When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

04 March 2006

It's hard out here for a Pip

Lots of kids want to be astronauts or firemen when they grow up. (Or at least they did when I was growing up... I have no idea what they want to be these days.)

The earliest career ambition that I can remember, actually, was to be a backup singer. Specifically, I wanted to be a Pip.

I was born in the late 1960s; in the early 1970s, Gladys Knight and the Pips were not only frequent guests on other television programs, but they even had their own short-lived television variety show. They arrived on the TV scene just as I was starting to take an interest in television programs that weren't either Sesame Street or Mister Rogers.

And in 1973, when Gladys and the Pips went to the top of the pop charts with "Midnight Train to Georgia," even though I was mightily impressed by Gladys's soulful and impassioned delivery of the lyrics, I was totally mesmerized by the smooth dance moves and solid choral underpinnings being offered by William Guest, Merald "Bubba" Knight, and Eddie Patten (RIP)... the Pips.

Though my mother very sensibly drew the line at buying me a three-piece white linen suit (only a Pip, Tom Wolfe, or Colonel Sanders can pull that look off, and in any event I doubt that such a thing was available in the children's department at Hudson Belk), she did get a copy of the 45 for me, and I must've spent hours singing along with that record.

Not the lead, mind you. Just dancing in front of the mirror and interjecting, "...leavin' on the midnight train... goin' back to find..." at appropriate moments. Attempts to corral my playmates at the time into learning the dance moves and the lyrics were, if memory serves, largely unsuccessful. I didn't care. To me, being a Pip was the very essence of effortless cool.

I had an epiphany this week, and it has to do with that early ambition to be a Pip. Though my career has occasionally put me in the spotlight, out in front of everyone, for the most part I have toiled away in happy obscurity, doing my "background singing" as a knowledge worker, working as part of a team to produce a whole that is hopefully greater than the sum of its parts.

(Gladys Knight sounds great singing all by herself, don't get me wrong, but when she's got the Pips backing her up, there's nothing like it in the world.)

I have been, for the most part, a deeply happy Pip.

It has taken one hell of a long time to realize this, but I'm at a point in my life and career where being a backup singer isn't a realistic option any more.

And that is, indeed, an interesting decision point.

What would Merald "Bubba" Knight do? I wonder if he's listed in the phone book...

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