Beam

Thursday, August 19th, 1999

Woodcut

The first time I heard a Beam song (before it could even be called a “Beam” song, before “Beam” even existed ) was right after I had graduated from Mount Holyoke and returned to Freiburg. Chris had always said that, when Jeremy came back to Freiburg, the two of them should form a band - and that is exactly what they did. They started playing some of Chris’s songs together, and I remember sitting in Gorsharn’s old room, listening to a recording of “Knots” , and being absolutely blown away. I was immediately in love with it, and I couldn’t believe that someone I knew could write songs like that.

Jeremy and Chris were on the lookout for a bass player, and they came across a flatmate of a friend of ours who was interested in playing with them. I was there for their first “practice” out in the future Beam practice room. I brought my fiddle along with me, and we all - Chris, Jeremy, Paddy, and I - flailed away for a couple of hours. Nothing much came out of it, but Paddy was such a nice and eager guy that he got taken in as the bass player for the budding band.

Woodcut

I was the groupie for Beam, I suppose. Looking back on it, it was a strange situation: I went to every single Beam practice, and I sat quietly and listened to all that was going on. I never made suggestions or anything, of course - I was quite aware of the fact that I was not a member of the band, and I made sure to never cross that line between passive listener and active nuisance. I was just so entranced with the music that I really enjoyed seeing how the songs took shape.

Things got complex after a while. Both Jeremy and I had always wanted to learn how to play the bass, so we wound up buying an old bass and a fantastic amplifier and speaker from Paddy. After noodling around on the thing a bit, though, I found that sitting and playing the bass by myself in my living room was a fairly boring and unrewarding pasttime. At the same time, Beam was having problems. Paddy was sweet and easy to get along with, but it was hard to play music with him; he didn’t seem to know where the songs were coming from and hence didn’t learn very fast, and though he was technically good on the bass, it all just didn’t click.

Woodcut

After numerous ultimatums, Chris and Jeremy made the difficult decision to release Paddy from his obligations to the band; they kicked him out. It was extremely hard for them to do (I was not there for that episode), and Paddy was quite hurt for a long time afterwards.

And then they needed a bass player again. And I wanted to learn bass. And I loved - and maybe more importantly, I kind of understood - the Beam songs. And there was a bass sitting unused in my living room. Thus it came to pass that I was asked if I wanted to be the bass player for Beam - a rather strange request, maybe, considering that I didn’t even know how to play the bass at that point. I mulled over it for a while, because I felt uncomfortable about throwing myself into a band situation with an instrument I couldn’t play, to play with two people whom I really admired as musicians and who knew their own instruments very well. I asked Duncan (who at the time, of course, had no idea that he was to be the drummer for Beam) what he thought of the whole thing, and he encouraged me to go for it. I remember him telling me that it was a rare opportunity to be able to learn an instrument in the thick of things, playing songs you liked with people you liked.

I took his encouragement to heart, sat down with a tape recording of the Beam songs, and every day for a week I diligently played my bass to the recordings until I knew every song by heart and had a bassline for each one.

At the next Beam practice, Chris said, “Are you going to play some bass?”, and I said, “Yeah, I’ll try” - and we sat around, played all the songs, had a great time - and I was the new bass player for Beam. It wasn’t until much later that I found out that Chris and Jeremy had counted on giving me a few months (!) to learn all the songs (all five of them) and to learn the bass. I guess they underestimated my drive.

It wasn’t long after that that Duncan revealed that he was a drummer, and after we cajoled him into being our drummer, BEAM proper was born.

The new bass player

We played our very first concert on July 4, 1997 - the day Pathfinder landed on Mars. I had a horrible backache and was actually lying on the floor backstage before we went on because it hurt too much to stand or sit - but once we were onstage, all pain was forgotten (or maybe it was just suppressed by the half-ton of aspirin I had swallowed in the previous hour). I was terrified and thrilled and overjoyed to finally be able to share our songs with the “rest of the world”. We played to an audience of our friends, and it was horrible and wonderful, and I dreamed of being a rock star.

Rock stardom is hard to come by when you’re living in the middle of the Black Forest, playing music that no one can really figure out and singing lyrics that no one can understand. It’s hard to come by when there is no one in the band who is the type of salesperson that can convince people that Beam is the best band in the world. It wasn’t lack of conviction; I do think Beam is the best band in the world - or at least, I think Beam had the potential to become one of the best bands. It was lack of confidence, I guess, and it was being in the wrong place at the wrong time and just not being business-minded enough to really get anywhere.

Rock star

We did manage to get concerts, but we usually fell into them by default, because somebody happened to hear us or we happened to hear of something, or some band had a member commit suicide and the concert organizers needed another band to take their place (no joke - gruesomely enough, that was how we got our second concert - maybe it was a bad omen). We got applause, and we won a few hard-core Beam fans, and we earned enough money to go into a studio for 2 days to record a demo.

The studio experience was amazing and indescribable. It was one of the most stressful experiences I think I’ve had; anyone who thinks the life of a musician is all fun and games and not real work has absolutely no clue what they are talking about. It was completely exhausting, both mentally and physically, but after it was done, I was ready to turn around and do it all over again. We wound up with a good demo tape, and that tape was the only thing I listened to for weeks afterwards.

The band

The details of hammering out songs, of struggling with equipment problems, of trying to get concerts and recognition, of playing to less-than-enthusiastic audiences - it’s too much to write about and it’s probably uninteresting anyway. Suffice to say that the band and all that went with it became an integral part of my life. Every Friday afternoon we would enter our dark, dank practice room and work on the songs for hours. There would generally be excitement and flurry when a concert was coming up.

