Monday, May 11, 2009

Regie Hamm: "Fingerprints"

by Regie Hamm

I asked a friend of mine last week, who is a world class mix engineer, if he could teach everything he's learned in 25 years of mixing to someone in 6 months to a year. He paused for a moment and said, "I actually tried once. I gave the person all the settings I use - all the gear tricks I use and told them exactly what to do on a certain mix. When I heard their finished product, I was wondering what went wrong. It didn't work." I like that answer. It's true. The protege' might learn how to mix records one day but those mixes will be uniquely theirs and theirs alone - just as my friend's are uniquely his and his alone. Even if he shares all his knowledge with someone else and walks them through the process, the end result will never be exactly the same. Every person on this planet has a fingerprint. A physical one. A spiritual one. A creative one. We are all uniquely unique.

I love the show CSI. I see God in it. The more forensic science advances, the more we see intrinsic designs. Also, we learn just how hard it is to erase a human being from the planet, without a trace of them having been here. I've seen those autopsy specials on murderers who cremated someone or tried to destroy a body in acid. Something always turns up - a fingernail, a patch of skin, ashes with DNA - something that says, "this person was here and you can't just get rid of them that easily." Life is sacred and singularly created least that's what I believe.

If you're a reader of this blog you know that I am a vehement believer in the individual. I think every one on the planet has a purpose. I know that sounds a little Pollyanna but I really believe it. One of my favorite movies is "It's A Wonderful Life." There's a reason it rings true for us every December. Deep down we resonate with the theme that all of us are here for something. I think in every heart of heart there beats a purpose. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to find it. Sometimes that life is cut short and the rest of us are left to ponder the reasons. Sometimes lives careen into dark and twisted places and they abuse or murder or start wars. Those individuals have always tested my faith a bit. "Why are they here?" I often ask. What's their purpose? Even through the struggle with that question, I still believe Adolf Hitler had a purpose. I don't know if he fulfilled that purpose or if he leaned so heavily into the darkness that he ripped the spiritual flow of creation. Those questions are beyond me. But we are here. I don't accept that fact as an accident. Therefore, I accept no one as an accident.

One of the owners of my management company has a great story. He was a classically trained, professional guitarist who toured with superstar acts for many years. In 1980 he was working with Dolly Parton and was in LA to play for her at the Academy Awards. Her song "9 to 5" was nominated for best original song from a motion picture. As the story goes, he'd assumed he would be playing the guitar part on the show, since that's what he did for her live. When he arrived at the Shrine Auditorium, at 22 years old, to assume the peak of his young career, he was unceremoniously informed by the great Henry Mancini himself, that he wouldn't be playing the guitar part but rather covering the "typewriter and bell" part. For those unfamiliar with the song, it's about life as a working secretary and the "intro" and "turn around" both have a typewriter clicking in the background. It's a very clever production trick. For a young guitar stud, on stage in front of 30 million people however, it's a cold sweat nightmare. His telling of the story always leaves everyone under the sound of his voice in involuntary laughter. There he is, in the very back of the percussion pit, banging on a mic'd up Royal typewriter and finishing his musical phrase with the ding of a bell. He then sits there for bar after bar and watches all the other musicians ply their trade. He reads the chart, his face drops, he blows out a sigh and realizes ...three bars to "click click click click click click click click click DING!" He then waits for the song to mercifully end so he can begin his new life as "the guy who played typewriter on the Academy Awards."

He thinks that story is pathetic and embarrassing. I think it's one of the greatest stories I've ever heard. I would be willing to wager a large sum of money that to this day, he is probably the only man in history to ever play typewriter (and bell) on the Academy Awards. I think that is an incredible object lesson in uniqueness. That was certainly not the high point of his career, and his life's purpose is so much broader and multi-faceted than that one moment. But among all the other amazing things the man has accomplished in his life, he shares a distinction, on one particular night, with no one else on planet earth. Fingerprints ...on a Royal typewriter (and bell).

I talk about my brief time in China quite a bit and I'm sure to some it gets old. But one of the stories from that trip was particularly poignant for me. In Beijing, our group was guided by a young communist ideologue. He preached communism and it's virtues to us every chance he got. My personal favorite diatribe of his was when he was telling us about the communist controlled press. "Before China's government took control of the media we were always getting bad news. Now that the government controls it, the news is always good!" We all laughed at what we thought was a joke. I'm not sure he got it. On the last ride to the airport we were all asking him questions. He was asking us some as well. One of the questions asked was something like, "do you think all of these Americans adopting all of these little Chinese girls will ever have an impact on American/Chinese relations?" His response was like a cold, wet rag in the face. "Of course not. There's not enough of them to make a difference. One person doesn't make a difference. It takes waves and waves of people to change anything or make a difference in any way." We all looked at each other and gave knowing, sober smiles. We know as Americans the exact opposite is true. Rosa Parks didn't need anybody else around to know that she was tired of the back of that damn bus. Elvis Presley didn't wait on the audience. The audience found him. For that matter, that kid standing in front of that tank in Tienanmen Square didn't have anyone around him either. One person can absolutely change the world. It happens every day.

I'm not trying to simply dump on the Chinese. Race really has nothing to do with it. It's about attitude and approach. My daughter is Chinese and were she still living in China, because of her severe handicaps, she would probably be relegated to rocking in the corner of an orphanage - out of every one's way. She might not be alive. But because she is in a place where she's valued and loved as a completely unique individual, she has changed so many people's lives in so many profound ways. She's certainly changed mine. She has a divine purpose on this planet. With everyone she brings a smile to, with every classmate who understands more about special needs people, with every person who makes a donation to her foundation, with every kiss she gives her daddy, she's leaving her fingerprints, and hers alone, on the world. They are lovely and delicate and perfect in their own way.

We all leave our fingerprints whether we want to admit it or not. Just because you think you're average and inconsequential doesn't mean you are. If you made it here this far, you have a powerful reason for being here. The depth and height of that reason may take a while to reach. You may feel like no one. Anonymous. Or even like a mistake. Anyone with their own personal DNA address is no mistake. We all leave fingerprints. It's up to us to decide what kind we want to leave.

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