Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Day 250: Lesson for the Day: Keep Drivin', Bessie.

Ew, "250" sounds important. The day before St. Paddy's Day,the day after a nice radio appearance with Sue and Peter Smith (bodhran) on WATD, and the day after Brian Haley put some killing conga and djembe tracks on several songs for our forthcoming CD. But mostly, a day on which I feel it is appropriate to write to Mr. Toyota:

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Dear Mr Toyota:

I know that there's a bunch of people out there who want their money back. But I just want to tell you something: I still love you.

Your adoring fan,

The Musician in the Sh$tbox

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Today is a day on which it pays to be a poor musician. One benefit is that you can drive a Toyota that is old enough to be immune to all the recent Toyota manufacturing ailments. And further, that trusty ol' 15-year-old wagon of mine this morning plowed through 50 feet of a 18-inch deep, overflowing swollen river en route to my morning classes at Bridgewater State College. Did she stall? No, she did not. Did she sputter? No, she did not. Did she leak? No, she did not. She just kept right on going, and as I recovered from the adrenaline rush (read: removing fingernails from steering wheel), I found myself humming the "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" theme song.

There's a lesson here. Okay, a metaphor.

Last night, on air, I was driving a virtual Toyota through the virtual quagmire of live performance... that big, flowing river that looks scary as hell. The solution: Close your eyes, grab the wheel, and try not to chant "Don't mess it up, Don't mess it up, Don't mess it up, Don't mess it up, Don't mess it up, Don't mess it up," the whole time you're playing.

When faced with a situation in which you know you'll be nervous... i.e., playing live on radio, or perhaps just being asked to lead a tune at a session.... pick the tunes you know best! This is not the time to get fancy. My humble opinion, but:

What's more impressive than a rare or modern tune is a simple tune played with great heart and solid rhythm.

So that's what I did last night on air. With just me and a bodhran, there's nowhere to hide. Peter Smith is a fabulous drummer; it was me I was scared of. So, to make sure that the performance was good, I decided that the best approach was to play the tunes I've been playing forever. I pulled out the very first tunes I learned way back when I first started playing: Kesh Jig and Sally Gardens, for example.

And you know what? You know Kesh, that first tune we all learn, the one I've played no less than 14 million times? There on air, live to an audience of the uncounted masses, I played the wrong B part first time around.

Oh, God.

But there is always a solution, and for this we thank Mr. Toyota: Keep your foot on the pedal, and keep drivin', girl. I realized immediately that I was playing the B part to a different tune, but I just kept on keeping on, and hoped my brain would come back from Stutter Island on the second repeat.

And it did, but only because I stopped worrying about it. I came back around to the A on the second repeat, all the while wondering if I'd get it right second time around. Mind racing, fingers still playing the tune and not making mistakes, I decided at the last second to just let go, and not worry. In a split second, I was at the B part again, and you know what? I played it right that time.

Good morning class! It's time for your Cliche of the Day:

Keep it simple, silly.

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