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Forgive Us Our Trusspasses…

Kathy had to sing at a wedding this past weekend.

At the rehearsal Friday, the bride-to-be informed her that the woman who was to sing The Lord’s Prayer ghosted her, and she — right then — begged Kathy to sing it.

Having grown up COGIC, she said that they never “sang” the song, that they only recited it in prose form (Amelodically, if you will). She came home and told me this, and my heart went out to her. I HATE doing weddings! I have played a bunch of them, and have seen my share of calamitous mishaps.

Like the time I did a wedding with my best friend, Kevin, who sings

The building had three walls of brick and a fourth one of glass. Thirty feet high and probably a hundred feet long. Of course the wedding party would make use of that wonderful view of nature as a backdrop. They were all set up in front of the window.

Everything went smoothly right up until the preacher began doing the vows.

There were, on this late spring day, trees right outside full of birds chirping and singing. Something must have startled them.

In one synchronous move — you know how birds do — they all took flight. It was at a very quiet and solemn point in the service (maybe somebody was praying…).

At the very moment when they would have slammed into the window, all the birds veered right.

All but one.

Now, Kevin and I should have been deep in prayer, I’m sure, but we weren’t.

One near-sighted bird missed his turn and hit that window like an open hand —SPLAPPA! — and, just like a cartoon, slid down about twenty feet to the ground. It was very quiet in there.

My boy and I were THROUGH! He sniggled and tried to catch it but didn’t. I think some snot came out a little bit. I held my breath and started praying myself like somebody had sprinkled some anthrax in the room. People started looking at us. Glaring at us. “Silly musicians.”

In order to play it off, at times like these I always start fiddling with my mouthpiece, or my reed, or something to distract me from all the laughter that is dammed up inside my mouth. It was cool in there, but I was sweating and thinking that if I closed my eyes no one could see me.

There was another time where this arrogant lady singer who thought she knew it all and didn’t bother to show up for the wedding rehearsal, and she waved off any pre-ceremony run-through with the piano player. As a matter of fact, she said haughtily that she would be doing the tune a capello. When it all got going, she got lost, and with her hand at her side, waved for the piano player to start playing. He flipped through the wedding program, and acted like he didn’t even see her!
When she got through dropping that stinkbomb, you could have heard folks thinking up in there it was so quiet!

So, back to Kathy…

I had a gig and couldn’t be there as intended, but I couldn’t stand the thought of my girl up there laying eggs and getting laughed at. So we spent hours trying to get that melody ingrained in her head. I found some clips of people on YouTube singing it. Some were good, some were… not. But we found two that were good enough to give her the gist.

She sang it, and sang it, and sang it. And Max started to pick it up, too. Kathy kept running through it after I left for my Friday night gig, but by the time I got home at about 2 AM, she groggily told me that the melody just didn’t sink in. I sang it with her, and she did fine, but when left on her own, she was sort of all over the place.

I was feeling bad, but I told her that since I had prayed for her, she would do fine. The Lord didn’t want her to be up there messing up the song He wrote!

I had an idea! I would write the words on paper, and put lines above each syllable to indicate whether to go up or down, or to stay on the same note as the one before. Like such:

We tried that for a while, but as she doesn’t read music, and the lines above the words didn’t tell her what notes to sing, it didn’t work. And she was now falling asleep.

I had one final epiphany: I went into the living room and got my old micro-cassette recorder (which I still use to write horn lines), re-wound the tape to the beginning, and sang the song in a key in which I thought she would be comfortable. I went and woke her up and gave her my plan knowing she wouldn’t go for it. It was too risky.

The wedding started. Kathy was in the back left side of the room by the DJ table. When her turn to sing came, she took her ipod earphones, stuck one in her left ear under her hair, away from the crowd (She could do this because their backs were turned until she got going.), she ran the cord down the side of her dress somehow, and plugged it into the mini recorder which she held behind her back, looking all formal and stuff! She pushed play.

“Baby! We sang that song!!” she told me on the phone afterward.

“We? Who else sang it wit you?”

“YOU!! I said ‘we’! I hit that button, and we rocked it! You got a little ahead o’ me at one part, but I just waited till you paused, and I caught up wit ya!”

