The world is separated into two groups: people with nicknames and people who wish they had a nickname. A nickname is a sign of coolness, a message to let people know that you are so hip that you cannot be described only one way. Nicknames are (usually) earned or bestowed due to generally positive circumstances such as achieving a level of excellence (Champ, Ace), earning a position of authority (Chief, Skipper) or due to a specific act of bravery or stupidity (Trapper, Snapper or Bopper). Many things have affected the awarding of a nickname and generally, nicknames are viewed as terms of endearment. Of course, for every ten hip cats with cool nicknames (Breezey, Scooter), there are the at least fifty unfortunate souls with names less appealing (Numbnuts, Horsehead) but for the most part, a nickname should be at least viewed as a positive experience. The origination of a good nickname is based in both art and science but when he took the nickname of The Jivecat, his world changed immediately and in ways never thought possible.
He was born and grew up with one of the most unfortunate names of all time and it was compounded by a cruel combination of initials. To give anyone a name remotely like that is to show the world that you are incapable of compassion, thought and feeling. Names such as this one happens only when the person has given up completely and you wish to haul some poor unfortunate soul down with you. He was brought up in a relatively generic environment in which he received his fair share of abuse in grade school, then Junior High and then Senior High when his name became painfully noticeable to the school. He went through the full gamut of derivations of his name, starting with the easy and moving down the spectrum of innovation to names and name combinations never uttered throughout history. He was consistently beaten down with his name and during his teenage years, had nowhere to turn. Any tinkering of his name would immediately call attention to his plight and the whole trail of tears would begin again. The only ally he had on his side was time and he knew he had to make his escape without looking back. He realized that he could only improve his lot in life by never returning to his hometown.
He liked his hometown and would miss it but he could never receive the necessary respect to function, so right after graduation, he planned to leave for college and never, ever return. He decided that he would have to travel far enough away never to meet classmates who would start the whole name thing all over again. He would chose a college obscure enough that he could recreate himself in any likeness that he chose. He would begin with his own physical appearance and felt that if he looked cool, the burden of a new name or nickname would be less critical. He would let his hair grow long over the summer as he toyed around with different names: he could go by his initials, come up with a wild new pronunciation or use a derivation of his middle name but all those formulas would be tricky. The name had to not only compliment his own new persona, it had to allow him to become a whole new person. This makeover could not just be tactical; he had to come up with a whole new image and escape.
There were only two semi-famous people with extremely convoluted versions of his first name and as far as he knew, no one had the same last name. When these "celebrities" got their name, the world was very different and nothing like todays cruel world which pounces regularly on ideas and people outside the standard template. His name provided so many years of cruel comments and bad memories that he stopped arguing and hunkered down until he could develop some options. The formula for success included attending a remote college far away to give him the necessary clean, cool slate. If he couldnt come up with something cool, his last resort was to change his name legally, as any judge would immediately do as a favor to all mankind. He viewed that option as last resort because the only benefit of his name was he had become freakishly resourceful and quick on his feet. He wanted closure on his terms and if he could succeed in overcoming this challenge on his own, and without legal intervention, he would be stronger for it. On the other hand, he was tired of being viewed as an idiot purely for possessing the single worst name in the English language. He easily could have said "the entire planet" but he didnt know if he had some Tibetan or Kurdish counterpart suffering equally half way across the world, but he doubted it. He never had received compassion and if he had done some heroic act, such as saving a life, his name would still cruelly affect the circumstances. For example, if he had saved someone from drowning, the paper would proclaim his valor but the secondary buzz would end up by mocking his name. The rescued person would tell his story, add his name and smirk a bit. That name was so unfair that he had to change.
He did not to rush to this nickname solution because he only had one chance to start over and couldnt afford overthinking this opportunity. The first piece of the puzzle dealt with his college choice. College choices are usually broken down into two areas: where your friends are going or where your areas of studies take you. He had to do this completely backward. First, he decided to attend a college at least one thousand miles away. The distance wasnt based on anything symbolic except that it was far enough and at the same time, a nice round number. The next thing he had to do was determine where everyone else was going and avoid those schools at all costs. He told anyone who would listen, there werent many, that he was planning to go to a big school but that was enough overt subterfuge. The plan was difficult enough so he made a newer plan to see where other people were applying and just avoided those schools. His grades were good enough to get in just about anywhere so he took his time and picked his spots.