I became very comfortable with the concept of “being in a band”. We fought during practices, and had personality conflicts, and there were times when I would dread having to go to that practice room and face it all, and there were times when I thought my hands would fall off with exhaustion from playing that huge bass, and there many many times when I would be completely frustrated with the fact that we couldn’t seem to get it together to “get” anywhere with the music -and all along, the songs got better and better, and we as musicians got better and better, and we would also laugh in the practice room, and laugh onstage at stupid little musical jokes, and we won more fans, and we would listen to recordings of ourselves and realize that, really, we rocked.

And then it was over (ah, the melodrama). Jeremy and Chris and I had just had an acoustic mini-practice in my living room. It had gone really well - two new songs had come together out of nothing - and afterwards we were sitting around drinking coffee and generally just feeling happy with life - and then Chris said that he was planning to move to England in a year to start studying again. It was like a bomb had been dropped on our living room - it was too crazy to be true. I’ll leave out all the details of this as well; I don’t have to words to describe how I felt at that point (“betrayed” comes to mind…and I’ll leave it at that). To make a long story short - Chris had expected us to go with him, we decided that we wouldn’t and couldn’t go with him, and Beam’s fate was sealed.

We played our last concert on July 24th, 1999 at an outdoor swimming pool in the middle of the Black Forest. It was extremely anti-climactic, and I couldn’t really get it through my head that it was all over. I had expected to feel something more, to cry onstage or something horrible like that, but I guess I had cried and wrung my hands so much before that it was out of my system, and I just played and thought, “This is it” - and that was it. The first thing I remember Chris saying to me when we came offstage was, “You can still move to England”. I have endlessly pondered the implications of this - but I won’t go into it here. I’m not moving to England, not now, anyway. It’s over.

I don’t feel I’ve done the story justice here. I’ve written reams in my journal over the past few months, as Beam slowly wound down and I ranted and raved about the injustice of it all, and those journal entries are probably a more accurate portrayal of my view of Beam - but they’re not meant for general consumption, so this little essay will have to do.

As I write this, I am listening to a recording of our next-to-last concert. We sound brilliant, and I’m glad to have this recording, because it’s got songs on it that we don’t have recorded anywhere else. It was that that really upset me about the demise of Beam - that all these wonderful songs would simply cease to exist when Beam ceased to exist. If you write a book, it exists; even if it never gets published and no one ever reads it, even if the author dies, the book still exists in and of itself. But if you play a song and it’s not recorded anywhere, then the song disappears after it’s been played. The song ceases to exist when no one plays it, and I couldn’t bear the thought of these songs ceasing to exist. So now they’re on tape. That’s all that’s left, and it’s not much - but it’s better than nothing.

Chris leaves for England soon. I try not to think about it too much, and hence I wind up thinking about it all the time. As far as Beam goes - well, I try no to think about Beam either. I’m not as disconsolate as I was a few months ago, but it still hurts more than I can describe because it seems like such a huge, stupid waste of beauty and talent. But whatever. Now I’m just sad at the prospect having yet another friend move away, having yet another friend on another little corner of another little country, another friend that I may or may not ever see again (ah, the pathos). It makes me angry and hurt and restless, and sometimes I just want to shout at Chris - “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?”. But I know why, and I respect his reasons, and I know it has absolutely nothing to do with me, and he has no obligations to me, and life goes on and all the rest of it.

It will just take a while for my heart to catch up to what my mind already knows.

Comments

1

Jessica - (I am guessing that’s your name - forgive me if that’s wrong…) I found your webside from project cool’s "cool website of the day," and I enjoyed your "Beam" journal - enough to prompt me to write a few words of support.

From 1982 to 1994, I was a professional saxophone player. When you play music professionally, you tend to play with a lot of different bands, and I played with close to 100 different ones over that time. A few of them were personal projects close to my heart, the way Beam was to you. The breakup of each of these was sad, but here’s an important thing to keep in mind - none of them were a waste.

One of the greatest musicians on my instrument, Eric Dolphy, once said, "Once you hear music, it’s gone in the air. You can never hear it again." And that is the nature of music, or dance, or any performing art for that matter. Even when it is recorded or videotaped, the most important part of music, the "art" of it, isn’t something anyone will ever expericence the same way more than once. Art is a direct subconsious communication between the artist and the audience, and it is experienced entirely in the moment of perception by the audience. I can guarantee you there is at least one person who was at least one of your concerts, sitting quietly in the less-than-responsive crowd, who heard something that they took away with them, and they will remember that moment for the rest of their lives. This is independent of how "good" you were or how "good" a listener they were. Art just happens - by grace, not by design.

So, I would advise against trying to cling to the artifacts of your experience - the recordings, the pictures, etc…. They won’t be the same as when you were in the moment. You can still listen to them and enjoy them, but this will be in the context of a new moment, and so will be a new and different experience of "art." The art that’s happening now is always more powerful than the memory of art you’ve experienced in the past.

Posted by John Kaplan

2

Are you copping out on write a new thing every day by posting old journal entries? pah. :p

Posted by Relly Annett-Baker

3

No, that was a glitch! You just happened to read it when it was still on the front page… :-)

4

Hi Jessica,

thanks to Schorsch sharing your latest post on Victor Klemperer, I started browsing through your page here.

I’ve never seen Beam playing live since I left Freiburg in 1994 and only came back for short visits ever after, but I remembered your tape now and I went and found it :)

Can’t post the picture here, though :(

Posted by Katja

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