• Jessika Brust

Don't Call Me Baby

Updated: Mar 14


*heavy adult language*

Chasing bats with telemetry was my part-time day job, while I spent the summer rehabilitating my voice after a tonsillectomy, and trying to piece together more musical employment for the future. On a night when I was off work, between trips into the Blue Ridge Mountains, I was searching on the good ol' reliable musician job networking site of Craig's List.

I found an ad posted by the owner of an Emmy-nominated recording studio, who was looking for vocalists and musicians to collaborate on the recording of his own compositions. I perused his website and it seemed legit. I couldn't find his business on any social media, but that's relatively normal for people his age -- I guessed late 50's to early 60's.

I sent him an inquiry email and we scheduled a phone interview for later that weekend. It went well -- he didn't have any money budgeted for this but he was offering unlimited free studio time to anyone who worked on his LP. I had two projects on the horizon that required studio time in a space large enough to fit an ensemble, so we agreed to meet in person to determine whether our styles and tastes were compatible.

Franklin Ibsen's studio was in Maryland, and I was driving up from Virginia. A two hour commute is nothing for a musician, especially when it is something you'd do as often as once a month, or less. I packed a lunch and some snacks, my fiddle, and samples of my arranging and collaborations. While preparing for my day trip, a little instinct told me that I'd best dress casually -- this was a meeting with a middle-aged man in a vacant studio -- if it weren't vacant, he wouldn't have scheduled the meeting for that time. It would be wise to not dress to impress, lest he get the wrong idea. Demonstrate good hygiene, but don't put any physical assets on display. A t-shirt, jeans, a ponytail, and next to-no makeup was the way to go.

Franklin was waiting for me at the door when I drove up. He offered to help me unload but I declined. It turned out the studio was the converted basement of his house (my instincts were on point), and he led me downstairs. I set up camp at the opposite side of the room from his desk and we talked.

Conversation rambled -- it was the necessary musician's version of Hardball, but nothing Earth-shattering. I explained to him how I collaborate with songwriters: I listen to a scratch recording of the piece for several weeks, until I can play the melody, lyrics, and chord changes in my head. From there I can rework it -- change the groove, the genre, the instrumentation, the chord harmonies, or whatever my mind sees fit. I explained that it was a slow, organic process, told him what I'd need from him to get it done, and he said it all sounded good.

He had me improvise over some of his charts, which felt awkward but seemed to be pleasing to him. His compositions were like free-form poetry sung to soundscapes, and therefore would be difficult to rearrange into something catchy with a focal point. I also noticed a common theme in his lyrics, 100% of the time: each song told the story of a relationship that was perfect, until she left him and his world was destroyed, so he wasn't going to rest until he hunted her down and got her back. It was consistently the same, and each song used a different female name. Notice a trend in your love life, buddy? I thought.

I explained also how I was financially dependent on my day job, which sent me to remote areas without cell reception, and sometimes even without wifi. I'd be able to get in touch often enough -- and it wouldn't matter in the beginning because it'd take me a few weeks before I could arrange his tunes anyway. This all seemed ok to him, we shook hands, and I drove home to pack for my week of tracking bats in the mountains.

The next morning found me on the winding roads of West Virginia, en route to my field site. The infrastructure of that state is archaic and crumbling, and it is rare indeed when you have even two bars of reception. Yet while I was climbing a peak before dipping down into a valley, my phone rang. It was Franklin Ibsen, and it was barely 10am. I answered it, thinking he must've forgotten to tell me something crucial yesterday.

"Hey Franklin, how's it going?"

"Oh fine, fine. Did you make any progress on the piece?!" he asked excitedly.

"Uh...I listened to it...but you know, I haven't had any down time since yesterday..."

"Uh huh," he clearly was waiting for more of an explanation.

"And...I told you how I collaborate on other people's music. It takes a long time, usually several weeks."

"Oh. Right. Well I just thought I'd check in on you, see if there's anything else you need from me..." he trailed off.

"Nope, I got everything," I said. "But hey, I'm about to lose reception in this valley so I'd better get off the phone."

"OK, talk to you later," he said dejectedly.

I realized that was the first red flag as I hung up. Again, my instincts had been on point. He didn't have a reason to call, he just wanted an excuse to talk to me. I had done nothing to lead him on or flirt with him, yet here he was, trying anyway, as if he hadn't heard a word I told him in our meeting.

The next day he called again. I let it go to voicemail, and later that night I sent an email, re-explaining that bad reception made phone calls difficult, and email was the best way to get in touch, if he needed to communicate. I hate talking on the phone, anyway.

He continued emailing me. As soon as I'd reply, I'd get another message -- so I slowed down the pace at which I responded. He had nothing new to ask, and I absolutely had nothing to say. It was beginning to be irritating.