His first target school was the University of Oregon. It was a pretty school and no one in his hometown, by his calculations, had ever attended it. There was nothing special about the school and it went to the top of his list, with the University of Idaho and Ithaca College. They were all safe bets geographically and he would try to get into all three in case someone from his town declared their interest for any of the three unexpectedly. The first two schools were more than the minimum acceptable distance for him and Ithaca made the list for purely cosmetic reasons. He didnt know where Ithaca was located but once he realized it was in New York, it didnt matter because Ithaca just sounded cool. Once he decided on the three schools, he made sure that all reference materials and listings about the schools were omitted from the library so he wouldnt have to endure the bone-chilling scream of his given name by some well-meaning but ignorant ex-classmate. His formal name was going to be said, at the most, publicly two more times in his life: at his high school graduation and at his college graduation and that would be that.
His last year at high school wasnt as bad as it was lonely because most of the direct abuse was usually suffered in the first year of a new place. People, after hearing his name for the first time, would literally stare at him with a look of impending realization. He hated that look as he hated his name and he continued to plot his escape. The name was the primary reason for the plan but there were other factors that he considered when began to put together the strategy. He came from a rather poor family and his town, like most towns, was parceled into neighborhoods basically by income level. That meant that he went to the poorest grade school, attended the poorer of the two Junior Highs and finally, when mixed altogether in one senior high, the status levels remained. He was smart enough for financial aid and scholarships so college would be slightly less traumatic but his distaste for class warfare was established enough to avoid being labeled the poor kid with the worlds worst name. Having the name was bad enough but throwing his financial situation on top of it just made it more of a challenge to overcome. Finally, the ascension into college was a time to separate from the kids that really didnt like learning and although he didnt kid himself that he was going to immerse himself totally in the academic experience, it certainly would be better.
As the college application process continued, he did everything he could to mask his name. The most gentle combinations of initials and middle name variations made the process slightly more acceptable but the only thing left to do, other than legally change his name, was to develop and award himself a nickname. It had to be so cool that the men would fear him and the chicks would come a running. He kept his college choices very quiet and in fact, was telling people who were curious that he was going to attend the University of Oregon. Still no one from school was currently planning to attend the school but it was far enough away from the town to likely assure his exclusivity. Although he had the worst name imaginable, others had their own personal burdens and through some odd assembling of social outcasts, he knew everyone was just biding their time. His name issue was high on the list of social stigmas but he wished everyone whatever anonymity they desired or was available.
College was going to be a time for renewal. This was going to be a time that people, who were slow social animals, were finally evolving to their next level of the culture ladder: the non-ostracized. He knew that as people arrived from different parts of the country, there would be the same series of questions asked of each other and he had to come up with answers that were satisfying enough without elaboration. So, he began to list the questions and his preferred response.
If a person began talking to him, the questions would begin with "Nice to meet you, where are you from?" He would have to answer somewhat specifically, like "Chicago" or "New York" where no one would ask the follow-up question to pinpoint the specific location. They may ask what borough or what suburb he lived in but he felt he had to keep his answers vague enough to avoid scrutiny but specific enough to answer the question once. Other questions such as major, general opinions about music/drugs/sex were pretty straightforward as he prepared his final responses to the question of "What is your name" or "What should I call you?" He started to write out the dialogue:
"Nice to meet you, what should I call you?" asked the fellow college student.
"Just call me The Jivecat, its a long story," he would reply.
