Bullshit and Boogie Woogie

Posted: December 17, 2012 in Life, Music, Russ
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

My first thought was he lied at every word. That’s from T.S. Eliot‘s The Wasteland – years later, I would realize that applied to Russ. He rarely gave a straight answer about anything – if you asked him his opinion of something one day, he’d tell you one thing. The next, it’d be totally different. I’ve wondered for years if it was a defense mechanism to keep Mom from getting to know too much about him,  if he was sort of goading things along in his own way, or if he was just a people pleaser. Rarely did he give straight answers to anything – everything was almost always somewhat ambiguous. This was excellent fodder for Mom, but it sometimes annoyed me. For example, we never knew his birthday. It wasn’t that he made it into a state secret, it’s that he gave us a few different dates when we asked. I’m sure he thought this was amusing somehow, but it doubled and tripled his letters and gifts from Mom – ultimately reinforcing her idea that there were different Russes. After all, they all had different birthdays. They couldn’t all be the same person, right? I think he honestly forgot most of what came out of his mouth the minute he said it, because he seemed genuinely surprised when Mom brought him gifts on his “birthdays”. He’d tell us about people he allegedly knew in the industry – and I suppose he knew some – and he’d talk about how he was going to call them to see if they could help us. One day, he’d promise great things up and down. The next, he would have forgotten all about it and was back to speaking in vagaries. One thing I got from him that wasn’t bullshit – one of the few things – was musicianship. He was a hell of a musician. I remember him sitting me down one day and showing me something on the piano.

Russ: There’s only 3 people in the world that know this besides me, and 2 of them are dead.

I think he was joking. I laughed.

Me: What is it?

Russ: It’s the Boogie Woogie. See?

Me: That’s really cool…

Russ: Ok, let me show you how it is slowed down.

And we went on like that. He taught me songwriting as well, but that came a little later – he was always fairly critical of my songs. I think this was ultimately a good thing, but I also think he loved to burst my bubble. Russ would shake his head when I thought I brought in a monster hit.

Russ: Not top drawer stuff, Danny.

Mom’s opinion of things would instantly change once Russ’s opinion was voiced. If she loved a song before, and he said it sucked, she’d insist that it sucked and she thought so all along. If he thought an audition song was great for me – something she may have hated in private – she would suddenly love it. There were some exceptions, but they were few and far between. And still, at the end of every freaking lesson, Mom would intone the weekly benediction.

Mom: Russ…?

Russ: Yeah, Donna?

Mom: Am I ever going to see the Right One again?

Russ: Oh, he’s around. He’ll show up.

Mom: But when?

Russ: Just be patient.

Mom: Are they ever going to sit down and talk with us?

Russ: Oh, I don’t know…that’s up to the Powers That Be.

Mom: Wow. Who are the Powers That Be?

Russ: You know, the people who gotta approve.

Mom: Is the Answer coming back?

Russ: Yeah, someday.

Mom: Is the answer coming back yes?

Russ: We’ll have to see.

And on and on and on this went. Sometimes we’d be 20 minutes walking out the door. “The Answer” was her ultimate EVERYTHING all rolled into one. It was the Mob “making us”, it was finding the Right One, it was power, success, money and happiness. Somehow along the way, she determined that Russ said something about an “answer” and the answer “coming back” – I’m not sure he actually did, or if he did it wasn’t in any way shape or form in the context she took it in. Regardless, it became part of the litany of questions that she’d ask at the end of every lesson, or leave on his machine, or write in letters. Regardless of how long a letter was, or how long a message was (and believe me, his machine ran through more answering machine tape than you’d believe) it ultimately boiled down to this: Is the Answer Coming Back?

His response to the question would be dissected and analyzed and re hashed on the ride home. It would dictate her mood for the next day or week – at least until the next lesson. I always tried to put a positive spin on things for her, but it was hard to know what I was working with. She would insist they had these long conversations that I never heard – always while I was either in the bathroom, or too soft for me to hear. Even as a kid, I was skeptical – I was sitting right next to the man on the piano bench.

I would go to sleep in my room, and inevitably I’d be woken up by Mom. She had this irritating way of waking me during these times – it was very passive aggressive. I think the theory was: I’m not going to wake you, I’m just going to make some noise until you wake up. She’d pop open the door, shuffle over to the bed, and sit down at the end. She’d sit there, clearing her throat and shifting until I eventually woke up, fuzzily.

Me: What, Mom?

Mom: Dan…do you think The Answer is really coming back?

Me: Yeah, Mom. I guess. I’m trying to sleep.

Mom: Is it really?

I knew this was a minefield, so I always forced myself into mental clarity to handle her questions.

Me: Yeah, Mom. I’m sure it is.

Mom: Okay.

And then she’d get very quiet, and I’d think the conversation would be over. But she’d just sit there, at the end of the bed, sometimes for half an hour. Eventually I’d have to acknowledge her.

Me: Yes, Mom…what is it?

Mom: Did Russ say…

And oh, God. Thus began the Spanish Inquisition. I was grilled over what Russ said (or didn’t say) and HOW he said it and what his EYES looked like when he said it and what his BODY LANGUAGE was like. Her opening salvo was always “Did Russ say…” and good Lord, it was awful. I hated it. Even today, that phrase makes my skin crawl. Inevitably she’d follow up her opener with something cryptic and kooky.

Mom: Did Russ say…”we’ll see how the kite flies from there”?

Me: No, Mom.

Mom: Well, did he say anything *like* that?

Me: No, not that I heard.

Mom: Well, I think he did. It was just too quiet for you to hear.

It ultimately didn’t matter what Russ said (or didn’t say). It was *always* cryptic, it was *always* packed with more insinuations that I would ever be able to pick up on, and it was *always* “too soft for me to hear”.

I probably lost thousands of hours of sleep at night to these benign, nocturnal  intrusions. I sometimes would try to pretend to still be asleep, but it just drew the whole thing out. My patience would eventually run out, or Tim’s would (he shared the room with me). One of us would kick her out, telling her we needed sleep, and assuring her that we would talk about it in the morning. Like it or not, talking about it in the morning was one thing you could guarantee.


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