A few years back, our good friend Daddy Wrall got his hands on a very rare and wonderful video of Larry Graham on The Don Kirchner Show. Actually, I think it’s called Don Kirsher’s Rock Concert,* though that is neither here nor there. The show is set up to look like an actual concert, though it is taped in the studio and there is no audience. Presumably, they add applause after the fact, but I wouldn’t know for sure. Why? Well, that’s where it gets interesting.
*I’m telling you, I’ve been spelling that guy’s name wrong for years. Not just in this post. I could have sworn that his name was Kirchner, but a quick internet search indicates that it’s definitely Kirshner. Now I really want to look at Wrall’s video case and see if that, too, is misspelled, because I have been led astray somewhere, and I want to know where.
The tape that Wrall owns is not edited. It’s just the raw tape of Larry and his band performing, with all of the dead time in between, including discussion about monitoring, false starts and yes, fake banter with the audience. After the first song, “Can You Handle It,” Larry is pretty well winded by his intense performance, but by the time he is ready to introduce “One in a Million You,” (the hit song from his most recent record One in a Million You) he has to actually pretend to be winded.
Larry does a lengthy verbal introduction of the song where he talks about “Can You Handle It” being a serious song, but “One in a Million You” being serious in a different way. It’s fantastic and heartfelt. When he’s done, though, his keyboard player doesn’t play the musical introduction correctly*, so Larry has to stop him and tell him where and how to play the part. Tthey start the song again, but he also has to introduce the song again to keep the transition clean. Since he was happy with his initial introduction, Larry tries to make this one similar, talking about “serious songs” and things like that. The keyboard player messes up again. After a few tries, he eventually gets, it, but Larry’s intros have gone off the deep end. The introduction to the song that the show ends up keep includes Larry saying something like, “we’d like to continue with a whole ‘nother kind of serious music. This is my hit song from my record One in a Million You and the song is entitled ‘One in a Million You’**.”
The brilliance of this statement is that, unless you can watch the whole sequence of false starts and introductions, what Larry is trying to say with “a whole ‘nother kind of serious music” is mostly lost. In fact, the audience of the show probably had no idea exactly what he was talking about, because they didn’t get to see the original speech about “Can You Handle It” and “One in a Million You” being “different kinds of serious”.***
*We had an impromptu karaoke session the other week while we were recording, and part of that session including me flubbing the intro to this particular song, over and over, until we realized that I was making the exact same mistakes as the guy from the video. It was uncanny. I say: Krang.
** You thought I made up that particular sequence of words. Well, I showed you.
***As always, I am not jabbing Mr. Larry Graham. I would never dream of questioning one of our unquestioned and unquestionable heroes. The man is a legend. If I were doing these introductions, my statements would likely become so obtuse as to move beyond the realm of humor and into the realm of paranormal. In that moment he must have thought that like him, we all heard what had come before, and could glean from his shorthand what was being said. All that said, watching him towel off and start these intros with “Phew!” as if he had just that instant finished playing “Can You Handle It”–not to mentioning thanking the fake audience–is pretty darn funny.
I bring this up for a reason. Are there different kinds of serious? Staying with the Larry Graham motif, on “G.C.S.” from his second record Release Yourself, his clavinet player Hershall “Happiness” Kennedy says, “this is Hershall “Happiness” saying ‘smile and be serious’.” Well, if that doesn’t say it all…
You can be serious and have fun. I’m all about that. Recently, I went for a walk with my old friend Jeffrey from my college days. Just before I went, I was talking with a common friend and when I mentioned Jeffrey, he said, “Jeffrey is so freakin’ serious, man. Like, it’s okay to laugh.” For the record, those two things are not mutually exclusive. Jeffery is a self-made man. He has his own publishing business, and working for himself, he must feel like he needs to work all the time or consider himself failing. While we were walking together, he had to take the last fifteen minutes or so to talk to a business associate, and though that a was a bummer on our time, how could I deny him that?
We elevate those with ambition and focus. Look at how we treat football coaches who ignore their families to spend nights watching game film and preparing for their weekly games. Actors and musicians are expected to, and brag about, working 18 months straight without a day off or a night in their own bed. College kids talk about all-nighters as though they are badges of honor. We all feel the need to do more, be more, fit more into our limited time.
I can relate to these things as much as anyone, as I always want to maximize the time that I have available to me to do anything. When we have a working weekend, I used to never factor in down time. How could we give up a few of our oh-so-limited hours together? Sam and Wrall are as ambitious as me, but thankfully I’ve learned from them that it’s okay to play a little karaoke Larry Graham and Richard Manuel instead of EQ-ing the synthesizer on “Soda Pop”*
*Oh, haven’t heard of that one, have you?
I recently learned that some people I work with consider me to be too serious. Like Jeffrey, I take my job and my life seriously and I do want to maximize my opportunities here. But being serious is fun. Doing a good job is fun. Reward isn’t a measly check from ASCAP, or the mediocre health benefits from a the day job, but the actual, in the moment feeling of a job well done. (Cue cheesy motivational speaker music.)
There’s a book called Education and Ecstacsy by a man named George Leonard. I read it in college on the recommendation of a very good friend. In the book, Leonard talks about how the intrinsic joy of learning is far more powerful than any extrinsic reward we can offer someone to learn that thing. Finding that you know something you didn’t before, or can do something that you couldn’t before gives us a literal feeling of ecstasy that receiving an ‘A’ never can. That’s why Miss Fairchild makes music. The joy of creating something that itself can bring joy is a double whammy for us. That’s why we can ‘smile and be serious.’
There’s no other kind of serious to be.