Sunday, November 19, 2017

An Immodest Proposal

I've been a musician of some kind for most of my 63 years: guitarist, bassist, keyboardist, composer, teacher- and even conductor on a few occasions(my stuff). And for the most part, it's been quite a fun ride. I've gotten to play in a wide variety of venues, all over the country and even in a few others(Canada and Japan). I've made CDs of my own music and even sold a few copies to folks all over the world. And I've taught guitar and bass to a lot of people over the years, some of whom have come back to tell me how I helped them. 

All good things. Rewarding things. Okay, I would like to sell more CDs than is the case- but then a lot of people are in this boat with their wares, musical or otherwise. But really, no regrets. At least not in these areas. Even though they've fallen short of my expectations, I'm okay. 

Strangely enough, the one aspect of musicianship I do have regrets about is playing gigs. Not all gigs, mind you. Just the ones for the general public, in bars and clubs- where you're up on a stage for all to see. 

It goes back to adolescence, which is when most of us take up an instrument for the first time. I started on guitar just a month before my 12th birthday, and not long after that was playing in various bands with my fellow fledgling musicians. Endless band rehearsals, where we'd prepare our stuff for that magic moment when we present our show to whoever will listen(and hopefully throw a few bucks our way- or at least free food). Our first gig(s).

This is also the age when puberty sets in. All that testosterone(or estrogen, as the case may be)bombarding your system.  And all those new  feelings in all those new places. These things become inextricably woven into our early musical experiences. The mystery of new sounds coupled with the mysteries of sex- of life!

Of course advertising does a lot to fuel those fires- and has been going on long before the British Invasion. I've seen ads from the 40's and 50's promising instant popularity upon learning to play the piano, or guitar, or drums. So that carrot has always been there, just in different form. 

   Beatlemania greatly modified the carrot, morphed it from the small coterie of Your New Friends listening to you play the piano to being chased by hordes of screaming teenage girls. To the adolescent male mind, screaming(or at least willing)teenage girls is what Heaven must be like. Well, at least to this adolescent mind..

Even though they weren't screaming, we had a few teenage girls of our own who'd come watch us play- just as they might go to a basketball or football practice. We would feign nonchalance(under the guise of being cool), but still be playing our damndest to gain their approval- and maybe a few other favors thrown in. 

From there, we kinda learned our roles. Some of us had more talent, and took to the musical end of things more easily, which usually meant being more featured in the music. Some were better leaders, which usually meant the best 'business' head. And as far as meeting the girls, some  were more Leading Man material(the right height, looks, attitude), while the rest of us  better fit the bill of Character Actors- or at least supporting roles.  

Of course, the optimal role would be Leading Man who's also a blazing talent- but we're all good at different things.I always had a knack for music, so I emerged there as one of the more talented ones. Still had to work my tail off, but it came easy to me. In the other department, however, definitely a character actor. 

In the movies, the character(or supporting)actor can conceivably get a girl, just not the girl. Possibly one of the Leading Lady's slightly frumpier friends. So it's not really in the cards the way it is for the two leads. I guess that's just one of those things you have to accept, being a character actor. 

But somehow I never could. I always wished I could be a leading man, who always gets the girl(at least for awhile), even though I was way too short and not quite fine-featured enough to qualify. As far as I was concerned, I was still entitled to those benefits, just by virtue of being me and playing in the band. So I felt cheated, even though I knew better "intellectually"..

 Of course there have been a few successes in there. Like I said, the character actor, even though he lacks the "universal" appeal of the leading man, can still attract a female or two. So I have had ladies who fancied me. One I even married. And during these married/involved times, playing gigs was unequivocally fun, since the mating ritual aspect of it was already taken care of. I even had some offers during my marriage. No I didn't follow through, but was flattered nonetheless.

 Unfortunately, I've been alone far more than I've been with someone. So there have been many nights on the bandstand when the mating-ritual was not already taken care of, nights when I wanted to meet someone and either got shot down or just not noticed.Try as I may to minimize my expectations, I still feel disappointed. 

It's a problem. Not a life-shattering problem, but a dissatisfaction. Something that ain't right in the Land of Rog.

Okay, we're halfway there. When you have a problem, you have two basic options. One is to stay in the situation and try to fix it. The other is to get the hell out of there. I've tried the first one, by being decently dressed and groomed- even lost a pretty good beer gut, with a little work(and no beer)-and by keeping my expectations low if not entirely non-existent.  Unfortunately it doesn't seem to make a difference. 

So I could exercise the second option and just get out of gig-town altogether. I considered doing this back in 2009 or so, when I was playing-a-lot-but-not-meeting-anyone- at least until my 'relationship status' changed. Not one for making any proclamations, I just decided to suck it up, and keep plugging along. Despite the lack of 'social benefits', playing music is still great fun. 

According to my main man in psychology, the late Albert Ellis, most of the time the best solutions involve compromise. So I continue to play gigs- the playing is enjoyable, I like the other musicians and the audiences(despite the dearth of interested women). But I do a lot less of them, and avoid those for the general public- lest I start feeling like I'm not getting the full benefits package. 

This seems to work.  Fewer gigs means there's more novelty in doing them, and with that, you're concentrating on the basics: your sound, your playing, and fitting in musically with the others. I still try to look okay, and am still bereft of abdominal protuberance, but am too involved with the freshness of the situation to worry about what are really ancillary concerns. 

But I have a far more elegant solution than simple avoidance, even though it may sound a bit hare-brained. At this point in life, I no longer need the money from gigs to survive. I'm not rich but I'm not poor either. Got enough coming in to cover things, so the gig money is always extra. Pocket money. Hang in there with me, this gets better. 

Not needing the money means I could play for free. The bandleader doesn't need to pay me in money, which means he could pocket it or split it among the others. I'd still want to be compensated for my efforts, only(this is where it gets good- or maybe just weird)I figure they can pay me in social benefits!  

In other words, they could take the money they were going to pay me, and take at least a part of it to buy drinks for some woman with the proviso that she take at least a casual interest in that short guy playing the guitar. From there it's up to me, and her, and the planets aligning just right. If it doesn't work, at least I got the interview. If it does, then problem solved! (The only thing is I'd probably want to get paid for any gigs after that..)

During my working years, one program I was involved with was WOTC, or Work Opportunity Tax Credit. It offered tax breaks to employers who hired individuals who were Veterans, ex-felons, on SSI or other public assistance, and a few other categories I can't remember anymore. This bears a great similarity to my idea of getting paid in social benefits, since the employer(in this case, bandleader)gets a break in hiring me. Less money he or she has to pay out, even though some of it may have to be allocated to whatever woman they buy drinks for. 

That's my 'immodest' proposal(with apologies to Jonathan Swift).  Sometimes there's no real solution, so a creative one like this at least imbues it with humor. And I remind myself that relationships are great when everything's working, but there's a lot of work in maintaining it. And then there's getting what you don't want, which is actually far worse than not getting what you want. 

So I count my blessings, such as they may be. I'll be okay bach'ing it in case nothing happens, but I haven't given up. If Alan Ladd can be a Leading Man(okay, with a little camera help), so can I.

Those "backline" gigs where they want you to set up in a corner and provide background noise are fine. There's usually very little interaction between the 'crowd' and the band. Plus, they usually feed us. And with no one really listening, we're free to play what we want, so long as we keep the decibel level at a certain low-enough point. I leave with money in my pocket and food in my belly- and hope in my soul if it was a good playing gig. 



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