He toyed with initiating the conversations but starting off a conversation with a stranger did not lend itself well to tossing out a startling nickname. The Jivecat was the working name he came up with after long lists of proposed nicknames fell by the wayside. The Jivecat meant a lover of music; a hipster and an overall cool individual. He composed and rejected literally hundreds of names including Abner, Butch, Clyde, Dusty, Earl, Freddie, Gusty, Hawk, Iggy, Jake, Koala, Leo, Magic, Nips, Oscar, Pepe, Q-ball, Razor, Slippery, Titus, Uncle, Viper, Wahoo, X-man, Yag and Zippy. They all had their magic and they all had their limitations. For the most part, they were too abrupt and very limited, as they really meant nothing. Each one was just a clipped word that at first listen seemed somewhat interesting but it left itself open for additional questions. He needed a name, so hip, that people would literally take a step back and show him some badly needed respect.
A decision to attend Ithaca happened in early spring and graduation came soon after. His name was proclaimed over the loudspeaker and there were titters and audible gasps throughout the crowds, mainly from people who hadnt heard it before. When you heard his name for the first time, it was startling enough to get your attention. He walked proudly across the stage, smiled when they said "and he will be attending the University of Illinois" and just kept walking. He threw his diploma into the back seat of the car and went home to briefly celebrate his accomplishment with his parents. He kept most of his pain from his parents who stopped imagining that their choice of names would be so brutally impactful on their child. Their ignorance and generally bad timing was not their fault and to hate them was just a waste of time. After some punch and a few presents, he placed his tassel and diploma in a box and sealed it. One down and possibly one to go.
In the middle of the summer, he had to attend freshman orientation and this was the time to try out his new strategy. He had enrolled specifically with his initials, which were horrible enough as initials go, but better than the full glory of his name. When he arrived at the school, he went to the assigned building, purposely smeared his name on the ubiquitous name badge and didnt go out of his way to mingle. He chatted when he had to chat but was wary enough not to overplay his hand. Finally, a longer-haired freshman with an honest attempt at a beard came over and shook hands.
"Hey, nice to meet you. The name is Randy."
"Nice to meet you, Randy. They call me The Jivecat."
"Cool name Jivecat. Nice to make your acquaintance."
Randy wandered away and the Jivecat was enraptured with his success. Although his new friend Randy wasnt the only person he had to deal with at the school, it was wonderful to see his long-awaiting plan flourish. The name was now alive and at least one person at the school had accepted the notion that he was The Jivecat. The rest of the orientation was successful and several other people were exposed to the name and all universally accepted it without inquiring and for awhile, he was not preoccupied with his name. It was liberating, like a ten-year old toothache that finally subsided and there was a brief time in which he stopped thinking about the always-present name issue and the void it caused was truly euphoric. However, a name like The Jivecat had to have some substance behind it and he began to put together his new persona to begin to earn his name fairly.
The first and most important component of The Jivecat had to be music. The name implied a lover of jazz and almost an overall beatnik aura. He decided against the beret and the goatee but he needed to acquire an attitude of someone so enraptured with jazz that he made it part of his being. He had no real like or dislike of jazz but he certainly could not be called The Jivecat without digging the greats so when he returned from college, he jumped in with both ears. He began with Miles Davis and listened to the music every waking moment. The music was interesting but that wouldnt be good enough for The Jivecat so he immersed himself with it and after a few weeks, he literally dreamt jazz. He had make this decision and knew there would be some life changes but he continued to look at the bright side and slowly added to his repertoire with other jazz greats until most of the works were moving through him as second nature. As his taste for jazz continued, he began listening to and immersing himself in all types of music and enjoying it for what is was: a simple expression of emotion that was free of attitude and prejudice. If you liked it, that was wonderful and if you didnt care for it, there was a lot more music around to enjoy.
Now comfortable with music, The Jivecat began reviewing his fashion sense and decided it was time for a radical change. Out went the random series of slightly fashionable clothes from the last three years of High School. He realized that The Jivecat should almost exclusively wear black and he began to spend the remainder of his discretionary income on clothes. Luckily, his look could be achieved with visits to the local used clothing stores and after a few weeks, his painfully hip fashion look was achieved. The last remaining vestiges of his old life were tossed away and he started packing his new look with a quiet confidence that he finally was on his way.
