Saturday, March 22, 2014

Back to School

One of the most common dreams is finding yourself forced to return to school, because you missed some class or exam required to graduate. Surreal though it sounds, I am living that dream.

I once explained how during my Chowhound years, I never actually quit the music business:
At no point did I announce I'd quit. I didn't have time to quit! I just stopped returning calls. I figured offers would still drizzle in for a year or so, then gradually thin. With my massive network of contacts, I'd still get calls for busy nights like New Year's Eve as distant associates, desperate to fill gaps, worked down their lists to me. A fine mist of offers would waft my way for years.

But, as it turned out, within two months my phone went completely dead. The "fine mist" added up to maybe three calls. It wasn't that word had spread about my going incommunicado; my contacts were far-flung and disconnected. Yet within just eight weeks, it was as if I'd never existed.
It was a logarithmic decline, and you know how those progressions go. A day...a week...four months....twenty years.

And, right on cue, I recently received my first work offer from an old colleague in two decades (I've been playing these days with a new circle of players). He wanted me for a recording session for a film score. The recording would be done at a college in Long Island, which I know was once, many many years ago, the junior high school* I'd attended at a kid.

* - youngsters, that's what we used to call "middle schools".

I haven't been in the building since I was twelve years old. So I figured it would be a bit weird. But I had no idea. Yesterday, I was told who's playing on the recording, and the drummer is one Ed Balsamo, my band conductor when I attended that very same school. I haven't seen him since I was twelve, either. And because the school was sold shortly after I left, he hasn't been back there, himself. So I am returning to a school I last saw nearly 40 years ago, where my band teacher and I will greet each other as if time had stood still. And every bit of it is complete coincidence.

Now, if this were happening when I was 25 or 35, that would be a different thing. Childhood would still be gradually dissolving. But I'm freaking fifty! Every part of this is supposed to be ancient history, long ago evaporated (just as I'm not supposed to still be hearing the music of my youth everywhere I go). When I was a kid and my father turned 50, his childhood was a crusted, moldered memory....not just for me, second-hand, but for him as well.

I guess it can be chalked up, in part, to increasing lifespan and persistent vitality. When I was a kid, people at age 70 (my teacher's age) were more or less finished. My father's long-ago band teacher certainly wasn't hustling his drum kit to recording sessions. Another factor is that most 50 year-olds weren't ranging around quite as widely as I do. They settled in - a process I defiantly resist.

But still, damn, this is weird. And wonderful.

The other interesting thing about Ed Balsamo is that when I was a kid, I thought he was the best technical drummer I'd ever heard. Of course, all the professional musicians I met at that point struck me as titans and heroes, and once I turned pro myself, and bumped into many of them professionally, I was disappointed to find that more often than not, they were just sort of okay players. I suppose this disenchantment was the standard experience of growing up.

But I've heard recordings of Balsamo over the years, and, even having had the pleasure of playing with a few all-time great ones, he remains one of the best technical drummers I've ever heard.

1 comment:

D-M said...

Wow, what a time warp - I can picture walking in the front door and turning left for the band room. "Hi, Mr. Balsamo!" Enjoyed your tale (replete with Twilight Zone theme song playing in my head as I read it).

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