My bat tracking week ended, and I returned to my parents' house to do some chart writing while awaiting my next field assignment. Evenings were my time at Mom and Dad's to have the privacy required to work on my music. I had everything set up on the peaceful screened-in porch to buckle down for a few hours, when the phone rang again. It was Franklin Ibsen -- no surprise there.

"Hi Franklin, how are ya?"

"Good," he said curtly. Then silence...

After a long pause I asked, "Do you need something?"

"No, I was just wondering how the tracks were coming along," he exploded with word vomit.

"Well it's like I said. I've been listening to them but I don't have them memorized yet. I have a few ideas but until I'm familiar enough to play with it without the recording, there's not much I can do."

Silence on the other end.

"It takes several weeks," I reminded him. I felt like a broken record.

"Just wanted to make sure we were ok, I guess," he said, the anger and defensiveness melting into desperate vulnerability.

"Yeah, but remember: I'm beholden to the income from my day job, and I have a deadline for this other project I'm writing charts for. The things that pay me money are what get first dibs of my time."

"OK."

After another pause, I said, "OK, well I'll let you go now... Goodnight..." and hung up.

The emails continued, but a bit less frequently. Eventually he came up with a new question: "So when can we schedule some time in the studio?"

"Your music isn't ready yet, and neither are the other projects I have that will eventually need studio time. Like I said before -- several weeks. So far it's only been one."

So then he came up with the need to share with me the bios of other instrumentalists who were interested in the project. If I answered the phone, I'd get an earful of some unknown bass player's résumé, or about how some other vocalist could sing backup but not contribute to the arranging. I stopped answering the phone all together.

So I got an anxious email a few days later, pressuring me to schedule studio time, making it sound like the other collaborators were anxiously awaiting my instruction so we could get started.

I replied to say, "I'm sorry, but evidently I am unable to work on your project in the time frame you need, so it is only fair to everyone if I back out of the project. Let me know if you ever need a vocalist/violinist in the future."

His response was very polite and said he understood and appreciated my honesty. I sighed with relief and deleted his senseless music from my LEARN playlist.

A week later, I got an email from Franklin that he sent late at night. It was rambling and full of typos and stray letters, making it seem like he was drunk. He was mourning the loss of my input on his album, and passively begging me to reconsider. I didn't answer.

The next week, I was taking a trip to New York City to go to my dear friend Roy's wedding, and to experience The Big Apple for the first time as an adult. I was stunned to bump into so many friends there, and I had a blast! I stayed with my high school friend Ben, and we had the best time catching up while he taught me the ropes of the subway system.

I skipped out to a jazz jam one night that resulted in some good networking, then returned to Ben's apartment, arriving late.

I got in bed and checked my email before falling asleep. There was a message in my inbox entitled "What the fuck". It read:

Hey,

That is cool, ignore and marginalize me. After all, I'm scum. God damn it Jess, I thought you were deeper than this. Are you gonna spend your whole life singing covers and dressing like a big band singer for peanuts?

Yeah, I come along and ask you to stretch, but you are satisfied spending your time researching bat behavior? God damn it baby, whom ever is stroking your happiness could not hold a fucking candle to me. I am a genius and I can propel you to something truly great, but you are satisfied with big Mac manipulation, I would have never taken you for white trash, but there it is.

Settle for less, compromise,

  1. accept standards that are lower than is desirable.

  2. weaken (a reputation or principle) by accepting standards that are lower than is desirable.

  3. bring into disrepute or danger by indiscreet, foolish, or reckless behavior.

Sad, we could have conquered the fucking World. Take the east way out, but I am the reAL DEAL. YOU FUCKED UP!


What a stunning message to receive. In the rare clarity that comes with being awake during the wee hours of the morning, I crafted a response:

Dear [Franklin],

You have used every manipulation tactic in the book. That's why I stopped speaking to you. You fabricated this situation: by anxiously perceiving that I was going to not work with you before it ever occurred to me there was a red flag. This latest email confirmed to me exactly why it isn't safe or smart to work with you.

Don't ever disrespect or slander me as a person or a professional again. I haven't told you the half of what I'm working on so don't fool yourself into thinking you are in the know. Most especially, don't ever use language like that towards me with a tone of aggression again. And above all, you are NEVER to call me pet names like baby. This possessive manipulation tells a woman that you were entertaining the thought of far more than a professional relationship with her, and that is completely inappropriate. In case I haven't made it clear, this bridge is burned.

All the best with your project.

Jessika

Somehow I felt like that wasn't enough. Too many men pray on women who aren't even slightly interested in their romantic attention; and too many women keep quiet about it, being led to believe that somehow it's their fault, that they intentionally provoked it. With Franklin, I'd very blatantly maintained professionalism, and here he was, slandering my career because I didn't want his attention.

