Every morning I make coffee. It’s the first thing I do after getting tiny baby out of her bed and setting her up with a cup of milk to start her day. In all honesty, coffee is a fairly substantial part of my existence. Don’t worry, I drink plenty of water, too. Though it would be fair to say (just ask any of my students or colleagues) that coffee is definitely how I manage to get things accomplished.
The second half of my day involves a pit-stop to a coffee shop to get an Americano in my travel mug. For anyone that is curious, I use a Zojirushi travel thermos and it’s probably the one gift I’ve received in the past year that has changed my life—seriously—the coffee is hot all day. All. Day.
I mention all of this because I must confess something…I have a “coffee shop name.” What’s a coffee shop name you ask? Simple—pick a name that is not yours and use it everywhere when you’re out in public ordering something. You could be Bob at Panera bread, or Willy at the pizza shop. It’s liberating, allows for spontaneity, gives you a small bit of privacy, and if you’re like me, saves you from having this conversation over and over:
Cashier: Can I get a name for your order?
Me: Yes, it’s Zane
Cashier: I’m sorry…what’s your name?
Me: Zane…Z. A. N. E.
Cashier: Oooooh…what’s that mean?
Me: I’m not sure… (Now twitching due to being stuck in this conversation loop and becoming aware of the line forming behind me.)
Cashier: You know, I know another Zane. He lived in Phoenix, Arizona…can you believe that?!?!
Me: …..Cool…well, um, thank you.
Cashier: Yeah, man, that’s cool—I’m gonna have to tell him I met you…
Me: (receives coffee with name spelled: Shane)
After having hundreds of these interactions over the last 25 years (particularly during 2012-13 when I was flying almost every week) I became “Chris” at any and all coffee shops, food establishments, and watering holes. It was great—there was never any confusion, or spelling involved. I was just simply good ol’ Chris. You know, Chris—that name that people can spell and that doesn’t need any back and forth.
Cashier: What’s your name, buddy?
Cashier: Great, will have that up for you at the end of the bar. Have a great day, Chris.
Me (Internal conversation): Hell, yeah! Chris IS going to have a great day.
And a great day I did have! I was in and out of places in a flash. Sure, they didn’t know my name, but did it really matter? NO! I was polite, paid my bill, and quietly looked out the window or stayed out of the traffic pattern.
This was all going great until my wife and I moved to our current home. Over the course of the past couple years, I have become a daily customer at the coffee shop near my house (Peet’s Coffee and Tea). From the first day I entered, I became Chris and it was business as usual until about 6 weeks ago.
I had just returned from recording (you can read about that here) and a good friend sent me a “Hooray! You finally finished that album coffee card.” Full disclosure, this may be the greatest reward for making anything ever—coffee. In a quest to simplify my life, I downloaded the Peet’s app, as suggested by one of the employees, and set it up so that I could pay with the app. Here’s where I made my fatal mistake. I entered my real name.
I pull into pick up my coffee, “check-in” and pay with the app, and then all hell broke loose:
Cashier: Thanks, Chri….Zane?!?!?
Cashier: Wait, I thought your name is Chris?
Barista: What? Wait, what’s going on?
My cover was blown. My identity had been compromised by my own F@#*ing coffee app. Screw wiki-leaks. I was my own damn wiki-leaks.
With my “real name” now out there, I knew there would be questions. It went from bad to worse in a hurry. The next day, the entire staff knew and I received that quiet middle-school “you’re now on the outside” treatment. It started with:
Cashier: Thanks for your order Zane…or whoever you really are…
And quickly moved to:
Barista: So is that little child you bring in here actually yours? Or, is that a fake baby, too?
I went home that night and explained my hangdog expression to the mighty S (that’s my wife) and she thought the entire thing was funny. I asked her why they were so angry and she, in her infinite wisdom, pointed out that they worked to build a relationship with me. They’d gotten to know me (Chris), and that now the person they knew isn’t who they thought. Boom!—it finally hit me. The awesome people at Peet’s actually liked coffee shop me and now they were faced with Zane instead….Yeah, I might be disappointed, too, if that were the case. Sorry guys. It’s not you, it’s me.
