The Malcontent Optimist
by Tor Hyams
© 1999 Tor Hyams. All Rights Reserved. Used By Permission.
WARNING: The following contains colourful language. If you are offended by such things, do not read on.
As a songwriter, you are guaranteed a good amount of stress and, most of the time, it doesn't make much sense. You try and get a record deal and you either get ignored or you get some brush-off line or, worse yet, they say they really like it, but they just don't hear a single. Then maybe you figure you can make some dough somehow through music. So, you get an agent, make your commercial songwriting demos and meet with every major television producer in Hollywood. Still, nothing happens.
But, one day, you get a message from God, that is a VP of music at so and so network who wants to license a song of yours for $2500! Wow, actual money for a song. It almost doesn't make sense, but, obviously, this is your big break. Then......Nothing. A lot of hype with no climax and you may not even get to see the show because you forgot to set your VCR. Well, I don't have any answers for you, only some advice about the work of a songwriter and the constraints you must abide by because the entire rest of the western world lives this way.
As I left my apartment in Los Angeles, I overheard someone say "Radio screwed everything up. Radio is the Berlin Wall of artistic constraint. Now, music is all about being able to hum along to it?"
Humming is just what was on my mind as I left Cafe Angelino for what promised to be a very unassuming Sunday night. I'd watched the news, showered, and got ready to meet my manager at the restaurant. I didn't want to go, but somewhere along the line I was convinced that doing these semi-weekly dinners actually improved my career. Every time I ate dinner with my manager, Cindy, I always got a good job in the following week. It never failed. So, I had my usual seafood pasta, one glass of red wine and a cappucino, kissed her goodbye and walked out. The week was about to start so now the waiting could begin.
Monday is a wash. Nothing ever happens on a Monday. In case you're wondering, don't do any serious business on a Monday. Don't make important calls, don't make appointments away from your home or office and, whatever you do, don't try and be creative. Just go about your business and act like everything's cool. I learned this long ago so, of course, I was not upset when I didn't hear word of my incredible job offer that day. Nothing happens on a Monday.
Tuesday. Funny day. The energy of the week has kicked in, not full swing, but it's lingering. Surely, I would at least hear of a prospective job today. It would be just a chance, but by Wednesday morning I'm a shoe-in. Thursday afternoon the contracts are faxed over and, Friday I'm taking my wife to our celebration dinner. Life is good. Strike that. Life was good until it was seven pm and my manager hadn't called all day. No job. Funny day.
I told myself this business was about waiting. I'd wait. I'd become stronger by the resilience I'd build up in the meantime, the kind of strength that allows you to say "hey, terrific, I look forward to working on your project" real casual like when you finally do get the gig of a lifetime.
Wednesday. Radio disc jockeys call it hump day and the water cooler talkers crowd around during coffee breaks at the Office of the Generic to begin the weekly "plans for this weekend" ritual. I got out of that whole office scene a long time ago and, believe me, I never looked back. Politically, I was like the Deep Throat of the office compound.
Still a truly remarkable phenomena, I would actually build up and hold resentment to my bosses and my co-workers for having to be cramped up in an office with them 8 hours a day, five days a week. I told myself it was their fault and they should pay for their sins by having to deal with my over zealous unionization plans. I would plan an all out office riot act, you know the whole bit; chaining ourselves to office furniture, burning company manuals, everything. It passed the time. Needless to say, there are better office mates than myself. The truth be told, I was projecting the resentment. It was my own desire to live and be as a musician; the antithesis to the office. Still, it was hump day.
Four o'clock pm Los Angeles. That meant it was seven in New York. I hadn't heard. I began to doubt my intuition. Maybe it was just a happy coincidence all the times dinner paid off before this one. Maybe I even convinced myself that I was truly blessed and the power of the next job rested in the thin cradle of Leo's hand, the chef who cooked my seafood pasta. Maybe, I was just lucky.
Thursday. I'll get up and drive today. I'll drive my wife to work and then I will do errands. Besides, the phone is much more likely to ring if I'm not around. I'll bring the cell phone, of course, and check messages from the car. I picked up the dry cleaning, dropped off the laundry and even went to the world's most brutal mall, the Beverly Center. For a second, I debated seeing a movie, but chickening out at the last minute in favor of the gnawing feeling that I should be doing something productive. Instead, I went home, got wired on a frozen vanilla coffee and watched tv. Waiting. Waiting. Nothing. There's nothing like waiting. I'm an expert, a waiting professional.
Midway through Friday morning everything seemed like it was leading up to Howard Stern. I figured they must get KRock in L.A. I mean, even L.A. can't deprive one of one's right to listen to Howard Stern. Sure enough I caught Him and Robin just as they were getting into their news schtick. It was hysterical., I mean knee-slapping funny. More importantly, it was New York. They were there. I wasn't. But, I was about to get the biggest job of my life. I decided to call my manager.
I was pissed that she didn't call me all week. I mean, isn't she supposed to check in or something? Is she doing anything or not? I just want to know. Maybe I'm the charity client she only helps out every once in a while. Fuck. Why hadn't she called me? "Cindy?" I said though knowing damn well it was her. "Toooooooor, how are you? What's going on?" I thought real hard for a second and said "uh, not much, you know, same old thing...writing...recording a little." I don't quite know why I lied about this, but I sure as hell wasn't in the mood to get in to detailing my lame errand day. I think she muttered "good" or something. "So any jobs in the works?" I said whimpishly. "Well, we're still waiting on the PBS thing, but nothing besides that."
Waiting. Again with the waiting.
"Any responses on my record yet?" I said with hope in my throat. "Yeah, the guy from Necessary Records said he really liked your CD but he didn't hear the songs as being radio friendly." Fuck. I quickly mumbled out some excuse and got off the phone.
Needless to say, we didn't go out to dinner. Instead, I decided to get stoned and play my very unfriendly radio songs on my Guitar. I thought about how I had forced myself to live with anxiety the entire week and how silly it was to actually accept that way of living. I wished I dealt with it differently, but it was the weekend and there was always Monday.
Tor Hyams is a singer/ songwriter living in Los Angeles and sometimes, New York. He has written over two hundred popular, jazz and R&B songs. Tor has licensed material to NBC's Homicide, scored and packaged a show for Lifetime Television called New Attitudes and has composed score for two Shooting Gallery feature Productions, "Niagra, Niagra" and "Hudson River Blues." Currently, his latest demo CD project, Vultures (http://www.influx.com/vultures), is being shopped for a label deal.
Previous to doing music 'full-time', Tor has held positions in the record industry as a radio promoter, publicist and record producer. He has produced numerous indy demos and played for several New York theatrical productions as a piano player. For the last three years, he has acted as a consultant for a numner of Internet companies including Infoseek, Sonicnet and Buzz Magazine.
At the twenty-fifth hour of the day, Tor somehow manages to update his surprisingly popular and obnoxious website called Fierce (http://www.fierce.com/), the site for Web Elitists.