I screen-shotted his email and my response, and posted it to FaceBook. I didn't bother to blur out his name -- any female who were to consider working with him needed to be warned. My commentary read:

I don't endorse posting negativity on social media. I also avoid harsh language here, knowing that some students and elderly relatives follow what I do. But I am sharing this, because this kind of treatment is inappropriate. I'm not posting the whole story here, nor the whole conversation. This is the last email from this composer/sound engineer/producer who expected me to collaborate with him FOR FREE, on his timeframe, in exchange for studio time for my own projects. These encounters run rampant towards artists and musicians, and most especially towards women. It would be a fantastic world indeed if we could blaze forward in our careers without fear of being taken advantage of professionally or personally; and without others determining our worth blindly, based solely on their level of sexual attraction towards us. I'm an artist, I'm a reliable and hard worker, and in order to turn my passion into profit, I have to be a businessperson. These are the elements that factor in my decision making, and you would expect no less from any man. So the next time you ask an artist to do something for free, or for exposure, or because you think he'll/she'll enjoy the attention, stop and think twice. We weed through muck like this on a regular basis in order to climb our professional ladders. The more success we have, the more crap like this we've tredged through. We explore options and network like anybody else, and frequently have to close those doors -- it's such a waste that so often it's because of behavior and attitudes like this. Please spread the word.

It was an explosive post that got a list of comments as long as my leg, over 100 likes (that's tons by my standards), and a handful of shares -- by noon the next day, less than eight hours after it went public.

I slept in to recover from my late night of "dressing like a big band singer for peanuts", and wandered to Ben's room. I found him lounged on his bed behind his MacBook.

"I am so proud of you!" he said. "What a creep, and you crafted the classiest response!"

We mulled it over all morning, and read the comments posted by my friends and family with relish:

Ew that he used the words "baby" AND "stroking." What?!?

He must be awesome. That's probably why I've never heard of him.

Who does this guy think he is???? Like without his help you're nothing............. I beg to differ!!!!!

Ben suggested that we respond by writing a song, and I suggested we use "Don't call me baby, I'm not your fucking baby" as a hook.

"I LOVE IT!" cried Ben. He was a gifted songwriter in his own right, and he immediately crafted a tune for me to record. He pulled phrases from Franklin's email, and drew on other recent professional slights that I'd suffered in the past six months, to fill in the other verses (each story merits having its own blog entry). Et voilà! We had a song:

CHORUS:

Don't call me baby, I'm not your fucking baby

I don't know why you think I am.

I never led you on, you wanted me to sing your song about being broken.

Never piece together what you thought you and me would ever be

Manipulated what you see, you called me baby

So don't call me baby, I'm not your fucking baby

I don't know why you think I am.

I may just be a woman, but I know what I'm doing

You thought that I'd be deeper

I'm at the bottom of the pool and my lungs ain't getting weaker

You say I'm in a musical rut, scraping by, working for peanuts

But aren't you the one who wanted me to work for free?

So... [CHORUS]

You think I'm running 'round crashing dreams into the ground.

What do I need to seem together?

A white picket fence, a dog, a kid, and perfect weather?

I'm building an international tour, bleeding my heart on every score

But that's not how they do it in Nashville, for sure.

So...[CHORUS]

You loved my gift, my talent, and my voice

But the artistic license, that's my choice

Overworked to the bone -- but it kills the spirit

That you desperately yearned, but it's my turn to shine

You can't rewind what you've done, so why do you try, do you try?

Lesson fucking learned...

(read the story of this verse here)

Don't call me baby, I'm not your fucking baby

I don't know why you think I am.

I never led you on, you wanted me to sing your song about being broken

Never piece together what you thought you and me would ever be

You manipulated what you see,

You think that you can call me baby like a one-night stand

Kick me out of bed 'cause you have gotten what you wanted

Manipulating what you see 'cause you think I'm your baby?

So don't call me baby, I'm not your fucking baby

I didn't write this song for you,

I wrote it for me.

I loved it. My producer Andre DiMuzio and I agreed to record it as an Hourglass tune, done in the style of big band swing.

Several months later, on Super Bowl Sunday 2016, Franklin Ibsen called and left a voicemail, to say he was still looking for a female vocalist, and wondered if I might be available. I blocked his number.

A few months after that, Franklin Ibsen sent me an invite to join a messaging app I'd never heard of, with a private message attached that I could only read after I installed it.

I wrote him an email, saying that if he continued to contact me in any way, I would get the police involved.

Two months later I got another email from him, apologizing for pushing this whole thing too hard.

#bats #telemetry #summer #tonsillectomy #BlueRidgeMountains #CraigsList #recordingstudio #vocalists #musician #collaboration #socialmedia #Facebook #composer #basement #soundscape #freeformpoetry #cellphonereception #wifi #phonecall #email #chartwriting #arranging #TheBigApple #NewYorkCity #jazzjam #slander #redflag #instinct #baby #romanticattention #Superbowl

jess@jessikabrust.com

www.reverbnation.com/jessikabrust

 

 

 

 

© 2015 by Jessika Brust

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