Dan Mader’s recent post is pertinent here. In it, he goes all Wu Tang on our collective be-hinds, extolling the benefits of “the crew”, of having a cadre of peers with which to bounce ideas off of, collaborate with, borrow from, represent to, and party alongside till you’re hoarse and vacant. He has a point. Writers are horribly misanthropic for the most part, and that solitary nature can be toxic when left to its own unhealthy and addictive devices. I call it the writer’s paradox: we spend most of our time alone figuring out how to communicate with people. I mean, really. How utterly ludicrous is that?
So, I was trying to come up with this week’s post while in the type of mood Mussolini was probably in around the time those Italian partisans captured him and hung him on a meathook, only a much lower grade version, obviously, and was about to burn more bridges than all the desperate, self-hating trolls in and around Madison County by posting something pointlessly scattershot-angry to be read by pretty much anyone on the internet, which you don’t need me to say would have been astoundingly, mindbogglingly dumb, when I found myself in a conversation with our very own Mader and Brooks (which sounds like a Savile Row tailor shop, or maybe part of a law firm: Mader, Mader and Brooks) and they allowed me to rant for a while as they snuck occasional glances at each other, no doubt wondering how they were going to inform my loved ones, until I eventually ran out of steam and left an awkward, very pregnant silence. Not to mention the mother of all run-on sentences.
After which they suggested with exquisite, admirable patience that I tone down the outrage and frustration slightly, and instead of skewering my formless targets with sharpened words, I sweeten the whole deal with an extended metaphor. For which you, kind reader, will henceforth be the beneficiary.
I love music. I adore music. Music has saved my life. Music has preserved my last shreds of sanity. Music has taught me as much as any other human activity, including books. Like many who become obsessed with consuming something, I eventually tried to produce it. I saved my paper route money and picked up a small Spanish guitar for less than £20 when I was around 12, then a horribly battered Strat copy a year or so later for around the same price, for which a friend of mine built a battery powered 10-Watt amp so we could go annoy woodland creatures by playing distorted versions of “Stairway To Heaven” and “Anarchy in the UK” in bucolic settings (squirrels in particular really dislike the Sex Pistols, I’ve discovered).
As we all pretty much did back then (music lessons were for those middle class kids who owned handkerchiefs and didn’t drink from jars with chips around their rims), I basically taught myself to play—jamming with friends who were better, playing along to my worn records and cassettes, painstakingly rewinding and playing, rewinding and playing… until I noticed something that troubled me.
Basically, I sucked.
Don’t get me wrong, I learned a bunch of chords over the years, a variety of rhythmic strumming patterns (if three constitutes a “variety”) and even some picking techniques (if by “some picking techniques” I mean “two slightly different ways of moving my thumb and forefinger”). I was and remain an enthusiastic guitar player and have spent untold years downloading chords and simple guitar tablature for many of my favourite songs, which I have inflicted on very few bystanders given the sheer volume of songs I’ve managed to collect.
Because it bears repeating: I suck.
My singing voice is reminiscent of the sound you made that time you grated your thumb halfway down to the first knuckle instead of the chunk of fresh Parmesan. Hearing it makes badgers think it’s mating season. I’ve set off alarms. Triggered border skirmishes. Oh, and I’m not tone deaf. I can actually sing in key and everything. But then, that’s like saying Justin Bieber can wield a paintbrush. It’s meaningless on too many levels to even bother unpacking. The fact remains, I have the self awareness to realise that my career as a musician was basically stillborn from the moment I tried to play that riff from “Smoke on the Water” alone in my bedroom. I may be a complete idiot but I’m not stupid.
All of which saved me the headache of a lifetime of figuring out what time signatures are, as well as the heartache of telling my special friend back home that the oozing, alarmingly lurid rash in my bathing suit area was from sitting too long on hot, sweaty tour buses and had nothing to do with those silly groupies you, ha ha, might have, you know, heard about from an irresponsibly sensationalist media, baby.
So. I’m not taking up space on stage, or anywhere. I don’t have to yell above the fray to get noticed, to land that elusive recording contract, perhaps hit that stage while modelling burlap rainbow lederhosen and rubber nun suits or setting fire to fruit bat entrails and whipping them around my howling, desperate head while silently urging those A&R dudes from Sony BMG who just have to be scattered throughout the audience, to notice me, goddamnit, acknowledge my inherent genius, make me the star I know I should be…
As I said, I’m not doing any of that.
And the world sighs in sweet, blessed relief. Because I knew. All along. I knew I couldn’t turn the sow’s ear of my musical “talent” into the silk purse of a career. In other words, I had only half the prerequisites, which wasn’t enough: a deep and abiding love for music but nowhere near the talent. I even tried writing songs but they were essentially sounds stuck together with modeling glue and yarn. Love, but no talent. At least I had half.
But writing is different. And that’s all I’m saying. That’s all I’m saying. Now go. Figure it out. Scoot. I can feel that mood coming back…
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David Antrobus is a contributing writer for Indies Unlimited and author of the nonfiction book Dissolute Kinship: A 9/11 Road Trip. For more information, please visit the IU Bio page, and his website: The Migrant Type.