Monday, January 13, 2014

Orpheus, Day One

I thought of this, this weekend. I'm not sure why, but it came up in conversation. I had a memory of an excellent moment in parental approach. I'm not sure why all parents don't instinctually do this kind of thing.
Maybe it is a result of most people's constant need to prove they are better than everyone around them -- even their own children. Ah, ego.

When I was fifteen, I put together my first band with some friends. We, in our ambitious young attempts at profundity, named the band after the great musician of myth: "Orpheus."

Orpheus trying to save his lovely
wife from the underworld. (Corot)
We had virtually no command over our instruments, and beyond some piano and guitar lessons, no one really knew what he was doing. I had just started drum lessons, but most of my practicing involved wearing headphones and smashing along with the songs of Rush.

In fact, we were -- hilariously, in retrospect -- exclusively a Rush cover band.

In case you are not familiar with the Canadian progressive rock trio, they are, both by those who like and hate them, widely regarded as virtuosi of their instruments.

Not only did we have the gall to play nothing but Rush covers, but we decided our first attempt would be "La Villa Strangiato," an instrumental piece that, to this day, Geddy Lee, the bass player of Rush, considers the track that pushed them all to their instrumental limits.

So, in short, we must have sounded utterly horrible trying to play this.

When the night came for our first practice session, I remember imitating my dad and mom and doing what that would do when they had rehearsals at the house: I put out folding chairs for the other two guys in the band and set out a pitcher with water, and a few glasses.

The other guys were dropped off by their parents and we went to work, playing for a few hours -- so eager to make music that we never stopped for even a sip of that water.

After is was all over, the guitarist's dad came to the door and my dad let him in. This guy was Italian, still with a heavy accent, and he was short, with a beard, and he usually had a look in his eye. Just a "look." Hard to classify, but is was seldom pleasant. He introduced himself to my dad and they shook hands.

"You must have been in misery," he said to my dad, in front of my mom and both of the other guys.

"What do you mean?" my dad asked.

"I mean, to be a musician of your caliber -- an orchestrator and composer who has worked with great orchestras -- to have to listen to these guys smashing and banging that crap up there for two hours..."

There wasn't even an uncertain beat. "They sounded great," my dad said. "They really were good."

"Yeah, but," the other father went on, determined to get my dad to criticize us, "I mean, that loud garbage they play. You must hate it."

I'm sure my dad did hate it. Nevertheless: "No...really, they pick interesting stuff. Not like the usual popular rock stuff. They really are challenging themselves and I am really proud of how well they did. They sounded great."

"Seriously?" the other dad said."How can you  say..."

"They did a great job," my dad interrupted, effectively ending the conversation. "You guys sounded great," my dad said, turning to us. "When's the next practice? I'm looking forward to hearing you again."

What drives a father to want to embarrass his son in front of a seasoned musician? What makes him belittle his boy's endeavors? It sounds like horrible behavior, and it is, but it is far too common.

All I know is that I recognized something right at that moment, as a fifteen-year-old: my dad "had my back." Never, in a million years, was he going to let someone chop his son down. Why doesn't that come automatically to all fathers?

And guess what... After they all left, I asked his opinion and I got plenty of constructive criticism. One-on-one, my dad was brutally honest. In front of others, he'd lie, cheat and steal to stay away from criticising his kids.


  1. Not only is this a lovely story, but it also made me pine for the days when bands used exotic literary and mythological names to signal their intellectualism to would-be fans. A name like "Orpheus" just screams "six time signatures per song!"

    1. Haha -- yes, was all a bout odd time with us. Later we went on to do a long piece called: "Pendragon." Gives you an idea where our heads were.