Having come into possession of a beautiful fire-engine red Fender Telecaster I suppose I’ve gone a little nuts. My brother has had a band for years and I invited myself over to sit-in on a couple of rehearsals. I barely know some of the songs and since I don’t read scores or number sheets I just go by the key and watch the lead guitarist to work my way through as something of a rhythm guy.
So after two rehearsals, that were like three weeks apart, I find out that we’re scheduled to do a local cable access spot (no names or places here to protect everybody including the innocent). There are times in your life when you should be scared. Particularly when you know you aren’t ready. My fear instinct, I suppose, has totally failed me.
So I arrive at the local cable access station (located in a rural Tennessee county seat). Just off the "square" and in sight of the courthouse I park my ragged old workmobile. It just so happens that there is a music store nearby which is something of a hang out for young musicians. I guess they were musicians. One had a twelve string guitar and the others were interested in looking at my Tele. They all have some extra metallic bits installed at various points on their persons.
I don’t mind showing them the guitar. I’m kinda proud of the little thing. We have a little shop talk about guitars and music and then I walk up the street a bit to the cable access station. We are scheduled to go on at 8 p.m. I was there at 7 p.m. so everything seems OK. I mean, I am as prepared as I am going to get.
We are in "Studio B" basically an old vacant storefront which, when emptied of all furnishings has enough space for a band to set up. There is a small platform, which I suppose is for the drummer, but the dimensions will just not contain the instrument and our designated thumper. Well, he’s not a little guy but that really makes no difference.
No matter. The drums are set up just in front of the little platform. The rest of us find plugs for powering up the amps. All this goes fairly well. At least everything seems to work. There are audio and video monitors just in front of us. We tweedle and tune for a while and then run through a couple of tunes while the station guy hooks up microphones, checks channels, and does some spot checks with the video cameras.
Pretty soon it is eight o’clock and the setup is just not complete. Well, schedules slide, you know, so we keep tweedling and the station guy keeps fiddling with cables, cameras, microphones and channels.
At 8:30 p.m. things arrive at an abrupt milestone. On in two minutes. We’re scrunched together with the drum set because there’s not a wide angle lens and we have to pack tight to fit in the TV screen. I'm looking at our play list and I’m pretty sure that there are two or three that weren’t practiced when I was there. I have the key from the play list, but the lead guitarist is on the other side of the drum set and a large cymbal is cleverly positioned so that I can’t really see what he’s doing.
I’m still not afraid. Concerned, but not afraid. Adverts are now running on the monitors in front of us. A little discussion among the "long timers" of the band decides the order of the songs. And I thought we’d just go from the top to the bottom. How naïve.
I am wedged just behind the drummer, between him and the little platform that couldn’t. The last advert clears and there we are on the monitor rocketing out at the speed of light to local cable access fans everywhere (in the local cable area, that is). While we were "tweedling" I could hear my little Tele clearly. I soon discover something I didn’t know about drums. From directly behind they are LOUD.
So the first song is going. I don’t look at the monitors because I’m busy trying to figure out what the tune is and what chords I should be delivering on the little Fender. I strive. I struggle. Sometimes I’m there. Sometimes I’m not. Sometimes I can’t tell. This goes on for five songs. And then…
Commercial. I take a breather because now I’m a little tense. I knew all of the first five songs, but now there are some looming for which I have not a guitar clue. I decide on a plan of inaction. If I get to the point that I am really screwing up, I will just quit hitting the strings. I don’t want to actually turn my volume knob off because, well, I am on TV and somebody might notice.
The "long timers" again decide on the next songs. I don’t catch them all. Two minutes goes pretty fast sometimes so we’re are going again. Again: I strive. I struggle. Sometimes I’m there. Sometimes I’m not. Sometimes I can’t tell. But I hang in pretty well. I don’t think I did anything that couldn’t be reasonably described to a non-musician as some sort of artistic musical expression.
Commercial. You also have to realize that the TV guy is still fiddling with all the equipment while we’re doing the first two sets. In the second set, the guys singing can’t hear themselves, so staying on key became a challenge. The little storefront is a relatively small space with no sound deadening, so for us things are bouncing around a lot. Taking stock of the tenseness of the rest of the guys makes me feel much less like a total screw up. We are in the same boat and we are careening down a cascading waterfall of modest TV history.
Wow, two minutes is no time and I’m sweating a little now. Cold sweat. And it’s not cold in Studio B. We’re into the third set and I’m holding my own. But then there arrives a song for which I have no clue as to what to do. The key helps not at all. Time for plan B in Studio B. So I pull a Millie Vanillie (who cares how they spelled it) and wave my pretty little red Fender guitar pick just as if I were actually striking the strings. Like John Prine I could’ve been "nominated for a Tony for acting like a phony". I guess it really is like telling a lie, but better to lie than totally screw up on TV.
We come to a point where I think we’ve finished. That’s the word from the TV dudes. So we, the band, are kinda standing around viewing the aftermath of our little adventure cascading down the waterfall of modest TV history. But then…we need to stretch; two more songs. Things are really quick now because most of the two minutes of commercials is already gone. I have, at this point, entered a stage seeming weightlessness.
I somewhat recognize the titles of the next two songs. A modest encouragement. Everybody’s gotten a little tired now, so we’re working hard but I’m not sure to what effect. No matter. We forge ahead just like the unpaid professionals that we are. Finally. Commercial.
And so the show ends. It’s late, a weeknight, and I’ve got to be in early the next morning. Oh how the stars align sometimes. I hang around and talk some even though I have an hour drive to the house. The band’s overall opinion of the event: flawed. The continuous messing around with the TV equipment would probably result in poor audio. But, then, it went out live so there was nothing to be done at this point. The consensus came to be that the band fought the good fight but was probably eaten by the technical difficulties lion. Hey, we play for free so there will be another day.
I later heard an independent assessment. "You guys looked good, but the sound was all distorted!"
I am now totally at peace with having to fake it.