Monday, November 28, 2005

The Dotted Line

Even as a child, I always created music. I picked up my sister’s big acoustic guitar, and started strumming a bunch of nothingness at the age of four. When I started going to school, I dabbled into other instruments, playing saxophone, keyboards and then eventually the drums. I was in the school band, playing my saxophone by ear. I couldn’t read music. It was all Greek to me.

My love was the guitar. My mother always bought me those little toy guitars, but I always broke them in half somehow, and begged for another one. I was more interested in an electric guitar back then. I was ten years old at the time. One Christmas morning, my mother brought out this huge box wrapped up in a red bow. It was my very first guitar. Then she came out with another big box, which was the amplifier. That was it! I didn’t want to open another present. I rushed to the outlet to plug this thing in, and started playing horrible music. I remember my sisters all looking over and hearing their thoughts---“Ugh, she’s gonna keep us up all night with that noise!”

Soon enough, my noise turned into rock & roll. I even took lessons for about six months, just to learn the chords—then ditched my teacher, because I didn’t want all the technical mumble jumble. It ruined my love for music. I didn’t want a math class, I wanted to play guitar.

During my teen years, I ended up playing in a band called, “Airborne”. Don’t ask, I have no idea why the guys called it that—they weren’t even in the military. The drummer was the ‘head of the band’. He was from India, and we held all of our practice sessions at his house. His parents had a huge mansion-like house on a hill. The parents made one part of the house into a band room. They had stage lights and professional equipment. I was a bit envious of all his fancy high tech toys, but just grateful enough to be playing there. There were three guys, and me.

The band fizzled out due to conflict of interests, and we went our own ways. The keyboardist, who was a good friend of mine, went off to become a professional jazz trumpet player. I never knew what happened to the other two.

Still jamming in my bedroom to my favorite songs, I was content with just that. I could sit in my room for five hours at a time, playing until my fingers were torn up. Songs from Nirvana, Metallica, The Ramones, Tom Petty, to Lynard Skynard and The Who. Back then, I was a heavy smoker—so if I were stranded on an island, all I needed was a pack of Marlboro Lights and a guitar. I could easily go through one pack of cigarettes if I was engrossed with my music.

~^~CougH~^~HacK~^~

Madelene and I met, and started living together when I was twenty-three years old. We lived in a really nice condo one town away from my parents. My interest in the electric guitar was fading, due to my change of interest in music. I was more into folk music. I was missing one important thing—an acoustic guitar. I remember playing everyone else’s acoustic guitar and thinking, “This is what I need…”

One night, Madelene walked in the door with the groceries while I was cooking dinner.
“Honey, can you help me with the packages?”
“Huh? Oh---okay.”
I said, grudgingly walking out the door, leaving my pot of Italian sauce to burn the bottom of the pot.

I walked outside and almost bumped into this large case.

“What the?...........No………No!...............Oh my God!!!”

It was a huge guitar case with a big red bow on it. I grabbed that puppy and ran inside, just like the first time my mom gave me my first guitar. To my surprise, this was my ‘first real acoustic’----on top of that, it was a twelve string! I was so unbelievably happy. I couldn’t even speak. It was beautiful. It sounded incredible. I didn’t sleep that night. I played that guitar until I fell asleep with it on my lap.

I began writing songs. I never wrote songs before. My first song was dedicated to Madelene. I continued to write and compose. I couldn’t stop. That first year, I had a book full of songs—maybe a hundred; possibly even more. Each tune was on a small recorder because I couldn’t ‘write’ music, nor read any of it. I had to keep my lyrics and keep my melodies on this small recorder.

One day, my sister hands me this ad from the newspaper. There was a female singer looking for an acoustic guitarist. All her musical influences spelled out D * E * B... I called immediately.

“Hello?”
“Yes, hi, my name is Debbie, and I’m calling regarding an ad in the paper for an acoustic guitarist that’s needed.”
“Yes! Hi! My daughter is looking for a guitarist. She’s a talented vocalist, and needs someone to play for her.”
“Oh…Great, well, I’ve been playing quite a while, and I play the same music she is interested in. May I ask how old your daughter is?”
I asked, curious as to know why her mother was taking her calls.
“She’s eighteen years old.”
“Oh.”
I said, almost in a disappointed tone. Even though I was only twenty-three years old, her age sort of had me at a halt.
“Can you stop by to see if you two mesh okay together?”
“Sure.”


