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smokin'
we're gonna play you a song, a little bit of rock-n-roll
by adam kraemer (@DryWryBred)
5.10.10
music

“I have to tell you, I’m kind of nervous,” he confided to his friend.

“I get that.”

“I practiced, like, two hours a night every night for the last week.”

“I get that, too.”

“This beer is helping.”

“I get that.”

He ran through the music once more in his head. Da-ta da-ta d-d-d-da-ta…

The band on before them was just finishing up.

“I need another beer.”

“I’ll get that.”

Thanks.

He looked around for the rest of the guys he was playing with, most of whom spent a lot of time on stage, in various bands, and all of whom had played together at least once or twice prior to that week. He was the odd man out. Not least because he had chosen to wear a t-shirt that said “Keyboardist.” It did help that he played keyboard.

The rest of the band showed no outward signs of nerves, though he figured they probably felt it, too. Was two nights’ practice enough? Do these guys remember the changes? Did I practice enough? Is there time for another drink?

He chose not to grab another drink, though, thinking it might hurt his digital dexterity. Digital dexterity? Jesus, if I’m thinking things like that, maybe I do need that drink.

The guys started walking up to the stage.

Show time.

Or, rather, grab your keyboard stand, keyboard, bag with music stand, and sheet music and try to fight your way through the crowd in order to spend ten minutes setting up and running sound check time. Thank God for the two scantily-clad women dancing on boxes to either side of the stage. It did tend to draw attention away from the frenzied cord-wrangling and outlet-finding.

When his friend the D.J. had shot him a Facebook message the previous week asking if he’d like to play with a one-night-only Southern rock tribute band, he leapt at the chance. He’d been playing in bands since high school, but wasn’t currently involved with anything, and so, he joked, he sat at home and played with himself.

He joked.

Now, looking out over the seething mass of audience, he failed to see a face he recognized, though he was unsure as to whether this was due to the lights facing the stage, his own nervousness, or the fact that since his birthday he’d pretty much given up on having more than 5% of his invitees actually show up for anything, for the most part.

He readied his ear plugs, the first time he’d ever bought them, in his shirt pocket. Following the second rehearsal two nights earlier, he’d noticed a distinct ringing in the ear that had been facing the studio’s PA speakers. So this is tinnitus, he’d thought. And knowing that he’d likely be standing next to the drummer or in front of an amp (or both), he’d stopped off at CVS that afternoon and found a box with ten pairs of CVS-brand ear plugs guaranteed to … work, or something.

He would have checked the decibel reduction level, except that immediately after grabbing two of the earplugs, he’d dropped the entire rest of the box behind the stage. Smooth.

When he’d been sent the set list, he was happy to see a number of songs he knew and a couple he didn’t. He trusted these guys’ taste in music, so the ZZ Top song and the Blackfoot song he assumed would be good. He downloaded them when he got home and was not mistaken. Of the songs on the set list that he owned, he was tickled to note that one of them was by a British group (Bad Company) and one was by Boston. So much for Southern rock. Though it sounded like a Southern rock collection, sort of, maybe.

And he’d known the song – played the chorus in his head – yeah, I could see how this could pass for Southern rock. He’d made a playlist and uploaded it to his mp3 player.

“Play a note and keep your keyboard volume up,” the sound guy told him. Okay, but that sounds REALLY loud. Maybe it’s just that the monitor is loud. He again realized how long it had been since he’d played live with a band. He also realized that he probably should have gotten the display on his keyboard repaired some time in the past five years, as he couldn’t see if he was using the right sound bank. He had developed a couple tricks to figure it out, but still.

He’d realized two things while listening to the set list for the first time on his earphones:

  1. Only three of the seven songs had keyboard parts – two contained an organ and one a piano. So that’s only three songs to practice up. No worries.
  2. The Boston song had one of the most intricate organ solos he’d ever heard in rock music. He had no idea why he’d never noticed that before. Probably his brain protecting itself from ever considering the need to have to learn to play it. Worries.
“Well,” he wrote his friend on Facebook the following day, “at least you guys didn’t give me the hard Boston song.”

