Sunday, August 7, 2011

My bass guitar: a monologue

"Whatever the situation or level you're playing at, my feeling is you've got to be a strong player. Bass is a strong instrument; you can't allow yourself to play it weakly, with no authority. You've got to play with an attitude, because everybody's listening to the bass - and I dare anyone to challenge me on that..."

- Chuck Rainey

"The best grooves have conversations going on, like little subtleties that kick them up to the next level and add excitment. Simplicity is what make you tap into that, because when you leave space, you listen... When you hear what everyone else is doing you can answer them."

- Chris Wood

I started playing bass in January of 2010. Some people I worked with were jamming, trying to get some songs together, making a band--they were two guitarists and a drummer and they were looking for a bass player. One of them approached me at a mixer at work. I was new to the job. Of course, I always wanted to be in a band, I sang a little, I played piano as a kid, but it never occurred to me to play bass. So, this guy comes up to me and asks could I play bass and I said, "I play a little piano," and he said, "You can play bass." So I said, "I can play bass." I didn't have a bass and I didn't have money for a bass, but I went and bought one and watched a lesson on Youtube. I didn't want to go to my first band practice and not know how to hold the thing, not know which fingers to play the instrument with. This bass guitar for me became quickly like one of those lovers who you wonder where he's been all your life. And like a lover, it was--and is--frustrating, too. Like, the kind of frustrating you want to kill yourself over. Because here I am playing with these three guys who all have their personalities and longstanding history with their instruments. And I'm just sitting there trying to get the root note moved to the next root note in time. And we aren't playing fast and furious songs or anything. I'm just getting a feel. And then it's a big day when I figure out I can play thirds and fifths, and then when I learn my slides--forget about it. I'm gone. There's nobody loved the bass more than me, but it's a love/hate thing because I'm 42 years old when I pick up the bass for the first time and I love it almost too much and get so frustrated that I can't be that good that fast, that I go into resistance about the whole thing. Plus, when I started the bass, I wasn't even that good at hearing bass lines when I listened to songs on the radio or CD's. It's not like I've been listening to bass lines my whole life, so I'm playing bass totally green, which is not an altogether bad thing, because I'm not trying to sound like anyone else, and I play with a solid drummer, so at first I don't have to worry about keeping rhythm myself, because he's driving, so I just have to stay with him, and one of the guitarists has sort of built in his own bass parts on his guitar, so I'm just like this little chirping bird or something; I might as well be the percussion girl shaking the egg or something, and then, I start wanting more. I start wanting to have a voice in the band, with my bass, but they'd started without me, and it was hard to find a way in there. It was like trying to breathe underwater. So, there were all these things that happened. I'm not sure which was the real factor that split up the band because in typical band fashion there were all these below-the-surface tensions that were covered up by above-the-surface tensions, but despite all that, I really miss playing the songs. So now I'm sitting here, having to face the fact that I really love the bass guitar, and that any kind of love affair takes a lot of patience and you have to show up for the boring parts, the scales and arpeggio work, but then, if I just keep gathering a day and another day of the groundwork, maybe I'll be this really cool sixty year old chick bass player in fifteen years, but like anything I love, I'm also scared of totally going for it, scared it's going to break my heart, scared I'll never live up to my end of the relationship. I feel the bass is so awesome and even though I don't care about being one of those crazy solo bassists, that I have a strong vision of a very spare approach to the bass, one that relies on space and silence and simplicity, I'm just afraid I'm always going to be letting the instrument and myself down, so I'm thinking that my bass guitar and I need to have a formal wedding ceremony, one with witnesses and everything, and we'll ask for presents as well, and you'll all have to sign the ketubah to make sure that we get the support we need to keep the relationship going even when I feel like I want to jump ship.

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