Ah well. I decided to go. I didn’t think much of it, what’s the worse that could happen, right? I brought Madelene along with me for the ride. I didn’t want to go alone. I pulled up to her driveway. She lived in an old beautiful white colonial house. Jessica, the eighteen year old vocalist came walking out. She looked very eccentric. She was beautiful. Her hair was dark red, with spiral curls. She wore her hair up, with tendrils brushing against her cheekbones. Her eyes were a dark green color. She was wearing a beautiful flowery dress; almost something from the sixties; yet trendy. She had a Tori Amos look to her as well.

“Hello, I’m Jessica.” She sang to me. No really. She spoke in a melody-like tone.
“Hi, I’m Deb.” I said, as I shook her delicate hand, “This is Madelene, I hope you don’t mind I brought my friend along.”
“No, not at all, this is my boyfriend Jeff.”
As she pointed to this tall guy, with his head shaved in the back, as his hair was way too long in the front, covering his eyes.
“Uhh…hi.” He mumbled.

Jessica and I played for months. We took turns going to each other’s homes. My home turned out to be more efficient since there was no ‘mom’ to come bashing through the doors asking, “Well girls??? How’s it going? Anyone for some pie???”

Total stage mom. Way too into our music. I could just tell. She would beg to sit in sometimes and Jessica would lash out in this bi-polar wacky psychotic way,
“MA! GET OUT NOW!”

Okay. This was starting to get scary now.

Jessica and I would head out to open-mic night at my friend’s bar. The owner never asked for id from one of my new friends who joined me, because he didn’t have any idea that one of my friends would be eighteen years old. We sat there with our other friends, drinking beer and listening to all the other musicians. We were not ready to play out yet. We sounded great on our tape recorders and to our friends, but how would we sound if we were to get up there and play for the entire bar full of drunken people? No one even listened to the bands up there—they were muffled out by the loud voices and piles of mugs clashing together.

While Jessica was on her fourth drink, she started blabbing away about how her and I were playing together to the guys sitting at the end of the bar. She raved about how talented her guitarist was. Then she pointed to me. Of course I shot back and said how talented she was---and thought that would be the end of it.

“Well you know, this is my open-mic gig, I do this for Frankie (the owner) every Tuesday night.” The guy said.

Moments later, a guitar was flopped on my lap.

“You’re on after this guy is through.” The guy said. I looked at Jessica and wanted to slap a dishrag on her face. Then again, who would hear us anyway, with all this noise?
“Jessica, I am so not ready to play in front of everyone.”
“Oh come on Deb! Let’s do it! Let’s go into the dining room where it’s empty and practice a song. We’ll play just one!”

We practiced, “You Were Meant For Me” by Jewel about two times in the dining room, while the Mexican workers in the back came out to hear us—playing for only them. They clapped when we were done. Was this a good sign? Or were they merely trying to be nice? I didn’t know.

They placed two bar stools up on the stage, and dimly lit the stage with a blue light. I couldn’t see anyone anymore. I was not only drunk, but I was blinded from this blue hue piercing my cornea at this point. My legs were rested upon the lower rung of the bar stool. I then noticed that one of my legs was shaking out of nervousness. How could I play this guitar with one of my legs shaking uncontrollably? It wasn’t noticeable to others, but I could feel the guitar sitting on my lap quivering a tad.

Jessica nodded to me, as to tell me she was ready. I began to play. The guitar sounded incredible, the acoustics in the room were unreal. Then Jessica began to sing. She sounded as if she’s been doing this her whole life, and her stage presence was awesome. The noise in the bar went silent. I peeked at the crowd, and noticed everyone staring at us, not saying one word. Then I saw people coming out of the kitchen—just to hear us play. No noise; just us.

When we finished the first song, people sat up from the chairs clapping, and those who were standing, raised their beer mugs and drinks yelling, “Another one! Play another one!”

We then started playing the list of songs that we practiced at home. Jessica turned to me periodically with an excited smile. I knew she was happy. I was happy. We were a regular gig there soon enough.

Our practice sessions became an eight hour ordeal. We didn’t realize how much time passed by. We were so engrossed with our music, that nothing else mattered. My weekends were consumed with music. All of this, just to play out on a Tuesday night.

Every Tuesday night, everyone came to see us again. This included Jessica’s mother. She sat right in the front and coached Jessica a tad. She even suggested a few things, which irritated the hell out of me. “Go home!” I thought. This was getting crazy.

