My First Paying Gig

My high school experience was probably a little different than yours. I was a “band fag,” which is what pretty much everybody called the kids whose lives revolved around the music program. I played alto sax, and I was pretty good. Not great, but better than everyone else in my little pond.

I also ran a software company, and published educational software which was distributed and sold by big companies you’ve heard of.

But, most of all, I had a lot of sex with my girlfriend. A lot. Like, all the time. Mostly in the car, on dirt roads in the middle of nowhere.

As you can see, I was pretty busy. There were other kids who were having what I now see is a more typical high school experience. They smoked and drank and talked about having sex. They listened to cool bands I’d never heard, and wore provocative T-shirts with words like “Violent Femmes” on them. We band fags called these people burnouts. In retrospect, I should have spent a lot more time with these people, because they were probably having a lot more fun than my peer group.

As it happens, there was a small intersection between these cool kids and my nerds. My friend Rick played Tenor sax in band with me, and he got into a Ska band with these guys. Marty, Mike, and Randy, if memory serves. They played Violent Femmes and English Beat and stuff like that. And this band got a gig. But Rick couldn’t make it, so those guys approached me. Me.

The cool burnouts approached me.

I went to Marty’s house (it was his band), and we went to the basement, and he turned on a cassette of the English Beat playing Mirror in the Bathroom.


And it was clear why they needed me to play this gig with them. Ska music, as it turns out, has horns. Prominent horns. Who knew?

Although I don’t have perfect pitch, I do have what’s called “relative pitch.” That means that once I know the starting note, I can play anything I hear (within reason). I can hear the intervals between notes and reproduce them. So I listened to the tape once, fumbled around to figure out the starting note, and played the sax line from Mirror in the Bathroom.

The guys were floored. Apparently, it took Rick quite a bit longer to figure that out.

So the rehearsal went on like that. They’d play a cassette, I’d figure out the horn line, and we’d play the tune.

That weekend, we all met at the VFW hall, which someone had arranged. It was a party. They charged a cover at the door, and the band would get the cover, and the VFW would get the bar earnings. This was a world with which I was completely unfamiliar. To me, a “party” was when my friends and I would get together in Alicia’s basement, and watch Monty Pyton’s Flying Circus, and play UNO, and eventually turn off the lights, and pair off, and not quite have sex. (And then, after, I’d drive my girlfriend home and we’d have sex in her driveway or something, because, come on, you can’t leave me hanging like that.)

So we played the gig. And it was so cool. At one point this disgusting old bum came up and wrestled the harmonica away from Marty and played the blues. And he was awesome. But I think Marty let him keep the harmonica, because this guy’s mouth was… ew.

I had a great time. And then, at the end of the night, someone came up and told the band that the door cash had been stolen. Gone. No money.

But they passed the hat, and everyone was really drunk, so they got a decent take that way, and gave it to the band.

And then the band gave me the money. All of it. They gave me all of the money.

I didn’t know what to make of that. But my father taught me that when someone is generous with you, the right thing to do is say thank you, quick, before they change their mind. So that’s what I did.

Looking back, I think I now understand why they gave me the money. I’m an amateur musician. I still gig sometimes, but it’s always for free – charity gigs. I play because it’s fun. But sometimes you need someone to fill in at the last minute, and so you call a pro. That person makes his living playing. And so you kind of feel like you need to pay him, even though you aren’t getting paid.

I think it was like that. I was the pro. So they paid me.

I never played another gig with those guys. But the whole experience was really cool, and I’m really glad I had that opportunity. Marty went on to get a couple PhD’s and is an entrepreneur and still plays. And Mike is a music producer in Nashville. And I’m not sure what Randy went on to do, but I’m pretty sure he’s not in jail or anything. So, all in all, being a “burnout” isn’t really that bad after all.

I’m definitely going to encourage my kids to hang out with the burnouts when they get to high school.

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3 thoughts on “My First Paying Gig

  1. I never considered myself a burn out, but I do believe I’m a parenting success because my daughter knows all the words to “Blister in the Sun”…..

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