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Don’t let expediency get in way of principles, even funky ones

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I wouldn't say that Baroque Monkey was a bad rock group.

We were BEYOND bad. We were terrible. Abysmal would also be a good word for us. So would dreadful. We were great at being dreadful — which, come to think of it, would have made us the Great-full Dread.

Which would have been a better name for us than Baroque Monkey. I mean, what the heck is that?

I don't think any of us would have known baroque music if we heard it. And we didn't play any songs by the Monkees. We picked the name because we thought it sounded cool.

As it turns out, cool is relative. If you're in a good rock band, you're cool. If you're in a bad rock band, not so much.

We should have taken the clue when we saw the poster for our first and only gig, a post-game Victory Stomp at a local high school. The sign said, "Music by the Broken Monkees."

We weren't Monkees, we weren't plural and we weren't broken. At least, not yet.

That didn't happen until halfway through our third song. We had done pretty well on our first song, "Wipe-Out," which has three chords and no singing. It's pretty much impossible to do it poorly if you have a decent drummer — and we had a really good drummer.

The second song was "Proud Mary" — another three-chord piece of cake.

But then we tried to get funky with — what else? — "Play That Funky Music (White Boy)." We thought that was a perfect song for us because we were all … well … white. Unfortunately, we were not especially funky. In fact, we butchered the song so badly we had to stop in the middle and start over again. By the time we muddled our way through the last "lay down the boogie and play that funky music 'til you die" — we were dead.

"Maybe you guys should play something you actually KNOW!" someone shouted from the dance floor as we looked at our instruments as if it was their fault. The crowd laughed, which really hurt. We were doing our best. Sadly, our best wasn't very good.

The evening sort of went downhill from there. Every time we tried something with some energy and soul, we discovered new and different ways to embarrass ourselves. Our lead singer would forget the words. Our drummer would drop a stick. Our lead guitarist would snap a string — or two. Or our klutzy bassist — uh, that would be me — would allow his shoulder strap to slide off his shoulder, so his bass went clattering to the ground in a highly amplified explosion of decidedly non-musical sound — baroque or otherwise.

We ended up playing "Wipe-Out" and "Proud Mary" three or four times each — I've tried to block out the details. I just know there were groans and a mass exodus the last time our vocalist sang "Proud Mary's" opening words, "Left a good job in the city." For the first time in recorded history, the post-game Victory Stomp ended a half-hour early voluntarily, without a single complaint from the seven or eight students who were still there.

As we packed our instruments to make our escape, one of the school counselors brought our check. She wasn't smiling. She handed it to us, and then left without saying a word.

"We shouldn't accept this," our drummer said. "We were awful."

"We shouldn't have accepted the gig," our guitarist said. "We knew we weren't ready."

"But we did accept the gig, and we did the best we could," I said. "They weren't looking for a great band. They were looking for a cheap band for the stomp. I think we earned this.

"Besides," I added as I took the check from our drummer, "I need money to fix my bass."

Even today, I wince a little at the memory. While I believe my position was defensible (I'm sure I'll hear from my lawyer on this — I wonder what the statute of limitations is for entertainment fraud?), my friends were suggesting a principled stand. Of course, that's usually the higher road to take. But it's also the road less often taken because principles tend to get in the way of expediency. One who lives a principled life occasionally has to sacrifice immediate concerns — like bass guitar repairs, for example — for the longer, broader view of how life ought to be lived. And we don't have to look very hard to find examples of how often principles take a beating when cash is involved.

"Rules are not necessarily sacred," said President Franklin D. Roosevelt, "principles are."

Whether or not you can play that funky music.

To read more by Joseph B. Walker, please go to www.josephbwalker.com,

Email: jwalker@desnews.com