Standing behind City, O' City last Friday, my friend Sam Tallent and I drank our water and beer and shared a rad moment, peering out at a sea of mutual friends as the sun was just setting, weed smoke wafting through the air. Total Ghost had just taken the stage and everyone was having a blast. Tallent and his group of fellow DIY comic dudes, the Fine Gentleman's Club, had put together the multi-day Too Much Funstival, and night two was rolling along sweetly. My band had played minutes earlier, and we were talking about how cool it was that music and comedy could come together and mutually entertain.
Then, out of nowhere, a stranger entered our circle. He smiled, looked me right in the eye and said, "You know, I can play bass way, way better than you can."
Uh, what? Dude. Dude.
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It's not that I think I'm the best bass player in the world. But I don't get on a stage and claim to be anything that I'm not. I play music because I like to, not because I see it as a competition between me and some guy in a backpack with a big nose. I don't play music on a stage to prove anything. I play music because I can, and I want to, and I will, whether anyone is watching or not.
But really, what adult says that to another adult? As a person with a vagina who also happens to play an instrument, I am very much used to comments from dudes along the lines of "You guys are pretty good for being girls" or "Before I saw you play, I thought you were going to be way worse than you were." At worst, a man will have some sort of "tip" or "trick" to share with me about "how to play bass better" -- because, obviously, women are bad at a lot of stuff.
In those situations, the inherent sexism and profound rudeness is thinly veiled -- or the person barfing the words simply doesn't seem to know any better. When confronted with such passive-aggressive commentary on my playing, I'm usually quick to respond with, "Hey, since you want to show me how to play my bass, if you pull your dick out of your pants, I can show you how to give yourself a better hand job" or "I'm sorry, I didn't catch that piece of advice you gave me. Can you say it again louder so every single person in this venue can hear you?"
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But there was something about this guy's Adam Sandler-as-Billy Madison creepo demeanor that threw me off; it was like Sam and I were both waiting for his punchline, but it never came. He just stood there, wearing a shit-eating grin from ear to ear, staring at me. Once Billy Madison walked away, I started spitting out what-the-fucks -- I didn't care that he thought I was a bad bass player, but, uh, where was his band? When was he playing Too Much Funstival? Oh, that's right. He wasn't.
Thirty minutes later, a close friend (who also happens to be a woman in a band) showed up. I told her about the "neener neener neener I'm a better bass player than you" comment and she flipped out. She flipped out like I usually flip out when someone says shitty stuff like that to my friends. I pointed to the guy, and she proceeded to tell him he was rude, inappropriate and, most of all, dumb. I eventually pulled her away from the situation, because Billy Madison was still sporting that insane smile, leading me to believe he was either mentally incapacitated or possibly thinking about punching her in the face.
For most of the four years I've been in this band, we've existed in a bubble; we play shows with other like-minded men and women who don't see gender as a valid differentiation. But it is by no means a vacuum -- we do interact with bands and crowds outside of this DIY utopia, and it's then that we encounter misguided machismo, unsolicited advice and people who tend to say things before actually thinking.
I can't assume the man who was a better bass player than me said such a thing because I was a woman, but something tells me that if I wasn't, he wouldn't have felt so comfortable hurling an insult. If that was the case, I really don't care. I'm not going to stop playing because a stranger told me I sucked, once. But next time, maybe I'll react like my friend Alex does when she's faced with a visible-loser mentality -- though I don't think I have the ovaries to knock a guy on crutches to the ground, pour a beer on some dude's head or, well, just punch a man in the face.
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In the end, though, I have advice for people who desire to make others feel small: Just don't say that kind of shit to anyone. Ever.