I had a friend. We’d been friends since high school. I considered her a good friend. The kind of friend you feel you can trust. She happened to be a talented musician, and for years we flirted with the idea of someday recording some of her music together, but it never really went beyond the talking stage. It didn’t help that for a number of years she was living in Toronto or some other place that wasn’t Windsor.
Around the time I was working on IF I HAD A QUARTER we finally got around to recording some of her songs. She knew I wasn’t going to charge her any money, because that’s not what I’m about. She didn’t seem entirely sure what she wanted to do with the songs in terms of production, but we recorded somewhere around eight tracks over the space of a few days. I guess you could call them “demos”, though they were really the building blocks for what was meant to be a proper album. I contributed a few ideas and instrumental parts but mostly left the songs alone, figuring I would wait for her to decide what direction she wanted to take them in.
She made it clear she enjoyed recording this stuff and told me she was glad she was making her album with me, even if it took us a while to get around to it. I let her know I was having a lot of fun doing it. For one song, she asked me if I could try writing something of an arrangement on the melodica. When I was alone in the house I came up with a languid, semi-dissonant part and recorded it. She seemed to like it when I sent her rough mixes of most of what we’d done in an email.
And then I never heard from her again. No more followup emails. Nothing. Whenever she was in Windsor for a while, I would only find out from someone else after the fact that she’d been in town. She would never get in touch with me to let me know she was around so we could get together. I assumed she was busy with other things and had put the album on the back burner. No big deal. But I did start to feel a bit like she’d decided I was some kind of leper after a while, with how suddenly and completely I seemed to no longer exist to her.
I’ve since come to understand this is a common thing people do in life. They’re around for a while, and then they’re gone, and if you don’t put all the work in and chase them you may never communicate with them in any form again. It’s nothing personal. People just get busy living their lives. Of course, if they decide you might be able to do something to help them out in some way they tend to pop back up, only to disappear again once they get what they want.
The thing is, I do take it personally. I think people who do that are pathetic and have no business calling themselves your friend. Someone is either important enough for you to make some effort to stay connected to them, regardless of what’s going on in your life, or they’re not. Some will say, “It’s not that simple,” but you know what? That’s bullshit. It absolutely is that simple.
But then, how often does anyone say what they really mean and do what they say? A lot of people throw around words like they’re a foreign currency they have an abundance of but feel has no intrinsic value. I’ve often made the mistake of taking what someone says at face value and holding them to it. Age and experience teach you that’s a good recipe for being disappointed.
If I were stupid maybe I could buy into the idea of ignorance as bliss. Doesn’t work for me. So I try to weed out the users and unreliable flakes, though it’s difficult to kill the desire to connect with others and help them where you can. Sometimes you get stabbed in the back. Sometimes someone is audacious enough to stab you in the gut while staring right at you. Along the way, if you’re lucky you find a few people you can really trust and who are capable of thinking about more than just their own personal needs and desires once in a while.
I would rather have a small group of genuine friends, instead of creating the illusion of having countless friends while the majority of them leech off of me for everything they can get (something I touched on in the spoken improv at end of the recent Mackenzie Hall show). So I try to act accordingly. If someone I think of as a friend wrongs me to the point that I feel there’s no going back, I let them know what I think of them and I make it clear our friendship is over. There’s something freeing in that.
Back to the story I started out telling.
A year or so after the initial recordings, someone randomly posted a video on Facebook of this friend of mine performing live with a string quartet. I thought I’d check it out. It was the song I wrote the melodica part for at her request. “I wonder what she’ll do with the song in this situation,” I thought.
I wasn’t prepared to hear the string quartet playing my melodica part note for note. But they were. Then I read on her new website about how she was working with someone in Toronto recording an album. I listened to a few sample tracks. Some of them were songs we recorded together. The arrangements were pretty much the same, and the quality didn’t seem to be any better than the work I’d done.
In the space of about five minutes I learned she’d not only taken an arrangement I wrote myself and appropriated it as her own (no credit was given to me, and any audience would assume she wrote the part herself), but she’d thrown the work I did in the garbage with no fanfare and was now starting fresh with someone else, without ever bothering to tell me anything.
That’s a good friend right there.
The audacity of it was what got me. In order to get a string quartet to replicate my melodica part, she would have had to sit down and put some work into figuring out what I played. Then she would have to write it out on staff paper as notation for the other musicians to work off of. Or maybe she just played them the recording and said, “Play exactly what he’s playing.”
I was there for her when most of her friends disappeared during a time of crisis, listened to her talk for hours on end, gave her thoughtful advice when she asked for it, was a friend and a surrogate psychologist rolled into one, recorded her music for no compensation at all, never asked for anything from her, and this was the thanks I got for almost a decade of selfless friendship.
It wasn’t even what she did that bothered me as much as it was the way I found out about it. I had to learn about this stuff through someone else’s Facebook page, and I just lucked into seeing it one day. She never told me the work I was doing for her was just a demo. She sure as shit never told me the only reason she asked me to come up with a melodica part for one of her songs was so she could turn it into a string part and take credit for writing it herself, when she was the classically trained musician and I had almost no music theory knowledge at all.
