I have a dirty little secret in my bedroom closet. It isn't hiding beneath a pile of old clothes, and it doesn't require batteries. It's not something I wear when my wife Mary goes out. It has four strings and it mocks me every time I walk past it. It's a bass guitar.
Technically, it's not even my bass. It belongs to my friend Steve and his brother Greg. They lent it to me (along with a small amp) a few years ago when they were talking about starting a band. The idea was that I'd get lessons and be able to contribute.
So, I took lessons, and tried to practice, but other things seemed to crop up. Things like work, yes. But also things like movies on television, reading, singing around the house, brushing the cats ... in short, anything I could think of to avoid practicing the bass.
Practicing a musical instrument? It sounds like work ... because it is. My brother Jeff, now 53, has been playing electric guitar since he was 13. He's very good. I have vivid memories of him practicing for hours in our house in Queens, N.Y., and later in Suffolk County on Long Island. He's always played, even though he put playing in a group on the side for a number of years when he got married and started a family.
I'm no Jeff, but my attempts to practice whatever instrument I wanted to play at the moment have been paved with good intentions. It's the follow-through I've had problems with.
When I was 8, I wanted a drum kit very badly. I imagined myself as Ringo Starr of the Beatles. But my wise mother, Frances, did not get me a drum kit. She got me a drum pad. For those of you who haven't encountered a drum pad, it's pretty much what it sounds like - a piece of wood with a rubber pad on it. My mother said if I practiced on it, she'd get me lessons, and eventually, a set. I was unimpressed. " A drum pad?" I thought. "I bet Ringo's mother never got him a drum pad!" Maybe so, but I never got my drum kit, either.
Then there was the piano my Mother bought when I was 10. This time I got an actual lessons from teacher who came by every week. I did practice, but like a lot of other kids of my generation, I soon grew bored of the rote lessons. I did, however, master a tune named "The Indian War Dance Song." It's pretty simple, and the repetitive chords are reminiscent of what I can only imagine is a white person's view of a Native American drum beat. I would play it for company, and wherever our family visited where there was a piano handy. It's so ingrained in my mind that, four decades later, I can still play it from memory.
At 12, I talked my mother into buying me an acoustic guitar. It was a basic model and the thick strings hurt my fingers when I practiced (well, the little I practiced). When I transferred from a local community college to Syracuse University in 1982 (I was twenty by then), I took my guitar with me. I had no intention of learning it; I propped it up against a corner, and imagined that it would help me get girls. The guitar is long gone. I did employ it , however, to write a song (written completely on the "E" string) about my roommate David's girlfriend Irene. A cassette tape containing my performance has mercifully disappeared.
My musical career was pretty much over until I moved to New Hampshire, married and bought a keyboard. In 1992, I became one of the oldest students of something called "Yamaha Rock School," which was offered at a local guitar store. I got to learn such three-chord classics as "Twist and Shout" and "Wild Thing." By the second year of Rock School, I abandoned all pretense of learning the keyboards and was strictly singing. It was just so much easier. In fact, as the master of ceremonies of my company's Christmas party (which I referred to as "my gig" for the ten years I did it), I would sit in with the hired band and sing a few songs in the second set, right after the door prizes were announced. If I was lucky, my co-workers would stick around.
And so I stayed in musical hibernation until 2009 or so, when Steve lent me the bass. I promised myself last year that I'd start practicing again right after the holidays ... but my wife found a copy of the video game "Beatles Rock Band" on eBay and bought some instruments for it. These days, I'm playing the bass all right, but as "Avatar Paul McCartney." I'm up to "She Loves You" ... and I'm going to be on the Ed Sullivan Show! How can a practicing a real bass compare with that?
I guess what I'm saying is that I'm a lazy, lazy man. I'm also saying: "Steve, come by and pick up your bass."
Barry Wenig lives in Lebanon, N.H., with his family. If you stop by, he'll play you "The Indian War Dance Song." But first he'll have to dust off his keyboard.
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