Wednesday, April 27, 2005

It Plays the Songs, Not Me

One of the things I've been wanting to do forever is to learn to play the guitar. When I'd see bands with girls in them, such as Hole or Pony Up or the Aislers Set, I'd get all inspired, ready to get a guitar of my own and be a rocker girl. (Edited to add: how could I have forgotten Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, or Liz Phair?) They look like they're having so much fun up there. After seeing Maria Taylor open for Ben Lee this weekend, I thought, I need to quit saying I'm going to do this and just do it.

First of all, never mind that I just said Courtney Love may have had a hand in inspiring me (although, she did also inspire me to never, ever do heroin, so...thanks). Second of all, never mind that I have massive stage fright. But when I'm a rocker girl in a club, I can do some shots before the show to relax. When I was 11 and taking piano lessons, my teacher and parents probably would have frowned upon that. Wait, is this how alcohol problems get started?

I've always dreamt big. Too big, and I still do. I don't really have an alarm that says, "This might be out of your league." It often leads to disaster, but I can't help it.

In 6th grade, after I'd been taking piano lessons for about a year, I announced to my mom that I wanted to play "Grand Old Flag" for the school assembly. Where this idea came from, I'm not sure. The school was definitely up for it. But mom, rather than encourage me, asked if I was sure I wanted to do that. After all, I was still fairly new at this. Cue tantrum: "Yes! I'm ready! Why are you always trying to talk me out of everything?!" Fine, she sighed. The next piano lesson I had, mom went in with me and told my teacher my big plans. Teacher flinched and asked if I was sure. "It's not the easiest song for a beginner." Tantrum: "But I can learn it! There's a few weeks left! Stop telling me I can't do it!"

They had no choice to let me do it, because I may have dreamt big, but I tantrumed bigger.

And six weeks later, if I had known the phrase "In yo' faces, suckas!" back then, I'd have said it to all the haters. I learned the song. I was ready. Bring it on: the fame, the fortune, the contract rider. "Grand Old Flag" was going to be my ticket out.

The big day finally arrived. There are only two things I remember about the day. First, my teacher was very excited. She announced to all my classmates that I'd be accompanying the students as they sang, and that I would soon become rich and famous and they'd regret making fun of me and would, for the rest of their lives, clamor to be my friend, and I wouldn't pay attention to them, because I would be too good for them by that point. OK, not that last part. But that's when I started to shake. I'm pretty sure I turned white. Wait. I actually had to play in front of the entire school? When did I agree to that?!

The second thing I remember is the actual assembly. I stood off to the side near the piano which was at the front of the room so everyone could watch me screw up, and watch the agony on my face as I did so. I couldn't stop my hands from shaking, and I don't know if you know this, but you need your hands not to shake if you're going to play piano. It's just a little detail. I kept trying to will the students to leave and go back to class, to just leave me alone with the piano. Then I'd be fine. No, they were staying. And they wanted to hear me play. Or rather, they were going to have to hear me play, whether they liked it or not.

The song started. "You're a grand old flag, you're a high-flying flag..." I'm pretty sure I got the first note right, but it was all downhill from there. They were singing so fast. My hands were shaking so hard that my fingers needed just a little extra time to find the right keys. I couldn't keep up. I just hit the odd note here and there, always three steps behind, and eventually resorted to just plunking out the tune on single keys instead of the grand rendition I'd been planning. My fingers kept slipping, and it sounded no better than if I had just turned around and sat my butt on the keys. Finally, the stupid song ended, and I played a nice middle C and held it, just for a decent finish, to make it seem like maybe I hadn't been playing like ass all along, that it was just everyone's imagination. I glanced over at my teacher, who looked visibly pained.

And that's when it all goes blank. Maybe some of the other kids gave me crap after the assembly or stuck my head in the toilet during recess or used me for target practice in dodgeball, I have no idea.

Anyway, I have no intention of really performing in public with this thing. It's just for fun, and a guitar is a lot more portable than a piano.

But just in case...should I demand lillies or hyacinths in my toilet?