Saturday, October 3, 2015

Whatever Happened to The Stroganovs?

[Any resemblance of characters or circumstances in the following reverie to actual persons or events is entirely coincidental.]

Togo and his neighbor and a singer/guitarist Togo had met at a birthday party put a band together. A succession of lead guitarists came and went before it occurred to Togo to invite the guy who, as a young hotshot in 1977, had played lead in his band The Nadir. Togo never dreamed he’d like the idea, but damned if he did not! But then it emerged that the birthday party guy, the singer — a husband, father, and grandfather — was available to rehearse only three times a month on a good month. Togo found a lovely Ukraine-born young woman singer who seemed to love the camera, even if there was none present. Thinking that her nationality might be saleable, he proposed that the band rename itself The Stroganovs. Neighbor was adamant that the proposed group name would offend prospective gay patrons (because Vladimir Putin’s homophobic, Vladimir Putin’s Russian, and beef Stroganoff is a Russian dish), a notion several gay friends and acquaintances found incomprehensible, and none endorsed. 

The band concept, if you will, was to perform pre-1970 songs all four musicians liked in boldly imaginative ways. Back when the birthday party singer had suggested Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman, Togo had rewritten the five-note guitar riff on which the song is based, sort of turning it upside down. Neighbor contemptuously pronounced the proposed revision musically unconscionable — meandering (though only five notes!) and better suited to a calliope than a guitar. On most occasions thereafter when Togo had a musical idea, he kept it to himself rather than have to endure Neighbor’s glib, gratuitous ridicule.

The group worked on vocals. Neighbor seemed to regard himself as one of the great harmonizers, a younger Paul McCartney or Graham Nash, a living Phil Everly. Togo had long believed his self-delusion in this regard to be stratospheric, but no amount of recorded evidence had  been able to change Neighbor’s mind. Although seemingly incapable of hearing his own off-keyness, Neighbor always delighted in pointing out others’, and announced in front of the other Stroganovs that he was far from convinced Togo would be able to sing particular parts to Neighbor’s satisfaction.

Togo, chastened, nonetheless did pretty much all the band’s behind-the-scenes stuff, except the recording of Young Female Singer on the band’s demo recordings, as he had no wish to hear Neighbor’s bewailing the pitch problems he’d let slide, but which were sorely offensive to one with as acute a sense of pitch as Neighbor’s. Togo made elaborate videos for two kinds of prospective patrons — bookers at night clubs and event organizers — and two Websites. He spent days on end procuring names and email addresses, and designed a succession of what he hoped were attention-grabbing little graphics, and then spent endless hours sending them out. The band had essentially become a full-time job.

Finally, a metal venue in the San Fernando Valley offered to allow the band to open for a succession of tribute acts whose audiences the Strogs’ guitar player, a veteran of many performances there, felt sure would loathe The Stroganovs. One whose idea of a good time was AC/DC, he asserted, was unlikely to be very pleased with the Strogs’ Dick Dale-esque version of Donovan’s “Catch the Wind.” Weeks in advance, a little club in one of the south-of-LAX beach cities offered the band a 7:00 p.m. slot on a Saturday night. Togo immediately started putting a series of advertisements for the gig on Facebook, imploring people to attend.

Six people attended, five invited by Togo, and one Russian woman hoping to persuade the singer to marry her son. It was just as well. The group’s sound check had been scheduled for 5:30. Neighbor showed up, with neither explanation nor apology, at 6:15, after the sound guy had given up on the group and gone out to run an errand. Togo’s drums may have been inaudible to the audience for the first three numbers. They were inaudible to him the whole show.

Forty-eight hours later, Togo received a scathing email from the club’s booker. How had he dared to keep sending her attention-getting graphics when the group was capable of drawing only six paying customers on a Saturday evening?

He gets it coming, you see, and he gets it going. He works feverishly to get a booking. The rest of the band takes his having done so for granted, and, between the three of them, fill  not a single seat. The booker tells him angrily to take her off the Strogs’ mailing list he  worked so hard on compiling. Whereupon the balance sheet looks like this: He gets great pleasure out of rehearsing with the guitarist and singer, and none whatever from rehearsing with Neighbor, who never practices, but on whose playing he is tacitly forbidden to comment, though something has given Neighbor the impression that Togo is vitally interested in his impressions of the parts Togo works up for himself. And he get nothing but displeasure from being either ignored or scolded for his persistence by the many prospective patrons he keeps emailing and phoning, out of sight of the band, out of mind of the band, on the mutual behalf.

If he wants rejection, he thinks to myself, he can revert to trying to get his fiction published.

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