As a card-carrying member of the music industry — I exchange oodles of hot sweat in return for hard, cold cash — I’m more concerned with my own songs than anyone else’s.
It makes sense since most of the places I play are wineries that want original music to avoid having to pay off ASCAP and BMI, which say they pay writers royalties for their songs.
To hear the wineries tell it, the sometimes strong-armed tactics of the American Society of Composers, Publishers and Authors and Broadcast Music, Inc. — dunning over the phone and with letters to sell “licenses” and deploying undercover operatives to see what’s being played — seems to have more in common with Louie’s 24-Hour Protection Service than any legitimate concern for the well-being of creative property.
I won’t even play “Happy Birthday,” a song I believe is now in the public domain, for fear of triggering a raid by the joint ASCAP/BMI Royalty Enforcement Unit (REU), which, God bless the flexibility of this newspaper, I just made up.
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My version of “Happy Birthday” isn’t all that good anyway.
I was playing at one of my favorite wineries a while back and learned that a couple in front was celebrating 60 years of marriage and that someone else in the audience was moving to Milan, Italy, the next day.
I’m not really the person to handle that kind of information with sincerity and grace. I think I avoided saying anything tacky about the anniversary — an example might’ve been that a couple’s 60th is more about dogged perseverance than congratulations — but, honestly, my impulse was to abandon songwriting for standup comedy.
Yet as Archie Bunker would’ve said, I stifled it.
I also avoided singing “Happy Anniversary” to the melody of “Happy Birthday.” The Royalty Police lurk everywhere, and I wasn’t about to be cuffed and hauled off to the BMI calaboose.
And what do you say about a person who’s moving to Milan? If I were worldly and had a flair for quick thinking and Romance languages, I could’ve said “Arrivederci Milano” or maybe “Ciao!” and left it at that.
But I’ve actually been in Milan and all I remember is lousy pizza, insane drivers and statues relieving themselves in every square.
So I told the expatriate to watch himself when stepping off the curb.
And take it from me, going to Italy for pizza is like flying to Beijing and expecting to pay $5.25 for a luncheon combo of Happy Family, an egg roll, fried rice and a fortune cookie.
Disillusionment lurks at every corner of the globe for the American traveler who never should’ve left home in the first place. I fall in that category, as did my father. His idea of traveling to Europe and experiencing different cultures was to ask for the nearest kosher restaurant so he could order roast chicken and potato kugel.
I’m not a big drinker, but I’d have to say if I wanted to take it up imbibing seriously I’d be more the wine type than beer type. I’ve tried to explain my feelings about beer to my family, but all I get are strange looks like I’m fibbing.
There are times — very hard-to-define times — when nothing tastes better than a cold beer. In my case, it usually coincides with mowing the lawn on a very hot day, a pastime, frankly, I can do without. When I do consent to mow our bump-and-hard-ground-friendly, dust-spewing lawn, having a beer is like flushing out a car radiator that’s full of rust and sediment.
Wine, on the other hand, is easier to get down under all circumstances. But who ever heard of anyone cranking up the mower, breaking an August sweat and asking for a glass of semi-sweet sauvignon blanc?
The wineries I play apparently like my music. That’s good, because if the hiring were based on the depth of my wine knowledge, I’d be in trouble.
My brother and his globe-trotting German wife once asked what kind of wine I’d like and I said “pink.”
I’ve gotten over the hump of that Huck Finnish description and now drop “semi-sweet” or “semi-dry” white wine as often as possible.
When it comes to ASCAP and BMI, I already knew not to play cover songs. Life is about learning and adapting, so now when it comes to wine, I never say any more than necessary.
You can write me at firstname.lastname@example.org to say “Ciao!” at your favorite winery.