Telling people I’m a recovering classical musician is one of those bumbling confessions I can’t seem to stop making. It’s an ambivalent statement. Tell someone you’re a recovering classical musician, and next thing you’re boring yourself to tears executing pointless anecdotes flawlessly without point, sweating, and desperately searching for that oh-so-elusive trap door in the conversation.
You’d think I’d learn, but no. I discovered a long time ago that I’m fundamentally learning challenged on a broad array of skills. Like talking.
It isn’t that I don’t want to learn. It’s that somewhere along the line I pulled the groin in my learning muscle. I think I tried to kick too high or something. And since I keep trying to learn, the learning groin doesn’t heal.
So here we are.
The Magic Position (stream it here) is a song by Patrick Wolf, an English singer/songwriter from South London. He identifies as a “versatile” “composer” utilizing such diverse styles as electronica and…gasp…baroque chamber music! Another “classically trained” pop artist. I’m supposed to be impressed? Can this tool even pronounce hexachordalcombinatoriality? He’s exactly the kind of musician that would’ve offended the old me, (and by that I mean the young me, because old me was young). I’d have been especially offended if he’d had the nerve to headline a pops concert with yours truly supplying backup from the Somewheresville Symphony Orchestra.
How dare he even exist.
(This might be a good time to mention that old young me was kind of a douche.)
I have this memory of an orchestra rehearsal letting out and some of the cool kids deciding to car pool with me back to the hotel we were all at. Since I was driving the cool kids, I needed cool music. Now, you might think this meant Carlos Kleiber a-Carlos Kleibering, but remember, old young me. Learning disabled. Naturally, I popped in Bridget Jones Diary soundtrack. Short version: cool kids not so impressed, and next day I was singing All by Myself all by myself.
The problem was, I’d kind of stopped listening to anything that didn’t resemble classical music-type stuff somewhere around the tender age of fourteen. I have a vague memory of Destiny’s Child at the ice skating rink, making out with Susie Q. until my lips were raw, and smelling like pot. I wasn’t so cool as to be the one actually smoking the pot. I was just the bonehead who got it on his clothes and didn’t know it till the parental units started malfunctioning later. I was the cello-playing kid back when cello playing was lame. Maybe that made me a trend setter; nowadays nerdy cellists have the whole hipster thing going on, but back then it was all head gear by night and drool-encrusted faces by day.
So yes, I’m still recovering. Slowly, true, but remember: strained learning groin. That’s a real thing.
Now, lest you think my new musical education consists of bopping around from one soundtrack to the next (The Magic Position was used in that movie, Run Fat Boy Run) allow me to set the record straight. I approached my new musical education rather like a mercenary. I went out and got an iPhone 6 and then signed up for the controversial Apple Music thing. Admittedly, this follows a well-established pattern of douchery. Artists are losing money hand over fist for this. Earning royalties in the music industry is kind of a trickle-down-to-everyone-but-you economics. But Apple Music is a boon for (among others) the musically stupid. When you set it up, you tell them your tastes, everything but country. (Because country.) And so now I can scroll through and discover all this stuff I never knew about. For me, pop music had always been of the Celine Dion variety and rap (scary!). Oh, and a whole bunch of other stuff filed under Not Beethoven.
That’s not quite true. I had a girlfriend once. She made me a mixtape. I distinctly recall it was chock full of Not Beethoven. But then we broke up, and I had to back my car over the tape. What can I say about that? Sometimes a guy just has to break shit.
The funny thing about all this is that, New Old New Me, ex classical musician, fledgling student of Not Beethoven, still has that thirteen-year-old visceral sensibility. Back then I liked The Cure. Today, I’m in a full blown love affair with My Chemical Romance. I can remember discovering Jimmi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Now I’m finding some of that in Hysteria, by Muse, or in the music of The Black Keys. As a #1 Dad, I’ve discovered #1 Dads’ Man of Leisure—musical Prozac, but effing awesome musical Prozac. (Seriously, there’s a place in your life for musical Prozac, and if don’t believe me, try having kids.)
My old career left me, I didn’t leave it. It was probably a blessing in disguise. On Facebook I follow the amazing careers of musicians I’ve had the privilege of knowing. It’s obvious to me now I was never cut out for all that, but I often wonder about their musical odysseys. What kind of non-classical music does the principal cellist of the LA Phil listen to? Or how about the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer I graduated with from Eastman? I’m guessing the answer won’t be Celine Dione. In fact, most of these folks probably don’t have much time to mess around. Listening is serious business. There’s so much music to know, and it’s their job to know it. At least, that’s how it was for young old me. The business of knowing music never left me much time to know music.