Monday, January 28, 2013

Finished: "Power Ballads" by Will Boast

Finished: Power Ballads by Will Boast, 2011, 9781609380427.

Committee book.  Pretty damn good.  Short stories about working musicians in the Chicago area.  Interlocking stories with a drummer named Tim in most stories.  A difficult life that pays poorly, requires late nights and touring that keep people away from their families and damages romantic relationships.

The musicians work hard as youths and the music gives them a joy and transcendence.  But, they drift away to other careers as they hit their late twenties.  Minor hit makers go into accounting or directing church choirs and resurface 10-20 years later to play local bars on the weekends.

Tim is a jazz drummer.  He plays with the big names of jazz which means, as one record company guy tells him, no one has heard of him.  He still makes his living as a musician though.  Not an easy thing to do.  Around his jazz playing he plays for different bands as a member or fill-in. 

One story has Tim doing session work for twin brothers from Kansas City who are set to hit it big with some parent-friendly hard rock.  The brothers are Ricky Nelson Kid stand-ins.  Beautiful guys with great teeth and camera ready for bedroom posters.  But, the bass player and drummer are too schlubby.  The two schlubs get paid off with a few thousand bucks and bus tickets back to KS/MO.  Tim is hired for studio work and then hired to tour with the Nelson Kids - the tour poster has Tim and the new bass player standing behind the Nelson Kids and photo-shopped with deep shadows on their features. 

Tim and the Nelson Kids barely interact.  Tim takes his profession seriously but is not much into the Nelson music.  He barely interacts with the Nelsons and shines them on with a smile when needed.  He's happy to be touring and making more money than he ever did before.

The first story, Sitting In, was really damn good.  Tim as a 14-year-old arrogant tuba player who goes to Milwaukee bar with his dad to hear a local polka band.  Tim is critical of the gas station attendant playing the tuba.  He dislikes the Attendant and thinks he should take over the chair.  As he starts to sit-in with the band he gets worse and the Attendant - whose status and ego are wrapped into these Saturday jobs  - is not happy.

Interesting look at profession and skill I know nothing about.  1. Distaste and impatience with amateur antics.  2. The importance of equipment for a good sound.  3. Understanding and use of musical theory and structure.  4. Impermanence of bands and musical jobs.

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