That night, he used an editing program to cut down the song to just the organ solo. He then created a playlist on his mp3 player that consisted of just that song. In order to avoid saving over the original version, he went to the file data and renamed the band “Help Me.”

He listened to it nonstop.

He tried to find the music online. The free music sites offered only the easy guitar tablature for the verse/chorus part of the song. That’s why they’re free music sites. He tried a number of searches that first afternoon and kept coming up empty-handed. Finally, he located a site that had the full song, in multiple instruments. And proprietary software that he couldn’t install on his work computer.

So he e-mailed the link to himself and installed the software at home that night. He then paid his $3.99 for limited use of the file (no downloads, print it twice, no copying). He opened the file on his computer. Lookin’ good. And his printer ran out of ink.

How do I get this file from a computer with no printer to a computer with a printer, but no software? He screen captured every page, pasted them together in PhotoShop and created a PDF which he sent to his work e-mail and printed it out the next day. He felt proud and nerdy. Maybe I won’t be telling the heavy metal rock n’ roll musicians about this, he thought.

The drummer sat down next to him and said something funny. At least he thought it was funny. The drummer was a funny guy. Actually, all the guys in the band were good guys. He’d really enjoyed playing with them. And they’d been impressed with his playing (or at least said they had). He noticed a seat next to the drummer that just had a cup of water on it.

“Mind if I sit here?” he asked. “I’m only playing the first three songs.”

“Not at all.”

He’d actually tried to get the first and second songs flipped, as THE SOLO was currently part of the first song and he was worried his fingers wouldn’t be limber enough. However, the woman singing the second song claimed to need to warm up her voice, and, he understood, the vocals are more important than the keyboard player’s 45 seconds of AAAAAAAAAAGGGGGH. Especially when the vocalist is ripping apart (in a good way) the Allmans’ “Whippin’ Post.”

Two hours a night. That was how long he’d played that organ solo. Over and over and over and over and over and over again. He eschewed his friends. He skipped the gym. He purchased weird little adapters at Radio Shack so he could plug both the mp3 player and his keyboard into his amp and listen to them simultaneously on his earphones (so the neighbors wouldn’t string him up by his toes). Over and over and over and over and over and over.

He knew it. He had it down. It wasn’t note-for-note the original, but he’d had less than a week and he was pretty happy with the results. There was even a part where he switched from organ to harpsichord and then back to organ again. Without his display working, no less. It sounded good.

Here goes nothing, he thought as the drummer counted off the opening rhythm. The first two verses were keyboard-less, and he wasn’t sure if he should pretend to play, or what. Did it look weirder for the keyboard player to just be standing there, or for him to be playing without any sound at all? He chose an odd sort of hybrid half-playing. At least his “Keyboardist” t-shirt told people who he was. Because his standing behind the keyboard not playing might have been misleading.

And then the second chorus was coming to a close and he had a trill coming up that led into THE SOLO. Bidilabidilabidilabidilabidila … and then the lights went out.

And the instruments kept playing. Okay, um… Bidilabidilabidilabidilabidila … I can’t hold this trill forever … and here we go. Into a scale. That I can’t see. It’s really dark. Maybe I can do this. Stevie Wonder does it all the time. And another scale. Maybe that’s an A. Maybe I can take my phone out of my pocket and shine it on the keys. Maybe I don’t have to. I can totally do this. Wait – no, no I can’t. I totally can’t do this. I don’t even know how to turn on my harpsichord.

And then the lights came back on.


ABOUT ADAM KRAEMER

A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.

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COMMENTS

dr. jay gross
5.19.10 @ 12:52p

Holden Caulfield was a little more redundant in his mind-stream pattern. I think I can find a good used keyboard for you...cheap.

tim lockwood
5.20.10 @ 1:59a

My experience is, there are two possible positions for a keyboard player in a band. Either you're the part-time guy who is there mostly as a selling point for a "versatile" band and to play on three or four songs; or you're the big-dog owner of the band who manages to create a keyboard part in every song the band plays, even "Back in Black".

Bass players have it so easy.

adam kraemer
5.25.10 @ 10:36a

That's why I have a t-shirt that just says "Keyboardist."



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