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January 17, 1990 - Nightflying Column - The Fabulous Baker Boys
by Lee Tomboulian

Hello once again.

I went to the movies for the first time in a while, and saw "The Fabulous Baker Boys." I almost didn't, because my elder sister and brother-in-law had sent me a letter commanding me to "GO! Love, Teddie and Jim." I almost wrote them back saying NO! They thought this movie about lounge performers was, in a sense, about me, because that's some of what I do for a living. However, I like to think my lounge work has a conceptual twist on it, almost as if I were Bill Murray, instead of a lounge lizard imitating Murray imitating a lounge lizard.

Back to the film. As you may know, it's about the Baker brothers act: the straight arrow brother who has a family and a a mortgage and keeps the act booked, and the other Baker brother who wants to play jazz, but won't break away from the act to do it. "Okay," I said, "a little close to home, but I can handle it." Then watching that character tell off Michelle Pfeiffer (of all the people to tell off!) with one of my own standard rationalizations - - "We may play a load of crap, but we've never had a day job. " I winced at that, buddy. I don't play a load of crap (Well, I don't always play "Bad Bad Leroy Brown" or "New York, New York") and I've had a couple of day jobs, such as being a French-fry specialist at a Hardee's in Fayetteville. I guess the point is that his motivation, however negative, is avoiding what he considers dirty work, as opposed to playing any music, even "Feelings," because you love to play.

But anyway, the movie was very painfully accurate: the apathetic Jeff putting on the dirty tux, the inevitable meal at the all-night dinette, the less-than-sympathetic club manager, and so on. And, when Jeff attacks the straight brother and bends his fourth (ring) finger way back, well, that's a piano-player's own mugging nightmare.

When, finally, Jeff gets a jazz gig at the end of the movie, an implication is that lounge music is not creative, and a straight jazz gig, of necessity, is. I used to think that way, but now I tend to think, creativity comes to people who embrace the strictures and limitations of an art form so intensely that those strictures are illuminated by their love, their own very personal love. That's okay, in the abstract, but in real life, it comes down to "What am I doing this for?" As an aspiring jazz/new music player, I have often turned to the lounge scene to make a living. I haven't always liked myself for it, because it's not an ideal setting for music, and sometimes I think I'm selling out. But if I think that way, I get a bad attitude. And when I have a bad attitude on the gig, the only difference between that gig and working at Hardee's is that I'm more coordinated at this job. When I let my mood affect my work, it doesn't matter if it's playing "Misty" in the same tired way, or setting the timer on a new batch of fries.

After the teeth-gritting was over, I realized that the movie was really about commitment to your dreams. But then , it could've also been about shining a light regardless of what you're doing, and if it means changing what you're doing to shine brighter, then do it. This movie gave me the resolve to follow my dreams a little closer, and, my friend, that's a good movie.

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