She was so happy. And so was I. I couldn’t let my baby fall.

Yeah, she cheated. WE cheated, but I can’t help but think that the Lord was leaning on the windowsill chuckling at His kids.

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September 3, 2008 Posted by | Christian Life, Christianity, Embarrassing Situations, God, Humor, Life, Marriage, Music, Singing, The Lord's Prayer, Wedding Songs, Weddings, YouTube | , , , , | 6 Comments

Niagra Without that First “A”

I was a nigra Saturday night. A good ol’ fashioned, 1932 model, down home, Jim Crow, Miss’sippi nigra. If that offends you, imagine how it offended ME to not just READ it, but to LIVE it.

I play a lot of wedding receptions in the “Band I Don’t Want to Be In.” I hate playing them. The music is cheesy, the clothes are uncomfortable, the stigma itches, and we usually are treated coldly.

Most of the functions we do are white (as a way of denotation…) because for some unknown reason, black folk usually don’t have enough money, generally speaking, to pay a fair wage. We are ALWAYS hired by white folk.

The bandleader books most of our gigs through an agency. There is, on their website, a long list (photos included) of acts available to do any type of function requiring entertainment. Prospective clients can choose who they want.

The gig in question was at a country club. Yes, I hate playing at country clubs, too. The pictures on the walls NEVER have any black faces, as all of the members over decades have always been white. (A young debutante named Cybil Shepard was in one of them) It makes one of my particular hue wonder why we are viewed as we are… The wait staff is ALWAYS all black. Always. Not good enough to join, but good enough to cook and clean. Still. Thank God that God values service over status! I know we’ll fit in in Heaven.

Here’s where the rub is: As soon as we began to play, the bandleader stopped us, “Hey, hey, hey, y’all! When we git through playing, don’t nobody go eat none of the weddin’ food! We been told they got a room for us around in the back, an’ they gone bring us some samwitches to eat. So when we git through playin’, less jus gone to the back.” It may not have been as Stepin Fetchit as that, but it was real close!

I have played hundreds of these things over the years, and when this happens, it is clear what is going on! It is usually offensive enough to me that we are totally ignored until we play some “Motown” or the dreaded “Mustang-doggone-Sally”! (Who made that song the Beethoven’s Fifth of this era!?!?) We don’t even exist. But even then, most folk have had the decency, the courtesy, to let the band partake of the buffet! It is almost understood.

I must tell you that in my younger days, I was what would be — and was — considered militant. Militant not in a racist sense, but in the sense that I didn’t overlook acts of injustice, racial or otherwise. I never disliked white people, but I disliked CERTAIN white people! I was always Christian.

I would be the victim of some mistreatment or another and would try to rally friends to rail out with me and I would only get the chirping of crickets… and a cough from somewhere in the back of the room.

So, now I was hot. I was already frustrated at having to be here, but now I was in Medgar Evers mode. (Keeping in mind that I was to work as though for the Lord, and that this was somebody’s wedding day)

“So they want us to play music for them,” I thought, “They want us to display our natural gifts of rhtyhm and daincin’, but we can’t eat their food, or even remain in their regal presences once we finish?!” I was sure it would have been better for them had we simply vanished through the bottom of the floor rather than walk through the crowd to our quarters!

I’ve done gigs with this band where we were told to eat in the kitchen! (You better believe I didn’t eat in nobody’s doggone kitchen!) And I have done country club gigs where Amos and Andy tapes were stacked on a tv on the stage behind the curtain. This stuff is more the norm than most would care to admit.

So I walked, fuming, past a wasteful embarrassment of victualage to a room around in the back of the building to water, cokes, and– fifteen minutes into our break– cold-cut sammitches a pickle spear, and some random ruffles in styrophoam containers.

That was the black eye. This was the dirty word: After all that, after all the specific warnings not to mingle or eat, while we were performing the second set, a waitress was sent to the stage to tell the band, “to be sure not to eat any of the cake” when they cut it!!

