Friday, August 01, 2008

"The Office" (workstation series) 104 (next chapter edition)

Moving toward the next chapter here: 1st day of the last month of summer vacation (and, considering that we return at an unconscionably early date--Aug 25--due to state regulations, it's a damned short month). You can feel the dynamics in a college town change, as kids start trickling back, the sports teams report for training camp and the band rats for band camp, the med-school kids start cranking up for whatever is the next round of marathon exams and certifications, and--even though it's still 95 degrees and 10 per cent humidity--the leaves on some of the trees start turning.

For me, it means that the long, long list of departmental chores, goals, and initiatives that I've been noting all summer has to start going live: new stuff in assignments, teaching assistants, curricula, departmental procedures, you name it. I don't mind doing that stuff at this time--I'm one of those types who always arrives 5 minutes early for appointments, compulsively avoiding "being late"--but I've wanted to refrain from dumping it on my staff before they should have to think about it. Now's the time when they have to start getting back into the zone, though.

And, it's time to start the next chapter on this blasted contract writing project. I write a lot, and my publication record is good, but contract writing is probably my least-favorite format. Not because there is any problem with the collaborators, editor, or publisher, but just because I have to write to somebody else's deadline and, even more, to somebody else's format and mode of procedure. Those can all be the most reasonable, clearly communicated, effective and efficient methods possible--and I'll still feel antsy and woodgy about following them. I guess I just don't play particularly well with others.

On the other hand, I did get a second chapter of the contract writing done ("Sound": Fiddlin' John Carson, "Old Dan Tucker"; Bessie Jones, "Sheep, sheep, don't you know the road?"; Joe & Odell Thompson, "Georgie Buck"), which is always a good feeling. And four days of writing with those three tunes on iTunes "Repeat One" loop, and I produced fourteen pages of text. That's how brilliant those musicians were.

Another note: further to the ongoing audience-rant series:

"It ain't no bucket of blood":

Reflections on the Thursday night blues gig. In a playing situation where the listening-factor is too low, one of two things can make the playing more bearable: either other musicians to play with—at least you can play for each other—or else a solo/unaccompanied approach where you can just play for yourself (easier to do with instrumental music, which semiotically requires a lot less response from an audience than does vocal music). I’ve described in the past what an uptight SOB I could be in 1970s coffeehouses, and how much inattentive audiences drove me nuts.

The weird thing is that, in the 1970s, you had three scenarios in an acoustic gig: quiet and attentive because there were less than a dozen people in the audience, crowded and inattentive (the typical bar), or—rarest—well-attended and attentive (usually reserved for the quasi-deist avatars of the fading ‘60s Folk Revival—the Joan Baez syndrome). Yet in the new millennium, there’s a fourth dynamic, revealed by the typical pattern at the Thursday night gig. We (or I, solo) play 8:30-10pm. The place is typically quiet and relatively empty when we come in, and then fills up quickly with people talking, interacting, working on the computer, drawing anime, mass-cramming for exams, whatever “those damned kids” do in massed coffeehouse crowds. And we’re playing more-or-less inaudibly and more-or-less for ourselves, wondering if anybody’s actually hearing it.

But then, you get to the end of a song, and they all, without missing a beat in the conversations, start to applaud, and you think “shit, I guess they are listening,” and then you start the next song, and they all go back to talking, interacting, computing, posing, or whatever the hell it is they’re doing. And then, at the end of the gig around 10pm, you quit playing, and they all pack up their computers and split. And you think “jesus, they’re actually showing up specifically so that they can talk with the music going on.”

And that gets me thinking of other situations I’ve known where, even if nobody is sitting entranced and listening, the music is actually making a crucial contribution to those peoples’ experience. Given that I was playing ragtime and blues tonight, it made me think of the juke joints, the places in the Delta, usually near crossroads, where poor folks could go to drink, dance, eat ribs and fish sandwiches, and blow off steam from the week. It’s where people like Robert Johnson and Johnny Shines cut their teeth listening to Charlie Patton and Willie Brown.

And you know what? If it was good enough for them, it damned sure oughta be good enough for me.
Now playing: Blind Willie Johnson - John The Revelator
via FoxyTunes

1 comment:

Dharmonia said...

Amen, brother. Great post.