Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Finding my Bass element

Image via: Pixabay

I have a soundtrack to my life. My childhood was my parents' music. Mum gave me Abba, the Bee Gees and Bony M, Dad gave me The Beatles and John Lennon. Music from these bands will always remind me of them. In my teens, music saved my life. When I first became aware that I could choose what to listen to, it was the 80s and there was definitely good stuff around but it didn't reach me, not until '88. I was in Year 8 at school and made my first soul mate friendships and together we learned about INXS. They were our Beatles, the men we would swoon over and the music that we would consume and allow to consume us. A teacher chaperoned us to the KICK concert in Sydney. We lived, breathed and worshiped at the altar of INXS.

As we got older, moving into the '90s, we naturally gravitated to the rebellion of alternative, grunge and pseudo punk, the angsty heavy guitars and deep bass of bands that began to look a little more gender balanced too. The best ones either had a female lead or female members, or better still, were all female. Women's voices and words resonated. I could list so many in that genre - both local and international, but I'd never do the list justice. And besides I had a favourite, a Sydney band called The Clouds who I followed around the pub circuit and blasted daily over my stereo in my bedroom and eventually my car.

At the end of high school, I was one of the youngest in my grade. While everyone was turning 18, I still had six months to wait post graduation. It hadn't made a difference. I had been getting into local pubs without identification for months. All I'd wanted to do was watch the bands not drink, (I did that elsewhere!), and back then, it was mostly overlooked. In fact, the first time I was asked for ID was on my 18th birthday at the Annandale Hotel in Stanmore. The guy at the door knew us well and told us they had a new policy where they had to check everyone and was shocked to see that my license said it was my 18th birthday that night.

All my friends were going off to Schoolies for graduation. Schoolies was an end of high school tradition where everyone went to the Gold Coast and let loose. I was absolutely not interested in that subculture but I'd planned to go and had paid a deposit. At the last minute, I realised I would be spending the entire time anxious about getting into clubs and likely miserable with the company so I asked for a refund and spent the money on a bass guitar that I'd planned to learn to play. For a few years I'd been watching my cousins play their instruments and had been hanging out with a group of peers from school who I went to Clouds gigs with. Many of these people had either already left school whilst I was completing my HSC or were acquaintances. One of them lived on a local rural property and had a garage converted into a haven for us to hang out in. There were always instruments around, plenty of seating and posters, and set lists from the gigs we went to, put up on the walls.

I was very focused on my studies in high school. I loved learning and was always studious. I'd had a bit of a rough time and was determined to make something of myself, and excelling at school was the gateway apparently. But in the cracks I had music to motivate me and while I watched others doing their thing in awe, I wondered what I could do given half a chance. Singing was easy enough, a euphoric outlet on long car trips. I traveled to see a friend who'd moved some distance away regularly and had started working with her washing dishes in a restaurant in the city after my classes at uni, coming home way after midnight on those shifts. Singing at the top of my lungs was not only therapeutic, it kept me awake as did chain smoking. To this day, when I need to blow off steam, music either blasts my face off through headphones, or I go for a long drive and sing loudly. Living alone for many years must have annoyed so many of my neighbours too.

My friends found out that I could potentially sing and handed me a microphone occasionally. I was fine to copy my idols and sing songs we all knew while they played along, but I had nothing of worth to say directly enough to be able to write an original song. I remember writing about a plastic Troll doll - it was fucking awful. We weren't connected enough to collaborate properly, call it bad timing.

What I hoped was that they would teach me to play that bass guitar I'd bought. I valued their friendships and mostly felt safe around them with music as our connection, but we were all so distracted with coming of age and all its complexities that it simply didn't eventuate. They did borrow the bass on occasion though and it got played on stage a number of times. However when it came home to me, it lay dormant and untouched. Sometimes I'd pick it up and try to play along to a Cloud's song. I could have pursued it, but studying and working was more important at the time.

I lost track of where the bass was for many years. I think it lived with me sometimes. I know it resided with me when I lived with my brother and eventually made its way back home to my parents' place. It had been moved and neglected many times and had started to deteriorate. There was a string missing and some damage, but for some reason, my parents put it away and kept it for me, just in case, waiting for me to decide what to do with it.

I found it again recently. My children have started a music program at school and are learning to express themselves musically and read music. My eldest plays the violin. I photographed her face the day she brought the bow home and was allowed to practice the songs she was learning beyond strumming the strings Pizzicato. The look of deep connection and love on her face was something I simply had to capture and I am determined to remind her of that feeling whenever she feels it's not fun anymore. Because pursuing something like learning a musical instrument isn't only fun, it's also work and commitment. A dedication I want her to know will reward her if she does the toil first. It's a good life lesson.

So when I saw my bass at my parents' place, lonely and neglected, something struck a chord. It felt like a waste to just let it sit there and gather dust a moment longer. Even if I wanted to pass it on to the kids, display it or sell it, it would need repair. So I have decided to do that. I found a local guitar repair business and have dropped it off to be fixed. When I get it back, I think I should give it one more chance and see if learning it is an option. It's amazing what time and perspective can show you if you let it and maybe my brain is wired differently now. Maybe I wasn't quite ready at 17 but at nearly 46 I might have the space in my being to figure it out. What's 30 years give or take?

I'll never be a pro. I'll never perform, earn money from it or show anyone if I don't want to. But that doesn't mean I can't learn to play this instrument well and let it teach me something.