Thursday, May 17, 2012

Song Stories

In the new phase I'm going through of not caring so much about what people may think of me or what I choose to do, I'm finding some liberation in the notion, as if now I don't have to work so hard at keeping up some sort of front that projects who I really am. In the end, the front itself is as fickle as the audience, the front only acts as a shield to keep one from possibly getting hurt. In placing my new attitude into action, I'm finding my thoughts contrary to my expectations, examining values such as loyalty, truthfulness, and the nature of hope. Yesterday, I read the poem, The Genius of the Crowd by Bukowski, which was a smattering of truths and contradictions, pessimistic and hopeful at the same time. My thought was how little effort it takes me now to read a poem, that I relish in what might be contained there, feeling victorious in the notion to read and glean meaning from a poem is now a habit that has taken years to develop, but a habit that is difficult in ascertaining, like fishing on a hot day when the fish are not biting, but developing the patience to wait until the evening comes, when the fish will rise to the surface and ponder the movement of a fly.

Last night was a great night at The Embassy Suites. Although the first hour was hot, (and I'm outside) when the air has just enough moisture, I feel like I can sing anything and hit any note that I want to, and songs that I've been memorizing at night are coming into the set list one at a time. Since seventy-five percent of my song list are sad songs, I've been trying to learn some more up-beat songs, (If you can call The Boxer an upbeat song). After Levon Helm died I learned, The Weight, which is a strange song, but on the inside of it, a really fun song to sing. I always wondered what the song was about, so I researched the story. The first line, "I pulled into Nazareth, I was feelin' about half past dead…" is not about the place where Jesus was born, rather it’s a town in Pennsylvania where the C.F. Martin guitar company resides. The story is about a traveler, (presumably a musician) who makes the pilgrimage to the famous factory and encounters some very strange people in the town. (I love the stories behind songs!)

When there is song I want to learn, recently, I have to memorize the music and the lyrics without playing it. If I play during the day, my fingers won't last the night. I try not to listen too many times to the song, (mostly on Utube) so that when I cover it, I can do it my own way. After I learn it my own way, I go back to the song to see how far off my cover is, or if the lyrics are right. I usually try the new songs out during the first hour of the session, before there are to many people. Last night was one of those nights where one large table all sang the chorus with me to 'Hotel California', which is always fun when people have just enough alcohol to get them singing. On the other hand, I had a night last week where the party was more than a little drunk, and so the singing was a little obnoxious. Still, as long as no one is throwing punches or beer bottles, it works great. If I have a party of people at this stage, (where they are having fun and singing) I will throw in one of my own songs without saying, "This is my song," so that I get a truthful reaction to the song. It’s the best gage of knowing what you have in a song, truthful audience reaction. 

I've also been paying attention to song requests, and most of the time, even though I might not know the requested song, I usually know either something else by the artist, or something that closely correlates. I was told last night that the general manager really likes what I am doing, and they may be willing to buy a PA system that I can just keep there. Apparently, I'm also getting lots of great comments by the hotel guests in the service questionnaire, so that is boding well for the little gig that is turning into entertainment. Fifty percent of the time, I am playing ambient music for people drinking, talking, and dining, but there is the magic hour (its usually the last hour) where I can stretch out, talk some about the songs and give more of a concert. This is also the hour where most of the tips come, so I always save some Cat Stevens, Neil Young, and Johnny Cash for this hour. I have had more twenty-dollar tips from Folsom Prison Blues than any other song! It doesn't matter the age or nationality of the audience, everyone knows Folsom Prison Blues. I think Johnny Cash hit upon a song that everyone somehow identifies with, the notion that at one time, everyone has the thought of "What would it be like if I were in prison?" Everyone becomes a tough guy or gal when that song is played. I think it’s a lot like going to a Clint Eastwood or Jason Stratham movie, when the movie is over, everyone comes out swaggering, as though they have become Dirty Harry or The Transporter.

The greatest thing about a hotel gig is that most people are there and out of the element of regular life. Either they are on vacation, at a conference, or a smattering of other reasons, but most of them are in a good mood. That really helps the music work. Working a hotel also makes you feel like you are out of town or on tour, and I love the bustle of a big hotel—people moving, taxis coming and going, room service carts going up and down elevators, the splashing of the swimming pool, the extra large hotel kitchen filled with chattering cooks and servers, and the wonderful scenario of playing music for the guests as the sun drops behind me into the west.


Gerry said...

Gee, this entry made me wish I could go get a job singing and entertaining the guests in a hotel setting. I think it sounds like a lot of fun. I used to so envy singers, thinking they have the most fun, that is if they are not too timid to let the world know they can sing and they want to entertain you! I think you could learn to be a great actor just singing for your supper at a traveler's inn. For there is a little drama contained in every song, and if it is a song request that adds another element to drama to try to imagine. So enjoy this job while you are doing it. And don't be afraid to experiment!

Anonymous said...

I want everyone to sing! And have fun. Including me. I enjoyed hearing about the work when on the job.