By Terri Hendrix
(LSM Jan/Feb 2012/vol. 5 – Issue 1)
The mirror in the guest bathroom of my friend Maggie’s house is unkind. It magnifies pores, laugh lines, and the red branch-like spider veins around my nose. I’d call it sort of a carnival mirror as well since it makes my face — along with certain other body parts —wider than they actually are. It’s definitely not a place in which I like to view my reflection — especially at an ungodly hour in the morning before the last gig of a tour. Just like that mirror suggested, I looked like I felt: Worn out.
I cursed at my reflection in tandem with the name of the concert promoter who’d insisted that, “Yes,” we would be expected to arrive seven hours prior to show time at his venue, and, “Yes,” we would be expected to eat with him and six other guests immediately following our sound check. And why on earth had I agreed to this? Because I couldn’t say “No.” I try too hard. There I said it. I go out of my way to be agreeable with everyone. But this time, my antics teetered on the ridiculous. We’d had a late gig the night prior, and this gig was at least two hours away from Maggie’s house. With city traffic, you might as well double that distance. This meant we’d have to leave even earlier to stick to his schedule requirements.
Even though my contract clearly stated his wishes, I still called the guy in hopes I could buy us a few extra hours so we could all get some much needed shut-eye. But he wouldn’t budge. To make matters worse, he sounded like a real piece of work over the phone, too. I’d been forewarned that he was a notorious name-dropper, but I’d just chalked it up to gossip. Boy was I wrong. He’d answered his phone and promptly greeted me with, “Where’d you play?” Trying to be cordial I answered politely, but before I could utter another word he methodically began dropping the name of every person he knew at the venue and telling me how each of them was a “close personal friend” of his. As the windbag continued to verbally relieve himself, I drew my fist into such a tight ball around my cell phone that my hand cramped.
“I see by your schedule — yes, I’m now looking online — that you played for Jack!” he squealed in delight. “Oh now, he’s a close personal friends of mine.” I rolled my eyes and blurted, “Actually, Jack’s no longer there, but …” “Yeah, yeah, I knew Jack left. The new guy, you know, Bill? Now, he’s really a close personal friend of mine.”
I was beyond frazzled and had neither the heart nor time to tell him that I’d actually worked with a “Bonnie” that was new to the United States by way of County Clare, Ireland, and could by no means be a close personal friend of his since she’d just returned from Africa after fulfilling her duties with the Peace Corp. Of course, I’m making this all up now, but I was tempted to lie to him nonetheless — if only to shut his pie-hole. I didn’t want to work for this guy. Honestly, I just wanted to pack up and have Maggie take me straight to the airport. I was homesick for Texas: For home. My thoughts were interrupted by Maggie shouting up the stairs, “Lloyd’s here. Let’s boogaloo to your gig!” I gave the mirror one last scowl, flipped off the light, and dashed down the stairs to help schlep our gear into Maggie’s car.
Having briefed Maggie and Lloyd on our employer’s infamous reputation for schmoozing and über-odd behavior over the phone, we shared more than a few laughs at Namedropper’s expense. Was it kind? Nope. But it sure made the trip to our gig faster. By the time we pulled up into the drive (at the exact time we were expected), we decided to make a game out of counting how many names he’d drop throughout the afternoon — seeing as we had a lot of hours to kill before the start of our show.
With aching muscles, we slowly began to unload our gear and walk it toward the entry of the venue. In doing so, I made a mental note that where we were to play was actually startling in its beauty. Crisp green hedges outlined a decorative brick walkway with native plants bursting out from underneath. Colorful flowers spilled out of large purple art-deco pots in front of the stone and stucco building. I can’t tell you where it is, or go into greater detail about what the venue looked like, because more than likely you, too, are a close personal friend of his and I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. So I’ll just put it like this: Namedropper is loaded.
I was still taking it all in when the afternoon was violently interrupted with someone screaming, “LLOYD MAINES!” I hadn’t even seen or heard a door open! The next thing I know, what could only be Namedropper Himself was up Lloyd’s grill to the point that even I was embarrassed at the intrusion. I noticed that Maggie was turning purple trying to keep from laughing. I squinted my eyes at her, and slowly wiped my index finger over my throat, signaling that I’d cut her head off if she didn’t zip it. In short, I was mortified.
So many names were dropped between Maggie’s car and the stage, that I lost count before I’d removed a single instrument from of its case. From “A” to “Zappa,” the guy was a “close personal friend” and ready to boast about it. As he strutted about like a peacock, he expected Lloyd to join him in recalling the Wikipedia pages of the icons of country and folk music.
“Lloyd, when did you work with Jerry Jeff? And what instrument did you play? And on what record did you play it? A Mullen steel you say? Oh, I’m in tight with the guys at Mullen.”
Before Lloyd could feasibly answer one question, another round of spittle-laden “Do You Know’s?” was hurled in his face. “Lloyd, do you know Tom Paxton? Judy Collins? Joan Baez?” Sadly, this was soon followed by the “Did You Know’s?” “Now Lloyd, did you know my close personal friends, Johnny Cash? June Carter? Roy Orbison?” And on and on this one-way dialogue twirled like some twisted merry-go-round. All through sound check and straight through dinner, his guests sat bug-eyed and enthralled as Lloyd, though weary, tried to keep up with our host’s endless prattling and inquiries.
