Guitar grifter?

Her beloved says he plays bass with a well-known rock band -- but her friends think he's a fraud.

By Cary Tennis
Published July 31, 2003 7:13PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

A dear friend of mine -- a very beautiful, volatile, fragile young woman who has had the worst imaginable luck with men -- finally met Mr. Right. "Mark" is handsome and smart and has a heart of gold, and he plays bass with the latest incarnation of a well-known rock band. All her tribe loves him dearly, and we were thrilled when he proposed and she accepted.

Until one of her very good friends was approached at a party by a woman who said that she had been a good friend of Mark's and that everything he's claimed about himself is a lie. According to her, Mark does not play with the aforementioned band. His whole back story is made up; his family isn't what he says it is, he isn't from where he says he's from, and so on.

Initially, we all assumed that she was a spurned woman bent on sabotage. Mark is such a dear, and he obviously loves his fiancée to pieces. None of us are at all gullible, either. However, folks have done some amateur sleuthing, and it is becoming disturbingly obvious that the informer may not be lying after all. We have Googled Mark and can find nothing on him anywhere; we've talked to people who know the woman, and they say that her credibility is impeccable.

A number of us want to hire a private investigator. Unfortunately the only person who has the financial wherewithal to do this is the fiancée herself, who has been sequestered with Mark since the allegations came to light and is reluctant to call in the cavalry. She says it "feels dirty" and doesn't think it will accomplish anything. I say, and her other near and dear agree with me, that if she doesn't get the scoop on this guy ASAP she is entering a world of pain.

But she is so in love, and was so relieved that she finally found someone who would actually be good to her (he is that -- awe-inspiringly so), that she really, really doesn't want to turn the rock over and let the crawlies run out. Also, we love Mark too, and it feels like this wonderful person may be taken from us as surely as if he'd died. If he is lying, I don't think it's malicious; he is probably truly mentally ill, not a bad human being at all, but sick.

The pragmatic solution is obvious -- she should hire the P.I. But how in heaven's name should we approach this, with respect to convincing her that it's the right thing to do? Or should her friends and family just stand by and see what happens, and pick her up if she should fall?

I am terrified for her. She has been through the wringer so many times, and I fear this could be the nail in the coffin.

The Royal We

Dear Royal We,

Finding out if someone plays bass in a well-known rock band should not require the efforts of a licensed private investigator. It is rather more like determining whether someone actually plays shortstop for the San Francisco Giants. They have public rosters for these things.

Well-known rock bands become well known by performing in public and by distributing video and audio recordings. To accomplish that, they work with record labels, publicists, and managers who represent them to the industry and to the public. They also have an informal network of roadies, technicians, fellow musicians, club bookers and fans who know their current whereabouts and lineup.

Contact the band's representative -- the label, the publicist, the agent, the manager, whoever -- and ask for the current lineup. If you cannot for some reason contact the band, find a recent interview with the band and contact the music journalist whose name appears on the interview. If the fiancé's name does not come up, ask if he has any association with the band at all. If they've never heard of him, they'll tell you. Well-known rock bands do not want outsiders seducing innocent women in their name. They like to handle all the seducing of innocent women in-house.

Don't allow an excess of caution to dissuade you from asking for him by name. They're not going to beat him up or anything. This is what they call "crazy shit" and it happens all the time. It's like bugs on the windshield. They won't give it a second thought. They've got younger things to do.

These are elemental steps you can take without your friend's involvement. But your friend, in the normal course of being "alert x 3," as the paramedics say, ought to be making certain observations, too.

Any woman who has ever suffered from a boyfriend who is a musician could tell her what to look for: Aside from poverty, bad skin and a drug problem, he will have a bass. Is there a bass? Is it tuned? Is the case shiny metal and square or is it rounded and black? If he is the bass player in a well-known rock band, the case will be shiny metal and rectangular so it can be carried safely by shirtless men with mullets. There should also be large pieces of equipment in wheeled cases that have foam inside, as well as cords and miscellaneous little electronic boxes.

If none of these items are present, ask him where his equipment is. If he says his equipment is at the studio, say, "Oh, yeah, I almost forgot, the studio called this afternoon while you were asleep. They had a fire and all your stuff burned up." Observe his reaction as he absorbs the information.

If he is the bass player for a well-known rock band, there will also be frequent telephone calls from mildly unpleasant people insisting that he drop the hookah and discuss manners of conveyance to and from hotels and venues and airports at particular dates and times. Most of these times will be inconvenient to the circadian rhythms of diurnal mammals. When he answers the phone, if he appears happy to speak to the people who call, he is not the bass player for a well-known rock band. If he is the bass player, he will answer the phone as though he is just getting over malaria and is conserving energy for a crawl through the desert. That is how bass players for well-known rock bands conduct business.

Besides that, for Christ's sake, there is the matter of backstage passes! If she does not have a backstage pass, he is probably bipolar.

Confront her with the evidence. The fact that he's trying to marry her, and that she has some sort of financial wherewithal, makes it rather more serious than just idiotic boasting.

Poor girl. What kind of a guy goes to all that trouble just to claim he's a bass player? It's like robbing a bank and only taking ten bucks.

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Cary Tennis

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