Crime And Punishment
(Soapbox Column #9)
Bass Player Magazine
Published March, 2001
There's this e-mail that's been going around for the better part of a year now called "Bass Player Infractions." Some of you have probably seen it, some perhaps not, and some of you may not even own a computer (and if you're making your living as a freelance bassist, one could hardly blame you). Whatever your level of cyber-awareness, the "infractions" listed within were universal enough to make me both laugh and cringe. After all, I wondered if I might be brought up on charges myself.
The e-mail itself is a list of offenses against an unspoken code of musical honor among bassists. Each offense carries with it a financial penalty equivalent to the severity of the dastardly done deed. For instance, "Playing loudly during warm-up" will run you ten bucks. "Continually shouting ‘Yeah!'" costs twenty-five smackers. "Taking cell phone call during trading 4's" is a rough one, lightening your billfold by a cool Benjamin.
I chuckled along with the first few, but my demeanor soon turned to fear. "Excessive sweating" - guilty. "Missing root at end of blistering fill" - guilty again. "Playing Jaco groove on samba" - so, so very guilty. By the time I'd finished tallying up my offenses against the State of Bassdom, I was a hardened musical criminal who owed the coffers of justice over two thousand dollars, or forty singer-songwriter gigs in Los Angeles (with rehearsals included, of course). The long arm of the law was so deep into my pocket that its hand was touching my ankle.
Well, I wasn't about to take it lying down. Acting in my own defense, I submitted my arguments to the court of musical opinion. Below are some choice excerpts of the transcript:
Offense: Sound-checking amp with funk slapping
Penalty: $25. fine
My defense: "I was only reacting to the request of the soundman. He said he wanted to hear some bass. I wanted to make sure he knew the peak level."
Judge: "Were there any tunes in the set that required slap bass?"
Me: "Yes, one tune, during the guitar solo."
Judge: "How many tunes did you play that night."
Judge's ruling: Guilty as charged, full fine due immediately.
Offense: Playing with a pick
Penalty: $50. fine
My defense: "I never really wanted to, and never did before 1997. But when alternative rock went mainstream, I had to do it so I could get more gigs."
Judge: "The court shows that during the two songs you were witnessed using a pick, you dropped it during the second verse in each case. What's your explanation for this?"
Me: "I had already missed several big downbeats, and then my thumb and index finger started to cramp up, so I figured I'd better just let the pick fall out of my hand." Judge: "What do you mean, you missed several big downbeats?"
Me: "One time I went to hit an open string and I whiffed. Another time I hit the E and the A string both at once."
Judge's ruling: Guilty of a reduced charge of bad general technique, fine reduced to $25.
Offense: Playing written-out walking line
Penalty: $50. fine
My defense: "The gig was a Steely Dan tribute band called The Steely Damned, and the tune was "Bodhisattva," which has a walking line during the guitar solo. Note-for-note accuracy was requested by the bandleader, and a chart was provided." Judge: "Hmmm, I see. Did you in fact play the walking section of the chart note-for-note?"
Me: "Uh, yeah, most of the time. I improvised in a couple of places, but that was it." Judge's ruling: Not guilty of charged offense. However, defendant is found guilty of failure to play written-out walking line, $75. fine due immediately.
Offense: Playing sixteenth notes
Penalty: $10. each
My defense: "Your honor, I feel this is most unjust. I was on a gig and the bandleader called ‘What Is Hip?' What was I supposed to do? Play whole notes?" Judge: "Do you have any precedent to back up your claim?"
Me: "In the cases of State v. Pastorius and State v. Prestia, sixteenth notes were found by the court to be both appropriate and musical when used in the proper context."
Judge: "Bailiff, look in the evidence file and tell me how many notes we're talking about here."
Bailiff: "The defendant is charged with having played some one-thousand four-hundred and thirty-nine sixteenth notes during the song in question, resulting in a potential fine of $14,390."
Judge's ruling: Case dismissed.
Offense: Blacking out during ballad
Penalty: $200. fine
My defense: "I had a gig the night before that didn't get done until two in the morning, and then I had to drive sixty miles home. Then I had a bar mitzvah gig the next day, which was outside in ninety-degree heat."
Judge: "According to our records, you were out on your feet for approximately thirty seconds. How did the band react to this?"
Me: "I have a sworn affidavit from the lead vocalist which states that I didn't miss the changes while I was, uh, blacked out."
Judge: "I find that hard to believe. Let me see that. [Judge summons bailiff to show him the affidavit.] And what song was it that benefited from your unique approach to power napping?"
Judge's ruling: Guilty as charged, fine suspended due to extenuating circumstances.
Offense: Asking to borrow Real Book for "All Of Me"
Penalty: $1,000. fine
My defense: "I feel that this is a biased statute, your honor. I would not expect jazz players to be fined a thousand dollars for needing The Complete Led Zeppelin book for "Whole Lotta Love."
Judge: "Yes, but our records show that you are a graduate of Berklee College Of Music. Do you deny this?"
Me: "That's true, but--"
Judge: "The record also shows that your major was in Performance. And yet you don't know the changes to ‘All Of Me?' This is a very serious offense, Mr. Beller."
Me: "I would only ask the court to consider the offenses on this list that I have not committed. I have never checked my hair between tunes. Between sets, maybe, but never between tunes. I have never forgotten my strap. I've never asked the bone player about his day gig, though I've been tempted to on several occasions. I've never played an E while the horn section was tuning to Bb. I've never practiced scales during the drum solo, I don't even own a bass with skull decals on it, and I always turn my cell phone ringer off during the set. Surely this counts for something, your honor." Judge: "You said you turn your cell phone ringer off during the set. Why not turn the phone off entirely?"
Me: "I set it to Vibrate Mode, so if somebody calls I can check the Caller ID during the next ballad."
Judge's ruling: Guilty as charged, fine waived in lieu of 500 hours of community service teaching upright players to play Led Zeppelin tunes on electric bass.
Judge: "And, bailiff - confiscate that cell phone immediately."
Reprinted with permission from the March, 2001 issue of BASS PLAYER. For subscription information, please visit http://www.bassplayer.com.