Funny thing I’ve come to discover recently: love of music does not necessarily equal aptitude for it. This really shouldn’t be a revelation for me considering the number of hair bands I’ve been forced to work with in my career, but when the musical instrument is actually in my own hands, the reality sets in.
Something has possessed my guy to attempt to teach me “I Love Rock n’ Roll” on bass. I’m tempted to attribute it to a severe case of cabin fever, because frankly, my guy is normally quite sensible. But it is winter, we’ve been snowed in for many long weekends, and Netflix can only deliver movies so fast.
I think, too, that my success as my guy’s bass tech has made us more inclined to toss common sense out the window. It’s been more than a year since I’ve had the role of stringing and tuning and adjusting, and it’s gone rather well, at least in that I’ve lost my fear of actually picking up his prized bass guitars and managed to commit “Every Asshole Does Good” to memory.
And I do love music. My guy knows this, and really does mean well in his efforts – he’s always ready to help me accomplish anything – but I’m afraid my musical talent resides somewhere short of Milli Vanilli.
History should really have been the first thing I considered before I took my guy’s suggestion seriously. All I could envision was how cute I’d look with his bass strapped on, and how much I’d enjoy the applause I’d receive when I made my debut at the weekly “Jam With the Band” night at a local bar.
Had I any sense at all, the image that should have danced through my head would have been my very first musical performance at age 8. My had parents shelled out a small fortune to foster my burgeoning love of music by hiring a piano instructor, and for one year I dutifully visited with her for an hour every week.
She instilled me with a few basics – scales, rudimentary Christmas carols, the ability to locate middle C – but never seemed particularly equipped to handle a rambunctious kid who was more interested in instant gratification than practice.
Leave it to me, too, to go to her wanting to learn songs that weren’t exactly designed for the piano. Where she came at me with “The Entertainer” and “Ode to Joy”, I responded with “Ghostbusters” and “Like A Virgin”. Our compromise was the showtune “Edelweiss” from Sound of Music. It really was more about what she wanted to teach me of course, especially since the song was meant for me to perform at her student showcase.
It was actually something of a grand event, all her students, their families and her employers gathered in an auditorium for several hours of amateur instrument maceration. Even in the best of circumstances – with a talented instructor and kids who care – these things never go entirely well. There’s always some child who winds up peeing on the piano bench, or another puking in the wings, but you participate anyway in some grand scheme of personal growth or the promise of ice cream afterwards.
We were scheduled to perform that day by level, and my time slot was 3:07 p.m., somewhere between the special ed students and Kat, a girl from my grade school who knew the entire catalog of Franz Liszt but was generally unliked because she kept an arsenal of empty milk cartons in her desk and rewore her gym socks.
We all formed a line in the backstage area of the auditorium, the volunteers likely figuring we were too stupid to look at a clock to know when we were due to perform. Standing in line immediately behind me was a boy I’d seen one or two times before, usually leaving the practice studio as I came in. He looked just like Arnold from Different Strokes, and it was a time when my telling him so wouldn’t earn me a shanking.
“Yeah, everyone tells me that,” he said. “But I really want to be a Jedi.”
Fair enough; I was more inclined to want to be Madonna, but he seemed nice enough. We chatted generally about action figures and cartoons until it was my time to take the stage. He smiled at me as I was about to walk out, then whispered, “You’re gonna mess up! You’re gonna mess up!”
I might not have been much of a Star Wars fan, but even I knew that kind of behavior was most definitely NOT using the Force. And as I sat down at the bench and opened my sheet music, the deranged little Ewok stood in the wings and watched.
The introduction to “Edelweiss” went well enough, and I actually managed to bang through the first verse and chorus, but when I hit the bridge, I also hit a wall. I lost my place and stopped dead.
There was no specific action that really threw me off my game, just knowing that Arnold was in the wings likely thinking “I told you so!” and that my poor family was out in the audience and probably looking for a refund was more than enough to mess with my head.
Several long moments passed as I fumbled with my sheet music. It was all for show, really, I’d never actually figured out how to read it. My instructor’s sorry attempts to teach me site reading had never amounted to much; I mostly wrote all the notes in or memorized my finger placement, as I had with “Edelweiss.”
Arnold was grinning at me in the wings, and I knew I had two options: kick the bench back and punch the jerk, or get it together and finish the stupid song I never really liked to begin with.
My teachers throughout grade school were perpetually right: I was definitely “mature for my age”, and elected to not win with my fists. Of course, in order to do that I had to mentally play “Edelweiss” in its entirety in my head before I could pick up where I left off, which gave the audience another minute and a half to stare at my profile and wonder if I’d missed the short bus that day.
I ultimately finished the song without crying, puking or peeing and left the stage to a smattering of sympathetic applause. Arnold followed right on my heels and launched into the opening theme from Star Wars. The little fucker nailed it.
My parents were generous with their praise after the recital, and repeated just how proud they were of me for getting up there in the first place. When I told them about Arnold, my dad, who could always be counted on for his complete lack of propriety, said:
“Never trust a kid who looks like Gary Coleman.”
Words of wisdom, dad, thanks.
So now I’ve taken up a new instrument and new recital to conquer, and after all the practicing and patience from my guy, my fingers are crossed that whenever I finally work up the nerve to play with our friends’ band in public, I won’t cross paths with another Star Wars fan.