The remainder of the summer went quickly and one by one his friends departed in their chosen directions. There was no illusions given about keeping in touch after high school as they shared only the briefest of life experiences so the promises of maintaining a connection wasnt even brought up. A few handshakes and still fewer hugs later, The Jivecat was ready to go. The music was categorized, clothes packed, classes scheduled and off he went to Ithaca. When he arrived, he was informed that he was getting his requested single room that was the last piece of the puzzle. The last thing he needed was a curious roommate that was fielding calls from home for one person and seeing someone completely different. He got his room key, dumped off his stuff, hugged his folks goodbye and in a last act of internal defiance, replaced his generated official door name with his own jazzy and artful design. The Jivecat was in business.
School started on time and The Jivecat was immersed in the University lifestyle. He attended every music event that was available and was seen digging every one of them. The name got out, one person at a time, and there was never any pushback, only a tolerant and supportive response. In his travels, he found a few other unique names including Ragbone and Antara and out of professional courtesy, kept his reactions brief and understated. The school bustled with all types of activity and he was content for the first time and a weight of anguish going back eighteen years was finally lifting. Music was becoming more and more of an influence for him and he actually stopped making a conscious effort to put on the music that was giving him an air of a jazz aficionado and began to enjoy the music for what it was. He felt his old self disappear into the orderly chaos that makes up the University lifestyle and he was sleeping better and was slowly coming to terms with all his efforts to redesign his entire being. It was a lot of work but it was paying off as he became very natural with his delivery and the fears of being challenged slowly disappeared during the first semester.
His classes were going well and with the burden of his name lifted, he became even a better student than he thought possible. He wasnt looking to join any groups or seek to be listed on any honor roll; he was content at being completely anonymous because of all the years that he was thrust front and center in the arena of ridicule. His parents were instructed to be vague about his whereabouts and they were also instructed, under no circumstances to place anything in the local paper about his academic performance. He had disappeared. Back at school, he moved from group to group with his polite but mysterious nature. It was very appealing to the ladies but even in that arena, he chose to remain cautious. He felt he could slowly lift the new personality off and blend the best of his old and new worlds and continue to grow. He didnt initiate conversations in which he would throw out his name; it was only used in the response to a sincere question of identity. As the year continued, the opportunity to meet people for the first time continued to diminish so by the holidays, people would just build off another persons friendliness and the awkward greetings of the early part of the freshman year were being replaced with quicker introductions and faster handshakes. The Jivecat was firmly positioned in the lexicon of Ithaca freshman and everything was good.
Along with notoriety came the novelty of women. The Jivecat never dated in high school due to the fear of all women of marrying into his last name, either completely or obscenely hanging out at the end of hyphen. High school was full of generic young men and all women decided he wasnt worth the risk and let him know that any attempts at dating would be discouraged aggressively. The Jivecat, not blaming them, never pursued any dates and as a result, lost the fundamental exposure to affairs of the heart. However, college was a different story as his moderate good looks combined with the mysterious new name produced a potential dating opportunity for many of the freshman girls. Still amazed, The Jivecat couldnt differentiate between common courtesy and flirtation so he accommodated them all and went on dozens of successful dates. Drinking hundreds of cups of coffee, The Jivecat stayed within his strengths and rarely gave up personal information, as he was content not to bore his date with his life and concentrated on getting to learn about his date. This made him both fun and caring date and as a result, the dating process repeated itself many times. He was so happy and grateful with the genuine attention that he remained accepting of different upbringings and life choices and never judged or imposed his opinion on others. This gave him a loyal group of friends and jam-packed weekends.
He talked about music mainly because the women expected him to share his ideas on music and he didnt disappoint. The Jivecat didnt have any experiences to share with people that he wished to relive so it was mainly listening to others, providing wisdom and sharing his growing love of music. As his education continued, people naturally assumed by his name that he was some budding aficionado so almost out of peer pressure, he continued towards a degree in Music something. Ithaca had a strong technical music mastering degree program and The Jivecat enjoyed the classes and showed a true affinity for this role.
