David Bruce: 250 Music Anecdotes — Good Deeds (and Bad)

Good Deeds (and Bad)

• The Dutch band the Ex makes odd music. They chose their name because it could be easily written on walls, and they drew straws to determine which band member would play which instrument. In 1983, they made four 7-inch singles about a closed factory in the area where the band formed: the Amsterdam suburb of Wormer. The band does have a sense of humor: For a year, it ran a 7-inch singles club, but the last single they sent out was 12 inches, so it would not fit in the box that held the 7-inch singles. The band is also capable of doing good deeds: It toured Ethiopia, giving free concerts in places where hardly any musicians, including Ethiopian musicians, went. The band members took along amplifiers and generators, but they left them behind for Ethiopian musicians to use. In addition, they gave away many free cassette tapes. Guitarist Andy Moor says, “Everyone still uses cassettes there. We went back to pressing up cassettes, giving them out to taxi drivers all over the place. So at least theyknow what we sound like.”

• Music photographer Jim Marshall could be abrasive, but he had many, many friends. In 1983, Steve Goodman was playing with Johnny Cash in Eugene, Oregon. Mr. Goodman, who is famous for writing the song “The City of New Orleans,” a hit sung by Arlo Guthrie, was suffering from leukemia, had lost his hair, and knew that he had little time left to live. Mr. Marshall avoided photographing his friend because of his lack of hair, figuring that his friend would not want his photograph taken, but after the concert, Mr. Goodman said to him, “Hey, Jimmy, I know that you’re not taking pictures of me because of the way I look, but it’s OK, man. I’d like to be in your book someday.” Mr. Marshall promised him that he would be in the book, and a photograph that Mr. Marshall took appears in his first major book, Not Fade Away: The Rock & Roll Photography of Jim Marshall. Mr. Marshall writes about Mr. Goodman, “He was one of the real good guys and a good friend.”

• Taylor Swift learned how to play a 12-string guitar in part because of a bad deed and a good deed — and because of her own desire and determination. Here she explains the bad deed: “I actually learned [to play guitar] on a 12-string because some guy told me that I would never be able to play it, that my fingers were too small. Anytime somebody tells me that I can’t do something, I want to do it more.” A good deed helped her learn how to play. She explains that a computer repairman at her house helped her get started: “In this magical twist of fate, the guy who my parents had hired to come fix my computer [taught me]. I’m doing my homework and he looks round and sees the guitar in the corner and he looks [at me] and says, ‘Do you know how to play guitar?’ I was like, ‘Ah, no.’ He said, ‘Do you want me to teach you a few chords?’ After that, I was relentless. I wanted to play all the time.”

• Pianist Van Cliburn, who did not smoke or drink, did many good deeds in his life, including many before he became wealthy. Once, when his life savings amounted to a little more than $1,000, he donated that money to help buy a much-needed piano for the church he attended in New York City. He also gave up a $500 engagement — when $500 was a small fortune to him — to perform for free at a church banquet. After visiting Russia, he carried back to the United States a lilac bush that a Russian fan of Sergei Rachmaninoff had asked him to plant at the head of Rachmaninoff’s grave in Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, New York.

• For many years, Doc Severensen and his band provided the house music for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Mr. Carson stood up for his band. On one show Ray Charles performed, and on air he yelled to the drummer of Doc’s band, “Pick up the pace!” After the show was over, Mr. Carson went to Mr. Charles’ dressing room and said, “Ray, there’s a drummer in Doc’s band who needs an apology.” Mr. Charles, a man of class, agreed that he had behaved unprofessionally: He apologized to the entire band.

• When opera singer Helen Traubel’s aunt and uncle suffered severe financial losses, she used to put $10 on her uncle’s dresser each day — unasked — so he wouldn’t be embarrassed by asking her for money.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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250 Music Anecdotes (Kindle eBook: $1.99):

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