Friday, May 25, 2007

Freakin' Killer

Encouragement is a mysterious and wonderful thing. It can take odd forms and cause insanely great things to happen. A word or two here, a knowing nod from a respected mentor there, a slap on the fanny from a coach in the seventh inning... tokens of appreciation that can have long lasting effects.

I have a small, closely guarded collection of accolades, most of which I forget regularly. But whenever I can bring a compliment into present memory it really helps me to move forward with whatever task I'm trying to accomplish. Now that I'm writing about this of course I can't bring to mind any particulars, except for a few humilty inducing bits of wisdom from years past, to wit:

In the mid to late 80's I tried being a commercial bandleader for a minute. Discovered that I hated dealing with party planners, mothers of the bride-to-be and other such vermin, but that's another story. At that time many of the female singers on the local circuit concentrated on standard tunes from the Tin Pan Alley era with a few pop ballads thrown in. The gigs we were doing at that time were moving more towards classic rock, Motown and contemporary stuff and I couldn't seem to find a singer or two who were available and who had some of this music in their repertoire. So I did the only logical thing - started singing in self-defense.

Now, I had no illusions about how I sounded vocally. I could more or less sing in tune and "sell" songs like Twist and Shout, Roll Over Beethoven, Louie Louie - you get the idea. But I certainly was no "singer". Two humorous events from this era come to mind.

The first took place at some private party, probably a wedding at some crappy banquet hall in the suburbs. We just had finished a pretty grueling set of lord knows what godawful dance music when up to the bandstand came this fairly attractive young woman. I figured she wanted us to do The Chicken Dance or the love theme from Towering Inferno or some such chestnut. But no, she has ventured up to the bandstand to tell me, get this: that I have a "great" voice. I started to laugh, thinking that she was in on the joke and just wanted me to know that I was successfully pulling it off. But no, I could see by the look on her face that she was sincere. I was floored. Flummoxed. Speechless even.

Sometime later my longstanding drummer friend SJA recounted this story to me: She was talking to a mutual colleague and happened to mention being on a gig with me where I sang some tune that had come up in their conversation. The third party said, "Oh, I didn't know Bill sings." Whereupon my dear friend, without batting an eyelid, comes back with "Well, you wouldn't know it to hear him." An unpremeditated and unsolicited testimonial to my vocal prowess. Love that girl!

There's a terrific stage play which I saw many years ago at the old Victory Gardens Theatre here in Chicago. It is called "Orphans" and is nominally about a gangster with a heart of gold who stumbles into the life of a couple of orphaned brothers. The man was played by John Mahoney, long before his Frasier days. It was the role of a lifetime for him; I bet he would agree with that. His character in the play offers the boys a chance to move beyond the small, sheltered lives they've been forced to lead by the absence of their parents and their fears about what the world "out there" must be like. All he can really offer to them is "encouragement", which takes the form of putting his arm around the younger brother, who had never before experienced the human kindness of a father. Something as simple as that - draping one's arm around a kid's shoulder - can have life changing results.

My friend H told me she thought the writing I've started to do here is "freakin' killer" and that's what's got me back here today.