i had a friend. we had been friends since high school. i considered her to be a very 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 would never really happen. it didn’t help that, for a number of years, she was generally 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 did start to record some of her songs. she knew i wasn’t going to charge her any money, because that’s not what i’m about. it would be fun just to work on her music. she didn’t seem entirely sure of 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”. 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 that she really enjoyed recording this stuff, and told me she was glad she was making her album with me, now that it was happening at long last. i made it clear to her that i was having a lot of fun myself. for one song, she asked me if i could try writing something of an arrangement on the melodica, so 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 had recorded in an email. this would have been somewhere between february and april of 2009.
and then i never heard from her again. no more followup emails…nothing. whenever she was in windsor for a while (something that happened on a semi-regular basis), i would only find out from someone else after the fact that she had been in town. she would never get in touch with me to let me know she was around so we could maybe 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 had decided i was some kind of a leper after a while, with how suddenly and completely i seemed to no longer exist to her. i’ve since realized that 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 you may never communicate 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 in some way, they tend to pop up momentarily, only to disappear again once they get what they want. the thing is, i do take this personally, and i think people who behave in this way are pathetic and have no right 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 gradually bring you to understand that the world, and people, don’t work this way. 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 completely quell 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. i would rather have a small group of genuine friends, as opposed to 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 act accordingly. if someone i think of as a friend wrongs me to the point that i feel there’s no going back and my trust has been betrayed, i let them know what i think of them, and i make it clear we will never be friends again. there’s something empowering in that.
back to the story i was 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 had written the melodica part for at her request. “i wonder what she’ll do with the song in this situation,” i thought. i wasn’t quite prepared to hear the string quartet playing my melodica part, note for note. but that was exactly what i heard. then i read on her fancy new website that she was working with someone in toronto who was recording her music. i listened to a few sample tracks (one or two were songs we had recorded together) and found that the arrangements were pretty much the same, and the quality didn’t seem to be any better than what i had done.
so, in the space of about five minutes, i discovered that not only had she taken an arrangement i wrote myself and appropriated it as her own (no credit was given to me, and any audience would automatically assume she had written the part herself), but she had thrown out the work i did like garbage and was now starting fresh with someone else, without ever bothering to tell me about any of it. that’s a good friend right there.
the audacity of it was what really surprised me. i mean, in order to get a string quartet to replicate my melodica part exactly, she would have had to sit down and put some work into figuring out what i had played. then she would have to write it out on staff paper for the other musicians. or maybe she just played them the recording and said, “play exactly what he’s playing.” she had been a little bit flaky at times, but nothing she had done had prepared me for this kind of revelation. i had been there for her when most of her friends disappeared during a time of crisis, listened to her talk for hours on end, given her good and thoughtful advice countless times, been 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 what was done that bothered me, so much as it was finding out via someone else’s facebook page and never being told at any point what was going on. that conveyed a complete lack of respect to me.
i sent her an email and told her i didn’t appreciate what she had done, and at the very least she had 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 had appropriated, specifically if she was planning on putting that song on her album and using my arrangement. in hindsight, i shouldn’t have been as polite as i was…i kind of wish i had really blasted her and told her i thought she was a pathetic excuse for a friend, knowing it was the last time i would ever communicate with her. but i didn’t. i did that stupid thing i do sometimes, and took the high road. she at least gave me credit on her website for the arrangement i wrote, belatedly, which was something, anyway. she responded to my email, but i never read her response because i no longer had any interest in anything she might have to say. whatever her explanation may have been, it wouldn’t have been good enough. there is no conceivable excuse for doing something like that to a friend. we didn’t communicate again after that. i have no desire to ever associate with her again in any way. and she made it clear, even before she ripped me off, just how little my friendship meant to her when she never bothered to contact me while she was in town, even just to say hello.
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 just happen to be friends on facebook with several 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 actually pay for all of it herself like the rest of us would. 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 just right, and i wouldn’t have charged her a penny for any of it. but she decided to screw me, and ultimately ended up spending what i’m sure was a pretty substantial amount of money to record in a proper studio instead, even if at least some of that was offset by the “donations” of well-wishers and friends.
fast forward to the present day. after all this time, her album has finally been released. i won’t buy a copy, because 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 establish that (1) she didn’t even include the song in question on her album, and (2) i didn’t get ripped off again. so that’s nice.
i was asked a question recently that caused me to think about this in a different way. the question essentially amounted to this: why remain friends with people who have done more hurtful things to me, while cutting this particular former friend out of my life altogether? it’s interesting how the mind works. there are people who have done some pretty repulsive things to me, and some of them i have continued to associate with in one way or another. i haven’t forgotten the way i was treated, and some of those people i will never trust again the way i once did, but there are some who actually own up to what they’ve done and try to make it right. while it doesn’t make what they did okay, it’s something most people are not brave enough to do — admitting you were wrong. trying to explain why you did what you did, without trying to justify what can’t be justified. apologizing. learning from what happened, and behaving differently as a result. that counts for something. i don’t like to hold a grudge, and in some cases people who’ve wronged me in some pretty serious ways have turned into good friends, so i’m glad i didn’t shut them out completely.
when it comes to music, however, all bets are off. you wrong me there, and i will swiftly become your enemy. and once i am your enemy, you don’t get to have me as a friend again. maybe it’s because music is such an integral part of who i am. it’s strange…someone could say horrible, untrue things to me, lash out at me, neglect me, lie to me, talk shit about me…and in most cases, i won’t end up hating them or wishing them ill. i usually just feel 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. i see red. i want very bad things to happen to that person. if there was a way for me to make those bad things happen myself without breaking the law or implicating myself, i would give it some serious consideration. i want everyone else to see how disgusting and soulless that person is. of course, those are the people who are usually celebrated for all the things they aren’t, and no one seems to see through them. there have been a few rants/tirades that have shown up here over the past few years in response to or inspired by such people, and on MY HELLHOUND CROOKED HEART there was even a pretty vicious song directed at one of them.
i recognize that it isn’t healthy to hang onto the kind of anger these people arouse, and 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, with the song written about the person to incur my wrath in this specific case. 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 will disguise themselves as friends, 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 entirely…they just get better at disguising their true intentions. the trick, again, is to spot these people and avoid them. remove the opportunity, 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 that they lost a really good friend, and perhaps someday they’ll remove their heads from their own asses long enough to realize it, but they’ll never get you back.
with all of 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 there, and i assumed it meant something. it doesn’t really matter either way; i should really 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.