Monday, August 8, 2011

You play Bass!... wait what's a bass? noooooooo.

Caution before you read: This is not a whiny “oh why me post”. This is not an attack on anyone. This is a story. All it is, it’s an entertaining story. If you don’t like it stop reading. If you take offense then you have personal feelings towards yourself and the topic only YOU can fix.
Either way, feel free to comment however you like and enjoy.

When I was little I always had the desire to be into music. My adolescence was filled with the scene of a sprouting MTv and cassettes. Walkmans were becoming an everyday appliance right next to toasters and toothbrushes.

I would watch videos and listen to the songs then run to my parents and ask for guitar lessons. My mom would occasionally make the sarcastic attempt at turning me off from the desire by saying "I think we'll send you for piano instead (with the systematic switch to Viola at times) but it never swayed me, in fact I even found piano interesting and t her dismay would agree with a "okay I don't mind" response. Needless to say she didn't like my agreeable responses but I desperately wanted to be a musician.... the thought of being able to play a shredding 80's style solo in front of cheering crowds gave me wood, even at that young age.
Alas we grew up pretty piss poor, with hand me down clothing that was still way to big, intermittent television signal and a very tight home budget. Too tight for music lessons, and to them to tight to invest money into getting me a guitar I would probably never touch. I remember one time my parents even emptied my personal bank account that I filled by doing these small jobs here and there to pay some household bills (I think I was like 10).

When I finally hit high school the desire got even stronger. I was a strange systematic mix of both an anti-social loner and attention hog, which only continued to feed my desire to get into music and one day be in a band. I got my first real job around 15 at a fried chicken joint in Bridgeport called “Drum Stick BBQ” before that did odd jobs constantly and saved every penny. I became friends with this one kid in particular Mike S who at 16 looked like he was 45. A tall lanky kid who was into muscle cars, metal music, and you could literally watch his facial hair grow while you ate lunch. He was one of the few openly “white” kids since being a “white boy” in the 90’s was kind of lame since rap was really starting to get big. I think that’s what attracted me to him honestly and though he did not look the part he was actually one of the smartest and more quick witted people around. It was a strange mix of insanity and order, like if Einstein had a gambling problem. Needless to say I had other friends but he is the one that assists this story. Since I had a “steady” income I joined BMG music club and got a monthly supply of CD’s to fill my musical needs at pennies on the dollar, oh did I forget to mention times drifted from walkmans to Discmans?
Well between talking to Mike one day about music it came out I had the desire to play guitar and was saving up for one, so he mentioned he played Bass. My blank stare gave the question away in advance “what’s a bass?” C’mon I was like 12 or 13 at that point.
At his house he reached into a really big guitar case and pulled out a rather large guitar with only 4 strings and started to play something. Be it not very good he was still playing something.  When I asked questions about it he answered them, while his facial hair continued to grow to the point where it was absurd and he handed the instrument to me. I had maybe touched a guitar twice in my life, and never a “bass?”  be it, it was fun it just didn’t have that star appeal the guitar had. I asked if he could solo something and he tried but to me it honestly just sounded like mish mosh, again he wasn’t very good and his equipment was mediocre at best, but I didn’t know the difference since he was my only musical friend.
