Ask Charlie...

Dumb Questions People Ask…

Hello Troubadourians! I started writing this column six years ago with the intended audience to be the performing musicians in the San Diego music scene. Of course, I have tried to be inclusive of as many musicians as possible, from the active pros to the folks who are considered musicians simply because they own an instrument. Quite a range of interest and difficult at times for me to prepare content that is both informative for those who need it and somewhat entertaining for the casual reader of the Troubadour. I really enjoy writing for all of you and, from your feedback, I know that I’m reaching most of you most of the time. That’s all I can ask. The questions I receive in my emails (see below) and those you ask when you see me at gigs—or wherever we meet—are almost universally worthwhile and lead me to think about and write about issues I would never have thought of on my own. I’ve been playing music and involving myself in the technical part of music-making for so long that I do tend to take some knowledge for granted as though everybody knows what a Blackface Fender is or what a Quasi-parametric EQ is useful for. It was the realization that no, not everyone knows that stuff, which was my inspiration for beginning this column. I will be forever grateful to the wonderful Liz Abbott for believing in me and that there was indeed a need for a column of this type and that the Troubadour was the magazine in which it should appear. So, thank you all again for reading and participating in this experiment. If not for you asking things like “how does this work?” or “what does this mean?” or even “what should I buy?” are questions I may not think to answer on my own. And you can be sure that if you’re asking these questions, there are a lot of other people asking them as well. I’m glad to help. But if all of you are asking good questions, what gives with the title of this month’s column? I’ll explain…

I, like the majority of you who read this column, don’t make my living strictly from my music gigs. Yes, I have a day job just like everyone else. In my job, I meet a lot of people who want to me use their products and services and design them into the products that my company makes. Everyone is looking for that edge or just the right spark of familiarity with me that will make me remember them and their products, so I’ll want to choose their parts over someone else’s. Now I’ve been playing in San Diego for a very long time and I’m a fairly high-profile person because of that (and because of the Troubadour), so it isn’t much of a stretch for these folks to pick up on the musician part of my persona and try to leverage that into some pseudo-familiarity with me. Mostly I allow it and just roll with it. It’s harmless and I just might get a new fan out of it. And there are a handful of vendors whom I’ve known for as many years as I’ve been in the engineering business and many of those folks have indeed followed my music, come to see me play, and bought my CDs. I’m grateful for their support and they have become friends even if I don’t use their stuff in a project. (There’s always another project.) No, it’s the people who never bothered to keep in touch that try to play the music card with me when we meet that never fail to ask the dumb questions. The dumbest by far is, “Hey, do you still play music?” Yeah, it’s probably just an innocent question to them but to me it displays a superficiality that is a big turn-off for me. I don’t know why that bothers me so much but it does. To me, it shows that they weren’t really listening to my answers when they asked me about my music the first time we met. If they had been listening, they’d know that music and the guitar have been a life-long pursuit—an obsession really—that one doesn’t Just give up because a few years have passed since the last time you asked me that question. If you had been listening, you would remember that I’ve been actively playing for over 40 years. You would know that I’ve played in several bands and that I’ve recorded or was a session player on nearly a dozen CDs. You would know that you can see me play on YouTube any time you want to. And, you’d probably know that I write this column, which you can access from the Troubadour website (sandiegotroubadour.com)anytime you want to. Given that perspective and context, can you see why the question “Hey, do you still play music?” is a little dumb?

In that line of thinking, I’d like to pose to you, the readers of this column: which questions do people ask you about your music that you think are a little dumb? Do you take it personally or just shrug it off? I’m especially interested to hear from those of you who perform somewhat regularly and still have day jobs. Do the people around you or those whom you meet keep up with your music? Or do they even acknowledge it at all? Perhaps you maintain a “work persona” and you don’t talk about your music while there. I’d like to hear about that because it’s been my experience that it is very difficult to keep music and work separate. Inevitably, there is some crossover or something that gives away the fact that you play music. I’ve found that every musician I’ve ever met that is good enough and confident enough to perform in public—even if it’s only in church or at open mics—wants to talk about their music and share their experience. And, yeah, they want people to come hear them play. It’s a universal thing that once you’re able to play publicly you want to keep doing it. It can be cathartic for some and rewarding for others. Public approval in the form of applause feels like nothing else. For most musicians, if they’ve got the guts to play in public, they want everyone to come witness them doing it.

Performing is addictive like that. But I have to warn you, be prepared for the dumb questions.

Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (ask.charlie@hotmail.com)

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