Friday, February 10, 2006

2. How Can I Make Repressed Memory Syndrome Work for Me?

There was more foolery yet, if I could remember it.
——Julius Caesar,

I remember a mass of things, but nothing distinctly.

Do you ever look back on moments in your life and wish you’d been taking notes?

What I'm getting at is this. In every life there are a few times when one says to oneself, “I am going to remember this as long as I live.” The death of a pet, or, God forbid, a family member. Getting your driver’s license. Graduation. Your first job. Getting married. The birth of your first child. Et cetera. And that's nice, but chances are that those aren't the moments you'll actually need to remember. No, those moments, more often than not, seem trivial and mundane when they're happening. At the time, of course, you have no awareness of their future importance. Then, days or months or years later, you're left scratching your head and asking yourself, "Now what exactly did so-and-so say to me?" I remember my anniversary, but quite often in my marriage, that fact has been less important than whether I remembered to pick up margarine at the grocery store.

Which more or less brings me to my point: There are things I'm going to relate in this tale that I wish I could remember better. For example, I'm not entirely sure about everything that happened the first time I met Q.

Q. was the manager/executive producer for the band, Loudmouth Worshippers, that B. had invited me to join. (I hope this anonymity thing doesn't make my story too confusing. I've racked my brain for a nickname for this guy, and Q. is as good as anything else. It reminds me of the meddlesome, omnipotent being portrayed by John De Lancie on "Star Trek: The Next Generation." The Q. in my story wasn't suave or brilliant like that character, but he was meddlesome, and seemed to think himself omnipotent.) After I had declared my interest and exchanged a couple of phone calls with Q., I was invited to a recording session.

You know, I'm not going to tell you Q.'s name,* but I'll tell you a little bit about him. He runs a Bible software company, but at present I'm not sure how active it is. Its Web site has been little more than a placeholder since March 2005. He also has an independent record label, but so far the only projects he's officially released are compilation CDs. Several artists and bands have been "signed" to his label at one time or another, but as far as I know, he has yet to release a full-length CD by any of them. He also purports to run a film production company, and I guess we'll just have to wait and see whether the film he's working on ever gets finished.

To earn his daily bread, Q. runs a small company that purchases and resells secondhand office equipment. I'm sorry I can't be more forthcoming about his identity, but we've all seen what happens to people who leak too much information. However, if you're a young worship musician who's recruited to play at the Olympics with the next hot band in Christian music by someone who seems to fit my description of Q., here's my advice: read every word of every post on this blog. Then and only then will you have the information you need to make your decision. And if you don't decide to run screaming for the hills, at least you can't say later that I didn't warn you. But I digress.

Now where was I? The recording session was to be in a studio on the campus of a church in North Seattle. I remember wandering about the grounds carrying four or five instruments and talking to Q. on a cell phone until I figured out which building it was. Q., his wife, E. (OK, that's enough initials), and B. were there, and there might have been one or two more band members. I am pretty sure that things seemed disorganized, because that's how all the recording sessions were: charts missing or in the wrong key or not having all the chords; working on songs that weren't on the list I was given before the session; being told, "Oh, we're going to redo some of those rhythm tracks you're playing with" or "We're going to add a cello to this" (in which case it was impossible to know how my own tracks would fit in with the final project); and lacking a sense of what the arrangement was or what the style should be for each song.

In the first session and the several that followed, I was often playing on songs or arrangements I had never heard before — which can be OK if the charts are accurate and the arrangement and style are understood, and a big waste of time if they're not. Pro session players quite often record stuff they don't know, and many of them are good enough to nail it on the first take. I wish I were that caliber of player, but I'm not.

(In all fairness, I must say I've played on worse sessions. The worst was probably the first one I ever did, for a singer-songwriter in L.A. [this one, if you're wondering]. Our time slot at the studio began at midnight, because it was cheaper then. She was a completely self-taught musician and fairly talented, but she had no musical vocabulary and neither did her engineer. I don't even remember whether her charts had any chords on them. Not a problem if you've got a great ear, but I don't — I have a so-so ear. Anyway, she didn't like what I was playing, but she lacked the capacity to tell me what she wanted me to change. I think I tried for about three hours before I gave up and went home, and in that period we might have gotten 30 seconds of tape that ended up on the CD. But I digress.)

