Monday, March 27, 2017

Eric Hansen

Someone called me out on "Where's your gratitude?" it's there, it's just pissed off."
—Eric Hansen, from a fundraiser update

It seems like half of my scant posts lately have been about musicians who have recently died. This is the one I didn't want to write.

Eric Hansen was my second vocal coach. After my first teacher showed me how to sing forcefully, Eric taught me how to dial it down. A songwriter himself, he often had suggestions about how I might change my lyrics. I don't think I took a single suggestion, but it always kind of delighted me that he offered them so freely—I knew I could trust him to be honest.

When my life transitioned into something more difficult, a while after he'd stopped being able to give lessons, he invited me to lunch and offered support. He told me to take care of myself.

Eric had a congenital lung disease called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. Four years ago he got a double lung transplant and a shot at a normal life. After treatments, he could sing again.

Last year, his lungs started going into rejection. This year they told him they couldn't put him on the donor list again. Today he died.

I'm grateful that he got a few more good years in. I'm grateful that, shortly after he discovered his donated lungs were in rejection, I got to see him at last year's Tucson Folk Festival, hug him, and listen to him perform one last time.

The gratitude is there. It's just really, really pissed off right now.

Now please go sign your damn donor card if you haven't done it already.

Monday, February 13, 2017

"Can I start again?"

I was seven the first time I ever performed in front of a live audience. My piano teacher had gathered his students and their parents together at his house for an annual piano recital, as piano teachers do. I'd been taking lessons for about a year. While I don't remember being particularly nervous, the excitement of the situation must've gotten to me, because I completely forgot the notes a few measures in.

"Can I start again?" I asked.

I could, I did, and I made it all the way through. It didn't occur to me that this might be something to be embarrassed about until years later, when my parents recounted the story.

The second time it happened was at an open mic, a year or so before Ron the Drummer and I met. I got through one verse of my song "Honky-Tonk Piano" and blanked on the lyrics.

"I forgot the words!" I said cheerfully. Then I started over.

By then I understood that performers were supposed to gut their way through a song no matter what. I was a little chagrined, even if I didn't show it. Sadly, I didn't have Ella Fitzgerald's genius for vocal improvisation, and there was nothing I could do but stop. The crowd was friendly and forgiving, though, and the second go went fine.

The third time was in the early days of Cinder Bridge. I played the opening chords of Moths in Search of the Moon, opened my mouth to sing, and nothing came out but hacking and coughing. We stopped. Ron procured something with honey in it for me. We started again and got through it with no problems. We were playing at a Borders Books & Music—total atmosphere gig—so there's a good chance that a lot of the audience didn't even notice.

Those are all the times. I remember every one.

Sunday during the Grammys, it happened to Adele. She was doing a George Michael tribute, sang kinda flat, and stopped because she believed that Michael, whom she'd known and admired, deserved better. Although Adele's kinda-flat sounded better than most mere mortals' in-tune, her do-over was a lot better than the first try.



Some people are apparently complaining about her lack of professionalism. Whatever. I find it comforting when a mega-talent like Adele has a human moment like that. I think she did her friend proud.