We constantly sent our recordings out to music agents and anyone else who would hear us. Jessica’s goals were to become famous. My goals were to just play guitar in a bar. I didn’t have ‘high hopes’---I just wanted to play and have fun. I know that sounds as if I’m belittling myself, but it was more of a hobby for me, not a ‘career choice’. I felt bad, because I knew how bad Jessica really wanted to be on “MTV” as she put it.

“Well you’ll see when we’re on MTV.”

Do I even want to be on MTV? If anything, probably the one hit wonder disasters.

Well, after all of Jessica’s perseverance, Ray Goodman & Brown noticed our music. They wanted to meet up with us at one of our homes. We set it up at Jessica’s, because her mother was way too involved. Whatever.

First of all, being a folky white girl, I had no clue as who Ray Goodman & Brown was. They’re the ones who wrote, “I Found Love on a Two Way Street”, an old song that was a big hit back in the 70’s, then also charted for Stacy Lattisaw in 1981. I remember that song, but never heard of these guys. They were famous apparently. Madelene even knew who they were.

The doorbell rings, and Jessica’s mom jumps up as if it was Ed McMahon from American Family Publishers, with the million dollar check in hand.

The two well dressed black gentlemen walked inside and introduced themselves. The mother was more thrilled than I was. I was grateful, don’t get me wrong, but I it didn’t “thrill” me as it did with the stage mama.

“We’re here because we are excited about this song.” He plays his recorder with a song that I wrote for Madelene.
“Oh my dear! Can’t you tell that my daughter is just in love with her boyfriend with that song?” The mother pipes in.
“Umm, I’m sorry, that was a song that I wrote three months ago for my girlfriend here.” I corrected her.
“Mom, that’s Deb’s song.” Jessica said.

The mother gave me a look that would kill. She wanted me dead at this point. She was so angry that I took credit for the song. After all, the only thing I did was write the lyrics and compose the music for it. Hmm.

“This is how you two presented it…” Mr. Goodman said, as he played it in its original format.
“Now this is how we would present it to the record company.” He started playing our song, with studio music enhancements. He practically R&B’d us up. It was different. I didn’t like it. Yeah, it was ‘mainstream-sounding’, but it wasn’t how I wanted to present ‘my music’.

“You do have this copyrighted, don’t you?” Mr. Goodman asked me.
“Copyrighted?”
“Yes. If you don’t, you can simply mail this to yourself, have it dated and stamped—never open it, and keep this in your file for proof that this is yours.”
He stated.

The mother shot Jessica a glance. I went home and copyrighted that song as soon as possible. I checked if Jessica did it first in the files of the copyright office, and I beat her to it. I don’t know if they intended to copyright it at all, but I had a weird feeling about stage mama. Her intentions of possibly stealing my work was evident.

“After you do that, get back to me, and we’ll come back and have you sign on the dotted line. We’ll get you in the studios as soon as possible to record your songs. Here’s what the contract looks like. You can have an attorney look at it, and get back to me with your decision.”

A few days later, I get a phone call from Jessica’s boyfriend—the silent guy who never said a word.

“Deb, sorry to call you, but Jessica’s mother is planning on taking the rest of your music and copyrighting it herself. They play to go through with this on their own. I think it’s shitty on their part and I can’t keep this in anymore.”

Thankfully to him, I sent out all my music---and was grateful to see I was the only one to do this. They couldn’t copyright it any longer.

I called Jessica and told her that I didn’t want to be involved in this any longer. I ended our music relationship. She asked what I was going to do then. I simply just wanted to go on with my life, appreciating music as a hobby. I didn’t want to be dictated by a stage mother any longer. She was eighteen and had a mind of her own---or did she?

I never went through with Ray Goodman & Brown. It wasn’t my dream to become famous; nor to become someone’s guitarist just to get burned in the end. My songs are still out there, for anyone to take a look at---in case they want to buy the lyrics. I’m willing to sell my lyrics, but I am not willing to sign on the dotted line to sell myself short.

As a result, I still play guitar more than ever. I still write songs, and I still copyright every one of them. I sometimes accompany my good friend Alyssa (http://www.bleudogproductions.com/about.htm) when she is doing her gigs on stage. She’ll call me up for a few, and to me, there’s nothing better than joining someone musically---for the mere pleasure of music, and not for the business.