I sent an email telling her I didn’t appreciate what she’d done. At the very least she owed it to our supposed friendship to tell me my work was for nothing and she was passing off my musical idea as her own. I told her I expected to get some kind of credit for the melodica part she appropriated, especially if she was planning on putting that song on her album and using my arrangement.
In hindsight, I wish I’d been a lot harsher than that. But I did that stupid thing I do sometimes and took the high road.
She at least gave me belated credit on her website for the arrangement I wrote. She responded to my email, but I never read her response. I had no interest in anything she had to say. Whatever her explanation might have been, it wouldn’t have been good enough. There’s no conceivable excuse for doing something like that to a friend.
We didn’t communicate again after that. I have no desire to ever have anything to do with her again. She already made it clear even before she ripped me off just how little my friendship meant to her when she didn’t even take the time to say hello while she was in town.
Every once in a while I would see something pop up online about what she was working on. I didn’t seek this stuff out. I’m friends on Facebook with some people who are friends or family of hers, and they would sometimes post a tidbit about her adventures. The person she was recording with in Toronto was apparently forgotten as well, leaving me to wonder if he got fucked over like I did.
There was a benefit concert held to raise money so she would be able to record her album good and proper at a big shiny studio without having to pay for all of it herself like the rest of us do. The irony wasn’t lost on me. I would have given her all the recording time she wanted and played however many instruments she wanted me to, I would have mixed and remixed things until it sounded right to her, and I wouldn’t have charged her a penny for any of it. But she decided I was just some piece of shit who wasn’t of any use to her once she siphoned what she wanted off of me, and ultimately spent what I’m sure was a pretty substantial amount of money to record in a proper studio instead, even if at least some of it was offset by the “donations” of well-wishers and friends.
Fast-forward to the present day. After all this time, her album has been released. I won’t buy a copy. I have no desire to support her in any way. But wondering about whether or not she appropriated my melodica arrangement and ripped me off yet again would have driven me batty if I didn’t get a conclusive answer one way or another. Lucky for me, the whole album is available to stream online. I didn’t listen to more than five seconds of any given song, because I don’t even want to hear the sound of her voice. But I heard and saw enough to know she didn’t even put the song on her album. So that’s something.
Someone asked me something recently that made me think about this in a different way. The gist of the question was: why remain friends with people who have done far worse things to me while cutting this specific person out of my life?
It’s interesting how the mind works. There are people who have done some pretty awful things to me, and yet I’ve continued to associate with some of them in one way or another. I haven’t forgotten what they did. In some cases I’ll never really trust those people again. But there are at least some who actually own up to what they’ve done and put some effort into making it right. It doesn’t make everything okay, but it’s more than most people are willing to do.
Admitting you were wrong or you took advantage of someone. Trying to explain why you did what you did without trying to justify the unjustifiable. Apologizing. Learning from what happened and behaving differently going forward. That all counts for something.
I don’t like to hold a grudge, and a few of the people who treated me like dirt at one time or another have somehow turned into pretty good friends, so I’m glad I didn’t shut them out completely.
When it comes to music, though, all bets are off. You wrong me there, and I will swiftly become your enemy. And once I am your enemy, you don’t ever get to have me for a friend again.
Maybe it’s because music is such an integral part of who I am. It’s strange. Someone can say horrible things to me, lash out at me, neglect me, lie to me, talk shit about me, and in most cases I’ll just end up feeling sorry for those people who feel a need to use and prey on others in a sad attempt at filling whatever is missing inside of them. When someone rips me off or uses me for their own means within the realm of music, it’s a different story. That’s the end of whatever relationship we might have had.
I know it isn’t healthy to hang onto the kind of anger these people stir up in me. I try to work past it one way or another. That’s part of the idea behind working out my thoughts and feelings about them through music. The song “Ain’t No Friend”, which I posted here not long ago, was a direct way of doing just that.
There’s rarely an absence of this sort of inspiration for long, because people like this make the world go ’round. There will always be assholes who disguise themselves as allies, take as much as they can, and then disappear once they feel you have nothing more to offer them. They never seem to go away. They just get better at disguising their true selves. The trick, again, is to spot these people and avoid them. Remove their opportunity to use or abuse you and they lose their power. Even hating them probably gives them some amount of power, because they end up taking up space in your head without having to pay for it. So why bother thinking about them at all? Let them have their lives, and maybe find a little satisfaction in knowing they lost a good friend and there’s a chance someday they’ll remove their heads from their own asses long enough to realize it, knowing they’ll never get you back.
With all the other people who have wronged me musically, I’ve managed to let go of those angry feelings. This is the one case where the hatred persists. Maybe it’s because those other people were either not friends for very long or I never really knew them much to begin with, while in this case there was a storied friendship and I assumed it meant something.
It doesn’t really matter either way. I should just be thankful she’s no longer a part of my life. After all, I need a friend like that about as much as I need kidney removal surgery performed on me by a child with a steak knife and no anesthetic.