It's happening

It's beginning to happen. I can feel it every time I sit down at the piano. I forget everything. I sit down to practice my little solos and I can't remember chord changes, I can't picture the chord shapes, I can't see the whole piece. All I can see in my mind is the face of the head of the music department looking uncomfortably at the floor. I can see Charlie Gray, the co-chair, slumping back in his seat making tsk tsk noises. All of my scales terminate in plunky noises toward the top. My arpeggios are uneven and marked by spiky wrong notes. I lose my place in the middle of my own arrangements. I feel like I'm standing in front of a dam that's springing little leaks. Every time I plug a leak, water shoots out another one. It's never ending. And the hours slide by like they're slipping through a funnel. Fast and slow at the same time. There's the guilt when I'm anywhere but in front of a keyboard. The longer walks I take around campus and the money I spend on trifles only serve to postpone the moment when I have to sit down and concentrate. Concentration doesn't yeild results, it yeilds more anxiety. I have a constantly warbly stomach. I can't shake the memory of last term, when I blanked out in the middle of a piece and had to stop, my eyes burning. I get angry with myself. I yell and pound the keyboard. I forget things outside of music. I was a basket case in Seattle, on the last day of our little tour. Joe can attest. I forgot names, destinations. I would carry on whole conversations but only be thinking about one thing: juries are coming.

Speaking of our little tour, we had a brilliant time. Sadly, we had to undertake the journey without our guitar player. But we covered nicely. Joe, Bob, Anthony and I were a perfect team. There was the Eugene show on the first night at the Downtown Lounge, a club that looked like someone burned down a Red Robin restaurant and turned it into a singles meat market. It came complete with a red velvet pool table and walls decorated with psychadelic naked pictures. It was a hippy porn shop that served chicken strips. A jazz band was playing ahead of us (inspiring more jury anxiety). Apparently they didn't know there was a band on afterward because they played overtime. We went on late and played to the six or so of our friends who came to support us. We had the time of our lives. And then, the next night in San Francisco, we ate sushi and became reunited with Anthony and my best friends Ron and Chris, who stood in front and cheered us. This time the club was very crowded. The band Climber from Portland got the whole room feeling good before we went on. In LA we interrupted a minor celebrity photo shoot by arriving too early and poking our heads in. We were taken aback when they told us to come back precisely on time for the load in. They run a tight ship in LA. If it had been Portland, they would have told us to come back "whenever". There, at the Lava Lounge, our friends again joined us. I had trouble with girls that night (boyfriends boyfriends) and the rest of the boys sat and drank and we contemplated how lucky we were. Joe was feeling sick, so he slept at the motel while we watched a skinny primping boy try to seduce a strange blond lady. He was only one of her many suitors. In the end, she left with another guy, though he tried very hard. We met Gary, the foppish English bartender who treated us to his rendition of our fake English accents. His impression of an American doing a fake English accent was impeccable. I thought Nigel Tufnel had walked into the room. There was more. The headlining band was incredibly LA. I couldn't get over how absolutely perfectly they played. Not a flaw. They looked, smelled, ate, probably even crapped like the band that accompanies make out sessions on shows like Dawson's Creek. There was nothing wrong with them at all. It was spooky. Almost inhuman, actually.

In Canada I was thrilled to meet in person the acclaimed artist Marian Churchland, who brought a couple of friends and helped us to feel less lonely. She and her friends were excellent, and I really enjoyed hanging out with them. We played at the Marine Club, which was an old private club in downtown Vancouver. The place was pretty full of people. They Shoot Horses Don't They were a noisy, poppy, refreshing break from the LA bands. They are new Kill Rock Stars recruits. Let's hope they never lose their heads. We got our car towed the morning after the show and had to trek across Vancouver to recover it for only $50. Had that been Magic America, it would have cost us $250. Oh Canada! In Seattle Bob and I saw Death Cab For Cutie from the wings of the Paramount Theater as guests of our good friend Adam Zacks. The Stars opened, and they were excellent. I also went to see the Goblet of Fire with Joe's sister's cute roommate who has a boyfriend (AARRGG! Who is this Boyfriend person? Why is he taking all the girls? Or is he only snatching up the ones I like? That's another post) We had lunch with the inimitable Alina, our booking agent without whom none of this tour would even have been possible. Our show was attended by a crowd of six: Joe's sister Broehe, our friend Scott, his girlfriend, her friend, and a couple of stragglers. Plus the openers were loading out while we played. But did we care? Not a STITCH. We went up and played as if there were 1,000 in front of us. I took time out to dedicate the set to every band who has ever groaned or moaned about touring. There are those who bellyache about playing to 1,500 and there we were playing to 6. 1500. 6. Who, I ask you, has more right to groan? But we weren't groaning. We felt lucky. Our record had just come back to us from the manufacturers, and we felt lucky to even be there. So we made a point to connect to whoever was there. We're on a tiny label run by a guy we adore in a town we like, working with a booking agent we like. That's the point isn't it? Well, no, not really.

You see, I thought about something later that night. I've overheard some people say that they're making music for themselves. I hear my contemporaries defending themselves with the words "I'm making music for ME, not YOU." But you know, I discovered something when we played this time around. Something I've always felt, but couldn't articulate, or was ashamed to even if I could. Bear with me for a moment, but when I was in community theater as a kid, our audience was made up of kids much younger than we were. After a performance of, say, A Christmas Carol, we, the cast, used to head around to the front of the theater and sign autographs as the audience was filing out. I remember little 4 and 5 year old kids coming up to me wanting autographs. I, myself, was only 12. They would stare at us in our costumes in awe. We'd entertained them, you know. But more than that, we'd given them an escape, made them feel somthing, I don't know. Something. Then fast forward to a few weeks ago, when Blanket Music opened for the Decemberists. I was onstage looking out at the audience and thinking how young they were. Some of the kids in front were, like, 15 and 16. They were looking at us to give them something. To make them feel something. That was inspiring. And when I thought about giving them something, I played better. I had more fun. I made them clap along. They responded and enjoyed themselves. I gave those little kids something so many years ago, and I gave those younger kids something a few weeks ago. I hate to sound all Celine Dion or Disney or something, but I can safely declare here and now that I'm not making music for me. I'm seriously making music for them. Those few people out there. I'm making music for them. If they want it, if it'll help them or change them, or just entertain them or whatever, they can have it. My music is theirs. I don't care who they are: frat boys, punkers, tweekers, geeks, whoever. I'll give it to them. I want to give them something. A gift. Is it presumptuous of me to think of the music I make as a gift? I don't know. Who cares? The point is I thought about these things every night of our tour. I thought, fuck it, I'll sing for them, not for myself. And you know I had a great time as a result. I was motivated to play better, because it wasn't for me. I was at my best because I was giving and not hoarding everything I had for myself. There was never a time onstage when I didn't feel in command (except maybe the first night). I wanted to give them my best; make them laugh, give them some music, even if they were small in number.

So there it is. My music isn't about me. I'm not making music for myself. I'm making it for other people to enjoy. I mean, I already enjoy it. I like the stuff I make. I've had my time with it, now I want to polish it up and present it to them. If they want it, it's there, if not, well, it's still there. Okay, I've said enough. I'll stop now.
I think the California air in which I'm typing this is making me all loopy. Or is it that juries are coming?