Sometimes talent sweeps, nay, whisks across our lives like a well-oiled Swiffer, leaving the twisted surfaces of our minds polished, smooth, and reflective. We observe ourselves in the mirroring perspective that results, and say “I’m not half bad!” or “I really ought to get a haircut,” or “What the hell are you looking at anyway?”

I have come across such a talent, in a strange corner of human endeavor. This talent streaks like a scruffy comet across the sky, or at least along the streets of Richmond, Virginia. He is a once-in-a-generation supernova of desperation, inspiration, and venue; he is surely only a flash, an ephemeral blossom, but what a flash!, a talent which will stride off to other planets and professions leaving us heartbroken, comet-starved, searching our dark boring constellations and finding only the usual revolving stars and the grating headlights of society’s grinding Hummer behind us, honking at us, telling us to act or be crushed.

At most engagements, from the moment you arrive to the moment you are sent away (often with sighs and moans of relief), you are assigned to an Artist Liaison. This is the person who Sees To Your Needs. The brilliantly evil element in the whole situation is that as soon as you have a person who Sees To Your Needs, you dream up whole forests of needs you never imagined: you need needs.

Most Artist Liaisons are friendly, delightful, helpful; they are agents of function, smiling wardens of the invisible prison of your stay. But most do not possess, to my mind, that particle of job-specific genius required in order to make the Liaisoning Act into a Work of Art. Until today, I believed that Duane, in San Francisco, with his interspersed, wry observations of life and various artists, delivered with understated but razor-sharp simplicity, was the absolute greatest Artist Liaison Artist (and this still may be true). However, I have met someone who made me reconsider the entire Notion of the Artist Liaison itself, who rattled my (mis)conceptions to their core:

I knew from the very moment I first walked out of the hotel lobby with Prabir that something was afoot. In place of the typical sleek sedan, I saw Prabir casually and without comment mount a giant white unmarked van. I hauled myself and my messenger bag up into the passenger seat of this Great White Whale with some difficulty. I opted for no smart remark, suspecting a prank. But this was no prank: this van is in fact a main mode of transport and haulage for Prabir’s band (Prabir and The Substitutes) and is quintessentially a band van. Thus the stuffy classical artist must immediately confront his casual, beloved nemesis, Popular Music. (I fantasized myself as a hip band member, considered sad impossibility of same, etc. etc., wept and wailed, became resigned, sighed). The van’s floors are well-scuffed and gravelly. The transmission hiccups after each Stop sign; each restart seems a last sputtering hurrah. It takes bumps with shuddering but joyful lack of aplomb, and this pianist bounced wildly, a plaything of potholes, with my coffee flying perilously and yet grasped like the last lifejacket on Earth.

Prabir, astride his derelict Moby Dick, understands, already—after only working a few weeks!—the absurd existential fix of the Artist Liaison, who is supposed to take whatever crap the cranky, stressed-out artist is dishing out, and come back smiling. We discussed as much in our very first meeting, which was, I realized, a Brilliant Maneuver for letting me know (in the guise of “conversation”) that if I thought about throwing any diva fits while I was there, well, he already had my number. And so at the very cusp of my role, just at the wings of the stage, this actor was given a new script. You see: this Artist Liaison was deeply reconsidering the very Meaning of the Liaison; he was Liaising on a meta-level (!), making me engage not just with him but with the expectations deeply encrusted in the situation; he made me want to rewrite this old story, and do something revolutionary, in which perhaps the Artist would help the Liaison? I wanted to beat him at his own game, but I knew that even by doing so, I was falling into his trap.

Conversation with Prabir was like no conversation with any other Artist Liaison, perhaps in all of history. Prabir eschews conventions of commuting chatter. He would tolerate none of the tried-and-trues: “where are you from?”, “where did you go to school?”, “what was it like being brought up by wolves?” (etc. etc.) Each trip to rehearsal was conceived somewhere between a vision quest, an indie rock song, and a therapy session. What realms of life, love, art, and loss did we not visit?

I discovered that Prabir is immensely gifted at concise summation. He is undaunted by cultural weight. To give just a few examples:

Prabir on Beethoven:

He couldn’t hear, and he couldn’t get laid.

Prabir on Hemingway:

You know, he’s kind of an old bastard, but I appreciate his honesty.

Prabir on Radiohead:

Who would you rather listen to: John Cage or Beethoven? Well of course everyone’s going to say Beethoven. End of story.

Prabir on Jeremy Denk:

Your head man. Your head is to Beethoven what Pete Townsend’s arms were to the guitar.

A recurring topic between us was the Jerry-Springer-ish marriage of love and art. Love versus art, art making love, love perverting art, art telling love to get a life. I confessed to Prabir that the last time I had come to Richmond to perform, I was in the process of Losing a Love, pretty spectacularly, which seemed, ironically, despite sleepless nights comprised of long, unimaginable phone calls, to make me play better than usual. Pathetically I seem still to be proud of myself for playing well that day, and thus to be able to disassociate myself from the simultaneous act of Screwing Up My Life. Prabir, as always, was prepared with the money quote:

Dude, what’s more important … your personal happiness right now, or the individual creating something unique to the individual?

As Prabir let this question out into the humid atmosphere of the van, I couldn’t help staring wistfully at him, and at cloudy Richmond beyond, shuffling by. He was actually discoursing on the relationship between art and personal woe, just before explaining that he had to stop for gas.

Confronted with timeless dialectics, Prabir does not present a fixed, stultified view of the universe. He told me the first day that he had decided to forsake the pursuit of women for a time:

I have a flirting problem. You know, whenever I’d go out, like even now, say, if I saw that chick there (he points to a girl crossing the crosswalk in front of us) I would be like “nice boots, where you from?”, and then I’d be showing off, like, “you want Symphony tickets, I work with the Symphony, I can get you Symphony tickets” … and it would all lead to heartache…

So now I’m doing a lot of dude time, building a wall in my apartment, stuff like that.

