Saturday, April 17, 2010

Green Tambourine

Long ago, I played guitar for Saturday's Children, a band that had the good fortune to open for The Lemon Pipers at the DuPage County Fairgrounds. We shared a cluttered makeshift dressing room, and The Lemon Pipers arrived with much fanfare, carrying a green tambourine backstage. When their equipment man brought it in the dressing room, the lead Lemon Piper warned us, "Dig, give the tambourine its space." They used it in the show because that was a symbol of their big hit, "Green Tambourine." While we were tuning up in a quiet corner backstage, one of the Lemon Pipers insulted me, saying, in a very smug tone, that I didn't look like a guitar player, rather I looked more like an organ player. I'm still not sure what he meant by that, but I took it as an effort to put me in my place and was stunned by the unsolicited comment. But since we were the opening act and were clearly in the presence of greatness, and I was never one for a snappy comeback, I let it go. Later, after struggling with imagining all the things I should have said, my frustration forced me into a desperate act. When no one was looking, during the sound-check, I hid the tambourine in our drummer's snare-drum case.

When The Lemon Pipers were ready to play, they frantically tore the place apart looking for the green tambourine, and the "dig-the-tambourine-guy" refused to go on stage without it. We genuinely offered the use of our regular non-green tambourine (which, clearly, did not have its own space), but they sneered at the offer. There was lots of blaming and shouting about the prudence of a back-up tambourine, but they eventually took the stage and played a not-very-memorable show. While we were packing up, I mentioned to The Lemon Pipers that they would have likely brought the house down if only they had that green tambourine. They were suspicious, and their lack of response seemed to indicate they weren't entirely certain of my sympathy.
We packed up and got the heck outta there and they didn't bother saying good-bye to us. To them, we were just one more faceless opening act with a mismatched guitar player.

As far as I know, that was their one and only hit, and I wondered if the loss of the green tambourine demoralized them, sending them spiraling into a period of writer's block and infighting, and eventually into the musician's worst nightmare, the return to a day job. The thought of their rapid descent into rock and roll oblivion on account of my reckless act began to bother me, so I eventually gave the tambourine to my girlfriend, and she had it hanging on a nail on the wall of her bedroom for many years. I couldn't stand to look at it as it reminded me of how I may have ruined the lives of those five musicians. I'm pretty sure it's the reason my girlfriend and I broke up.

And now, when I hear "Green Tambourine" on the radio, I think of that snarky Lemon Piper and how, after all these years, I still haven't thought of a really clever comeback to his insinuation.