By Bill Buchanan
I got back to Alabama just in time to miss a concert by one of my favorite old bands, Kansas. They were performing along with a symphony group comprised of university students. I saw a photo of some of the band members in the newspaper. Whew, they looked like death eating a cracker. But a friend who went to the concert told me that while the band had not weathered the aging storm too well physically, their musical talents had not diminished at all, and were perhaps even better than in the ‘70s when we listened to great old songs like “Can I Tell You,” “Dust in the Wind” and “Bringing It Back.”
I love music as much as I love football. Maybe more. I have more than 5,000 songs on my iPod. It is a pretty sure bet I haven’t seen 5,000 football games, although my wife might beg to differ.
I like a wide range of music, encompassing many genres. I tend to favor blues, Motown, and rock — both easy listening and what is today referred to as “classic” rock — which is a boomer euphemism for “old.” Those of us who are in the middle-to-late end of the boomer generation are deathly afraid of the word “old” and will do any dance we can to get around it. So we call things that we like that are no longer in fashion (and haven’t been for about 30 years) “classic” or “retro.” Note: If you are advanced enough in years to get discounted meals or free checking, then you are not “classic” or “retro,” you are just getting old.
At any rate, I was sorry I missed the concert. I am fascinated by those with musical talent. My wife has a terrific voice. Logan and Misty here at the OVN play the guitar. I love music, but have zero musical talent. I cannot play any instrument and cannot sing. I have been told I have an amazing voice, but they didn’t mean it was the good kind of amazing. I have only sung in public twice, and one of those performances emptied out a bar.
I do not blame myself for lack of musical ability. I blame Mr. Thompson, our junior high-high school band director. When I was in sixth grade, everyone was given a musical “aptitude” test to determine each student’s prowess in distinguishing notes, pitches, etc. Although I had never been musically inclined, when the results were in, I had scored in the “superior” range. This would be much more impressive if it were not for the fact that the tests were given by the company that sold musical instruments to the school. What a coincidence, right? In fact, I think the lowest anyone ever scored was “excellent.”
So, bolstered by my impressive score and newfound musical ability, I decided to join the junior high band. I had my heart set on the drums. Keep in mind that this was the ‘60s, and because of The Beatles, everyone had a garage band. If you could play “Wipe Out” on the drums, the girls fell at your feet. So there were only about 30 other guys who wanted to play the drums, too. Mr. Thompson steered me toward another instrument — the first step in my musical undoing.
I was disappointed at first, but I went to “Instrument Night” at the school to pick out something to play. I spied a gleaming silver trumpet, and I forgot all about the drums. I went to work on my mother, reminding her of my “superior” rating, and trying to “guilt” her into buying me that beautiful trumpet — which she finally agreed to do. She put a down payment on the trumpet, which was priced about like a good used car back then, and we took it home. I was ecstatic. Little did I suspect that this was the pinnacle of my musical career.
My first day at band practice, Mr. Thompson, a very jovial man and talented musician, showed us the proper form for playing each instrument. We all blew and banged our instruments with great gusto. And while the noise we made probably sounded like someone shaving 10,000 cats, this was going to be great fun. Then Mr. Thompson dropped the bomb. We were expected to practice — 45 minutes to an hour every night! The newness quickly rubbed off my horn as I sat there torturing my poor family each night trying to play scales and simple songs. I looked longingly at my football and my baseball and glove as they sat in the corner. I thought I could detect actual decay on them from lack of use.
Pretty soon, all this got to be a lot of work. And our band director didn’t put up with much either. Talking or making noise during band practice was rewarded with having a blackboard eraser fired at your head by Mr. Thompson. He was a big guy with an arm like Nolan Ryan. You knew it when you got hit. So did everyone else as the eraser left a chalk mark on you that stayed there all day like a sign that said, “I acted like an idiot during band practice today.”
I lasted one year. My musical career came to a screeching halt, and the world was deprived of what would surely have been a legendary talent. The only thing that kept my mother from killing me was that she was able to sell my trumpet for about the same amount she had paid for it to my cousin, Vickie. It seems that during a recent musical aptitude test, Vickie had scored “superior,” and wouldn’t it be a shame not to encourage such a promising musical career?
And the beat goes on.