Off and on over that year while I put money away I would look into guitars, but I would find bass would pop it’s ugly head into the scene like a nasty reoccurring rash. You don’t understand why it’s there but have learned to live with it so you don’t bother going to the doctor’s.
 There was even this rock and roll store up the street from my house I would go check out (walking distance since I didn’t drive yet). It was physically closer in appearance to a pedophiles porn production shack than a store but it had instruments and I don’t “remember” ever being touched so whatever. I would look at the instruments but never touch them since in my eyes I would just embarrass myself. The owner was this way over stoned guy that looked like he still lived in his elderly mom’s basement and nourished off Dorito’s and mountain dew but he was a cool informative guy. I mentioned my friend who played bass and he said “Oh that’s cool, bass players are super hard to come by.” When I told him I didn’t think it was as good as guitar he did the burned out musician response of saying “no way man bass guitar is awesome, and a decent bassist can always find work anywhere!”
“Wait, what just happened?” He simply put the word guitar after the word bass and it suddenly became cooler! How does that work?
“Plus man” he says “if you really wanna be a good guitar player it’s good to start with bass since it’s a bit easier and helps you learn your rhythm and timing, a lot of guitarists double up as bassists”
I started to get more and more sold on the idea and I think in that same day I was looking through a JC Penny catalog and saw a bass in there for like 90$ and since my aunt worked there I could get like a 20% discount. I knew nothing, was very impulsive and needed to fill this musical void.  I took pretty much my savings and bought the bass. When it came in I was pretty excited and even inspired. I took the rest of my money to walk up to the Rock Shop and buy a small amp with in my budget and a chord and go home. I had NO IDEA what I was doing but spent quite a bit of time just hammering single notes and attempting to match them up with songs on the radio. I think my lack of true knowledge had me attempting to over compensate for what I actually needed. Honestly I still do.
As my musical group grew I started to feel pretty clouty by saying “I play bass” and having people go “cool man, my band was looking for a bassist for a long time” or even “BASS?! You should come jam with us”.
I literally thought I was the cat’s meow and everyone wanted to play with this mythical beast known as a bassist but inside I knew I wasn’t good enough to play with others so I ran out and got an instructional tape and book. WTF what the hell is a scale? I can’t do this. I remember trying to learn these insane things called scales and my fingers killing me. I came up with this insane wooden glove I made one day, "The rig", that I would wear when I slept to stretch my fingers further apart. It worked but probably started the onset of future arthritis.
As I got better I started to get into a strange code called music tab. I could hear a song I like, go “online” somewhere and print out the notes to the song and play along. This was great. I stared to actually play songs. I felt like a musician, little did I know the truth.
It’s like a car. You love this particular car and really want it. You LOVE the Honda element (not really) and save up everything to get one. You finally get it and all of a sudden you notice elements everywhere. EVERYBODY and their mother seems to drive one all of a sudden. Bass was not this car.
As I got more and more involved into bass I started to notice this trend. It was kind of the joke of the band. When I started a small band with my 2 friends jokes were usually at the bass players expense As my best friend marc said “bass is the cop out stringed instrument”. When we took our weekly band trips to Sam Ash I was usually ALL ALOOOOOOOOOONE (echo) in the teeny tiny bass area while the drum and guitar sections were over crowded with people trying to play over each other. On top of it thought the few people that would meander into the bass section were 