(Yes, I mused, Symphony tickets do often lead to heartache.) Interestingly, the very next morning Prabir confessed to me that

I met this girl last night at the bar who was kind of cool and we kissed

But then, ten minutes later, there were second thoughts …

She just texted me, like, “good morning,” and I’m not sure I want to get into all that…

But by the end of rehearsal, two hours later, Prabir said:

… we gotta book it back to the hotel because i’m having lunch with that girl …

By the same evening, however …

I’m not sure if I’m ready to be a marionette.

And on and on Prabir went, his cosmos shifting and spinning, a multifarious mosaic. “Prabir,” I said, “you are a man of conflicting appetites, much like myself.” He agreed; there was some odd common ground between us. Both of us wanted nothing to do with the usual conversations that were taking place in sedans all over the world, where artists were being shuttled to their orchestral rehearsals and settled in warmup rooms, and asked what they needed, but never what they really needed. This part of the day, too, needed to be lived with gusto, observed; we tasted uncertainty, felt flux on our palates, and feared not the big issues; we strode among them like giants, measuring our lives—despite van, locale, rain, weariness, everything—amidst grand schemes and grand themes.

Prabir had an unusual view of the Symphony, above and beyond its propensity to heartache. If I can paraphrase:

Going to the symphony is a chance to be intimate without the actual experience of intimacy. You can lean over and say “isn’t that great,” you can whisper in their ear, get close to their ear, their hair, or just touch their arm, or they might graze your arm …

I’ll never forget this one moment in reading class, when I was 13, when this girl leaned over and whispered in my ear “I hate this book!” and the word book resonated through my body and I was like what’s going on? … my body’s not supposed to feel like this … just the word book ? …

… the lightest touch is the best kind of touch.

And that evening, when I sat to play the first propitious, magical chord of Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto, I imagined Prabir and some girl in some dark corner of the hall, and her arm almost accidentally falling on his … I imagined the whispered word “book” shaking off its meaning like a bad dream and becoming just a sonic thrill.

It is too bad I cannot tell you here, on the blog, all the wonderful stories Prabir told me on our trips, that he somehow crammed into our brief encounters: How Prabir’s Father Predicted That A Girl Would Break Up With Him, or How Prabir Came To Have A Drink Named After Him, or how to get a date to progress smoothly from G to PG to PG-13 to R … (start with Scrabble!) I can only suggest you get yourself booked to play with the Richmond Symphony, as soon as you can, before he gets fired or moves on to greater things. Or, if you are not a performing musician, perhaps just go to Richmond. According to Prabir, there are a number of bars there, and “they all have the same five people in them, and I’m one of them.” So a Prabir should not be hard to find. Why is it, then, there are so few of them?

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Posted October 29, 2007 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    That’s the hallmark of genius: they assertively and unwittingly fulfill needs you didn’t know you had!

    I’m new to your site. Do you do any Ravel? Grainger? (I’ll have to look around; you undoubtedly address these things somewhere!)

  2. Jim
    Posted October 30, 2007 at 1:18 am | Permalink

    mmm, I have toyed with the world of artist liaison… One of the best nights of my life was getting very drunk with the Jerusalem quartet…ahhhh… how on earth did prabir get that job? they’re quite sought after…

  3. Jen
    Posted October 30, 2007 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Please tell me someone has whispered the word “book” in your ear — as in, you should write one — because if no one has (hard to imagine), well, allow me…

  4. Posted October 30, 2007 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    i’m so glad this was such a positive experience for you. thanks for sharing.

  5. Posted October 30, 2007 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    One liaison I know tries to draw uptight soloists out of their shells by having them talk about their experiences with childhood gymnastics lessons. Even if the musician never took them, why they didn’t learn to do a proper cartwheel sends the conversation off in all sorts of amusing directions.

  6. Emily
    Posted October 31, 2007 at 12:17 am | Permalink

    Prabir sounds like an insightful, larger-than-life rocker dude with a slice of Zen master on the side. Thanks for the rich imagery. I’m totally digging the vision of you precariously balancing a coffee (Venti drip, no doubt) while being jostled about in a musty, dusty, tragically hip, bandmobile. Did you have to hoist any amps out of the front seat in order to hop aboard?

  7. Ihnsouk
    Posted October 31, 2007 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Since when do we have to call a large coffee venti?


  8. Ihnsouk
    Posted November 1, 2007 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    I didn’t mean to be hostile to Starbucks cult/ure. It’s just that I like calling salsa salsa instead of tomato sauce since salsa got its unique element. Likewise, to call large coffee Venti, it will have to be something unique. Is it large in its own special way somehow? Is it 23.7 oz instead of 24 oz?

  9. Posted November 3, 2007 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Having just ushered our visiting composer around for three days, I read your post with a smile. Fortunately, he shared my love of soul food and disdain for the chain restaurants, so we pigged out a couple of times on really good barbecue, pork chops, etc.

    I subbed in the Richmond Symphony years ago for a concert conducted by Victor Borge. It was one of the most enjoyable orchestra experiences I have had. I was sore from laughing the day after the concert. I especially remember how endearing Borge was as we were leaving for the lunch break. He normally did a version of his Tchaikovsky medley that did not require him to play the cadenza from the concerto. His management goofed up, so we had the version which required him to do the cadenza. He couldn’t remember it and was sitting there practicing with exasperation while we went to eat.

    Your man Prabir sounds great.

  10. Gjo Bing
    Posted December 6, 2007 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    Prabir is a nightingale on a hot turkey sandwich. Hey… was there a bass cabinet in the van when you were there?

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>