Frustratingly, I remain the worst musician in the history of sound. Practice, which is supposed to make for Perfect, in my case only gives rise to noise. But what’s worse than maladroit fingering is my memory. It does not linger. I resume with my favorite guitar, a semi-hollow custom dual split-coil Telecaster, and can almost never recall the song in my head–especially if it’s one of my own. A few years ago, for instance, I wrote a tune for an old friend’s birthday–her 50th, I want to say–called, I think, “Esplanade Nostlagique.” I remember, at least, having liked the melody.
The other day, just for fun, I tried to play it. Some fun! Either I’m staggeringly ungifted, musically speaking, or else teetering on the verge of senility. Of course it’s the former–I am capable, apparently, of helping to run this newspaper. But I digress. After fits and starts–trial and error, really–I was almost able to reproduce the song. Almost. Among the most bitter frustrations was the knowledge that a whole phrase had just vanished. Poof! No amount of noodling could resurrect it. It was locked way back in, say, the old medulla oblongata. After about a week’s torment the phrase at last came floating, effortlessly, as if from the ether: A, C#, D, E, A.
Our youngest son’s relationship with music is a polar opposite to mine. For starters, he’s a virtuoso on the guitar. He can play behind his back, like Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn and, perhaps most daunting, can play my guitars with ease–and I am left-handed. I’ll write something and he’ll say, “Here, Dad–let me show you how to play it.”
But this talent I think is best demonstrated by his memory. He seemingly remembers everything he’s ever played. Once, when I was similarly stuck on a chord of yet another vintage tune of mine, he walked into the room and said, simply, “D7.”
I love a simple statement. Who doesn’t? In our family we still chuckle over a few favorites: “Fish don’t sit.” “You won’t be finished until you’re through.” “He walks like Grandpa.” But the new chart-topper, shouted across the house a few days ago by my wife, goes something like this: “–Joseph! We don’t owe anything in taxes this year!”
Music to my ears!
We purchase no missile, no bullet or drone. Afghanistan writes no checks against us. Hot damn!
Still, this does not mean we have any more money; it means, alas, that we have less debt.
And we can thank my wife’s side of the family. According to our new accountant, their withholding from her tens of thousands of dollars in farm income–a bracket-crashing sum–allowed the many deductions and expenditures of a very difficult 2014 to level our balance at zero.
But this also means we could not send our youngest son to music school after he withdrew from the University of Arizona to follow his passion.
He’s home here with us, playing and recording original music in his tiny room. He sells an occasional ad for the Valley Voice. He watches television. He works out at the gym.
Yet in spite of it all–in spite of an eviction and a related court appearance, a forced relocation, and the forced postponement of his dreams–he whistles. He sees how his mother has been treated and, powerless to counteract it, he whistles. It isn’t defiance, and it is not whistling, as they say, past the graveyard. He whistles absentmindedly, with total contentment, tunes that come to him as if from the cosmos. He whistles things he wrote, things I wrote, and things he has heard on the radio–and all with a happy abandon.
THAT is music to my ears.