Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What Would You Do For $112.50?

We were just sitting down to a delicious dinner (homemade soup with crunchy homemade sourdough bread, should you be curious) when the phone rang.
"Let the machine get it," I mumbled, soup dribbling down my chin and on to my lap.
Conversation ceased at the table as we listened to the answering machine, curious about who would be so bold as to interrupt our tasty dinner.
"Hey Marty. It's Steve. So, I'm wondering... What would you be willing to do for $112.50?"
I excused myself from the table, soup still dribbling from my lips, and raced to the phone.
The question really is, "What would I NOT do for $112.50?"
It was actually the precise amount, including that provocative fifty cents that intrigued me so much.
If Steve had asked "What would you do for a hundred bucks?" I probably would have finished my soup before returning his call.
But $112.50?
An amount like that warrants immediate and undivided attention.
As it turned out, Steve was inviting me to participate in a performance he had booked.
For the following afternoon.
My buddy Steve is very kind and generous about inviting me to some of the many musical extravaganzas he regularly performs. My suspicion is that he enjoys watching me squirm when, mid-performance, he turns to me and whispers, "You haven't heard this next song before because I just wrote it this morning. I haven't got all the words or the structure of the song totally worked out yet, but just play along. It'll be fine."
Steve is a hardened, grizzled veteran musician who can easily and competently operate under such conditions. I, by contrast, am a hack who occasionally plays the drums for my own personal satisfaction or to annoy my neighbors.
The gut-wrenching panic I feel during these moments on stage with Steve is generally its own reward.
But now he was offering $112.50!
With only one song in the entire set that I had never played before, the performance was much easier and less stressful than normal.
But that's because Steve was using the performance as a clever ploy.
He had asked me to arrive at his house a few hours before the performance because he had a new song that he was working on and wanted me to play the drums for him.
At the recording studio.
In two days.
A song I've never heard before? At the studio? In two days?
No problem.
We sat in Steve's living room and he went over the song, stressing the fact that it was going to have a sort of Bo Diddly kind of feel to it. Rock and roll with a chunky sort of back-beat.
No problem.
We practiced it a few times and it seemed to go well, which really should have served as a sort of early warning to me.
I dutifully arrived at the studio at the appointed hour, expecting a fun-filled afternoon of pain, suffering, and humiliation.
Possibly followed by pizza.
As it turns out, there was no pizza, but the pain, suffering, and humiliation I had expected were nothing compared to what I actually experienced.
Steve breezed into the studio and cheerily announced, "So, I've been rethinking this song and I think it may be better if we forget about the Bo Diddly thing and go with a reggae sort of feel. What do you think?"
"Did you bring Jamaican rum?" I asked.
Steve chuckled warmly and ignored my plea, evidently imagining that I was joking.
Steve played his new reggae version of the song and I tried valiantly to think of WWBMD?
What Would Bob Marley Do?
Of course, the answer to that is obvious, but was entirely out of the question.
I've never been particularly proficient at playing island beats on the drum set.
I trudged into the recording room and spent the entire afternoon proving that fact to everyone at the studio including the unprecedented tour group that wandered through the studio at the very apex of my suffering.
A tour group.
"What's that whimpering heap over there in the corner?" asked one of the people.
"Oh, that? That's just a drummer. He'll be fine." came the answer before the tour wandered away.
Six and a half hours after we had arrived, my 3 minutes and 30 seconds of drumming was all recorded.
I woke Steve up from where he was having a restful nap on the studio's luxurious leather couch, and we made our way homeward.
Next time, I'll think very carefully about what I might be willing to do for $112.50.
And then I'll pick up the phone anyway.

(The video is actually from a previous recording session with Steve. I couldn't bear to share the pain of this most recent one.)

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