Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Music Appreciation

My lovely wife and I have discerned over the years that we are not gifted music people.  We can't play an instrument, we can't hold a high note to save our lives.  Hell, we can't even hit a high note.  In key anyway.  If you want some essential hollering, we can foot that bill.  Real loud too.  But as far as Do Re Me talent is concerned, that all went to someone else.  We accepted this fact long ago and have since settled quite comfortably into the role that has been given to us; we are music appreciators.

And let's face it.  Without us and our inspired ilk, and I'm willing to bet there's a hell of a lot more of us than there are talented musicians and singers, those talented musicians and singers would not have anybody to play or sing to.  Or buy their music.  Just look at a live show.  There's usually hundreds, if not thousands of inspired folks in the audience.  And there's usually only 1 or 2 or 5 talented people on stage.  I rest my case.

My lack of musical prowess was not for lack of opportunity.  There was an upright piano in our house throughout my childhood.  Dear Old Mom played it every now and then.  I think she knew four or five songs.  Not well either.  And she kinda sounded like Lucy Ricardo when she sang.  It really didn't matter what the melody might be, she sang to the tune of her own distant off key harmony.

I guess it was because we had that piano sitting in the living room collecting dust that DOM decided to enroll me in piano lessons when I was around five or six years old.  I'm still traumatized by that whole ordeal.

First of all, she took me to this piano teacher lady whose house looked a lot like the Cleaver's in Leave it to Beaver.  And the piano teacher lady was always dressed like June.  Peal necklace.  Fancy dress.  All the time. 

And her house was immaculate.  There wasn't a glass figurine out of place, nor a speck of dust anywhere.  I'm sure I had to take a bath before every piano lesson.  Probably even had to scrub behind my ears.  For what?  A chance to be clean and scared shitless I would accidentally sneeze on her polished ivory keyboard?  My heart was in the hills.  Dirt was in my shoes.  Whose idea was this anyway?

Then I had to memorize a four note "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" sonata to play at a recital in front of a bunch of strangers.  I also I had to take a bath and get dressed up in church clothes on a Saturday afternoon.  Talk about not wanting to be somewhere and the waste of a perfectly good sunny day.

I don't remember exactly how it all transpired, but after a few months it was determined I was more interested in mischief than becoming a concert pianist.  The lessons ceased.

The next step in the family's musical overture scene came when my older brother took accordion lessons for a while.  I think I was 8.  So he must have been 10.  I don't know what the "Beer Barrel Polka" heck was behind that decision, but possibly it was because our mother owned an accordion and thought my brother should learn to play it.  You know, that, too had been sitting around and collecting dust.

I don't think those lessons lasted long either.  Which is a shame.  Because if he learned how to roller skate and play accordion maybe he could have done something like this: Die Twinnies.

Who knew that was a thing?

Somehow, apparently, I wasn't quite done with my musical odyssey and I began taking trumpet lessons in the 5th grade.  Trumpet?  When the Beatles had just reached our shore?  Whose idea was this, really?

That brass adventure lasted through the 8th grade. I was going to continue when I went into high school, but it all seemed to be getting serious.  And anybody who knows me will tell you I have a hard time with serious.  Seriously.

Even junior high was almost semi-serious.  At least it was to the music instructor.  I was good enough to be first trumpet some of the time but ended up being second trumpet most of the time because kidding around always seemed to get in the way.   High school was going to take it to a level I decided I didn't want or need.  I had some serious goofing off to attend to, plus, chicks weren't into trumpet players back then.  Hell, have they ever been?

I mean, really?

The next musical impulse to tug at me came when I was 19.  The prospect of playing piano in a rock and roll band sang to my musical heart and I began taking piano lessons again.  It was partly these guy's fault: Jessica.  And this guy's too: Song For Juli.

I might have actually been at that last show.  Or one just like it.

I was already in the business world and on my career path, but what aging teenager doesn't want to be a rock and roll star?

Besides, I still had that damn piano that had been in our house.  Forever.  Nobody ever played it, at least in our family.  However, once the world of party entered our domain it truly entered our domain.  And that brought a couple players to the keyboard.

You see, high school kids have a tendency to host parties when their parents were away.  Our mother happened to be away for almost my entire senior year of high school.  It was legendary.

The scene of the crime.

Our group of friends was also very fortunate.  We happened to be on the outside edge of a very good local band.  Some of whom ever so often could be found swilling beer in the neighborhood.  Or our living room.  Sometimes a guitar came out, sometimes one of them would pound out a few tunes on the piano.  There was always singing, sometimes really loud.  And really late.  Fortunately, the cops only came twice.

