(the goal is to learn the solo to 88 Finger Louie’s 100 Proof. Then I will rest)
I used to play bass. Long ago. Before this blog. Before my A-levels. Before the glorious York save on Football Manager 2013 even. I was part of a music group up in Ponder’s End (a group that I attribute almost all of my social skills, ability to make new friends and attempts to treat others as complex, inherently valid individuals to), that was a very welcoming and accepting of people who aren’t musicians but are willing to learn. I found out about it through an old school friend who was a member (the means of this finding out is another story for another post), so I tagged along, with my mum’s rather superb bass, and about a half-term of half-arsed plucking in year seven as experience.
I bombed out of the group pretty quickly, lasting just two months over summer before A-levels got in the way and I had to quit, and never really went back to playing music. Although that group was brilliant in so many ways, the fact that our social interactions were based around a skill – playing an instrument – that I was so desperately inferior in meant that I always had a nagging sense of inadequacy whenever I thought about playing the bass again; my only memories of playing it were playing it badly.
This was also the point in my life where I started to take writing pretty seriously (this blog started thirteen months after this flirtation with bass-playing), and was quickly drawing comparisons between the artistic craft of writing and the artistic craft of music that left music looking a bit naff. To produce a story, one must have ideas; technical skill is important, sure, but you can create a finished product without much redrafting or rewriting if you’re only interested in that story. Yet a piece of music physically cannot exist without a certain level of technical competence, i.e. the ability to play that piece of music. And it wasn’t like I was afraid of hard work, but putting x hours into a novel meant creating new worlds and new characters, while putting that same x into a song meant going over the same parts again and again. It became an exercise in repetition, not creation.
But recently an odd thing has happened, namely that I’m really getting into music. Like really. There’s been the Savage music writing for UCL all year, but now I’ve got a job writing for a new music magazine that’s insanely promising, and I spend hours reading and annotating write-outs of Rise Against lyrics, breaking them down as poetic narratives rather than just fuel for moshing. And, having exhausted this vein of interaction to the point that I’m seriously considering writing a book on the relationship between religion and American hardcore punk since the 1980s, I decided to move on from responding to music to creating music.
Sure, I’m not writing my own songs as such, just learning Rise Against’s 1000 Good Intentions, but it feels good to make things; that sound coming from my living room that sounds like a cat purring into an early version of a Guitar Hero mic to only score 70%? That’s me. That’s my sound! And it sucks, and it’s unoriginal, and it’s probably annoying the neighbours because I’m practicing at like 3am, but it’s something I’m doing.
This is all a far, far cry from making my own songs or, gods forbid, forming my own band, but as someone who is vaguely arty and creative, it’s a great feeling when you engage with a new kind of art.