Wednesday, June 18, 2003

I played my keyboard for a while tonight; for "a while", read, "the usual ten to twenty minutes before I get antsy and have to back away". Big, big sounds come out of my keyboard with very little effort on my part. I use the headphones so that I can keep the big sounds to myself.

There's been a keyboard instrument of some sort in my life for nearly 40 years now, starting when I was a second grader wheedling piano lessons out of my parents because my best friend Kathy was learning to play. I was never a stellar piano student, mostly because I could sit down and play for two hours at a stretch without actually practicing. As it happened, I'd already started writing songs at age four. My mother was furious when my cousin Patty and I tore up Mom's little notebook of my songs in order to make a pile of paper cargo for a toy train set I used to have. It didn't bother me, though, and still doesn't. I was embarrassed that Mom wrote the songs down in the first place.

Later, when I was in my teens and twenties, I took up songwriting in a most obsessive way. I took some guitar lessons towards the end of that time, with the partially realized goal of playing in a band. (True to form, and to the spirit of the early eighties garage-band lifestyle, our keyboardist was really a guitarist.) The band didn't last, and neither did my flirtation with the electric guitar, but I kept plodding away at keyboard music for a while after that.

And then I gave it up for over fifteen years.

Most of my friends don't really understand this. I didn't understand it myself until fairly recently, but I think the explanation is fairly simple. Nothing I've ever done in my life, whether I've done it well or done it poorly, whether it was work or play or both, whether or not I enjoyed it at the time, has ever caused me to be subjected to so much petty crap as the fact that I played music. There was the alleged high-school guidance counselor who booted me out of my long-anticipated senior-year registration in an electronic music class because I was a science student, goddammit, not a music student. There was my mother complaining that everything I wrote was "a protest song", whether it had lyrics or not. There was the cousin who listened to a song I wrote -- it was a play on a street name in our home town -- and then asked me if I knew how to play any songs. There was the man to whom I had the true misfortune to be attracted, who told his friends that my lyrics proved that I was dangerous to be around. (I was mystified. First, he had an even more curmudgeonly sense of humor than mine. Second, there wasn't a mutilated ex-boyfriend or an incendiary revenge fantasy in the whole verbal/musical carload. No one ever done me wrong in my songs during that time. I was too busy writing stuff like fantasies about enjoying solitary lunar orbit, and satirical lyrics poking dark fun at everyhing from the alleged ascent of man to the bizarre fame of G. Gordon Liddy.)

Given all of this, the constant yammer of music in my head got to be too much, like a daily slap across the face coupled with a pronouncement that you're never going to amount to anything. In self-defense, I took a decade and a half off to clear my head of all of the worrisome creative stuff and get more in touch with my rational, analytical side.

Y'know, I was never ready to quit my day job. But I really don't think I was that bad at music. I know I'm not bad at it now, and I spend about a hundredth of the time playing now than I did then. I've even actually learned to sing in the meantime.

I bought my current keyboard, my main axe, about three years ago; it's got a nice, full-sized touch-sensitive keyboard as well as over 1100 presets, perhaps 20 of which I actually use. To paraphrase the Doobie Brothers, it keeps me running. Every once in a while I give it a few minutes of time out of a day made busy with other things. Yes, I've finally written a angry song --just one -- about the dude who found my lyrics dangerous. It was one of those cases in which if you're going to be accused of it, you might as well do it. On the lighter side: I've even written a couple about bugs.

Someday I may record my songs and post them electronically in a public place. Or, they may just remain a secret between the headphones and me. I don't owe music to anyone, and no one owes music to me. What goes on between my own ears is my secret unless I choose to reveal it. I push the sliding volume control towards its maximum. My head expands to fill the available space. And no one outside is any the wiser.


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