She also said I should talk about it in my blog as this truly captures the real me. Yep…feelin’ prittay, prittay good. Or, I should say I’m having a Larry David moment.
Flash forward to now. Things are getting better. Like any relationship that has had a setback it can take a minute to get over it (though they’re not totally over it). I say this with certainty as S went into Peet’s with my phone to pickup a coffee and they said:
Cashier: So who are you, really?
S: Laughter ( I have no idea what she told them.)
Cashier: I know you’re not Chris, and we know you’re not Zane…
What’s the takeaway from all of this? At the moment I’m not sure. I do know I’m not giving up my coffee name. I like it and now it makes S laugh even more than she normally does. All I can hope for in the interim is that the team at Peet’s somehow see’s the humor in all of this and eventually we get back to our usual rhythm but like fixing an error in a piece, it will take some time. Also, in an effort to point out the humor in all of this, I’ve decided I’ll be changing the name in my Peet’s App every week. On Monday I became Jo-Jo…let’s see what that does.
It’s been a couple of months since my last post. I needed to shut down the engines for a minute and recharge. Also, I’ve been practicing like a crazy person, but I’ll get into that in a moment.
In August of 2009, I packed up the few boxes of possessions (mainly books and recordings), a table, 2 chairs, and a dresser and placed them in a storage unit for a whopping $150 for the year. A few days later I threw a suitcase with some clothes, a used laptop computer, my guitar, and a couple of notebooks onto a flight to Spain. I would live there for just under a year.
I was on a mission to discover everything I possibly could about one composer in particular: Vicente Asencio. So, I spent a number of months studying his works for the guitar and amassing a collection of Spanish musicology books (all of which made up the contents of my suitcase on the return flight). These books not only created insight into who he was as a composer but also contextualized how his work fitted within the musical times in which he lived. The more I researched him, the more I realized I couldn’t just limit my investigation to solely his pieces. I began to study his contemporaries learning just how this very specific musical landscape had influenced all of them. As David Byrne explains in his book How Music Works, you have to have “a scene” and if you don’t have one, well, then you’d better build one. Asencio and his colleagues did just that in the 1950s and not much has changed sixty years later. We’re still building our own scenes….but that’s a story for another day.
So after living abroad, and with a memorable Spanish inflected Thanksgiving under my belt, I moved back to Baltimore. Upon my return, the next ten months of my life were divided between teaching the guitar, thinking about Asencio, writing about him and his contemporaries, practicing his music, taking my last couple of qualifying exams, and finishing my degree. So easy being a student – right?! Ahh, not so much. My wife summed this time up brilliantly when she named it “the grumpy year” and she’s being generous!
After the dust settled, I just couldn’t start the engine back up to push the project forward. Ironically, I felt incredibly guilty about it as I had done all of this work yet could not motivate myself to share it. My research sat in a box in our apartment, and then in a box in our house until finally, in late May of 2014, I became motivated by two deceptively simple sentences: 1. Zane, we’re having a baby. 2. Finish this album. We booked the studio and in October of that same year I went to Berlin, Germany and began recording. The project had finally begun.
This evening, nearly two years later, I’m getting back on a plane to finish the project. Little did I know (or as they say in the film Stranger than Fiction: “Little did he know…”) that it would take me 7 years to reach the finish line.
How do I feel? –Oh, I’m nervous. I find recording to be difficult, and for me it’s a multi-layered challenge, one where I try not to second guess myself, my preparation, my abilities or my musical ideas. I should mention that this is before they’ve even turned on the microphones.
All this is to say—wish me luck. It’s exciting to have the chance to finish this project, and if you’re curious to see how it’s going, I’ll be posting daily to my Instagram account: @zaneforshee. Stop by and say hello. In the interim, I’ll be thinking about this scene from the movie Almost Famous where Frances McDormand tells the lead guitarist from Stillwater: Be Bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.
Perhaps we could all use a little courage this week.