It all began with an email from a 14-year old kid in Switzerland named Richard Freigang, and it went something like this:
“My dad is turning forty this year, and his three favorite musicians are Jimi Hendrix, Janis Jopin, and Bob Malone. Since you are the only one of the three still alive, we are hoping you will come to Switzerland and play for his birthday party.”
Who could say no to such a proposal? I let it roll around in my head for a day or two and then responded in the affirmative. A day later I heard from Richard’s mom, who was astounded that I replied at all. No one in the family thought I would. I would have told them what the kid already suspected: it never hurts to ask.
Mom had some connections in the music biz and said she would get me a plane ticket and put together a tour for me in Germany and Switzerland. And so she did. Great gigs, too. I believe her inexperience allowed her to wade in, unjaded, and ask for stuff a more experienced agent would have thought too lofty to attain.
It never hurts to ask.
So last night I played the birthday party. It was a surprise-party, so after soundchecking the microphone and the 100-year old piano in the tiny living room, I was then sent into hiding in the cellar for the next four hours with nothing for company but my laptop, a white longhaired cat that I was deathly allergic to and a terrarium containing 12 baby turtles. I am a big fan of both cats and turtles, so we got along ok. By the time they liberated me from the cellar, the living room was stuffed beyond comprehension with friends and family of the honoree, and I was in desperate need of the toilet. This would have to wait, however.
Stefan (that’s the dad), cried tears of joy and shocked surprise during most of the first song. I don’t think I was ever happier with my career choice than at that moment. My job, when you strip away all the things I think it is, and other people think it is – both wrong, incidentally – is to make people happy. There is no better gig in the world.
During the three days since arriving at Zurich on an 11-hour flight from L.A., I have been hiding out in a snug little apartment procured for me by Barbara (that’s the mom) in Rapperswil, a charming little town on Lake Zurich, a half-hour by train from the city. There is no wifi here, no TV shows in English. For a short while, I became acutely aware of my addiction to the Internet and my TiVo box, but soon the soothing rhythms of the pre-digital life I once knew took over. There is a small selection of classical CDs here, and I have been getting intimate with J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio…all three discs worth of it. I have just finished a wonderful book by Elisabeth Tova Bailey called “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating.” The author, left immobile and bedridden my a mysterious illness, spent a year prone in a spare bedroom with no company save that of a tiny woodland snail, an accidental passenger in a pot of field violets brought in by a friend. She learned much about our place in the world from this creature. Sometimes we come out the other side better off when separated from all the chaos we think we need to thrive.
Everyday I hear the kids in the apartment above practicing cello and violin. The kid on cello is sounding quite good – sounds like he’s got a few years on the one scratching out tunes on the violin. In any case, it’s a pleasant enough cacophony. And they are not wasting away the hours playing Guitar Hero, they’re playing guitar…so to speak. Which they will thank their parents for later.
Tonight, I played a wonderful venue full of very enthusiastic people right here in Rapperswil. It was one of those nights that reminded me of how very lucky I am to be a musician. Tomorrow, I’m off to Berlin for the next leg of the tour.