Life As We Know It: June 3, 2013

         One of the things I promised myself in retirement was to learn a musical instrument. My brothers have had their own band for years, but I’m the odd brother out. I don’t play. Occasionally I get up with them and try to sing “Margaritaville” or my personal anthem, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” but generally speaking I’m singing to a crowd that is pretty much oblivious to my efforts.

          The band’s name is Bar Code, which effectively answers  the question: Where do you guys play most of your gigs?

          The first set of the evening is the band’s chance to introduce themselves to the patrons. Unfortunately, the patrons, specifically the males, are more interested in introducing themselves to other patrons, specifically the females. The band is essentially background noise for a carefully choreographed mating ritual.

          It’s amazing, however, how good Bar Code becomes as the night wears on. By the third set, the customers, fueled by the best efforts of the brewmaster’s art, are singing along and jumping around as though the Doobie Brothers had just blown into town. Bar Code’s marketing slogan should have been: “For a good time, show up at 10 o’clock.”

         Eventually the band had a problem. The harmonica player moved to Missouri. How is this relevant? Well, I’ve got a harmonica.

          I think it’s a great choice. For one thing, the harmonica is about the most portable thing you can play. When’s the last time you heard someone say “hand me that piano”?

          My challenge is clear. I’ve had a harmonica most of my life, but I’ve only known how to play one song. Over the years my family became so sick and tired of “My Old Kentucky Home” they told me one of us had to go: me or the harmonica. Not wishing to risk the challenges of life on the street, I hid the harmonica and forgot about it.

          But now, not only does Bar Code need me, somebody had a change of heart because I received a harmonica instruction booklet and CD for my birthday.

          “Express yourself musically,” the box said. “Be more creative within minutes.” That got my attention, because I’ve always wanted to be more creative but I didn’t want to take very long to do it. Minutes sounded about right. So for 75 minutes I listened to the guy on the CD and huffed and puffed as instructed, becoming moderately proficient in techniques we professional harmonicats call the  “sandwich grip,” the “shakin” maneuver, and the “hand wah wah.”

          The sandwich grip was easy. I’ve gripped many a cheeseburger over the years. So was the shaking. I did a lot of that at The Blade when I was working. I’ve decided, however, that my hand wah wah needs work.

          But I am undeterred. I’m proud to announce that my harmonica repertoire, after just an hour and a quarter of intensive training – and several breaks – has expanded dramatically. I now can play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” “Jingle Bells,” and my personal favorite, “Taps.” Yes, Taps is a bit of a downer, so I plan to learn how to play it in a distinctive, foot-tappin’ New Orleans-style boogie woogie 12-bar blues.” That’s not really in the booklet, but creativity is all about improvisation, especially if you’re trying to get creative in just minutes.

          Today “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Some day, with a little self-discipline and a lot of practice on the old hand wah wah, the “Duke of Earl.” People will come from near and far – though mostly near  -- to hear Bar Code.

          How far I’ve traveled from the day as a 9-year-old when I told my dad I wanted to become a musician. Not pleased, he met me halfway. He gave me a blunt instrument. “Here,” he said. “Knock yourself out.”