  1.   Not very good
  2. Looked like they crawled out of a bog somewhere, kind of smelled like it to
Maybe it was me? Maybe I was in the wrong place. Why weren’t people impressed with a decent bass player like the less than mediocre guitar player strumming the same 4 notes in the next area?  Wasn’t the instrument it was me, I needed to be better. Somewhere, somehow in the vast nation of time and space me and Marc got hooked up with this coked out, burned up, musical savant Hugh. When I say savant, I mean it. You could give this asshole a fucking xylophone duct taped to an accordion and he would have Mozart coming out of his asshole in five minutes. This guy was the epitome of wasted life. He could have been a rock legend if he could clean up, focus and get out of his mom’s basement. But like so many of his league he was shot and perfectly content giving me and Marc drum and bass lessons each week for like 15$ a half hour, which usually became like 3. This kept up until one day we gave him a ride somewhere and Marc found a coke vial in his backseat afterwards. We couldn’t risk being around him anymore but we learned A LOT from him, we even told him we were going to name our first big band “Hugh”. Marc surprisingly a lot in such a short time considering he only played drums on his own for a few months before, but Marc is that way. Marc can decide he wants to fly into space and once his mind is set on something he’ll be in a centrifuge in 2 weeks.

Well the band (Crackwhore, the name would grow on you) finally found a singer, who was into rock like we were, and guess what his name was? Mike… not the same guy lol but almost the same personality. He was a little off his gourd, and a bit of a stoner, but a great singer and VERY modest. He never had the singer ego. Mike and I became quick friends and he was SUPER into music and had a vast knowledge of bands and members. He knew names of guys in bands you never even heard of.  He had an appreciation for the instrument as well which started to get me out of my slump and back into wanting to learn again. Hell I even started LEGIT lessons for a bit until the instructor literally said “you’re wasting your money man, I can keep you coming here and showing you scales and have you pay me but I don’t feel right. You don’t wanna learn to read music so just keep doing what you’re doing on your own and you’ll be in great shape”.
Well Mike was impressed with my bass playing and the instructor said I was well ahead of myself for just being self-taught so why didn’t anyone else notice?
Me, Marc, Mike and the “guitarist” 5-string Jamel (he ALWAYS broke a god damned string for some reason) learned a good portion of covers and went to a small place we knew to do an open mic night. We actually fucking rocked. We were so good that the next 2 bands up to play decided to back out openly (or they were that bad). The house band also came up to us and wanted us to learn an hours set to open for them next week. It was the most exciting thing all of us; except for Mike experienced since he was a singer in previous bands.
We played
1)Die die my darling, the Metallica version
2)Otherside by Chili Peppers. I love Chilli Peppers because of their great bass lines and always demanded a few of their covers, but the guys never minded
3) You by Candle box.
The “band” never went anywhere and we sporadically went through players with only me and Mike remaining in the end still trying. We had good members and bad ones, we had fun and stressful days. We all joked around a lot, still at the bass player’s expense most of the time but Mike always kept me chugging with his attitude and appreciation to the instrument. You could tell he like guitar more but never downplayed the bass and hated practicing without it.
The time came where me and Mike stopped jamming. We're still friends but his schedule got wiggy and he had to stop. I wanted to keep going and QUICKLY was able to hooked up with these two other young  guys,  Brandon and Ted. We we’re all in our early 20’s. Ted was one of the most AMAZING guitarists I ever met. Like Mike he was good at what he did, amazingly good, and super humble.  The guys were already “established” with one full set list of originals I learned pretty quickly and since it was a 3 piece I had more room to stand out. The old bassist was good but never did anything too crazy playing wise and was a bit of a sketcho they said. He was actually a guitarist (they used the term loosely) who just played bass to get into a band, something I learned over time quite a few of failed guitarists do. When I took his place I tried to add a bit of bassly flare to a few of their old stuff and anything newer we created always tried to stand out. We did enjoy playing together; for a while. Brandon and I never saw eye to eye on much. To be honest I think he thought I was trying to steal Ted from him. There was this weird almost erotic infatuation he had with Ted. Brandon was a cool guy though and LOVED rock but we just couldn't click and we did try. We would get together at least every Saturday for about 4 or 5 hours then hit Starbucks for a coffee. It was our meeting ground after the practice where we would go over material and shoot the shit a while. Things were going great. I thought man this is going to be my place. I can finally be noticed a bit. Our style actually mixed well together. I was harder rock/metal where they were throwback 80’s metal with big guitar solos in every song. Brandon even said he thought I added a hard grungy flare they were missing and most of their friends agreed the music was getting better. My attitude started to get shitty though. I was too far into the sad sack bassist attitude of self-hatred and thought every little thing was an attack at the bass player by that point. I thought the new band and new music etc etc would help but I think it made me worse. I STILL couldn’t understand why people would always gravitate to the guitarist and drummer in a fucking THREE PIECE!
I’ll never forget the one day the 3 of us we’re in Starbucks discussing material and one of their friends came up to us. It was a younger chick, a bit thicker. Not ugly but a bit too big for my taste, I don't mean not to sound egotistical (or more so than I already do) but I was a really good looking kid and never had girl trouble.  Anyway, She was clearly trying to flirt with me and I was being nice to her and joking around. I made some joke that may have confused her  and her words were something along the lines of “Oh well sorry singer dude!” under a laugh.
