Lights Go on Part XIX: Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say

06/13/2014 11:22 am ET | Updated Aug 11, 2014

"Say what you mean, mean what you say." 

One of Dad's favorite tenets upon which I was raised.

It was not a rule (Dad only had two rules which, in my opinion, were awesome), but rather a suggestion. And, each of Dad's suggestions (there were hundreds), particularly the one above, have served me beyond well throughout my life. 

As I grew into a man and ventured into the entertainment business, I was consistently reminded of this particular mantra: "Say what you mean, mean what you say." Little did I know how powerful it would become for me and the evolutionary steps it would take on my behalf.

I began my career in "The Biz" as a studio singer.

I loved working in the recording studios and sound stages in Hollywood, performing alongside so many accomplished musicians, singers, artists, arrangers, producers and songwriters.

One of my favorite arrangers was (and is) Artie Butler. 

(Hint -- Google him.) But before you run over to Google, I'll gloss over his accomplishments thus:

Artie has been awarded over 60 Gold Records.

He is also funny as hell. 

I particularly remember one gig, "The Artist," on which, who had been a great guy as the lead singer of a hit group, became another person when he stepped out on his own as a solo act.

Picture a fish out of water.
To put it mildly, he became quite demanding. (I have found this to be a sure sign of fear and uncertainty rather than a genuine character trait).

On this particular "Live" recording at RCA Recording Studios, "The Artist" was having a hissy fit over just about every element of the session. It seemed he approved of nothing. (Again, a sure sign of feeling unworthy, in my opinion.)

"Why are there strings on this song?"

"I don't like this drummer."

Etc., etc. Yada, yada, yada...

Now, Artie was the master of handling these situations with humor and grace, and this gig was no exception.

When we singers arrived, "The Artist" demanded, 
"Where the hell did you get these singers?"
(He was obviously unaware that we had sung on every hit that his group had ever made.)

Artie's retort was classic.

"I scraped 'em off the charts. I figured you could use 'em."

"The Artist" was quiet for the rest of the session.

And when we wrapped, everybody congratulated Mr. Butler with a, "Yo Artie!"

Artie and I became good friends.

One day we were eating lunch together at Brewers, a now defunct (then totally funky) bar and eatery located at the corner of Gower and Sunset. Suddenly, Artie rose and hurriedly excused himself, taking that last bite of sandwich as he stood up.

"Hey, gotta go, I have an appointment with my shrink."

"You go to a shrink?"

"Well, yeah, but not like you think. He is actually a success counselor."


"Yeah. Hey, Tom, you know what? I bet you would love this guy. His name is Champion Teutsch and he was on 'The Tonight Show' a couple of months ago. That's how I found him."

Hey, anyone named Champion who sat across the desk from Johnny Carson had my attention, so I followed Artie's suggestion.

Artie was right. I did love the guy. 

He was the personification of his name. 

Champion Teutsch.

Elegant, erudite, dressed to the nines in a tailored suit, custom made dress shirt and tie, and his shoes cost more than my first car. 

Here is an example of how it typically went down when I showed up for my appointment with Champion.

"Hello, Mr. Bähler!" He would say with a smile so bright, I almost kept my shades on. 

"Tell me about your week since we last met."

"Well, Dr. Teutsch, my week has gone well and I am very anxious to see my girlfriend this weekend."

"Stop right there, Mr. Bähler. Do you know what 'anxious' means?"

"Yeah, it means I can't wait to see her."

"Sorry, Mr. Bähler," he said as he tossed a dictionary my way. "Look it up."

I did.

"Anxious: experiencing worry, unease, or nervousness, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome."

"Is this how you feel about seeing your girlfriend?"

"No, sir, I am thrilled to see her!"

"Then perhaps you might re-phrase your sentence thus: I am 'eager' to see my girlfriend this weekend."

Wow. I could feel the difference throughout my entire body.

Anxious vs. Eager.

Can you feel it too?

Then Dad's words returned to me.

"Say what you mean, mean what you say."

During our weekly sessions, Champion invited me to talk then he would stop me at certain intervals to tweak and tune my words.

Immediately I was reminded of the benefit of clearly expressing my intentions.

I loved it.

Here is another great example.

"How is your week looking?" Champion asked.

"It's really a busy one. I have a big deadline on Friday."

"You know, Mr. Bähler, 'deadline' has a certain negative connotation to it. 'Due date' is neutral."


I learned so much from this man and found that using proper words helped to propel my career. 

I have learned to speak in a simple and succinct manner, leaving little room for misunderstanding or a subtly hidden negative, when I intended to convey happiness.

I studied with Champion for over a year and his teachings, for which my dad had laid the foundation, have stayed with me ever since. 

Now, its my pleasure to share them with you. 

During this time and throughout my life, I have learned that there are some words that just don't serve me at all. 

I wonder how you feel about these.

"Blame: assign responsibility for a fault or a wrong."

"Fault: an unattractive or unsatisfactory feature, esp. in a piece of work or in a person's character."

"Should: used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone's actions."

If I were the King of the World, I would banish these words.

Oh, yes, there is one more on my list.

"Try: make an attempt or effort to do something."

I like Yoda's quote on this one.

"Try not... do or do not. There is no try."

And I say, "Yo Yoda!"

(Not to be confused with, "Toe Yoda.")


Dad was also an impossible punster... I think I inherited this fault.

Wait! I shouldn't say that... don't blame me, it was Dad's fau...

(Shut up, Tommy).