So nice to be here
With all you good people
Is anybody listening
To what we’re doing tonight
Could you give us a chance
While you hit the sauce
Might try a little flash up here
Just to get ourselves across
So sings Bruce Hornsby in the opening track of his 1995 album Hot House. The singer and his colleagues have found themselves in a situation dreaded by all entertainers — performing for a bored and disinterested audience.
I first heard this tune in high school. At the time I had only participated in performances where each of the audiences was mostly interested in what we had to share — symphonic band and jazz band concerts for the parents, siblings and friends of my fellow musically inclined students. I won’t pretend that every audience member attending these concerts was just dying to be there but they were courteous enough to listen to what was going on. So while I enjoyed listening to “Spider Fingers” — both for its narrative and its musical quality — I was unable to relate to the story shared by the singer.
That changed in the summer of 2001. Not more than a week after being graduated from Columbus High, my high school band director invited me to play bass as part of a jazz quartet for a wedding reception in Winder, Georgia. I don’t recall my reaction but I suspect that I was both excited and a little nervous. On one hand, the opportunity to play for money and to gain some performance experience in an ”uncontrolled” environment was one I am certain I would have relished at the time. On the other, I suspect I was anxious about playing for an audience that wouldn’t have told me the performance was great even if it were lousy.
Well we better do something
Before they tell us to get lost
Sometimes you’ve just got to repeat yourself
Just to get your point across
We started playing before the majority of the audience arrived — this turned out to be fortuitous because we wouldn’t have played much at all if we had waited. After the last of the guests floated in, we managed to finish our renditions of “Maiden Voyage” and “Song For My Father” before it was clear that we may as well have engaged in Tuvan throat singing for all the attention we were paid. While it’s not clear if the singer in Hornsby’s tune managed eventually to engage the audience (a la Sussudio), our jazz quartet failed abjectly to generate so much as a spark of interest. Oddly enough, I recall not minding so much that the gig terminated rather earlier than expected — in part because I still got paid the full amount promised and in part because it meant I was able to return to Columbus at a more reasonable hour than originally anticipated.
“Spider Fingers” is a song that never leaves my otherwise dynamic “Top Five Favourite Songs List.” It’s a nickname I earned in an online Star Trek group for my quick reflexes at what we called Scrambler (where the goal was to be the fastest to decipher, for example, RMTTTAEIAN TTNMNNOECIA as ANTIMATTER CONTAINMENT). It’s a tune I heard in Safeway in 2009 (much to the consternation of my fellow shoppers when they realized someone in the store was gleefully singing the lyrics to a tune they had probably never heard). It’s a reminder that I will always be on what is generally perceived as the “wrong side” of public opinion regarding what constitutes good music.
That’s just a list of its significances to me. To Hornsby:
It’s just a little hand trick
A little prestidigitation
Better get out your Hanon
Practice and repetition
- Installment #109 – Bruce Hornsby 6/28/96 – Deercreek (boilerinthebasementmusic.wordpress.com)
- New Installment: Bruce Hornsby 6/28/96 – Deercreek (thefurthurproject.wordpress.com)
- Installment #089 – Bruce Hornsby 7/1/01 – The Gathering of the Vibes (boilerinthebasementmusic.wordpress.com)
- Bruce Hornsby | Arcata | Review | Pics (jambase.com)
- Announcing Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers at Uptown Theatre Napa on 9/14 (prweb.com)
- New Installment: Bruce Hornsby 7/9/97 – Molson Amphitheater (thefurthurproject.wordpress.com)
- Installment #104 – Bruce Hornsby 7/9/97 – Furthur Festival – Molson Amphitheater (boilerinthebasementmusic.wordpress.com)
- Installment #090 – Bruce Hornsby 716/97 – Riverbend Amphitheater (boilerinthebasementmusic.wordpress.com)
- New Installment: Bruce Hornsby 7/16/97 – Riverbend Amphitheater (thefurthurproject.wordpress.com)