Wait this chick thought I was the singer? Ted even looked surprised and corrected her “no (insert random chubby girl name) he's not the singer I am, he is our new bassist”. I swear I never saw a girl get more turned off so fast. I could have literally been in the middle of dirty sex with her and pulled out swimming goggles, clown make up and a gerbil and she would have been less turned off. She actually turned around and walked away without even saying bye to anyone. Like she only came over to hit on their new singer who turned out to be “just” a bassist. Well “fuck her” I said. We will be playing out soon enough and there will be tons of cuties out there, and there were, though none were interested in the cop out guitarist. In fact the only people who ever even came up to me after a show were the bass players to the other bands. How do you actually get LESS play with girls by telling them your play an instrument?
My attitude got REALLY nasty. One time in particular we played a small venue filled with barely legal chicks. After the show Brandon and Ted were mobbed by people and I had 2. TWO! Two young GUYS!
“Wow man you’re fucking awesome, how’d you learn to play like that?”
“Thanks” I responded but cut off “wait are you two guys bass players?”
“Yeah were in the next bands coming up”
My stomach fell and my nastiness kicked in “You know what not for nothing but I don’t care what the fuck you think then. Im not interested in impressing another bassist. I would personally rather have that group of girls my guitarist has so leave me alone.”
Was it rude? Yes. Did I handle the situation right? No. I’ll admit it now I should have just said thanks and went about my business but I honestly felt like it was an attack. Not by them but by the world. Ted would always try to make me feel better. He would constantly ask me to do a bass solo in a song but my attitude was so shitty I would just tell him “why bother putting the effort in if no one would give a shit” and his response was actually, “yeah I guess”.
To me it started getting worse. We were all putting in money to record a CD. Practices turned into Ted and Brandon back and forths with little to no attention to my parts.
“Okay Ted I’ll do this on the drums” Brandon would say excitedly and Ted would hit back with “Oh yeah and then I’ll do this riff!” and me?
I would sit playing to myself or even just to prove a point play Brandon’s GameCube with his brother until they took the time to notice I wasn’t even paying attention. I could go almost a complete practice playing video games. I wasn’t going to be the rude third party who just forcibly interjects into a conversation to stay part of the group; I kind of wanted to know my part was truly appreciated in the constructive effort. Then when recording time came about I started to notice the little fact that I was being mixed down so low it was insulting. The engineer doing the recording as well was asking me to simplify the parts.... and he was a FUCKING BASSIST! I held back my portion of the money until I was turned up to listening level. In the end the band broke up. Not quite sure if it was my attitude, their attitude, or a mix of both.  I am willing to bet though my straggling pubescentness was more to blame than anything though, it usually is.
There are Tons of anti-bass player lines, Lots of jokes at their expense, little attention to what they do and even less appreciation to a really good one. It is all of these things that attract the type of people who play it now. They are usually anti-social, shy, lazy, not the best looking, etc etc. Then these kinds of players continue to feed and reinforce the negative stigma the bassist has gained. It’s truly a vicious circle, a downward spiral of musical destruction.
We get the usual “oh you’re a bassist, why don’t you play guitar?”, “no one notices the bass really”, or the dreaded “wait what’s a bass, that’s like a guitar right?”
Bass players who actually TRY to be appreciated or good at what they do will ALWAYS have the same rebuttal.
 “But the bass holds the whole groove of the song down, take away the bass and people will notice!”
No they won’t. There are a lot of bands with no bass players and no one cares or notices. In fact a lot of them are really good.  One time at a show I was on medication and drank. I got SO HAMMERED I was falling off stage. Luckily my rather large friend John was there to prop me up from below. I missed every note, missed entire songs I think, and NO ONE noticed. I really began to realize why there was always work for a bass player...... CAUSE NO ONE WANTS TO PLAY IT!
Then followed with  “well you’re in the music for the wrong reasons MAN!”
Well okay shmedley what’s the right reasons then? Reasons are your own and there are no such things as wrong one.
It’s strange when I observe my situation. I own an electronic drum kit which I really enjoy (though I’m not that good), 2 guitars which I am pretty good with as a rhythm guitarist and then my 2 basses that I constantly still play. I have tried making the switch to guitar but ALWAYS find myself putting it down and playing with my bass. It is true in a way. You don’t pick your instrument, it picks you.
It’s a strange relationship I have with the Bass. I have always felt under appreciated with the time I put in it, and that it was truly a lack luster instrument that never garnered any real second glance from people but somehow continue to be pulled back to it. It’s like a bad girlfriend you know you hate and want to dump but get comfortable with, the devil you know (I actually wrote a song of the same name about the subject). I truly do enjoy playing it and would like to get back into a band after I clean the rust from my hands but really fear I will just get back into my shitty attitude and be doomed to failure and wasted time.
I have been searching for a drummer for a while to jam with. I would like to find a mediocre drummer and just play and write as a bass/drums combo and see how that goes. My real desire would be to have a drummer and second bass player. One “lead” one rhythm and singing while switching places.
I don’t know maybe I’m a bit jaded, or expect too much.  All in all I think this post was simple self-reflection and venting. Thanks.

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