(Published on December 26, 2015 in Business Standard)
I’m usually thrilled to watch the taillights of a year disappear into the dustbin of history. But I’m smiling fondly at 2015, because of all the music.
I cannot live without music, and I wouldn’t want to. If it’s not playing around me, it’s playing in my head. I sing constantly, either out loud—a sound like a bee trapped behind a window, or an animal losing the will to live—or in my head, and I can put up with any amount of annoyance, inconvenience, or delay, as long as I can listen to music through it. Learning to play the guitar seemed like an obvious move.
But let’s face it: I’m an old dog, and playing music is an altogether new trick. It is deeply humbling to start from scratch, and have to learn to walk and speak all over again, in the early afternoon of your life when you’re supposed to be master of your ship, snoozing in the first class cabin while minions do the grunt work. But while one’s synapses are frayed, and one’s fingers clumsy, one can make slow, unsteady progress, even without a teacher. I really should have gotten a teacher.
I did at one point hire a random curly-haired youth who, in four lessons, made me realise that I was spending precious booze money on a chap whose musical ability was vastly outweighed by his ability to make me feel as old as the pyramids. I made a tough budgetary cut, and went back to learning from random curly-haired youths on the internet, who also make me feel as old as the pyramids, but for free. The result is that I haven’t gotten beyond the basic chord strum, nor been able to resist looking up chords rather than figuring them out by ear. I have written a bunch of horrible little dirges—which I have to be completely drunk to sing, and you need to be completely drunk to hear—and one fake-happy song. All in all, after three years of enthusiastic guitar playing, I still suck.
But I’m also still having the most fun I’ve had in my life. My guitar may well be a version of the midlife little red sports car, but my god, does it put a spring in my step and roses in my cheeks. Or maybe the roses come out of a bottle—whatever. The point is, it makes me feel the best a person can feel.
This last year I’ve also spent massive amounts of time sitting in bars listening to live music, and if there’s one thing I’ve discovered, it is that this city is filled with the most insanely gifted musicians. It’s a source of constant amazement to me that they walk amongst us, like normal people, without large signs around them declaring that they have magical powers in their fingers and lungs.
Also, and this is critical, musicians are the best people. Hanging around them can be exhilarating or exasperating, but it’s never boring. They’re all totally bonkers. My theory is that the bits of brain that allow people to make music are cannibalised from those bits of brain that allow people to match their socks. Some musicians you experience as a warm bath, some as a drive-by shooting, but they’re all mad fun.
So to all the people that I’ve been privileged to listen to, and to the hapless few with whom I play regularly, thank you for the music, you’re the best. Now I will sing a song for you. Wait, where’s everyone going?