Today I must ask the reader’s pardon. I do not usually write about the intimate details of my life. They would embarrass me and bore everyone else. But in this case I am obligated, as will shortly be apparent.
We have all heard of Twelve-Step Programs. Alcoholics Anonymous was the first and remains the best known. There are others, notably Narcotics Anonymous but also groups to help people control anger and even narcissism.
In all of these, one of the steps is to publicly acknowledge one’s culpability. This is psychologically necessary. Otherwise the tendency is overpowering to tell oneself that one wasn’t really all that guilty. (“I’m not an alcoholic. Sure, I get a snootful once in a while, but so does everybody….”) This is behind the requirement that at, for example, a meeting of Narconon one must begin by saying, “My name is Bob, and I am an addict.”
You probably have not heard of a group in Mexico, where I live, called “Infieles Anonimos,” which translates as “Unfaithfuls Anonymous.” Like other twelve-step programs, it requires a public confession. Bear with me. Please.
In the mid-Eighties my wife at the time was a harpsichord performance grad out of Bloomington, which if you know music schools will mean something to you. She of course knew many musicians who were often invited to our house. It was through her that I met a lovely young torch singer, whose name I will omit as there is no reason to embarrass her. We became involved. Although my wife and I did not have an open marriage, not formally certainly, I am pretty sure she knew. At any rate, she did not threaten divorce. Musicians tend to take a Bohemian approach to manners and morals, the classical ones more quietly than rock performers. I saw my new love sometimes at our house, sometimes at restaurants or gatherings of musicians around Washington.
Of course it couldn’t last.
Eventually she moved to the opposite coast to pursue a career in high-end restaurants and similar venues. She had her own eight-piece jazz band for years. I found reasons to fly to the coast frequently. Since I was a journalist, my wife saw nothing suspicious in this.
Enough. But I will always remember the first time I saw her. My wife was with several other people and someone called me into the room, and…there she was. She was beautiful. I don’t know whether there is really such a thing as love at first sight, but .…well, maybe there is. At first I thought she must be severely anorexic, as she weighed seven and a half pounds. To my certain knowledge many medical personnel were aware of this, yet they showed no concern, which which might seem extraordinary. In the long run it didn’t matter. With intensive dietary therapy, with which my wife helped, she put on weight.
Our relationship continued, seemingly settling in for the long haul. My wife, perhaps resigned, actually seemed to approve. Again, musicians are tolerant of such things. The focus of my attentions flourished. At age twelve, in addition to getting her scuba certification, she came home and announced that she wanted to be a jazz singer. I thought sure, kid. And maybe an astronaut. Her parents did not know that she was sneaking off to a low dive called Whitey’s (we later found that her father was known for attendance in low dives) to sing on open-mike nights. By all accounts she was terrible. She was also persistent.
Anyway, at seventeen and just out of high school she set off for California to be a jazz singer. This of course was insane, delusional, and revealed a lack of mature understanding of the possibilities of life. She had, all said, no sense of her own limitations.
It seems that her limitations had no sense of Emily Anne either (which, now that I think of it, is her name) as four years later she gigging all over San Francisco.
It is a curious contradiction of American life that a useless general gets paid a fortune for killing goatherds in places no one has ever heard of or wants to, but much of the country’s best musical talents tends bar in San Fran or drives taxis. (“Uber uber alles.”) This would embarrass a country that was capable of being embarrassed.
On my forays to the Left Coast we went with her boyfriend to sushi bars, some the kind with the sushi moving past on a moving thing like an automotive assembly plant and you have to grab it, and then we walked down a street loud with music. We’d go in, maybe grab a drink, and the bands would holler, “Hey, Emily, wanna sit in?” and it was all kind of family. I decided it really was better than a war in Afghanistan.
You might think that half a dozen bands playing in bars on Saturday in San Francisco must not be very good or you would have heard of them. In this you would be sorely deluded. There is much more talent in America than there is a national market for it. The big labels make more money having a few bands in a genre and hyping them so that everyone has heard of them than by having fifty equally good or better bands all competing with each other. The music industry in New York is not about talent, or music. It is about money.
(As this is a highly principled column, I would never post sordid commercial pitches, as by noting that some of her–their–other cuts can be found here. Actually they probably can’t. You can check and see.)
Emily didn’t have a driver’s license then and so waitressed and tended bar, which exposes you to a better crowd of people than most jobs. Add gigging three nights a week when she had the Emily Anne Band and she was a busy kid. By this time she had switched from jazz to…well, whatever the above is.
I guess that’s about all. I have met my obligation to Infieles Anonimos which was my point in this uplifting litany. Emily Anne did well, doing the stations of the musical cross such as American Idol and America’s Got Talent, which she regarded as combining the artistic brilliance of Facebook and the appeal of a moist skin disease. Having determined that gigging in the Bay Area was fun for a while but that jumping to national wasn’t going to happen, she said to hell with it and moved on to other things.
There you have my mea culpa. I won’t inflict this on you again. Unless I join Curmudgeonns Anonymous.