up at a wedding. Yes, that's how much I matter at a wedding.

Tuning was a real issue as flutes go sharp in heat and strings tend to destabilize. Luckily, my tuner  helped to keep the guitar from sounding like a watery turd. But despite this, Li'Li's flute declined to be pulled out any further and so we couldn't agree on tuning. Nice.

To conclude:

After all that hassle, I suggested, "That was enough ass kicking for one day." Two ice-cold Blue Moons were slipped out in a purse and two sweaty, beaten musicians drank them with gratitude. Hooray for cold beer. The cheap panacea for badly beaten musicians.
What comment is it when a cold beer is the best part of the day?

I confessed to L that quitting weddings altogether had crossed my mind. They are handy for some gas money or a nice meal, but they have become so soulless that it is merely a professional, robotic act. Giving a damn left me a long time ago. I mean, I would never deliberately play poorly at a job, but that's what it is-a job and nothing more.

Will I simply say "no" and stop playing them altogether? Or will I be like Rumpole of the Bailey when Rumpole declares that he's quitting the bar, due to some financial windfall, but despite all of his noble sounding words, returns to chambers the next day looking for the dreary dog-ends of a case in magistrate court?

It isn't as dramatic as all that. I am at a very different stage in my "career" now. Play for the sake of playing-that's my credo. No slogging out the hits for the sweaty loud bar crowd. No late night jam sessions at open mike nights. I leave that to the young and hungry go-getters. God love them, they deserve a chance.

 Not quite at the point of dismissing all these soul-sucking gigs, I'd rather concentrate on writing music and gigs that reward the artistic, not the commerce side.

For now, I will grumble, but will not abandon the possibility. The fee should be set at a rate where, should all chaos break loose, we can walk away with a decent bit of change for our hassle.

Time to think about a new amp.


Anna said...

Weddings can be a challenge but many of them are a lot of fun. I think the key is to get into a partying mood and help everyone else do the same. Often those inevitable mood swings have to be overlooked in the spirit of being one of the party people at the event.

eclectic guy said...

While I see weddings as a great joy to those concerned and in no way do I begrudge anyone their enjoyment, the joy for me is going home.

Preferably with my pride intact and money in my pocket.