As desert was passed around there was actually a lull, yes a lull, in the conversation. At that point Namedropper spotted me across the table, thrust his chin forward, and chirped, “I have every respectable folk record ever recorded. You know? I don’t have your music.” That’s when it hit me. I wasn’t booked at this gig because of my music! I was booked at this gig because of whom I worked with: Lloyd Maines.
Yes, Lloyd’s a legendary musician, and with due cause. Playing music with players of a high caliber costs me money. I keep my overhead low, so I can afford to tour where I want and with whom I want. That said, Lloyd is not a hired gun — he’s been my business partner for more than 15 years. But what Namedropper didn’t know was, this gig was one I had to convince Lloyd to play, because it hadn’t really routed with the rest of our tour. It was out of the way. But here we were, on account of my decision. The irony is, I’m pretty picky about where I play, too. After 20 years of performing, I don’t like to accept gigs where a promoter either doesn’t know what I do, or is booking me for ulterior motives other than my music. So basically, I’d accepted this gig because I’d been lied to. And to make matters worse, we had been deprived of much-needed sleep that day just so numbnuts here could have plenty of extra time to schmooze!
I wanted to thump Namedropper upside the head with my fork, but instead, I simply said, “Pity.” Then I asked, “Coffee?” He leapt up from the table and did a little jig towards the kitchen and his Keurig coffee maker. Within moments, he was launching into the ins and outs of his coffee maker like I was new to civilization. This of course entailed more name throwing, as he rattled off a long list of everybody who was anybody who had ever been treated to cup of coffee from his Keurig. I bit my tongue to keep from telling him that I’d been a close personal friend to Maggie’s Keurig (which was — ahem — bigger) coming up on three years now.
As the hours slowly passed, I can assure you the evening got even weirder. Whatever Namedropper had was catching, as most of his clientele had it, too. During intermission, while I was trying to sell CDs, a blonde that had partaken in plastic surgery to the point that her ears were just about behind her head rattled nonstop to me about the “must-have” song fodder found in such “light reading” as the Holy Bible — the King James version, of course.
“An educated mind that truly understood religion,” she slurred — while swishing chardonnay around the rim of her glass — “would grasp the offensive undertones in your music. I found your, what was it? Oh yeah, ‘Spiritual Kind’ song hurtful.” Luckily, before I could answer, a mousy redhead with Buddy Holly glasses interrupted us. Within minutes, both were leaning over my merchandise table batting back and forth the names of various people they were “close personal friends” with that were “affiliated with the arts” in their community. I sat in the middle of them, sighed, and plopped my chin on my hands. No one was buying CDs, I felt like a flop at this shindig, and across the room poor Maggie was leaning against a banister, cornered by one-uppers, with her entire mouth submerged in a beer. She looked sleepy. Like she was ready to “boogaloo.” Only we couldn’t. We still had one more set to do.
From a distance, a bell rang signaling that intermission was over, and I made my way to the stage. While we readied our gear for our second set, Namedropper held court with the audience. Within a few minutes, he’d wound himself up into a fervor over the afternoon he’d spent with “Lloyd Maines!” He went on to reminisce about all the close personal friends they had in common. Finally, with Lloyd and myself looking on slack-jawed, Namedropper drew his speech to a shuddering conclusion. He took a deep breath, wiped a tear from his eye, humbly turned toward the stage, unrolled his arm with dramatic flair, and with an elongated bellow hollered, “Please … welcome, once again … the legendary … LLO-O-O-O-YD MAINES! And … and … and …”
“I’m Terri Hendrix,” I gulped into the microphone, saving him. He looked annoyed, then relieved, and promptly wheeled around and took his seat. Of all the names dropped that day, the Notorious Namedropper had forgotten mine.
So here it is, the official last day of 2011, and I’ve long since returned to Texas. But I’m still thinking about that hellish day I spent with folks you couldn’t pay me — no matter how much you offered — to entertain for again.
Some moments in life aren’t worth revisiting, but I learned a lot from that experience. Late that evening upon returning to Maggie’s house, before going to bed, I lingered in the guest bathroom and took one more look at my reflection. After that day, my face rivaled Mr. Ed’s, the talking palomino horse in the antiquated sitcom (we were close personal friends). Getting older doesn’t bug me. Overall, I’m pretty comfortable in my own skin. What troubled me was not so much my appearance, but the fact that the woman I thought was there, underneath the face, had vanished. In its place was a stranger. A stranger without a legitimate voice — in her own life. Life was all about chapters. And for me to turn the page, I was gonna have to build a backbone, learn to say the word “No,” and stick to my decisions. No more wishy-washy. I’d taken that blasted gig, against Lloyd’s better judgment, because the Notorious Namedropper saddled with my booking agency had talked a good game. I’d taken the bait, and ended belly up with a hook in my mouth. Consequently, had my ego taken a hit? Yes. And by continuing to put myself out there, would it take a hit in the future? Most certainly.
Soon after I got home from that trip, I heeded my newfound resolution, and summoned the courage to say “No” to my booking agency. Then I removed my name from their roster. Woody Allen said, “80-percent of success is just showing up.” This past year and on into 2012, I’ve been working on changing it to “80-percent of success is just showing up — at the right place, for the right reason, and for the right people.”