By Marvin Payne
Let me take you backstage again. Last time we went to General Conference.
(General Conference has a backstage, I discovered. No graffiti, though. Actually, an understage. It might be most accurate to call it a downstage, but that means something else ((Does everybody here (((this would include, my Meridian editors tell me, all the citizens of the world except Burma, where the government has turned off the Internet))) know that “downstage” and “upstage,” which is actor talk for “closer to the audience” and “farther from the audience,” respectively, comes from when stages were slanted toward the audience, and there really was an “up” and “down” to them?
See? Come to Meridian Magazine and learn stuff! Or enjoy, instead, the pleasure of being able to say “Of course, I knew that.” ((How many actors does it take to screw in a light bulb? A hundred. One to climb the ladder and affect the swap, and ninety-nine to stand around and say “I coulda done that!”))
Understage at General Conference there’s a whopping big recording studio. I know this because I got hired to be the voice on a couple of training videos. It was particularly memorable for me because when I went down there I saw what is probably the only Apple computer ever purchased by The Church. ((Last time I was in the Church Office Building, I saw, on the main floor, a wall broadly inscribed, “Church Purchasing.” I thought at the time, and still think, that if we’re going to purchase entire churches it might be better, public-relations-wise, if we were a little more discreet about it. I mean, lots of tourists go to the Church Office Building and might see that wall.)) )
So, backstage. Because I am backstage a lot, I may repeat myself from earlier columns. Please forgive me, it’s an age thing. I may repeat myself from earlier columns. Please forgive me, it’s an age thing.
The very last backstage for me (Saturday) was the weight room in the basement of the Coppins’s house around the corner. I was weighting for people to ingest their capacity of clairs before my music began. I’d been out there for clairs myself, but had retired to the weight room to tune my guitar and banjo and bench press a few clairs’ worth of calories off.
This is what it cost them to have me play at their house. clairs. (Actually, in this case, many, many more things of an clair nature, savory as well as sweet.) I was in it for the CD sales. Also I like the Coppinses. Also I like clairs. Also I just like to play guitar for folks. Or just play guitar. Or just play.
Something that made it about as sweet as an clair for me was that about half the audience were members of my ward family. It’s especially nice when your family lets you play for them. I play my kids to sleep every night, but that smacks sometimes of utilitarian. These ward people weren’t even in their jammies. (We’ll not, I think, here enter upon the subject of sleep, however.)
I have a friend who writes lovely songs and sings them in a warm, smoky way. Kim Rives. She came to me a few years back to get a CD produced. Last time I spoke to her, she reported on her success selling them door-to-door. Apart from the wear-and-tear on shoe leather, she was having a blast. I thought, “Wow, why didn’t I think of that?” Then I remembered that I had thought of it. In fact, I knocked on your door at BYU and sold you a vinyl album about the circumference of a jumbo pizza. You just don’t remember (it’s an age thing).
But now, in modern times, I thought “What’s the next best thing? Well, house concerts! Up close and personal, no middlemen, no obligation, lots of clairs, you can smell the mahogany in the D-18 and watch the strings wobble.” So I’ve done some, and am doing some. And am having fun, in spite of, well …
Because this column had its ancient birth in an obsession with journal writing, I’ll quote from my journal here, the saga of a “house concert weekend.”
25 October 2007
“A week ago I drove to St. George,”
“where an old fan and friend of mine, Paul Brennan, had set up three performances on the ‘house concert’ principle, ‘If you play it, they will buy.’ I first met Paul in about 1978, when he trekked up the stairs to the original Rosewood Recording Company (above a bar on Center Street in Provo) and introduced himself as ‘the best jaw-harp player west of the Mississippi.’ He probably was. He played good blues harmonica alongside me on a couple of songs in St. George. He’s an enormously colorful guy – dresses in Harley Davidson clothes and is missing a piece of his left ear, which he lost to an ax-swinging maniac in a street fight in Boston when he was about thirteen. Beautiful conversion story, extraordinarily valiant Latter-day Saint. I stayed with his daughter Jess and her husband Mel and their neurotic bulldog pup and $20k Harley.
“The first performance was on a roped-off street downtown, part of an ‘Autumn Thursday Nights’ thing they’re doing down there. I had expected to open for Kurt Bestor, with the level of sound reinforcement he would require (this would be six roadies and an Eiffel Tower of speakers). In fact, nice as it was to see Kurt again, he wasn’t performing at all, but conducting a promotional outdoor ‘talent search.’ The PA system was a couple of little powered speakers and one mic. To be heard by the audience (sitting across the street on the roundabout, parents and grandparents of ‘talent’ about to be ‘searched’) I had to play guitar so hard that I didn’t play so well.