To master a CD or an album, the skill is very similar to a conductor; by taking the music and making it far more listenable and mastering makes the CD or album sound the best that it can, limited only by the skills of the performers. Mastering includes processing to optimize song levels to commercial broadcast standards. It includes compression, normalization, equalization, spacing of songs, re-sequencing of songs, fades, noise reduction, and any digital editing needed to maximize the sonic quality of a recording. The Jivecat also learned how to resolve the typical problems with an un-mastered or poorly mastered CD or album. The litany of failures include annoying noises between every song, inconsistent spacing varies between songs, song volume levels are different, uneven fade-outs on certain songs, songs are not in the correct order, tape hiss and/or popping sounding in the middle of songs, muddy sounding music, unclear vocals and song quality that ranged from "tinny," "boomy" or muddy with heavy bass effects. Most bands made sincere but horribly inadequate attempts at mastering their own stuff before handing off the mess to The Jivecat. And to the collective amazement of everyone, he would fix them and make the music sound as good as it possibly could. Every song was the right volume level, with proper equalization, signal enhancement, and noise filtering. He put smooth, digital fades on song endings and learned what to take out, what to leave alone and what made for great sounding music. He was gifted and sought after in the local Ithaca music community. There were many times that the final product was still underwhelming but The Jivecat still treated the less talented bands with sincere respect which further enhanced his growing reputation as a genius.
The Jivecat immersed himself in both post-production mastering and pre-mastering and was solving problems even before the producer called them out. He learned to enhance each song individually while enhancing the overall character of the CD or album. Producers loved working with and continued to bring him in closer and closer to the entire recording process. He began producing small sessions and quickly demonstrated prodigy-like skills as a producer: the artists loved him, his touch was subtle and the music was wonderful. His gentleness continued to evolve and the earlier bands that allowed him only to master their first CD were coming back and asking him to produce them as well. He knew that he wouldnt get paid much, if at all, but he appreciated their trust in him and it allowed him to continue to learn his craft. He liked being a gentle taskmaster with different groups and learned to deal with personalities of the groups as well. His disarming approach and the love of the music resulted in talented but tormented groups behaving and gathering a new respect for the beautiful process of making music. Bands continued to come and The Jivecat realized that this was going to be his world for a long time and finally relaxed. As the CD or album was finished, he received credit in the liner notes and under his role, whether as a producer, engineer or in some aspect of post-production, it simply said, "The Jivecat."
Other local and regional bands continued to descend on The Jivecat. His name plus his growing reputation as a recording professional made him a very desirable contact as all bands think they are extremely close on breaking into the big time and that their talent is sufficient enough to get them there. The crutches that all bands lean on are the mastering and production of their music. The recording studio time is freakishly expensive to leave most emerging bands out of money so when the need to produce and master their final recording comes around, some amateurish attempts leave their songs chopped, segmented poorly and generally sounding like shit. A talent like The Jivecats is rare in an industry filled with slacker musicians and sleazy record types.
One day in the spring of his senior year, The Jivecat looked at his weekend planner and was amazed. He had dates both nights with beautiful girls, had two producing sessions with two truly talented but unknown bands, he had a project due on a subject he loved learning about and everything else was perfect. Basically because of his name, he got another opportunity to re-make himself and he was not looking back. Down deep, he knew the name (it wasnt new anymore) wasnt the point but it was the first step in his evolution and thus, still deserved ultimate respect. His parents, happy that he was happy, didnt ask much about college because he seemed content and as far as they could determine, his grades were good and he wasnt doing anything unwise. He continued to live alone because he felt most comfortable by himself when he wasnt being The Jivecat and it was only a matter of time before the two worlds would finally merge and he could stop translating.
The college years were successful and several bands, out of the hundreds he produced, actually signed with major labels. The ratio, estimated once at approximately one to a hundred, was still gratifying and they did not forget The Jivecat. Although they didnt forget him, their record labels would only allow him to produce these bands when they were looking at their last chance. When a band signs with a major label, they usually make two to four records. Someone that the record company picks produces the first record and that producer is directed to make the most commercially successful music possible. If the first record fails, for whatever reason, the company then tries again with a little less money and a little less excitement behind them because the band now represents a highly possible losing proposition. A vast majority of the bands still fail again and that is when panic sets in: the tried and true formula isnt working and the label usually decided to give the band one more chance. The last time is quite different: no major promotion, no promise of touring as an opening act and basically no nothing. The band, usually shell-shocked and beaten down, will acquiesce to almost anything to keep their contract but the overall emotion that settles in is one of fear and fatigue. Now on their last legs, all three bands that had early success came to the same conclusion: they needed The Jivecat.
