Meredith C. Carroll: Those dreamy upright bass players
Meredith Pro Tem
Although I’m generally happy as a clam, I think I’ll always regret just a tiny bit that I never dated an upright bass player.
There’s something so intriguing and sexy about how upright bassists maneuver their instruments. They graciously leave little to the imagination as to how they’d treat a woman when they close their eyes, nod and sway their heads, their chins pointed down to the beats they create by caressing the strings with a series of firm yet gentle plucks.
When I lived across the street from Lincoln Center, I would stare longingly at the bassists lumbering with their life-size black cases in and out of the subway turnstiles, and up and down the stairs, of the 1 and 9 station at 66th and Broadway. I’d wonder what the thought process was when they made the decision as children to take up such a cumbersome instrument, when they so easily could have chosen something much less bulky, like the trumpet or the French horn. Clearly, boys who play the upright bass become men who aren’t afraid of commitment.
Still, I suppose I’m more remorseful that I never had what it took to become a real musician myself: talent and perseverance.
As far as I’m concerned, you’re either born with talent, or you aren’t. I wasn’t, but for a long time I sure thought I had some. How else to explain all those years I spent belting out show tunes in front of my bedroom mirror, imagining myself on the Great White Way wearing a curly red wig and singing “Maybe” with the girls from the orphanage as my backups?
Perseverance is something that can certainly be learned if it isn’t an innate trait, but I never had much of that either. My parents generously bestowed upon me nine years of piano lessons, for which I have embarrassingly little to show today. Sure, I can still sit down at a piano, read music and rough out some of the songs I learned all those years ago. But the reality is, the music I make now sounds nearly as good as what I produced 21 years ago ” the last time I had any formal training.
“Rhapsody in Blue” was what I wanted to be playing, not “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” That I had to work hard to get there was what stood in my way. My mom used to have me practice for 15 minutes every day. Waiting for the kitchen timer to ding, signaling I could be done, felt agonizingly longer than it took for good-sized icebergs to melt in the Arctic (back before Al Gore discovered global warming).
In high school and college I really wanted to be able to master the guitar, especially when I was at gatherings with friends and Pink Floyd or Bob Dylan music was playing. I even borrowed an acoustic guitar once and bought a book for beginners. However, I was dismayed when I realized I needed to learn chords in order to play an actual song. That required practice. And the cutting of my nails. The guitar dream was short-lived.
I also always thought it would be cool to be the lead singer of a band. They don’t have to lug around any equipment. All they have to do is show up, look and sound good, and drink lots of hot water with lemon and honey.
But, of course, that means actually being really good-looking (something which no one ever has accused me of) and having talent (see above, and the failed “Annie” dream). Or having a lot of money to hire a good plastic surgeon, a well-connected producer and the most recent version of Pro Tools. Needless to say, the lead singer thing didn’t pan out either (which is fine, anyway, because I don’t like lemon in my water).
I played the oboe for four years, but there’s only been one moment when I wished I had kept up with it. I mentioned in passing to one of the musical directors of the Saturday Night Live band that I used to play the oboe.
“Really?” she said excitedly. “I’ve always wanted an oboist to sit in with the band. I’m going to schedule you to be on the show with us!”
It was with much regret that I had to inform her that the last time I played, or even laid eyes on an oboe, was when there was still great hope for New Coke. I wasn’t even positive at that moment that I could distinguish among an oboe, a clarinet and an English horn in a classical music police lineup.
At least I never quit my day job. And I’ll always have the memory of living across the street from all those upright bassists. They can’t take that away from me.
Aspen resident Meredith C. Carroll writes a Friday column. E-mail questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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