It was during this period of time that my appreciation of music reached new highs.  Probably because I was high too.  And being high allowed music to flow into my soul a little more freely and easily.

We listened to a lot of music back then, the late sixties and early seventies.  And what a platter we had to choose from.  From Barbara Ann to Carrie AnneItchycoo Park to MacArthur Park.

Ok.  Scratch that last one.  You really had to be on a lot of acid to even remotely comprehend that one, which, coincidentally, Itchycoo Park is about.  "It's all too beautiful", you know?

Obviously the songwriter had a very good trip.  Cause, like, if it wasn't, Itchycoo Park would have sounded a lot more like a Tim Burton movie.

In order to pursue this rock and roll pianist sideline impulse I found this enchanting little old lady giving piano lessons out of her modest home in Sunnyvale, CA.  I was entirely not threatened at all this time around by the lady or her abode.

One day when I arrived for lessons she was quite distraught.  Her yard person had quit and left for greener pastures.  So to speak.  I didn't need the money or the job but volunteered to do her yard in exchange for lessons.  She jumped at the prospect.  What was I thinking?

I was already trying to put twenty pounds of taters in a five pound sack every dang day.  Besides lessons and practice I had just added another hour and a half to my week.  Something had to give, and that something eventually was my rock and roll star aspirations.  And my yard job.

That damn piano, while a lovely piece of furniture, continued to collect dust with me for a few more years.  It weighed about 800 pounds, so moving it from here to there was always a challenge.  And since I was just a kid I moved a lot, like about every 6 months.  I always had to have a stout wrecking crew and plenty of beer on hand when that all went down.

Somewhere along the line DOM, who had moved to San Diego years earlier, decided she wanted to sing off key like Lucy again.  She wanted her piano back.  Which was fine with me, I have no idea how I got custody anyway.

How do you get an 800 pound piano to San Diego?  Well, we couldn't mail it, that's for damn sure.

Road trip.  My brother and I rented a U-Haul and a high school friend tagged along.  He wanted to check out the San Diego State scene and we needed him to get that 800 pound gorilla up a flight of stairs to DOM's second floor apartment.  That was not, and let me emphasize NOT, a fun experience.  Thank God we were young.  And dumb. 

I can almost actually carry a tune, vocally, sometimes.  As long as it's mid range and doesn't vary more than three notes.  I really could carry a tune back when I had been drinking, especially if I was at a very loud rock and roll show.  Hell, even my lovely wife sounded good then. 

My lovely wife can't really carry a tune.  At all.  She sounds worse than Lucy.  She apparently inherited her vocal chops from her wonderful father, who can't carry a tune either.  At all.  Listening to them sing hymns in church together is quite an experience.

Even though we are not personally musically gifted, that does not mean we don't enjoy a broad range of music.  From Bocelli to Bocephus, Coltrane to Cash.  A broad spectrum of rock, country, classical, jazz, soul, blues. Calypso.  Steel drum.  Samba.

No rap though.  I don't understand rap and I don't equate it with music.  Rap's more like an off the wall often obscene spoken word type of thing to me.  Which is OK, but not if you want to listen to music.

I'm currently on a real Fleetwood Mac kick.  You know, them days before that male and female pop duo entered their realm in the mid 1970's.  Peter Green, Danny Kirwan and Bob Welch days.  Kiln House, Future Games and Bare Trees days. The guitar work in this song always sends my heart dancing along a light fancy of blue ribbon dreams: Woman 1000 Years.

Other guitarists?  I have an affinity for Betts, Clapton, Allman, Garcia.  Mangione.

Kidding.  About that last one anyway.  Though Chuck might be one of the only horn players chicks might dig.  Only he didn't really play trumpet.

If I'm into clarinet, I like this guy: Stranger on the Shore.  That song will also take my heart on a magical, melancholy voyage into the sublime.

Tom Rush recently made me cry with his version of this song; Circle Game.  If you're reading this and over the age of fifty, I dare you to give it a listen.

Recorded music is good, live music is better.  Live music can be an experience.  Getting caught up in the energy of a live show can be transcendent.  With or without acid.  Here's a link to my post on Small Town Rock and Roll, speaking of live shows.

Music speaks to our heart, our soul.  It can help make our highs even higher, it can soothe us when we're low.  Music has been a large part of my life through all its ups and downs.  I may not be able to sing or play a lick, but I sure as hell have appreciated many, many crescendos.