The first band called in the middle of the night, and begged The Jivecat to head to New York City to produce the session. The record company, truly not caring at all, would allow the band to produce it anyway they wanted because right after the record tanked, they could drop the band and get on with other things. The first band, embraced The Jivecat and quickly told him the horror stories and laid out the challenge ahead: almost no money, almost no time and the remaining creativity within the band had just been beaten out of them hours earlier. The Jivecat stayed calm, listened and began to formulate a plan. He knew if he could get a good song under their collective belts, it could provide a strong foundation for the second song and he could get everyone going in the right direction. They inventoried their songs, most of them were original stuff that the record company passed on, and picked the first one on the list and began to work on it. Studio time is expensive so there was a sense of spontaneity in the air and The Jivecat encouraged a few quick run-throughs to balance the room but didnt want the song to grow stale so after running the parts through, he rolled tape and told them to get going.
His voice was heard on the talkback and actually made the song. It began fresh, stayed strong and finished with the vibrancy that got the band signed in the first place. After the second cut, he said he had enough and declared it was time to move on. The band looked at him, as if he was nuts; they have been working with producers, who forgot about costs, as they were most interested in imposing their production values on the bands versus taking the bands qualities and enhancing them. For the last year, the first band had endured long all-night sessions with no interaction from the producer except for the never-ending "do it again" comment. The band broke for lunch with The Jivecat and the engineer and the topic at lunch was the next song. They ate quickly, went back into the studio and finished four more tracks that day, an impossible task by industry standards. The entire album was finished in five days and the label was happy that the costs were manageable and whatever happened with the release was inconsequential. College radio stations, mainly by word of mouth advertising, picked up on the release and it achieved impressive results in light of no money, no management support and no partnerships with the label. However, The Jivecat received some legitimate recognition as a person who came in and salvaged the band and the band stated in numerous interviews that he made the ultimate difference in their success.
The second band was in a comparable situation and their circumstances similar except it took twice as long to record the album (two weeks) and half as long to sell The Jivecat as the savior. The first and second bands were contemporaries and once the second band realized what they needed, The Jivecat was already settling into the recording studio. Luckily, this type of experience was exactly what his faculty advisor encouraged, so final tests were postponed and projects were transferred to this experience in lieu of traditional formatted schoolwork. The CD did better than the first and the music industry began taking notice of this young upstarts legendary magic making skills. The business was based on overnight successes and whoever this kid was, had a nice touch and was worth pursuing. Offers starting inundating The Jivecat and he quickly disappeared only to graduate and separate himself from Ithaca so he wouldnt appear so young. Many people attended graduation and by this time, The Jivecat pulled enough strings to have the name, The Jivecat, announced at graduation as well as printed on his Bachelor of Science degree in Recording Engineering. His parents were proud and a bit confused but their son seemed happy and popular so they attended, hugged and left.
The Jivecat settled into New York City and already had several sessions booked when the third band came and literally knocked on his door. Everything was pointing to this group as the next big thing and the days of wandering down the street were fast coming to an end. The band had heard all the stories and were relived they already had some history from Ithaca with The Jivecat and they needed him. They had in their repertoire, several guaranteed songs that would be rocking Middle America but they needed his magic. He was busy unpacking boxes when the buzzer rang:
"Hello?" said The Jivecat
"Jivecat?" said a collection of voices that sounded familiar.
"Nope, No one named Jivecat lives here," said The Jivecat.
A few minutes later, the buzzer rang again.
"Hello?" said The Jivecat
"Is The Jivecat home?" said a collection of voices that sounded even more familiar.
"Sure, come up," said The Jivecat as he buzzed the intercom to unlock the door.
Back to Short Stories