"Maybe he had some problems/Maybe some things that he couldn't work out/But he sure was funny and he sure told the truth/And he knew what he was talking about..."
-Bob Dylan "Lenny Bruce"
I may or may not grow up... to be the next Gavin DeGraw (I just may not have the pipes) but I will go to my grave knowing deep in my heart one of the best things my Mom ever did for me was sign me up for them there suburban, all the rage, piano lessons.
My sisters preceded me in piano lesson takin' and though I always enjoyed listening to them and wanting to be able to emulate their ability to make some music, I certainly was more than a bit apprehensive when my Mom brought me to some music school on Lexington Avenue near Highway 36 to meet the appropriately named Mrs. Good, my soon to be piano teachin' instructor.
On this particular day Mrs. Good tried her best to determine what my existing (if any) musical aptitude was by having me go through some exercises on the piano keyboard ("make the sound of a train" "make the sound of a ghost"). I did my best although it was one of the first times (in a life since full of them) when I felt like a complete fool/idiot knowing that my pounding of the lower bass keys sounded nothing at all like a choo choo train or an just out of sight being.
I got placed in a lesson group with three others- the punkish looking (in a suburban way rather than a cool British fashion) Chip House, the intellectual looking Andy McCue, and the overly sensitive looking Eric Haugen (who would eventually become my closest ally of the trio). At our first lesson the three of them seemed to get along swimmingly like the proverbial now healthily looked upon soybeans in a pod, and as Mrs. Good ran us through some more impish exercises I began to feel like everyone else in the room was in on some kind of secret that was eluding me and I began to feel the tears falling down my chubby little cheeks. Mrs. Good noticed the wannabe unnoticed swollen eyes and try as hard as I could hidden sniffles and she stopped the lesson short.
When I went out to the warm Pinto outside with my Mom waiting to take me home, Mrs. Good shared some out of earshot words with my Mom. Mom kept nodding and the following ride home after the requisite "How did it go?" Mom and I rode mostly in silence, as we were to do for the following eight years that she drove me to and from my piano lessons. (On a memorably icy winter day Mom and I did a full 360 spin in the Pinto at the intersection of County Road C and Western Avenue- a moment Mom later said she didn't remember even though it was the first instance where my life flashed in front of my eyes and optical nerves.) Mom told me to hang in there, that once I learned the rudiments and got beyond just playing scales, that the songs would pour out of me and I would have great fun. And she was right.
Throughout junior high school and high school I frustrated Mrs. Good because I was much more devoted in learning how to play Barry Manilow and the Beatles' songs on the piano than I was my assigned Clementi and Bartok pieces. High school in particular was a period when I'd come home from my day and eagerly jump into my assigned lesson only to be pulled away temporarily (and forever) in pounding out "Hey Jude" or "Mandy" or something near and dear to my blood pumping organ that doesn't always exist in all those soulless ones. So less pretentiously, it was a necessary and needed catharsis from the overwhelming things pounding away in my heart. Yup, sometimes a Beethoven or Mozart piece might suffice but if "For No One" or "Even Now" didn't speak volumes to me about my current situation then the stars above may as well have been made out of the barfed up bag of Skittles of my close by youth and admittedly stilted vision.
When I went off to college and found myself so to speak and so on my own the thing that ended up rooting me more than anything else was going down to the dorm's piano (in a most public place- Enjoy the veal! Be sure to tip your waiters and waitresses! My next show will be the same time same place tomorrow when the sun will come out according to the little orphaned Annie!) or the more private pianos in the music department where I spent a couple of hours whittling away my work/study hours and playing the same old songs I was used to playing at home. It was a reaching out to no one in particular, and maybe it was a slight reaching back to someone quite and quietly in particular.
Post-graduation and living with roommates in thin walled apartments the only time I got to relive and relieve my piano playing days/urges was when I went to my parents' house and between fits of Nintendo frustration of failed electronic journeys going over to the simply standard black and white (no gray!) keys I grew up tinkling and pounding out whatever it was that was in my heart. "Let it Be"? "The Long and Winding Road"? "Abandoned Love"? "Don't Think Twice"? One of the best things about moving into MY house seven years ago was having the ability and the privacy to buy my own piano (who would have thought that day was ever forthcoming or possible in the least?). My immediate and immediately more tolerant than I could ever ask feline roommate Max was never quite sure what to make of, nor quite appreciative of my late night spontaneous piano playing performances but I sensed he knew it was one of those things I did, not because of a need to be my most annoying self but rather because of a need to exorcise and exercise the all too closing in demons within.
More than a number of months back I was sitting in a San Francisco restaurant enjoying a Dim Sum meal with my most talented piano playing sister when we cooked up the idea of my taking her baby grand piano in because having moved from a rented house to a rented apartment she no longer had the room to house the instrument. This plan took a long time to ultimately come to fruition but after much delay this was the week the piano was to arrive in my humble little house all the way from Stockton California where the last person to house it was a friendly chap named Andrew who told me he had just written a symphony on it (I didn't have the heart when I chatted with him to tell him that I have a piano playin' kitty who most likely will be the most frequent user). On Wednesday I got a call from the piano moving company I chose after some Internet research (is there really any other type these days?). I was told to call the driver. I did so and was told I had missed his appearance in St. Paul and he was now somewhere in North Dakota. The anxiously awaited piano and made it's appearance in these parts and had continued on far far away (the story of my life).
I was angry. I needed to pound a few keys and sing out John Lennon's "God" (a song that once upon a long ago I actually did a passable if not forever cloying coy version of). I got a hold of the poor not quite his fault, out of the loop truck driver and the only thing that kept my seething teeth and other body parts from boiling over into undiluted rage was my mind's picture of the certain sauntering schooled in grace Carol Vescey of my life, herself forced to take a few piano lessons in another lifetime- a thing we've shared in words, thoughts and feelings thank God. I heard her telling me to calm down, not that she has ever uttered those specific words to me, but these days, though she doesn't always know it (and far be it for me to tell her) she does have an equally calming as she does agitating affect on me. A deliverer of a cyclamen plant to my ailing Mom at a most difficult time (a picture that just wouldn't leave me alone as I struggled through last week's Lucinda Williams' concert at First Ave) I continue to merely wish that we one day take the time to exchange a time of dueling piano songs (or perhaps we can even make it a separate but shared duet) because if there is but one thing I'm sure of, I'm sure that we have earned that right after all the other things being equal and distinct.
So tonight as I write this my sister's piano is on the way from Chicago to Green Bay. I have been lacking the time, energy, strength and funds to do much traveling these days so I'm a bit envious of all the places the piano has been recently. I'm told it will arrive at my house sometime tomorrow. Visions of grand performances stick inside me and my best friend told me awhile back that she can see me sitting in my living room wearing a tuxedo and top hat and entertaining two captive cats (seven legs between them). It may not exactly be another chapter to my life but I'm sure it'll be worth a footnote when all is said and done (and sung).