Letters From Hamburg: Assessment

by Kevin Burton

   Years ago there was a series of Skin Bracer after shave commercials where somebody slaps the actor in the face and the actor responds, “Thanks, I needed that.”

   Remember those?

   It was a bracing wake-up call and somehow was supposed to sell the product. They had celebrities such as boxer Joe Frazier do them.

   My “thanks I needed that” moment has come in the form of feedback from a music producer.

   I have told the story on Page 7 of my belated, timid foray into professional music with posts under the headline, “Letters From Hamburg.” All of the posts pointed to a three-hour session with a producer to assess the market worthiness of 16 of my better songs.

   The run-up to my consultation session was exhilarating. I took as a first foray into the music business, albeit to the fringes.

  In fact it was not. It was just a more purposeful version of my basement concerts with the sounds bouncing off the four walls and whatever memories were hanging in the air. 

   But I had the session in May. A few weeks ago got the producer’s professional opinion of the music. 

   The short version: I have pieces, but no masterpieces. 

   That is not a bad square one for a wannabe songwriter to land on.  Pieces are more than most people can achieve. If I had anything better than pieces it would likely have surfaced long ago. 

   Beyond the immediate thanks I needed that, is a space I am in now, where I consider which way to go.

   It’s like being on a landing in a stairwell. I can slink back below, down to where I came from, or I can dare to climb those stairs and blink at the bright lights of the music industry.

   Below there is nothing but praise.  It’s very unlikely anyone pushing his or her trash barrel to the curb at the same time I do in my neighborhood has a basket of would-be tunes to compare to mine.

   But above travel the people who can dismiss my primitive efforts completely.

   As part of my beep baseball week I wrote about three teammates who played guitar or bass guitar outside a hotel after the games.  I forgot to mention Rob Weigand playing percussion on spoons. Sorry about that Rob.

   But these guys are real musicians.  One has perfect pitch, all have the ability to pick up changes on the fly they speak music the way I speak beepball, fluently.

   I have always felt I don’t belong in the company of such musicians. This is what has kept me in the basement all these years.

   To climb that other set of stairs would be to make the case that I do belong, and to be prepared to defend that case over and over again.

   Here on my landing I can hear the background noise from both directions.  Above, laughter and glasses clinking, below the washing machine whirring.

   To climb or not to climb? Both decisions hold out the prospect of a happy ending and also of regrets.

   Thanks I needed that?

   My life has been on extreme fast forward. Page 7 readers know about a lot of it. There was a brief return to beep baseball and an intense family project to find a new place for my mother to live, then the actual move and the organization of the new place.

   I also added another part-time job. 

   So I haven’t responded to the producer yet.  And I won’t here.  He should and will be the first one to hear my specific thoughts, once I have wrestled them down.    

   I’m going to take a little while to mull the comments.

   This is a big-time producer. He’s not in need of my business to keep his light bills paid.  I’m a little amazed he is taking the time to work with me. 

   I either believe in myself and my tunes or I don’t. One thing is for sure, I will not waste his time or my own with half measures.

    This process forces me to wake up and smell the coffee like the guy in the Skin Bracer ads.  So here I am in that metaphorical stairwell, pondering my next move.

   There is a ticking clock in that stairwell. It ticks to the rhythm of the boogie beat.


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