I have had the music in me for as long as I can remember. I loved records, radio, singing, Broadway, rock 'n' roll, The Twist, TV themes, "The Night They Invented Champagne," The Beatles, Percy Faith, LPs, 45s, 78s, what have you. I'm talking, like, 1964 or '65, when I was four to five years old, spinning singles on my hand like I was a record player, warbling the tune like an RCA Victrola servin' up His Master's Voice. Music! I loved music!
But I have never had any ability whatsoever to make music.
I tried. Oh Lord, I tried. I sang all of the time, and I still do. I took coronet lessons in elementary school, but was unprepared for the notion that one must practice in order to improve. Practice?! I was horrified. But I want to be a Beatle now! In 1968, when my family visited Southern California, my great-grandmother's husband gave me a set of bongos, which I still own. I also made my own little drum during my brief stint as a cub scout. I kinda wish I'd taken drum lessons instead of struggling with coronet, but really, I probably would have achieved the same spectacular level of failure. I didn't have the patience, I didn't have the commitment, and consequently, I didn't have any hope of learning how to play.
In sixth grade, I joined the school chorus. I don't remember how long I stuck with that; I recall going to practices, and singing "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head," but I was gone long before the event of any chorus recitals or concerts. Perceived peer pressure was the biggest factor influencing my withdrawal from chorus; some of my classmates made it clear to me that they thought any guy who would join chorus had to be...well, I won't use the specific derogatory anti-gay slur, but you know. I did not have the courage of conviction necessary to continue. Not that quitting chorus was any help to my social status anyway; I was still the weird kid who sang on the bus, the oddball who'd skipped fifth grade and should really be back in elementary school with the rest of the babies. Raindrops keep fallin' on my head.
I kept listening to the radio, listening to records, singing along, wishing I could participate in this mystifying, magic process of making music. My sister left her battered acoustic guitar behind when she went off to college, and I messed around with it occasionally, to no positive result. In high school, I remember telling a girl that I enjoyed playing with that guitar, even though I couldn't actually play; I compared myself to Sherlock Holmes, claiming that ol' Sherl played the violin very badly, but played it anyway because it helped him think. She sneered in reply that Sherlock Holmes could play (the "you idiot, Carl" tagline implied if not stated). She was really good at sneering; she had a lot of practice at that, whenever she spoke with...at me. (Years later, I ran into her at a bar, and she started undressing me on the disco dance floor. She didn't seem to be sneering at the time.)
|Definitely not her. Most definitely not me.|
Okay. I will.
The audition was a disaster. The band was a country rock group--definitely not my thing--but I'd tried to exercise due diligence beforehand, learning the Eagles and Outlaws material they suggested. But I had no affinity for it, I had no experience trying to sing into a microphone, and worst of all, I had no talent. I wish that weren't so. The members of the band tried to give me a fair shot, but they probably concluded that our mutual friend was playing a practical joke on all of us. I tried to sing The Doobie Brothers' "China Grove," and I sucked at it. They asked me what sort of material I liked to sing. When I said, "The Kinks!," the leader replied, "Ah, we don't like The Kinks." Ruh-roh. I had no place being there. I did not pass the audition.
I took my first-ever guitar lessons the following semester, Spring of 1978. I was a tiny bit more responsible in practicing guitar than I'd been with my coronet lessons the previous decade. I learned the G chord. Which I can still play! Yes! Even now! To this day! I sorta-kinda learned a couple of other chords, but had great difficulty pullin' 'em all together into, y'know...a song. I had difficulty bending my big, clumsy fingers around the relatively small frets of my sister's guitar, so my Dad took me to a music store in North Syracuse to buy me a guitar I could call my own. Still couldn't quite compete with Jeff Beck, nor even The Shaggs. I bought the sheet music for The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," and rescued a Beatles songbook my sister owned, but I was fooling no one. I somehow got through the course with a passing grade, fumbling my way through "Sloop John B" in my final exam. I still had the music in me. By now, it was apparent that's where the music would stay.
The closest I ever came to being in a band was my stint as percussionist with Bud Mackintaw & the Skeeters. Technically, I was a drummer in a jazz band. I was! Technically. When we return here, we'll examine the saga of Bud Mackintaw & the Skeeters, as well as the time I just about almost came close to being able to play guitar.
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