Friday, August 14, 2009

Rhythm and Tears

Do you remember the first time that music moved you? That some tune long ago stirred something in you and made you feel that maybe just maybe there was more to you than flesh and bone? Can you recall the song? Perhaps you were a tiny child, I remember Jesus Loves Me from Sunday school- I liked Jesus whoever he was, definitely I was too little to comprehend. But the first song that really kind of got to me, made me look around and see if anyone noticed my excitement and shivers was "Make The World Go Away" by Eddie Arnold. I know, weird huh?! I was like 5 or 6 and I remember his voice was like honey and many times when I couldn't sleep or was scared, I'd think of that song and that voice. And then of course there were others after that, others that left marks on me like brands. I loved the Beatle's I Want To Hold Your Hand, Bill Withers Lean On Me, The Rascals It's a Beautiful Morning, Buck Owens I've Got a Tiger By The Tail, The Jackson Five Rockin' Robin, Melanie's I've Got a Brand New Pair of Roller Skates, and this list goes on and on in my recollection.

Music has been a beautiful and wonderful freedom, one that I have taken completely for granted. Apparently music is not meant to be shared according to the folks there at BMI and ASCAP and a few other extortionistic strong arms (starting in the 1930's) I believe to respect authors copyrights and original music. That I agree with, songwriters should get royalties and compensation for the masterpieces they create. But did you know that a little Ol' cafe the likes of the BluCat in Williamsville, whose very foundation was built on the hopes of local music, singers songwriters, poets, performers calling the cafe home, exposing talent and lifting the spirits of one and all in an equally humble and beautiful big enough and bad enough to be strong armed by the ASCAP and BMI in such a way that gestapo comes to mind?! They and their wonderful representatives harass, call, come to the business and listen to see if original music is in fact- what is played there. And then, when it is deemed original- they fall back on "But it can't be proven, you have to be licensed." And thus begins the shake down.

So basically, with these folks- you are guilty until proven innocent. All this sounds benign enough, right? The BluCat's charm and extended grace is it's food, limited help (two of us....more help at night )and music- independent, folk, instrumental and open door to many musicians and first time try outs. Money making isn't really the biggest issue with Jill. Sure, she'd like to make a decent living- but her "take home" consists mainly of knowing she's making a good difference in the lives of others. She's very spirited and often feels that this all began to elevate the population, to gather the souls in such a way that folks would respond to one another in greater understanding and tolerance for their neighbors. Really...she thinks like that. She's one in a million in my book.

With just the two of us during the day, we've got it down to an art- we balance and dance around with plates and soup and music playing while the cash register jingles and people at the tables grab plates off my arm and clean up other dirty tables and offer to help those in line with their choices and sometimes, some complete stranger will answer the phone for us...and write down the order. Can you imagine? It is really wonderful to be a part of...heck- I don't even know what to call it or how to describe it- it just is magical. It's amazing to me how many people are drawn to that spot. There is no advertisement, no radio ads, nothing. Yet, here they come. And with all the good, of course there's a down side. We work our patooties off, it's a very physical job- and frankly, I'm getting a little bit too long in the tooth for too many more rounds of lunch crowds. The pay is up to the kindness of strangers, basically. Waitress and cooks make very little money- tips are wonderful bonuses and that's just how I look at it. I don't take it too personal when I've served 50 people and make ten bucks. I know the food is good, I know that I made some of those folk's day...I figure that money is tight these days, and if they could part with the bonus tip, they would. Usually they do. It all works out. Right?!
And then the phone gets real unruly, many orders and stranger's taking them, right?! After awhile every thing's buzzing, we're in the flow, orders are going out five at a time, but coming in twelve at time and CRASH!!!!

"This is ASCAP, let me talk to the owner!"

"I'm sorry, but she's a bit busy right now, could you call...."


"Listen, I don't care if you're Obama, we're busy, it's the lunch hour and you'll have to order some food or call back sister." CLICK!!!

And it goes on something like that everyday. Right in the middle of lunch hour, usually noon. If it's not BMI, then it's ASCAP and they harass and cajole and threaten if miss Jill there doesn't buy a license...from both of them, even if none of their music list is ever played at the BluCat. To the tune of $1,500.00 a year. Even if not one song of the artist's they represent are ever played at the BluCat because with their broad legal terminology and extensive unreasonable, absurd demands, pages upon pages or your business are guilty until proven innocent, in a federal court. And they fine little venues like the cafe thousands upon thousands until they ever even get to court. And it is my understanding- they do not lose.

Jill trembles with futility over this. There is nothing she can do but fork over the money (that she does not have) or let the music and the dream die. For every hopeful musician who walks in that door and is welcomed to step up to the mic (I found my wings again there a few months back, thank God!!)- this means an opportunity to open up and let go

But now...

Flesh and bone. Spirit- be still.

Is this America? Is this the land of the free? Hell, I don't know what to call it anymore. I'd write a song about it, but I sure wouldn't want to get the little cafe owner or the bar owner fined beyond his or her capacity to pay. I wonder if I could just hum that legal?

Goliath seems to have no weakened spots, the little David's all over the US have gone up against him, and lost mightily. Many lost their business for lack of live music. Many new talents never will see the light of day, we can't play their music, they can't play their music...I would have never believed it, seems so wrong- doesn't it?!

Well, this is a problem that seems insurmountable, it's all about money and there seems no way around it. "...The day the music died, we started singing..." Silence is golden. Singing is tarnished. Music is wadded up in dollar bills, rhythm and tears. What have we left to join us all together if not music? What better witness, spiritual, religiously or otherwise- to appeal to one another than with music? I'm at a complete loss here, never did I think I'd see the day when a simple act of playing a song would be considered severe civil disobedience. What next, praying? Is The Lord's Prayer far behind the licensing strong arm? Has it been properly copyrighted and if we sing it, one and all with a few guitars thrown in, are we liable to be fined?!

We're all scratching our heads these days, and certainly looking over our shoulder- Goliath is looming large and potentially dangerous for the BluCat.

Live Music. Ha.


Jayne said...

That is just so very sad... sadder still it's all about power and money.

katales said...

Yes -- it's infuriating, sad and really pathetic. A musician friend was recently telling me a similar story about why he sn't able to play at more of the small venues. The little businesses can't afford the shake-downs. To me it seems like really bad business for the big name musicians as well. Maybe if we hear their songs "live" by the "little guys" we'd be more inclined to go out and buy the music we just heard. They COULD choose to look at it as free advertising.

Audrey said...

The saddest truth about all of this is that it is a no win situation. For Jill to become the David and for her to conquer the Goliathian music industry would be the stuff ballads are written about. For her to loose her restuarant would be too sad, the gamble I am not sure would be worth it. She brings so much to that little area. The blucat is a place of joy, and enlightenment, it so offers up and comers a place to hone their skills. It is incomprehensible to me that someone would find that a bad thing. I personally know a number of recording artists and in talking with them, they say the same thing,, not fair at all, but thats the way it is and it probably won't change. (boy are those tough words for me to comprehend.)
I for one am grateful for whatever morsels we are given and I appreciate everything Ms. J has done and am in line should there be anything I can do to help her.
Love and Gratitude

Anonymous said...

This is just awful! It can't be about what the music means to the people who hear it or who play it anymore. It has to be about how much money can be taken from the little man. I still remember how happy Jill's music made me when we sat around your campfire.

Love, Rhi