Friday, August 7, 2009

The Rock and Roll Life with Steve

Last Monday my buddy Steve Blunt sent me an email that asked if I wanted to go for a hike or a bike ride after our show in Franklin on Wednesday.
My first thought, naturally, was, "We have a show on Wednesday?"
I consulted my calendar and found it blank. I consulted my wife and she was similarly blank. As I geared up to write Steve a bitingly sarcastic, witty, hard-hitting response about his apparent inability to use something so simple as a calendar, I checked the letters I had sent out to libraries.
August 5, Franklin Public Library. 12:00.

My somewhat revised, somewhat less acerbic, somewhat more humble email went something like this:
"Sounds good. I'll bring my bike. See you there."

We arrived at the library–a delightful old building that simply dripped with character–and began loading in our stuff. I've been visiting schools and libraries for almost 12 years now and Steve has probably been doing shows for as long. What I am always struck by during our combined shows is how much stuff Steve has. Drums, microphones, horns, guitar, ukulele, CD's, and all the other paraphernalia that make the world of rock-n-roll the glittery spectacle that it is.

I, on the other hand, have some books, some paper, a laptop, and a projector. I need more stuff, I guess. Steve, on the other hand, needs roadies. Instead of which, he has me. For the meantime, and until I get my pyrotechnics all set to go, I will have to live the rock-n-roll lifestyle somewhat vicariously, absorbing and reveling in as much of Steve's reflected glory as I can.

My favorite part of performing these shows with Steve, and he will hardly believe this, is his almost obsessive dedication to getting the set list just right. The songs we play, the stories we will tell, and the order in which they will happen are, to Steve's credit, something I suspect he considers for about 22 hours a day. He loves what he does and wants each show to be perfect.

I love what I do, as well. However, I need to sleep sometimes. Before each of our shows (usually about 2 minutes before the show) Steve will pull out one of the dozens of note pads he has secreted in his belongings and he will show me the set list he has worked up for the day's show. To my untrained and ignorant eye, it will look strikingly similar to the last set list and the one before that and the one before that... But Steve will have made a few tweaks and changes. He will have reasons for the changes and they will always sound reasonable to me, so I blithely agree.

Then the show begins and Steve will have an inspiration. Between songs he will casually walk over to me and quietly tell me that he has just thought of a great addition to the set list. "I'm going to play this new song that I made up last night," he'll say, "I know you've never heard it, and I haven't quite figured out all the lyrics, but I think it will go really well here. Just play along."

Then he will casually walk back over to his microphone and begin playing a song he wrote the night before and I have never heard. He'll smile at me and silently urge me to jump in and start playing.

In spite of the fact that I am a drummer and thus, musically handicapped in the most profound way, I can usually sit there and pound on a drum in a reasonable simulacrum of competence. When the song is over he will then introduce another song, not from our set list and ask the audience to sing along.

These shows, I must admit, are thrilling to me every time. When I do my own presentations at schools or libraries, I use an electronic slide show to illustrate what I am talking about. I love giving the presentations, but they really don't vary all that much from one presentation to the next. I know what I'm going to talk about in advance and what order I will talk about it in.

A show with Steve is like doing stunt performing. In the words of the immortal (yet still somehow dead) Frank Zappa: Anything, Anytime, Anyplace, For No Reason At All.
And it's a lot of fun.

Sometime, I'll tell you about that bike ride, too.

(I just read this post to my son and he walked away saying, "Okay. Lots of big words you used there." I'll include a glossary next time, Alex.)


Katie said...

This is hands down one of the funniest posts I've ever read. Anywhere!

I must quote you: "In spite of the fact that I am a drummer and thus, musically handicapped in the most profound way, I can usually sit there and pound on a drum in a reasonable simulacrum of competence."

I used to do sound for a band. Your quote describes so perfectly what it takes to be a drummer. Most drummers never get it. So I think that you WILL be able to embrace/experience all the glitter that goes with the rock and roll lifestyle. AND, if you'd just start bringing your whole kit, then you'd have as much stuff at Steve. Easily.

And just when I thought your post was done and could get no funnier, Alex had me rolling around again. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Marty, you have more rock and roll in your left pinky finger than I've got in my entire chubby middle-aged kids' musician body & soul! Steve

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