The Young Musician

[This is a continuation of “The Gateway Drug” and “The Red Ranger” if you have not read those two posts yet.]

My love of music probably started before I was born. Dad used to stick headphones over my mom’s pregnant stomach and play Scorpions and Whitesnake. Which should really explain everything you need to know about my father’s taste in music and how great of an influence it had on mine. Mom would dance around the house to Thriller and Journey and those are equally as influential on me. And, above all else, in our house, Celine is the original queen.

I sang with her once, in a fake children’s choir my church put together of church leadership kids so that everyone in church leadership could go to a Celine Dion concert. They won’t admit they did it, but they did. This was at the height of Titanic, so we all know the truth. Every single person in the world probably wanted to see Celine Dion right then. And I’m pretty grateful I did. I still remember certain moments. She’s an icon. I’m getting off track.

I think it all started with the Spice Girls. Listen to “Wannabe,” rewind the tape on the boombox, listen to “Wannabe” again, rewind the tape…you know the drill. “Spice Up Your Life” got the treatment, too. I was in love with Baby Spice. Which, what was I thinking there? Posh Spice is clearly the winner. Shout out to Becks. Live and learn.

My mom’s favorite anecdote on the Spice Girls is that the only time in my life I have ever been grounded is because I convinced my now-separated Dad that Mom said it was okay for me to watch Spice World. I borrowed it from Lily. Dad asked Mom why I would like that stupid movie, and that’s how I got caught. To get my first and only grounding out of the way at 6 or 7 should reveal how often I like to break rules. Or maybe how often I got caught breaking rules. I’ll never tell.

From there it went to the Backstreet Boys—on CD this time. I always wanted to be Brian. Everybody (yeahhhhhhhhh) I knew always wanted to be Nick, but I liked Brian more. I honestly can’t tell you why. And then I remember the day *NSYNC had their concert special on the Disney Channel. I remember it because I knocked over an oil lamp while dancing ridiculously with my best friend Andrew. Neither of us fessed up to it that I remember. It could’ve been a big hazard, but thankfully nothing happened. I always thought JC was the coolest member of NSYNC. But Justin Timberlake is a modern genius, so I missed on that one as a kid, too. Live and learn, indeed.

Anyway. I wanted to sing. I think there’s a little acknowledged fact that almost every male on the planet can sing quite well before puberty. That’s the deciding mark. Sadly, like 85% of us lose any of that talent when the boys drop. I could make a castrati joke here, but that just seems cruel. It definitely went to my little head—this is an unfortunately connected image in light of the larger context of the paragraph—that I had the talent to sing after the Celine Dion concert experience.

But apparently after puberty, I more than lost any knack for singing that I’d found on that stage in front of thousands. Some very abrupt and abrasive personalities have always enjoyed telling me about my lack of singing talent along the way. Whether just a “Can you not?” or the not-so-subtle turn up the volume on the stereo. It’s happened most of my life. I can carry the tune, and I’m usually in the right range, but some annoying jerk is always quick to be like, “That’s not the right key.” Which is how I ended up being such a huge “emo” fan. There were no keys—just emotions. Getting ahead of myself again.

Most of the poems I wrote in middle school or high school, I often envisioned as songs. They rarely worked as poems, let alone songs, but I was writing and trying. That’s my go-to: at least try and see what happens.

I think I was thirteen or fourteen when I got my first (and only) guitar. I took lessons for six months or so, and I was just ok. We talked about Good Charlotte’s “The Anthem” quite a bit. I don’t remember much more than that.

I would play every now and then for the next few years. G-C2-D-Em. Down-down-down/up/down. That was my go to. Basic chords. Basic strumming pattern. Never actually seeing progress.

I took once semester of guitar in college my senior year of high school. After we discussed scales, I discovered I really enjoyed playing those to the point where I’d actually practice. I asked to learn how to play Brand New’s “Luca” and almost had the strumming pattern and finger picking down after two months of practice. That was the last time I ever played guitar, really. I donated it eight years later.

Singing, though. I still love to sing.

I don’t really write songs anymore. My brain doesn’t work that way, though I’m pretty good at discovering rhythm in written words, so maybe it does and I’m doubting myself again. I do that. Constantly.

There’s only been one person in my life who has said she loves my singing. She said she could tell how much I love music when I sing, and that love covers any faults in my talent. She’s pretty talented, though. And she can play the guitar. Because that’s how it goes. Her and I had a lot of free time during our time working together. We got good at singing songs that weren’t duets as duets, without ever talking about where to break or where to pick up. I always appreciated that. City & Colour’s “Northern Wind” was my favorite of our fake duets.

My not-quite-literal little sister and I really like actual duets, and she loves me and my ridiculous exuberance that I don’t thinks she minds, either. We’re really good at the Moulin Rouge! Soundtrack. I’ve spent so many days wishing I could sing like Ewan McGregor. And select Disney songs. I’m gonna be a mighty king, so enemies beware!

So, being a musician didn’t pan out. Singing didn’t pan out. But I still love it. I still love music. Music is my lifeblood for many of the circumstances in my life. There are days where I think about sitting down with my son and saying, “This is what I listened to when I felt this at your age.” In that scenario, he likes it and falls in love with my music. But I know I resisted my dad and mom’s music, so I expect the same. I never think about this with my future daughter, but I’ve also only recently realized I want more than one kid. I think she’ll like Dad’s jams.

I’ve recently had to sell half of my music collection so that I could afford to buy new pants and shampoo. That’s how life goes sometimes. I made the decision as to whether or not to keep it by asking the question: “Do I want my kids to listen to this someday?” It’s the same question I ask when I’m deciding whether or not to sell a book to the used bookstore. “Will I read this again? Do I want someone else to read it? Will my kids need this story?” Any of those met with a yes, and they stay on the shelf. It’s how I balance minimalism and hoarding and a need for new pants.

It’s very interesting to me that there is very little overlap in my love for fantasy and my love for music. They’re worlds that slightly connect. There are concept albums—shout out to Coheed & Cambria—that enter this world. But for me, music and fantasy novels have always been different forms of escape. Mutually exclusive things to love.

A live rock show can change my life forever. But so can the quiet experience of reading the end of a fantasy novel in my bed at four in the morning. They are vastly different experiences, but they fulfill my soul and nourish my oft-depressed mind in very similar ways.

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