Author: Campbell, Bruce

'Tis Better to Give Than to Receive...Compliments

I wrote a column a while back about how to take compliments. For too long I heard musicians deflect compliments by denying that they played well, which is a terrible thing to do. What’s the upside to arguing with someone expressing their pleasure over your performance?

Anyway recently, I have become aware that giving a compliment is almost as tricky. You have to avoid compliments that are so bland they seem insincere. But if you try and make them more specific, it can sound like you’re trying to hide criticism with euphemisms.

Among musicians, there’s a standard compliment that is code for “You totally stunk up the joint”, and that’s: “You guys look like you’re really have a good time up there!”. Naturally, many well-meaning people will offer this compliment up in all sincerity and leave you wondering what they REALLY meant.

There are some musicians that seem to get better every time I hear them, and I have a hard time relating that in a way that doesn’t imply that I have professorially watchingover their quaint career and I'm pleased with their progress. A good example of this is Rob McCoury. The guy’s really a fantastic banjo player, but every time I see him, he seems to have added a dimension of creativity or taste, and I always want to tell him that. but I DON’T want to imply that his playing was boring or pedestrian prior. So, I keep my mouth shut.

There are a couple of musicians in my home town about whom I feel the same way. I liked their songwriting, playing and singing a few years ago, but I like it even better now. It might be tougher with friends, since they are more likely to extend the conversation and ask for more clarity. Who wants to have to explain their compliments? With Robbie McCoury, I’m just one face, one voice in a nightly parade of well-wishers. I can’t imagine my comments having that much effect on them either way.

What makes this all even more vexing is, I want to compliment everyone I hear play. There’s always something nice to say, and everybody should be encouraged. In those cases. without resorting to lying, I will zero in with some precision on a song I liked. If there weren’t any songs I liked, I zero in on one solo, or chorus. If I didn’t like any of those, maybe I zero in on a single note; “Dude, that note you played in the 2nd half of that one song - it was dead ON, man! Great tone!” Whew.

I’d hate to have to fall back on “It looked like you were really have a good time up there, man!”
Posted:  5/14/2014

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