Q. himself was nearly as deficient in musical vocabulary as that singer-songwriter was, but his engineers seemed to know their stuff, and B. was often around to show me things on the guitar if I had questions. Did I mention that B. had written most of the band's songs and that I've always respected his songwriting? Well, more later about that. And more later on what I couldn't have known at the first session: that no matter how much I and the other band members worked on recording the songs, many of them would never sound finished, because Q. was forever pulling out tracks and replacing them with others as we went along.

In later sessions it became clear that Q. was not fond of Celtic-style ornamentation on fiddle solos, which is a shame because they're part of how I play. I had to very conscientiously avoid such ornamentation, which was difficult for me. I played a viola solo on "Be Thou My Vision" and the engineer kept reminding me to leave the Irish stuff out. I wanted to say, in my best Hibernian brogue, "Are you bollocks? It's an Irish hymn, for the love of God," but I didn't. Also, at the second session, I met some of the other band members (at least I think they were members when I met them — but more later about that). I broke into a bit of a hornpipe on the mandolin (not while the tape was rolling), and one of the people I'd just met made a wisecrack about dancing leprechauns.

What I don't remember about these sessions is at which one of them Q. told me about Jimmy & the Pullet Pluckers. And I don't remember exactly what he said, which is unfortunate, because it turned out to be one of those moments when I should have been taking notes.

For the uninitiated, Jimmy & the Pullet Pluckers** is a Christian band from Nashville formed during the recent "swing revival" craze. If you called them the CCM counterpart of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, you wouldn't be far off. But while most swing revival bands have gone the way of Sinatra, the Pullet Pluckers are still going strong, which says something either about their talent and perseverance or about the CCM market's failure to recognize when trends are over. (Please don't get the wrong idea — I would rather listen to swing music than just about anything on modern pop or rock radio.)

But I digress. I had heard of the Pullet Pluckers, although I didn't know their music, so I was impressed when Q. told me they were "one of our bands." That's the only phrase I recall well enough to put in quotes. I remember getting the distinct impression that Q. was claiming to be their manager and/or the one responsible for starting the band. I would later learn that this impression was false. (You can check the band's Web site to see who their manager and founding members are. No mention of Q. there.) But, you will recall, I wasn't taking notes.

In retrospect, it seems unlikely that Q. stated an outright falsehood. The incident was probably an early manifestation of two of Q.'s particular gifts: 1) exaggeration; 2) making vague statements that could be interpreted a number of different ways, but were nonetheless calculated to reflect positively on him and increase his legitimacy in the mind of the listener.

Now if I hadn't been such a gullible chap, I could have gone to the Pullet Pluckers' Web site while his remarks were still fresh in my mind, there corrected my impression, and perhaps even cleared up the misunderstanding. But I did none of those things. It would be at least a year before I discovered the precise nature of Q.'s relationship with Jimmy & the Pullet Pluckers. More later about that. In the meantime I was determined to be part of this band and go with them to the Olympics — snide remarks about leprechauns notwithstanding.

So what's today's lesson, kids? One of two things: either (a) carry a notepad with you at all times and write down what people say to you, because you might need to recall it later on; or (b) if someone tells you something about himself that sounds both impressive and verifiable, by all means do try to verify it — especially if you will be placing significant trust in this individual in the future. If you succeed in verifying the claim, the individual will look all the more impressive because of his truthfulness. If you succeed in disproving the claim, then you will know you should either ask for clarification or put your trust elsewhere.

*For some reason Q. himself uses a pseudonym in letters to the editor as well as in press releases on his own Web site.

**To protect the innocent, I'll do what I can to ensure that the names of actual, existing, legitimate music ministries are not dragged unnecessarily into the story.


At 11:08 AM, Blogger P Scott Cummins said...

Opa! What an adventure!


Post a Comment

<< Home