Why can’t we all just get along? I heard this wish expressed often at my first AFM convention this June.
After listening for a while, it occurred to me that it was only half a thought, although the second half was rarely stated.
I will now write it in its entirety: “Why can’t we all get along? If everyone would do as I say, we could all get along just fine.”
There we all were, in one big room: over 300 musicians, all with individual opinions.
I know people think that if the Democrats and Republicans, and Jews and Arabs, and Shiites and Sunnis, and socialists and capitalists could all come together in some weird groping mass, the world would be a better place.
The last time I thought there might be some realistic hope of this happening was on Oct. 13, 1967, while I was having a certain type of artificially induced euphoric experience.
Back to the convention. I came back down to earth, figuratively speaking.
I need to be able to get paid for the work I do. I need some health benefits and the possibility of a comfortable retirement. If I could get these things all by myself, I could be as united as my neuroses and ambivalent tendencies would allow. This doesn’t work, so I belong to the union.
So what if I go to some union meeting in which the “getting along” thing has been promoted?
Since I often have strong opinions, I’ve begun to feel undue pressure put on me whenever I open my mouth.
If I start some discussion or debate, not only might there be a free exchange of ideas, but now I might destroy the joy and bliss being enjoyed by whatever group in which I was participating.
There’s a joke that says if you want to get three opinions about anything, put two Jews in a room. I could stand in for both of them, all by myself. I could threaten world peace, if it existed. I could trigger the apocalypse all by myself.
I began to resent this utopian ideal.
For one thing, it spoils all my fun.
I like the debate and differences of opinion which are necessary for intelligent action.
We don’t need to be united until we face our outside opponents.
Internally, we need to fight things out among ourselves.
Then we need to trade off some of our lesser priorities until we can all unite behind a reasonable compromise which helps us as a group attain some realistic goals.
At the convention, there was more talk.
They talked about talking.
They talked about talking, but called it “dialogue.”
It seemed as if they were suggesting that if we all could just have a “dialogue,” in an appropriate venue, we would all feel better about everything.
Somehow, the idea of concrete achievements took a backseat to a kind of New Age touchy feely thing that seemed more appropriate for a soap opera.
There were a few steps forward, but in one important resolution concerning the future financing of the AFM, we ended up with a very weak imitation of an effective compromise.
I had a few nice experiences which actually related to music.
Harold Bradley, the AFM’s vice president out of Nashville, lent me his guitar for a jam session.
It was a bit touch-and-go for a minute while I faked a transposition of “Lover Man” into a key for a girl singer.
(I say this without fear of offending anyone, because the singer was Lily, Sam Folio’s granddaughter, who can still get away with being called a girl.)
I redeemed myself with a pretty nice chorus of “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.”
I also met Billy Linneman, a new International Executive Board member, also from Nashville, who has been the staff bassist at the Grand Ole Opry for 43 years. We talked about some unfortunate developments in rhythm section recording techniques.
Music at a convention of musicians. What a paradox that is!
Ethan Fein is an elected member of Local 802’s Executive Board.