Doing battle with daily dragons

Monday, May 16, 2005

Why Earplugs Were Invented

I’ve never been a natural when it comes to music. There’s a bit of your brain that takes care of “building block” skills like math, languages and all things musical, which, in many fortunate people, is as diligent as the SAS on manoeuvres in the Persian Gulf. Mine, however, frequently goes AWOL and is subsequently subjected to a lengthy and humiliating court marshal, so it hasn’t got much time for keeping that information safe and secure for use at a later date. This probably explains why I’m so appalling when it comes to math, but I prefer to blame that on Mr. Palamara, my 7th grade teacher, who told me that I was “stupid”.

This is not to say that I haven’t picked up instruments in my time for a brave stab into the unknown and incomprehensible. My musical hopelessness began at the tender age of 7 when I was forced to pick up the recorder to make bird-torturing noises with the rest of my fellow 2nd graders. Most were granted the privilege of graduating to the “alto” recorder, which made bird-torturing noises in a slightly lower register, but I alone was left behind in soprano squeekyville because by the time I learned where B flat was, I’d forgotten how to play an E.

However, by 10, I had conveniently forgotten my failure with woodwinds in time for the visit of the Harold Hill-esque band instrument salesman who showed up at our school, peddling dreams of musical virtuosity, or, at the very least, something that would make our parents pay us to stop playing. For maximum pain, I could have chosen the violin (something that would have sent my grandmother to heaven on the spot) but instead, I lowered the threshold of agony with the clarinet. I was okay. Not great, but okay. My squeaking was kept to a minimum and most of the time I remembered where B flat was. But my heart wasn’t in it and I spent most of band practices for the next two years or so passing notes to a girl called Christina about boys that we liked, so that too fell by the wayside.

One would think that after two tries at playing something you have to blow through and not succeeding, I might have thought about giving up. (Anyone who is thinking about commenting on this statement may kindly get stuffed.)
Not so.

Somehow, at 17, I was convinced to join the high school marching band. Did I play an instrument? Did it matter? Hell no, was the answer to both questions. I spent my senior year in marching band VOLUNTARILY, playing the melophone (Don’t laugh. It’s a marching version of the French horn) and the trumpet for the winter concert season. I was 7th chair out of 14, although I’m not sure if this reflects well on me or rather more poorly on the 6 other guys who had been playing for 5 years and got beaten out by someone who picked up the instrument over the summer in their spare time. Whatever the score, we enjoyed deafening the woodwinds and making livestock noises during the first 45 bars of “Sheep May Safely Graze.”

However, no high school hippy’s journey would be complete without a foray into the world of guitar inspired by that one really sensitive teacher that wrote his own music and all of the girls secretly hoped their boyfriends one day would be exactly like. YOU GIRLS OUT THERE KNOW WHICH TEACHER I’M TALKING ABOUT. DON’T EVEN TRY TO PRETEND THAT THERE WASN’T ONE AT YOUR SCHOOL. At any rate, I very successfully learned “Let It Be”, got bored and ended up dragging a disused acoustic halfway across the country and back several times.

Nowadays, I’m older, wiser and slightly more patient. I’m having a learning rennisance at the moment, partly due to the fact that, in The Rock Star, I have a good teacher and partly due to the fact that I know I look pretty cool strutting around in front of the mirror with my white Fender Telecaster and practicing my “musical grimace.” I know loads of riffs, albeit not so many entire songs, but it’s cool if someone thinks you’re a total newbie and you suddenly let rip with the first lick of “Black Dog”. You’d just better hope they don’t want to hear the rest of it.

Just for the record, if anyone ever requests “Let It Be”, I’m there.