Thursday, May 19, 2011

What it means to be a pro

At first I felt sorry for the guy. Edwin McCain was the entertainment at the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction dinner Wednesday night, and by "entertainment," I mean "somebody to sing a few songs while everybody else digests dessert."

It could not have been less of a rock and roll event. Most of the men wore ties and most of the women wore dresses. The whole point was to welcome the new Hall of Fame class and tell a few stories before the formal induction on Monday. It was a nice time, but the average age of the crowd was somewhere north of 50. Maybe 60.

Edwin McCain grew up in Greenville, S.C., and hit it fairly big not long after his friends in Hootie and the Blowfish hit it really big. You've probably heard him if you've been to a wedding in the last 10 or 12 years -- his songs "I'll Be" and "I Could Not Ask For More" are now just about as standard as the Electric Slide. For me, he has always fallen in that vast middle of the stuff I hear on the radio -- not bad enough to change the station, not great enough to turn it up.

So he comes out at the Hall of Fame dinner and I thought, OK, at least this is a pleasant way to make the next 10 minutes pass.

"I love coming to events like this. I get called Mr. McCain all day," he said. "The only other time I get called Mr. McCain is, 'Please get out of the car...'"

We laughed. And he had us.

One thing I think we forget, because we have access to so much greatness, is how much it takes just to be good. I remember going to the gym at the University of Georgia one day in the '80s and watching Gerald Crosby, who was starting for the Georgia basketball team back then but never played a minute in the NBA. He was shooting jumpers, 20 feet or more from the basket. It was half an hour before he missed.

On Wednesday night it took about 30 seconds to figure out that Edwin McCain is better than anybody you know, anybody you've ever seen busking on the street or playing at open mike night.

He played "I Could Not Ask For More," and "I'll Be," and an Anders Osborne song called "Lucky One." It was just him and his guitar, but that was enough to fill the big ballroom. Somewhere in there he strung out one long note with his voice, then floated to another without taking a breath, and his back bowed with the effort.

I'm pretty sure not a single person in the room came to see Edwin McCain. But at the end of the last song he got a big ovation, and as it died down it suddenly swelled again, as if the crowd decided they hadn't appreciated him enough.

He could've put 80 percent into those songs and nobody would've minded. The check would've cleared. People would've moved right on past him in their minds, and maybe when they heard "I'll Be" at the grocery store they would've thought, I saw that guy somewhere, he was pretty good.

So many people wake up every day wanting to be professional musicians, or professional writers, or professional athletes, or professional anything. Here's the secret: Talent is part of it, but it's not nearly all. What makes a professional, more than anything, is the will to do your best and the guts to keep showing up.

Edwin McCain's got talent. But what I'll remember about him is that, on a night that had nothing to do with him, he gave the crowd 10 minutes of everything he had. He showed up, and he was a pro. That's a lot more rare than you think.


Jim said...

Nice! Thanks!

Lynne Stevenson said...

Edwin McCain is always a first class act!Wish I had gotten to see him. Just one problem I saw here - you left out the names of the next class. Who were the drivers inducted this time around? Some of us would like to know.

tommy tomlinson said...

Lynne, I linked to it, I think... the class is Pearson, Bobby Allison, Bud Moore, Ned Jarrett and Lee Petty.