Today's Listening - 'If The Stars Are Eternal Then So Are You And I' - BT
Been a while since we all caught up. Sorry about that - you all good? you look well.
My last blog post was over a year ago. I can only apologise for neglecting you, but honestly speaking, I never forgot you - it was always the intention to return here when I had something full and valid to say. Blogs that update regularly with very little to illuminate are no kinds of blog at all. That said, it has been over a year since I last posted, so I better make this a bloody good one.
Today I'm going to tell you a story.
It's the run up to Christmas 1983. Anthony is twelve years old. One day, with clearly nothing better to do, he stumbles upon the latest Argos catalogue. Flicking through, not looking at anything in particular, he stumbles upon a picture on a page which, at the time, he couldn't have realised was going to change the course of his life. It was an inevitability, a first step of a journey - a path that was going to welcome and reject him with equally unforgiving and open arms to this day. This was what he saw.
This, is a Casio MT65 electronic keyboard. In 1983, it cost £149.
He would gaze at the picture on the glossy thin page, read the item description over and over until he could tell you verbatim how many different sounds it could make, how many rhythm patterns it had - it even had an arppegiator. Anthony didn't even know what an arppegiator was, but he was impressed it had one. He wanted one. He really wanted one.
Anthony could have happened upon any other item on any other page. Meccano or Lego that might have sparked an interest in engineering or construction. Chemistry sets that may have burgeoned a desire to be a scientist. A football, an art kit - whatever. But this was it. A light going on.
Anthony remembered the times before - long summer holidays being dragged to Ireland to his Uncle John's place in the heart of the Irish countryside - the kind of place where the sun shone all summer long and there was really, nothing to do. In Uncle John's parlour was an old, well loved, hideously out of tune upright piano that had an odour to it. Not a bad one, a smell of well loved old wood and discoloured ivory. You'd lift the lid, which was never locked, and be hit with it's musty smell square between the eyes. The action of the piano was one of age - the keys were light and soft, and you could feel the flimsiness of the hammers hitting the strings deep within. The sound was tinny, drowned out - a little lost. He didn't understand what the black keys were for, so played the white ones. He had found C major. On top of the piano in front of him was an old black and white photograph, in an elegant pristine silver frame which was clearly polished more often than the picture was looked at. In the picture stood two figures, a man to the left, a woman to the right - his maternal grandparents. The faces were blackened with labour and hardship, and the expressions were of what he could only describe as confusion - what's this thing then? Taking a picture? A camera? - but the eyes, of both, burned through the glass, they watched, and he watched back. He played. As they watched. Hours would roll by. Even now he can still hear that first naive tune that he composed.
It's 1988. Anthony is a teenager, a perfect teenager. A gangly awkward stick of angst and one question....why me? Mrs Stead, the music teacher, is on his case. A short, frosty Scottish woman who must have been very attractive once. Anthony spent a lot of time avoiding her, mainly because Anthony was a lazy bastard and disillusioned with academia. Coursework was NOT being done. Often they would chase each other round the school building, him running away, always being found - she always sniffed him out like a weasel. He often thought that she must have reckoned that he didn't like music. She would have been wrong - but he wanted to do it his way. She was all semiquavers and staves and 'every good boy deserves favour' - he was hit the keys and feel what comes out. They never really saw eye to eye.
In the dining hall was a grand piano. I say grand, as a term of definition only...there was very little that was grand about it. The school could never have afforded a 'grand' grand piano - it had clearly been acquired from somewhere else, after 'somewhere else' had no more use for it. Little matter. The dining hall was only ever used at lunchtimes and the odd afternoon for an insipid drama class (yeah, look - I'm a tree...) most other times, it was empty. Anthony on free periods would sit at the piano in the vacated dining hall, learning chords, relative minors and revelling in how beautiful a major 9th chord would sound as it resonated round the insides of iron and wood with the sustain pedal held til the sound dissipated to nothing. If you hit the chord hard enough with the pedal on, the chord would often resonate for two or three minutes, delicately changing as the vibration would transfer from hammers to strings, from strings to frame, and from the ironwork to the wooden enclosure. Again the sound would change and become brighter and more playful if the lid was up on its strut, quirkily and cockily pointing its apex to the corner wall.
Joe was the caretaker, one of two - Joe was the one everyone liked. He would now and again wander in to sweep the floor after lunch, or pass through on his way to somewhere else. He would never say too much if Anthony was sitting there - though he would say one thing that would stick, and return every once in a while when inspiration was being aloof.
'You sure can make that thing sing....'
Twelve year old Anthony would leave the Argos catalogue open, strategically, on the page where the keyboards were. Asking for it was never going to work. £149 was a lot of money to my mother. The answer was always going to be no. Stealth was the key, the slow drip of conviction being applied to a mind that would never open to possibilities through any other means. This carried on for what felt like months. It probably was months. Christmas was nearing, and so was his fear that he wasn't going to get what he wanted.
Christmas Eve night he couldn't sleep, after being dispatched early. There was clearly a lot to do, and he was only going to get in the way. The stairs and hallway were dark as he edged down the stairs. The kitchen light was off. The kitchen light was never off. She was always in there - cleaning, or reading if all the cleaning was done. Voices in the living room. He expected nothing but a rebuke to go back to bed as he walked into the living room, along with a sharp pointed gesture to go and get the glass of water he wanted.
Standing by the sofa were my mother and my sister, wearing faces that only read 'busted' - followed by a rare and unexpected joint laughter. On the sofa in front of them was a half wrapped box, about the size of a Casio MT65 keyboard. He looked at the box. 'Casio MT65 Electronic Keyboard' dimly lit and smudgy from the reflection of the Christmas tree lights. If he could find words to tell you how he felt, he still wouldn't be able to tell you.
Anthony still has that keyboard. It's wrapped in plastic in an upstairs cupboard. It's yellowed, beyond dead, and has anatomy missing. But he will have it til the day he dies.
Anthony's mother only ever bought him two presents in his life of any worth. One was that keyboard. The other was a typewriter.
Twenty nine years later, Anthony's first album 'Night Stories' is due to be released.
My name is Anthony. Hello.