The weird world of cruising
Hey everybody. I just got back (late last night) from a two week trip to Hawaii. Amazing trip. Saw so many cool things I've never seen before (sea turtles!!). One of those weeks was spent on a cruise ship. I thought I'd just post a little about it in case anyone here ever had aspirations to work as a performer on a cruise ship. I am in awe of the people who do this kind of work. They are always on stage. They perform in a different show every night. The shows are usually themed -- the piano player did an Elton John tribute one night, then an R&B tribute the next, then a Frank Sinatra and friends tribute (followed by several hours of taking requests). The shows were always different from the previous night's show with no repeats -- kind of incredible. But, more than that, I'm in awe of their love of people. They are never off stage because they can't escape their fans (unless they hide away in their room). Even when they are off duty, they eat in the same place as the cruisers, work out in the same gym, drink at the same bars. The idea of being always on stage is kind of scary. I don't think I could do it. The piano player I mentioned works 10 months of the year on the ship and then is home for two months to work on other projects (like his own music for instance). There is no original music on board. It's all covers. Every single show I went to (at least two a night) was covers so a songwriter might find the experience frustrating.
All up, the cruise was really enjoyable from a holiday-makers point of view, but I'd find the lack of freedom to be too challenging for my sensibilities. The versatility of these performers was incredible. Great experience
Those nightly repertoires were probably an education. Each Song was selected for a reason. I'm betting none of them were old album filler material. Each one had stood the test of time to be classics or at least had been multi-selling hits in their time. The audience didn't hear one and wonder how it went or have trouble singing along. This is the difference between being musicians, covering other peoples' Songs, and introducing new works. The customer is always right, they say, and the customer isn't generally looking for something new in these venues. Play the old Songs, and make 'em sound just like the record. The requests were probably a revelation too, the Songs they remembered that the players hadn't played yet.
Frank Sinatra told Pia Zadora, and Pia Zadora told me (and a 1,000 other people in the audience), "If you're going to sing other peoples' music, sing the classics." The classics, again, have become classics because of the elements of appeal that made them 'sell' when they first came out into the public's hearing. They have broad appeal across a diverse audience, and broad familiarity among large numbers of people. With a classic, if you do it well, you're likely to please your listeners.
A friend from Cincinnati, Ohio said his band used to play original Songs but they didn't tell the audience. He said the Master of Ceremonies, probably the lead singer, instroduced them as Songs by Modine Gunch and the Crinkle Crunch Band. Then they'd play and nobody wondered, 'Who the heck is Modine Gunch?'.
It's an interesting world. At one time I thought I'd be doing it, then never really wanted to sign the contracts they have. They are for quite a bit of time, and I didn't want to spend that much time on a boat. Songwriter, and custom cruises are a big deal these days. I went on one five years ago, and we found a couple of interesting things.
Some of the bands playing in the lounges, and other areas were from the Philippines. We would see then starting around 10:00-11:0o in the morning and still be going at 2:00 the next morning. The same band. It was kind of funny, because a few of the hit writers on our cruise, had written the songs the band was playing and they didn't speak English. Had learned the songs phonetically, Which was fun when they actually met the people who wrote the songs they were performing, but didn't understand who they were. But it shows the difference in many of those bands, solos and duos.
It's pretty demanding. Most people from the States won't work 10-14 hour days. There are different lounges and segments, and the different "main room" shows are different each night. I had a friend who was in one of the shows and not only did she do the show but during the day she was involved with emceeing on activities around the pool with the guests, and even doing the creative folding of the animals made out of towels on the beds.
There were several hit songwriters on the ship and we were involved in different shows, sort of our own. But these are pretty big boats, and a lot going on.
Some of the latest are "specialty cruises" most notably hit rock bands, blues cruises, celebrity cruises that are really hot. The guests get to hang out with their idols. This led to tragedy last year when Sib Hassien, the original drummer for the band, Boston, died onstage after the last drum hit with a celebrity all star band comprised of rockers from 80's and 90's bands. Which led me to find out that all Cruise ships also have a morgue on board the ship. They have to be able to keep up to six bodies. People do die on these things and being out to sea, they can't always get to a hospital or land morgues.
It's a big business, and it does take a lot to get on there. But like everything that actually makes money, there is also a long line of people trying to do it.
I can't top your story of the filipino band playing songs they didn't understand, written by people actually in the audience, but I once found myself in a bar in a small town called Telc in Czechoslovakia about a month after the Iron Curtain lifted and you could actually visit Eastern Europe, drinking beer at 12 cents a pint, when a bunch of local lads came in with guitars. I was looking forward to some Czech folk music, but when they started playing.... Rocky Top. It was in Czech, which was kind of weird, but I was able to sing along to the chorus. "Rocky Top Tennessee" is the same in Czech.
I may or may not be an enigma