“Then we went to a posh resort where I expected a waiting audience of curious rich people who would buy lots of CDs (the only compensation for these shows). I wound up against a wall in the dining room. Four tables were occupied by diners munching away in the purest oblivion. One older guy sat at a table alone and kindly bought two CDs. I cut him a deal.
“The next night was the main gig, at a place downtown called The Electric Theatre. That was its name when it was built a hundred years ago, and Bucky Flowers, the nice young guy who operates it now as mostly a rock venue (Dave Payne, my rock-star son, has played there), has restored the name. It’s a great space! Bare bricks and wood floors. Good lights, good sound, and, after we spent a couple hours lugging and arranging chairs, good seating.
“I had resolved to play prelude guitar, dim and backlit, while the audience gathered. I started playing at 7:00, a half-hour before downbeat. At 7:30, there was an elderly woman (turned out to be the grandmother of the owners) and a couple a little younger than I am. Thinking maybe it had been advertised for 8:00 by mistake, I kept playing guitar. By 8:00, Paul’s family had arrived, but so had several sets of parents and children who’d been invited to the third birthday party for the owner’s son, which had inexplicably been scheduled for virtually the same time as the concert.
“So I sang Happy Birthday to the little boy, then accompanied him and a couple of little cousins who crowded around the mic I lowered for them and sang ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,’ ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider,’ and the alphabet song, which I played in a different key and style because we’d just heard that tune in ‘Twinkle, Twinkle.’ Many adoring photos were taken, but not of the accompanist. I sang a Scripture Scouts song and then the kids retired to the back of the hall for chasing.
“I sang two songs for the couple that constituted the whole of my actual voluntary audience, then surrendered the stage to the birthday revelers, who had about as much fun as any kids I’ve ever seen as they sang ‘We Will, We Will Rock You’ and ‘We Are The Champions Of The World’ along with the record at full blast through the rock speakers.
“An item of note: Just before I threw in the towel, Paul’s wife Karen asked for my song ‘Please Imagine.’ I apologized that I don’t really remember it. Just then a young lady (who’d been invited to the concert by Paul’s daughter on her cell phone when it became apparent that there wasn’t any audience) came to the stage and told me I had a phone call, a first in my decades of concert experience. She handed me the phone. I couldn’t hear very well, but on the third inquiry (standing there at the mic) I discerned that it was Merrill Osmond, calling from Branson, Missouri! (The young woman was his personal secretary, it seems, and he had asked her where she was.) We shared some warm greetings, then he said ‘Remember that album we made?’ and burst into singing ‘Please Imagine.’ I said ‘Hold on, I’m putting you on speaker phone.’ I held the phone to the mic and Merrill Osmond, to a degree, satisfied Karen’s request.”
(In a recording session this morning I learned from Kerry Christensen who, along with a Japanese fellow living in Austria, is one of the only two earthlings who make their living exclusively by yodeling, that all the Osmonds were advised when they were child stars to spray their throats with equal parts of water, glycerin, and liquid benedryl. Kerry’s special knowledge is that Merrill is the only one who did it faithfully and now he’s the one who sings the best. Read Meridian Magazine and learn stuff!)
Since we’re moving backward in time, backstage to backstage, I’m recording here that the backstage before the Electric Theatre was the deJong Concert Hall at BYU, where the backstage is measured in acres. We were doing a week’s run of “Take The Mountain Down,” a bluegrass, blues, acoustic, old-timey music retelling of the prodigal son story. Because I was on “hiatus” from Meridian at the time, you were spared all the hype. I’m finishing the mix on the CD this evening, enjoying a lengthy musical feast with pretty astounding players. It turned out great. Full houses, night after night. We charged them money. A lot. You wouldn’t think so, but maybe that’s what makes the difference.
The primary value of the dixie trip was, of course, to give me a close encounter of the third kind with humility. As generously as I was hosted, I needn’t have gone, really. I can get it at home.
24 October 2007
“Last night John (six) was warning me about the hazards of playing baseball. He said ‘Dad, if you were younger and stronger instead of old and weak, don’t play baseball, because I almost got two black eyes.’
“And Caitlin (10) read the first draft of ‘Boam and Hammy in the Utah War’ (my historical novel excerpted in Backstage Graffiti – read Meridian Magazine and learn stuff!). She said I should read a bunch of other books to see how to write one, that it would take her more than a month to tell me all the questions I left unanswered and all the details I left unconnected, and that if I turned it in with only the corrections I have in mind already, the publishing company would fire me.”
It can only get better. House concert, anyone?
“…come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift…” (from the last page of the Book of Mormon)
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