March 2010

Mr. P.C. By

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Dear Mr. P.C.:

I went to a jam session yesterday and am confused as to why I got evil stares from the band guys. I was very prepared. I brought five copies of my six-page arrangement to "Lush Life" (in B). Granted, I forgot to tape them and a few pages flew off the bandstand, but otherwise I thought it went well. I did have to stop and start the band several times because they just didn't understand my hand signals. I know the signals were correct because I learned them in my part-time music class. What's wrong with the band? Madeline, San Francisco

Dear Madeline:

"I know! I know!" That's me, back in fourth grade. "Call on me, Mrs. Hamilton—I figured it out!" Mine is the only hand in the air, waving frantically, wanting to show everyone that I got the answer first.

What you're wondering, no doubt, is how I evolved from that annoying, overachieving brat into the non-competitive, non-judgmental, egalitarian global citizen I am today. It wasn't an easy path; it involved a lot of willpower and the good sense to seek alternative therapies. Encounter groups, sensitivity training, drum circles, Shamanism and even Ramenism—a spiritual diet well known to jazz musicians—were all stops along the road. Eventually, it all became clear to me: I could reroute my negative, know-it-all energy into a positive and productive direction. Lo and behold—I'm an advice columnist, sharing my knowledge for the betterment of man/womynkind.

Now, I've heard enough about San Francisco to know that the men there are every bit as sensitive and self-aware as I am. So if you want to know "what's wrong with the band," for heaven's sake, Madeline, just ask them. Make sure you have a notepad on hand; each musician will sadly catalog his problems for you and share all the steps he's taking to address them.

If your bandmembers are self-actualized like I am, they've found the very career—playing jazz, in their case—that allows them to turn their shortcomings into assets. And working with you, as part of that, helps them satisfy some very specific developmental issues. Some of them can thrive only on disorder; others, for reasons beyond the scope of this column, desperately need an abusive mother figure. With your six-page untaped charts of hard tunes in awkward keys, convoluted hand gestures, and humiliating "re-starts" when the band screws up, you're the therapeutic solution they're all looking for.

Keep up the good work, Madeline; your boys need you more than any of you could possibly realize.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I wrote you in October telling you about my ankle pain, and asking if it might count as enough suffering to make me soulful. Your answer was, "Only if it can't be fully controlled by over-the-counter medication." That was really helpful, and it sent me on quite a journey.

I tried Advil, Tylenol, Aleve, and traditional aspirin, and none of them helped. Ka-ching! Over-the-counter- medication couldn't control my pain!!! So I got a prescription for Oxycodone, and it didn't help either. I figured I needed to increase the dosage, and my bassist was able to help me out. Now he also sells me Valium to help me sleep. As it turns out, not only does my ankle still hurt, but my life is unraveling. Might I have soul now? Duane, Detroit

Dear Duane:

I think you're heading down the right path, but keep in mind that the truly tragic—and soulful—historical figures in jazz would already have added booze to the mix; that's a no-brainer. And don't worry about the warnings on the labels, saying not to mix this medication with that, or with alcohol, or with the operation of heavy machinery. They're written by pharmaceutical lawyers; soulless corporate tools who wouldn't recognize the Blues if it wore a nametag and had a firm handshake.

Soulless Pharmaceutical Tool: "And what company do you work for?"

The Blues: "I don't work for a company. I'm an expression of loss and yearning."

Soulless Pharmaceutical Tool (hiding disappointment): "Ah, well, if you ever need large quantities of labels warning against mixing alcohol and anti-convulsants..." (hands the Blues a business card, heads to the bar for a refill).

And if you want to take it all the way, Duane, why not top off your "soul cocktail" with the most storied self-medication of all—heroin? Jazz lore tells us that no spiritual enema is really complete without it.

Just one note of caution: As I advise all my readers, I recommend you avoid caffeine, red meat, and gluten.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

What does one say to fellow vocalists who don't sing very well—after they return to your shared community table of loving fellow singers/friends? For example: They sound good in chest voice, but when in head voice, above their break, sound like Beverly Sills. On acid. Or their throat has a live-in frog, so their phlegm turns every tune into soggy muck, even the fast ones. Or they sing okay, but pick awful songs, like "Summertime" and "My Funny Valentine." Or maybe they just sing grossly out of tune.

Should I share some helpful hints followed by my business card offering voice lessons, or just smile widely and try to find something—anything—good to say about the singing?

Help me Mr. PC!!! class="f-right"> —signed, "But I Thought (I) Could Help"

Dear Bit

Dear Bitnc

Dear Bitcl:

I can't do it! Every time I try to type your horrifying acronym, my body rebels—my fingers cramping, throat gagging, eyes watering. And in this case—contrary to what I've learned from Air America—torture elicits a truthful confession: In college, my still-evolving gender awareness was found inadequate by more fully formed feminist thinkers, who castigated me mercilessly. That instilled in me a terrifying fear that I now recognize as my social conscience.

You're a troubled soul, Bitnch. At first read, you don't seem to like either yourself or your "loving fellow singers/friends." But I see someone much nicer inside: You want to be a good person, you're trying to do the right thing, but you're disturbed by your own disgust at the wretched singing around you. Well, guess what? Most people have a sneering inner monologue running pretty much 24/7, but they've learned to ignore it or laugh it off. If anything, you're just an unusually sensitive, inwardly aware being, albeit a self-proclaimed Btich with an unnatural fixation on Beverly Sills.

So hear me now, and hear me well: As your reigning advice columnist, I hereby grant you dispensation from this fruitless self-questioning. Consider your thoughts as free-range chickens: Let them run about as they please, unfettered; it's the healthiest and most natural state, after all. They need to be exercised, streamlined, to shed their excess fat.

But with this dispensation, I offer an equally important note of caution: Just as a free-range chicken needs boundaries (predators, after all, await beyond the protective fencing of the farm), you must never let your inside thoughts become outside words. Stand guard, unwaveringly; do not blink. Only if you fail, and that terrible stream of insults leaks out, do you live up to your own nasty billing, "Bitch." (Ah, quotation marks! You said it, not me. Though I must admit it feels strangely liberating...)

Confidential to Jay in San Diego:

I'm sorry you don't find me amusing. Maybe I'm just not myself right now. I accompanied a vocal workshop all weekend where they worked on tag, all weekend where they worked on tag, all weekend where they worked on... tag .........eennddiinnggss.

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