Saturday, 25 January 2014

The story of how I once tried to learn bass guitar

When my Dad was younger he was a muso. A guitarist. He was a blues guitarist, according to him, but from my perspective he rocks out to anything. He was in a band when he was younger (actually he was in a few), the most notable of which was Moby Dick, until he retired to be wed to my Mother.

I have vivid memories of him playing his guitar, most nights. He would make up songs about my sister and me. He played guitar a lot. Even today hearing people play guitar fills me with immense joy.

When I was very small he would play his guitar, standing up, in the rocker pose. He taught me how to do it too. One leg straight, the other leg away from the other, as far as you can muster, and slightly bent. Guitar low. Head movements. Lips pouted in a serious muso pout. He looked like a rock star doing it too, although I don't think I ever quite mastered it.

He also taught me loads about guitar things. I know how to tune one (manually), I know the names for each string. I can even play a few chords. The easy ones. (Ha! Bar chords are beyond me.) He taught me how to make an electric guitar squeal, and distort. He taught me about controlled feedback, and frets, pick ups, and that stick thing that you put in the bridge (the name escapes me). He taught me the difference between technical ability and something he called feel. Feel, according to my Dad, cannot be learned. It's something you can only be born with. Not all musos have feel, even some of the great ones might not, which doesn't mean they're not great - but feel is that magical thing you hear every now and again that makes you want to move and makes your heart sing. My Dad has feel. He says I have it too.

I love guitars. And to me my Dad will always be a rock star.

He encouraged me to learn to play guitar, as he did. I think he wanted someone to jam with. I know it was always a dream of his to play guitar with me and have me sing (I can sing - I've always been able to sing - though I'm not trained). We actually did perform a couple of times together when I was younger.

My young heart was set on something else though. We had my Nanas old organ at home for a while, and I loved to sit and play the keys and the peddles. Pretty soon Mum and Dad got the notion to trade it in for a piano for me, a Kawaii. It was a beautiful upright piano. Dark and mellow and a really beautiful sound. I played that thing for hours on end, sometimes driving my Mum insane because I'd play Moonlight Sonata over and over and over again.

I started learning when I was 7 (ish?) - the Suzuki method to play music, a Japanese method based on the theory that we learn to speak from hearing rather than reading. And so first you learn how to hear music and play, and later you learn to read it. I later moved to the more traditional AMEB but I've never properly learnt how to read piano music. It doesn't matter, if you play or show me a piece I can pick it up pretty quickly - and with a pencil I can sketch out sheet music quick enough to play.

I loved playing piano but I hated piano lessons. My fingering was often criticised and the position of my wrists was all wrong. If you had the Hubble telescope at your disposal at the time, you still wouldn't have been able to locate my care factor on those issues. I made the notes sing and that's all I cared about.

Later, during high school, I also picked up the Clarinet, and later again the Bass Clarinet. Those were enjoyable too - I even did a few solo performances and joined school orchestra - but I don't think I ever loved anything as much as the piano.

When I was 16, I made friends with this awesome chick, Laura, who also played guitar. We got up to all sorts of mischief, the two of us. We had all sorts of fun. We dreamt of rocking out to A Perfect Circle, and starting our own girl band. All we needed was a drummer. Hard to find female drummers. The plan was I would learn the bass and she would rock the guitar. I would do vocals.

So one day I asked my Dad how I could source me a bass guitar. He opened his filing cabinet and handed me a catalogue and pointed to a couple of bass guitars I might like, ones not too complicated to learn on. Before too long I had my own black, hot, bass guitar and AMP.

I played around on it a bit. Familiarising myself with the strings, and the techniques to make them hum. I googled bass guitar tabs and taught myself to fiddle around with it. Then Laura and I got down to it. One day, at her place, we plugged in all our gear, chucked a CD in her stereo and tried to play along. I'll never forget. It was A Perfect Circle that we started with. Our dream to be able to play it.

"Maybe we've set our expectations a bit high Lor..." I said uncertainly, not knowing where to put my fingers.

"Hmmm" she nodded, ejecting the CD.

"Okay let's try some Marilyn Manson, that's way easier" I offered.

So away we went. Marilyn Manson, is indeed, much easier to play. But I don't remember why - maybe we weren't feeling it.

We tried a few other CDs we had lying around, all of which were okay until they got to a complicated bit. Pretty soon we were just doing rock star jumps off her bed with our instruments, pretending to play and practicing the moves more than anything else. There was a lot of laughing.

After a few hours laughter turned to a hilarious teenage delirium and Laura had an idea. She put in a CD (I don't remember who it belonged to or WHY we had it in our collections [correction: it definitely belonged to me but I don't remember why I had it in my collection]).

"We'll be able to play this!" she sat down.

I sat down too.

The song started.

I laughed and almost couldn't stop. But the opening bar was fantastic. 3 notes. All of it able to be done on one string. The top string. From that day, I never really bothered with the other strings - and just stuck to that Westlife CD and the top string of my bass guitar. Rocking out to boy bands was not our idea of rock stardom, but boy was it super amounts of fun.

We always meant to learn other songs, but usually we'd end up playing what we knew. Westlife and a bit of the ol' Marilyn. And rocking out doing jumps off our beds and pulling rock star faces.

The two cheeky teenagers who wore boys clothing and liked to blow stuff up at abandoned warehouses (more on that later), rocking out to Westlife, Laura properly on her guitar, and me on the top string of my bass.

How I wish I looked playing the bass... 

Not accurate depiction of how I actually look playing the bass...

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