Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Episode V: Second Fiddle To The Hair

From time to time when there are actually people interested, I will give drum lessons. I usually don't charge all that much, because it's kind of a competitive field in a town full of hundreds of unemployed graduates of bachelor of music programs who majored in percussion. I've actually attempted that one twice, but dropped out twice after waking up (yes, twice) to the fact that there was virtually no possible way of making a living as a musician. So, one day, in the midst of one of my frequent stretches of unemployment, I went in to some local music stores and asked if they would add me to their list of music lesson instructors they refer customers to. As expected, nothing came of it, and I kind of forgot about it.

Many months later I got a phone call from some guy who worked for a production company. He had been hired by the people putting on a convention for General Motors dealers to be held in Las Vegas. He said they wanted to put together a percussion ensemble to perform on the last night of the convention. I was a little skeptical that I would actually get paid 300 actual American dollars to play the drums, but I accepted, because I figured it would be interesting to see where the whole thing went anyway.

I showed up to rehearsal, which was held at a high school's band room (flood of awkward memories) and started mingling with the other ensemble players. None of us knew quite what to expect. The diversity of musical styles and backgrounds represented was a little interesting. We had a guy who played drums for an Elvis tribute band, a drummer for a smooth jazz outfit, a girl who just finished her masters degree in percussion, a Cuban, Latin percussion specialist, a drummer from a top 40 cover band, and some dude with a thick Eastern European accent with really long dark hair.

It turns out one of the band teachers from the high school where we rehearsed was hired to put it all together, but he wouldn't be available for the performance. He decided it would be best to go in the direction of a drum line sort of thing with the Latin percussion guy doing his own thing on the side, because dang. He was good. We would be accompanying a troupe of acrobats on loan from Cirque Du Soleil. They would be suspended from giant bungee cords, doing their thing while we provided the music.

Most of the other guys were a little nervous about revealing their lack of drum line chops, but I was actually really into it. I spent a lot of time in drum line when I was a kid and a few years earlier in college, so it hadn't been as long for me as it had for most everyone else. All those years in drum line resulted in a serious social awkwardness problem and an overdeveloped and useless skill set, but now, strangely enough, here I was getting offered money for it. I was blown away, and I almost felt a little bit proud to be a band geek. I mean, here I was, getting the large sum of $300 for simply enduring several years of band geekdom at the bottom of the social ladder, where it's 100% safe from any nervous, intimate moments with attractive women. Sure, I had to endure getting spat upon by opposing football fans. Sure, I had to wear uniforms so tacky it almost seemed as if somebody with a grudge against me was doing it on purpose. Sure, I still remember having actual fruit thrown at me by the football players while marching in a parade, but none of that mattered anymore, because I was about to earn a whole $10/hour for approximately 30 hours total of rehearsal, waiting in the green room, and performing in front of hundreds of drunken car salesmen. I'm so glad I spent all of those lonely hours in my bedroom, practicing drum rudiments endlessly on a pillow, instead of making friends.

Due to the fact that I was the only one in the group who still practiced his rudiments, I was made captain of our little drum line, and I opted for center snare. I was accompanied on snare by the smooth jazz guy, who complained a bit about the way the style of music hurt his wrists, but was nonetheless a pretty decent snare player. Top 40 man played quads. The academic percussion lady played bass drum along with a couple other nameless, faceless people. (Completely normal for people who played on the bass line. Sad but true.)

And then there was the Romanian guy with really long hair. He was like a skinny Fabio. He wanted to try playing the snare drum. It didn't really work out. They gave him some trinkets to hit. That didn't work out either. They gave him some different trinkets to hit. It turns out that Skinny Fabio had zero musical ability. We were all baffled as to how he was able to pass himself off as a musician to the point where somebody would actually hire him. They gave him a trash can to hit. No really, a trash can. It seems the band teacher really wanted to let him go, but the guy from the production company said he already signed a contract, and besides, the hair was really good for production value. I mean, his hair was visually stunning. They had to have that glorious hair. Garbage cans don't actually project a lot of sound in large spaces, so it was actually somewhat doable.

We rehearsed way longer than we should have for what they were paying us. All the while we all tried to block out the trash can noise. I really don't know what he was doing, but he did it with such confidence. I fully expect to see that guy on America's Got Talent some day, banging away on that trash can like he's God's gift to the stage, while the judges sit there in befuddled amusement. I'm surprised that "Trash Can Guy" isn't one of the top YouTube videos of all time by now. Is it? I don't know.

The night of the performance, we all met in the green room at the assigned hour and waited patiently for showtime. All of us of course, except for Skinny Fabio. He was dragged in later by the production company guy after spending an hour or so on the convention floor, mingling with the ladies and eating the food reserved for convention goers. It would have made a nice little routine for a Borat movie.

We walked onto the stage. The lights went down. The acrobats on bungee cords took their places. I received the cue from the production manager and counted us off. I noticed the big screens placed throughout the convention hall flashing close-ups of the performers. There was one directly in front of me so I could watch it for the entire performance. For fifteen solid minutes, we executed our masterpiece of percussive showmanship with laser-like precision. And for Fifteen solid minutes, I watched as the image on the screen switched between shots of swinging acrobats and one crazy dude with long hair, banging away on a garbage can in all his glory, while his hair danced around magically, bathed in dazzling light. Stage performance wasn't for me. It was for Skinny Fabio and his magnificent hair.

It's too bad my job as drum line captain at a GM convention was just a one-time thing. At least I got 300 bucks and some comp tickets to Le Reve out of it. The guy from the production company was kind enough to give them to me a few weeks later when he was out of town and couldn't make it. I guess those are just the perks of being a band geek. I know you're jealous. I'm just jealous of that guy's wonderfully silky mane, and I'm still waiting for it to show up somewhere in lights.

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