Could this be time for another embarrassing story from my past? It’s been awhile since I’ve delighted you with tales of a young and stupid Penguin growing up and being an idiot. I will embarrass myself yet again. Don’t thank me; it’s my pleasure to entertain the masses.
I wish I were musically gifted. My parents bought me a guitar for my 13th birthday and I picked it up three times. For some reason, and it pains me to say this, I didn’t think it was a cool enough gift. God, I must have been an awful son. But, let’s move on shall we. I have no musical talent whatsoever, save of course for a very dodgy addiction to karaoke in Saudi Arabia. This then, is the story of the day the music died for me…
I remember the day well. There were no newspaper reports, no terrible news of plane crashes that killed three promising musicians. During the course of the year, there would be reports of Count Basie, Ricky Nelson, Jackie Wilson, and Marvin Gaye all dying. But none of those days were the day. And again, there was no report about it. There was only a class of about 24 students, all 13 years old, all unsure about what exactly “Music Class” would incorporate. Of course, we didn’t use the word incorporate back then. At that age we probably thought, “can’t we have an extra class of gym instead?”
1984 was a great year for me in many regards. I first played ice hockey that year, and I was playing soccer for the mighty Royal Gardens, even though I lived two districts away. We were an awesome team. I’m not sure if it is documented anywhere but we were probably the Manchester United of our time because of our foreign contingent of stars. Anyways, this is not a football blog this is a music blog. This was the year I got my less than seldom used guitar so it won’t surprise many when my tale is finished and you hear the outcome. We also got two new cable movie channels that year and the first movie shown on each one was Star Wars. I must have watched that movie about 100 times that year.
We are sitting in music at my small junior high school. I was in grade 8, one year removed from the days of getting 15 minutes off every morning and afternoon to go outside and play. We were adults now. We had to learn to work through the whole day. And this is exactly what we did. One day, I hope James Blunt writes a song about us. If he doesn’t, I might as well try.
Our music and drama hall wasn’t much to look at. It was a carpeted room across from the main gymnasium, tucked in the back corner of the school. If you could bust down the back wall you could have made a run for the park but we just couldn’t figure out how to do it. Sure, we could build stink bombs out of lit bags of manure, but the Internet wasn’t around back then to learn how to make real bombs. We had to have different kinds of fun back then. We like to call it human interaction. Today, the only human interaction kids get is playing the game The Sims on their computer.
Our music teacher was a grumpy old woman with little patience. She would arrange us alphabetically on the three tiers of this room, all facing the blackboard, and have us come up one at a time and draw treble clefs until our wrists were limp. When it actually came time to learn about music, we were all a little lost. Some of the kids, the ones whose parents knew they had no athletic talent and social skills had been studying music before (I’m only saying this because the six kids in my class that could play an instrument probably still haven’t seen another human being naked that wasn’t on the cover of a magazine), soon became the teacher’s favourites. I promise I don’t feel this way about all musically gifted people. I truly am envious; I just can’t let you all know that.
We would all have to learn the recorder. Now, the recorder is like the uncoordinated, geeky, always touching his penis in public little brother of the flute. The recorder, let it be known, requires about as much musical coordination as a guitar with no strings. And guess who had one for two months and couldn’t even play the first song we were given to learn? Yup, me. All I had to do was blow into the mouthpiece, and lift and place my fingers on the six holes on top of this thing and I couldn’t do it. I, however, was not alone. It was so bad, or I was so bad, that when the teacher asked me to play a “high C”, I thought the only way I could accomplish that is if I stuck the thing up her ass and listen to the squeal she’d make.
My two best friends at the time, Roy and Greg, were just about as useless as I was. The teacher went searching for something else for us to do. She didn’t want to fail us. I asked if I could play the bongos, to which she agreed, for about three classes until she realized I had no intention of learning anything on them and just wanted to bash them like Animal from the Muppets. The tambourines the school had were too expensive to let us near so they were given to the respectable and responsible girls. I thought this unjust, and made sure I let the girls know by pulling on their bra straps at lunchtime. The ones who didn’t yet wear a bra were just called “boys”, which probably hurt more than a snap of the bra strap.
Seeing that she had three idiots more intent on being idiots than learning music, she did what any respectable cranky old cow would do: she gave us the idiot-proof instruments. I was presented with the triangle. The triangle doesn’t even come with sheet music for fuck’s sake. Roy and Greg fared even worse than I did – they got a block of wood with a wooden stick, about as long as drumstick, and they would just tap the block with the stick at opportune times.
Basically, my role in our class band was to tap the side of the triangle as soon as the final note had been played. My teacher argued that by having the last note, as it were, I would be the one who actually called to end the performance and thus be remembered. Even at 13 I knew this to be a big heaping pile of bullshit and decided to improvise. I reckoned that the triangle had three sides to tap so I would tap them all at the end of our final song. When my obvious lack of coordination (but give me a hockey stick and I can make a puck dance damn it) came to the forefront in an ungodly sound, she threatened to remove the triangle and put me in charge of cleaning up after class. Hey, the triangle may be an instrument for idiots, but at least it was an instrument.
Soon Roy, Greg, and I had to be separated and put on different tiers to stop us from competing for who could make the loudest accompaniment sounds. My triangle must have been dull because it squealed about as much as a mute duckling. Stupid triangle. We never performed for anybody. Just as well I suppose because we were awful. Roy managed to break his thumb when he was too busy watching Pam (the only girl in class with boobs bigger than her head) blowing into her recorder and he smacked his thumb with the wooden stick.
Despite my creativity and vigour, I was not allowed to incorporate the triangle solo I had developed into any of the pieces that we would practice. My roll was simple, one simple “TING” at the end of the song. Even an idiot could do that. On June 22, 1985, I handed in my triangle with the knowledge that I wouldn’t have to take music again. As my teacher closed the door to the stock room, my dull boring triangle lying lonely on a chair, I turned away.
I’m still waiting for someone, anyone, to come out and record a tear-jarring rendition of “While my Triangle Gently Weeps” but it hasn’t happened. Somehow, even then, I knew it wouldn’t.
The music died for me that day.