Didn’t we already know this? Weren’t we capable of taking a hint in the form of a brick to the head? Did we not see the disdain with which we were held? The upturned noses? The downturned mouths? Why did they even hire us? Why not hire some white guys to do all these black songs and not have to worry about us ogling the young girls? “Don’t eat the cake!” I knew where I wanted them to put the cake. Prob’ly wouldn’ta fit though… But I only thought it. This Christian bit in my mouth…

Here is what made it worse for me: I am no stranger to this kind of treatment. But there were at least two members of my church in attendance. The church I rave about. This is no indictment of the church or the people. I know that any human organization will have to get the oil changed or the head gaskets replaced from time to time.

I met one member who was very nice. I didn’t even recognize him since we are growing. He thanked me, and complimented the band.

But there was another guy whom I knew by name. I see him and his wife at church all the time. He works with the the kids sometimes and is crazy about Max. When he passed in front of the stage, I thought, “Hey, I know him!” and tried to make eye contact. He “didn’t see me.” And he kept right on not seeing me the rest of the night. Even though — aside from the newlyweds– we were the focal point of the whole deal. I am the tallest guy in the band, maybe in the room, but he didn’t notice me. Or seemed not to… I just wanted to wave.

Now as the night played out, I thought: this is the world he REALLY lives in. Not the one where races are forced to live out the Gospel. Not the one where issues are lain on the table, splayed open for autopsy.

In this world, the only faces that matter are the paler ones, unless tanned to brownness from a trip to Cabo or Greece. He would probably not have recognized the waiter serving him who manicured his grass either. In this world we don’t exist unless we are on the news or approaching down a dark street or booming bass in the adjacent Crown Vic at the red light.

Maybe now I know how God feels… to not be there until and unless there is a problem…

Whether my church member ignored me or not, the problem was that he was, by appearances, friends with these people. Or a business associate. But he was in lockstep with the behavior that had us in the band — including my friend Marc who is white– feeling so less-than. This may sound unfair, but it seems that lately people are being held accountable for their associations, so… 

So here is where my activism kicked in. On the second set, we played “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” and during my solo, I shoved my horn way up into the mic and played boldly, “Weee Shaaall Overco-o-ome”! Dadgummit! On somebody’s wedding day. Guys in the band were howling! “He crazy, man!” The bandleader wasn’t laughing, though… Only a tight nervous slash of a grin/grimace. Even if I swing and only hit air, at least I swung.

On the second break, I noticed that the guys were huddled together outside, and when I approached them to see what “revolution they were cookin’ up,” I found that they were only telling a dirty joke about… well… a dirty joke.

Once again in the face of injustice, we were content to just let it slide. Once again when presented with the opportunity to strike a blow against racism, we found stuff to laugh about instead.

That, I think, is what has lead to the mistaken assumption that black folk aren’t hurt by things like being slaves or being poor and uneducated. “They are so resilient,” they say, letting themselves off the hook, “Look. After a whole day of whippins and work, they jus’ huddle under the sycamo tree an’ sing Spirituals. See, they’re po as dirt, but they still tell jokes and jus’ laffff! They don’t care what you do to ’em, they jus’ shake it off! Our nigras are happy.”

Maybe I should just let it go, too. But I rock these kinds of boats.

 I told them that I had to do something. So when we went back for the third set, we were told by the coordinator to announce the departure of the bride and groom. As they were leaving, I got on the mic and said, “Save me some cake! Is it okay to git some chicken fangers now? Can I have a couple of wings?” No reply. A small gesture to be sure, but they heard me, and they were exposed. I know it was a little bit unprofessional, but I had to let it be known, as I always say. It was kind of like dealing with a roomful of hecklers. Sometimes real life gets in the way of the minstrelry.

The bandleader was not happy that I did that, but the guys were.

As was said by Marc, the bandleader could have put a stop to that kind of thing a long time ago. All he had to do was tell the booking agents that if those kinds of requests were made, book another band. I don’t need your money. I don’t need the kind of money that comes with cork smeared all over it.

Yeah, I was a nigra Saturday night. According to them. I can live with what they think. But can they live with their secret shame knowing God, and now we, know?

 

May 19, 2008 Posted by | Arrogance, Christ, Christian Life, Christianity, Music, Race, Racial Reconciliation, Racism, Weddings, Work | 8 Comments