Too slow, not enough trumpet. I know I am in the minority here, thinking that. But imagine you’re sixteen—Britney’s age. You just started playing trumpet in a popular general business slash wedding band based in the Philadelphia area. It is the kind of band whose members keep track of their gas and mileage to and from “gigs,” for the sake of Schedule C deductions. At least one member of the band brings a portable fan with him; the cooling mechanism uses two AA batteries, both of which he will write off come tax time. You are wearing your overweight father’s tuxedo. The jacket fits like a shawl, the pants stay tight via this metal device your mother goes a good deal out of her way not to call a diaper pin. This is a pretty good band you’re in. They play “I Wish,” “September,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” All the hits—you know the horn parts to all the hits and you are the most junior member by two decades. It is 1998. Tonight is your second or maybe third gig as part of arguably the fourth- or fifth-best wedding band in the tri-state area. You are playing a bat mitzvah. The theme is Old Hollywood. You are wearing a dress shirt with a mandarin collar, and because you have impeccable taste in formal wear, you opt not for a bowtie but one of those fake onyx snap-on button covers with a fake diamond lodged in the middle. Word has just arrived that tonight you will be fed. The thought occurs to you: Tonight might be the night when you finally drink a thing such as a beer.
Toward the end of what you believe to be a perfectly executed swing medley, two girls about your age approach the band leader, and kindly request that the band play “Baby One More Time.” It is a new pop song by the American recording artist Britney Spears, they explain. The band takes a ten-minute break, during which a compact disc compilation of Frank Sinatra songs sounds over the PA system. You are at that point in your personal development when you think it commendable that, from an aerial p.o.v., your haircut bears extreme likeness to a butt crack. On break, in a back room: The band leader, the two female singers, and the keyboardist discuss the lyrics and chord changes to “Baby One More Time.” The one singer with the bushy red hair has like this raspy, bluesy voice, and when she sings the chorus, on break, in a back room, it sounds filthy and terrifying. She has the appearance of a woman who believes she is a better vocalist than Britney Spears. Before you go back out, the band leader approaches you and the saxophonist and says he wants you to “fill out” the song. You ask the saxophonist what this means. What this means, the sax player says, is that the band leader likes “to get his money’s worth” from his horn players—that the leader will likely make you take one, possibly two trumpet solos over the chords to “Baby One More Time.”
Back on the bandstand. You are holding your trumpet, blowing into it from time to time to keep it from going cold. To your left are two middle-aged women in black dinner gowns singing My loneliness is killing me, really selling the call and response. To their left, the band leader, who is in his fifties, is shifting his shoulders to the beat, and peppering the performance with extended yeahs and misplaced hit me babys. Every girl your age is on the dance floor, singing along and looking at you now as the band leader points and mimes in no uncertain terms that it is time for you to play the trumpet solo. You count yourself in, you think about an opening lick. It is time. And you—you can’t do it. Your bandmates offer encouragement. But you just can’t. So you sit there holding your trumpet up to your lips, cold and not a little dyspeptic. Your mouthpiece, you never noticed until now, has a bitter, mineral taste. And as the saxophonist picks up your slack, as you scan the floor for looks and frowns, you ask yourself, one more time: Why can’t I be like the rest of these people?
As for the song being too slow, there’s no good reason why I feel that way. It’s just a personal opinion.