The Shooting Star and the Naked Lady
I was solitary kid.
I wasn’t good at sport and I was always in trouble at school.
Soft-edged yearnings beckoned to me from beyond the walls, but there seemed to be no way of responding to them.
I had an almost-friend, Richardson. Richardson was his surname, and at my all-boys school we only ever called people by their surnames, so I only ever called him Richardson. If two people had the same surname we called them one and two—-and sometimes even three.
There were three boys at the school named, Smith, and we called them Smith One, Smith Two, and Smith Three, and they weren’t even brothers.
Richardson played guitar, sometimes he brought it with him to school, sometimes he played it for me.
I wanted to play his guitar more than anything my life, but he never offered to let me play it, and I was too shy to ask.
Another not-really-a-friend was Paul Bedford. One time he had a compound fracture of his femur and was stuck in bed for an entire semester.
I did my duty and went to visit him. He had a guitar, and he let me play it.
I had no idea what I was doing and I broke all of the strings. He asked me not to visit him again.
Until one day I seemed to wake up, and on waking I realized that the walls had never even been there.
Whereas the walls had been oppressive, the open landscape of possibility and potential that now lay before me seem to bear its own intimidation.
One day a man came to the school. He was a music teacher. He said, “Raise your hand if you want to learn an instrument, and tell me which instrument you’d like to learn.”
A few of my classmates raised their hands.
“Trombone,” said one.
“Cello,” said another.
“Oboe,” said a third.
The man wrote all the names in little book, then said, “Anyone else?”
Without even thinking I shot my hand up and said, “Guitar.”
Usually when I raised my hand in class it was to answer a question, and I was always wrong and, normally, whenever I raised my hand everyone in the class groaned, so I expected groans or laughs, but there was just silence.
The only thing that happened was that the man made a note in his book.
There were eight of us in guitar class the first week. I was the last one to show up. The teacher, Mr. Neville, only had one guitar left, which had a hole in the back where it wasn’t supposed to have one.
I loved it though. I took it everywhere with me, even to the park. I played it more or less every waking hour when I wasn’t at school. I just sat on my bed and played.
On Saturday morning I overheard my mom complaining to my aunt, “He’s started playing the guitar. I hope it’s just a phase. I’m getting sick of listening to it.”
My aunt said, “At least it’s quiet. It could be a trumpet, or even drums.”
I have to point out, I don’t think my mom really hated that I played. I think she was just playing a game of God-can-you-believe-how-awful-my-life-is! with my auntie and they were trying to one-up each other.
The second week there were six of us in the guitar class. Mr. Neville had two more guitars, and he upgraded my instrument. The new one was easier to play, but I was politely asked not to take it to the park with me, as it was more valuable than the one with a hole in the back.
After a month there were only two of us in guitar class, me and a boy named Marsalis, who I didn’t really know. Marsalis wanted to study classical guitar, but I wanted to play rock-n-roll, even though I knew it wasn’t the point of the class.
Mr. Neville taught Marsalis to play tunes by Bach and Giulliani, but he taught me to play ‘folk’ guitar. Folk music was frowned on by the school music teachers, but at least it wasn’t Deep Purple.
I spent hours practicing chord changes until I could move my fingers around the neck lightning-fast.
One day I brought my guitar to school. I saw Richardson, and played him some of what I’d learned.
After I’d finished he took the guitar from me and played the same tunes, only better (I didn’t mind at all, because I knew he’d he’d show off his best tricks, and I watched his fingers very carefully. As soon as I was alone I took out the guitar and taught myself to play everything he’d done).
Richardson said, “You need to start playing in a band.”
I was quite taken aback. I didn’t realize I was good enough. I was so shocked that I blurted out, “Can I play with you guys?”
I knew immediately it was the wrong thing to say. Richardson shook his head. “We already have two guitarists. I’m rhythm guitar, and Jack is lead guitar. You can’t really have three guitars in a band.”
He told me about another band though, so I went to see them. They actually did have three guitars, but they said the third guitarist was learning piano.
I went to a third band, and they had three guitars too, plus a flute player. Aside from the flute player they were all a lot older than me, so I didn’t hold out much hope. Heads were shaken, and I headed for the door.
I didn’t make it though. The flute player, a boy named, Petts Two, stopped me. “I have a saxophone,” he said. “If you can play sax you can play with us. We need a sax.”
“I’ve never tried,” I said, without really thinking. I wasn’t telling the truth either. I had once tried to play a saxophone and hadn’t been able to get a note out of it.
Pett Two said, “I’ll show you if you like. It’s pretty easy.”
He took me me into a room filled with junk, and thrust a huge, rusty sax into my hands. He showed me how to blow it, and where to put my fingers.
I couldn’t believe it. Notes came out. It didn’t sound great, but it did sound a little like music.
“You’re a natural,” said Pett Two. “I can’t let you take the sax home with you, but you can come here every day and practice. If you get good enough you can play with us.”
I told my mom I was playing soccer in the park, and spent the entire weekend at Pett One and Two’s house playing. When Pett Two was around he’d show me some tricks, like trills and rasps.
There were no parents at the house, just Pett Two and his older brother, Pett One, who was about fourteen, and was the leader of the band.
Everyone else in the band called Pett One and Pett Two, Mick and Davey, and they asked me to do the same. It felt very awkward. It was the first time in my life the I had called anyone who wasn’t a relative by their first name.
It was Mick who played the flute. Davey played guitar and cooked food for us. That was odd too. They were vegetarians and I had no idea what I was eating, but it tasted really good.
After only a couple of weeks I was playing with them. I don’t think I was really good enough, but two things worked in my favor. Mick and Davey were kind people, and liked me, plus nobody could really play the sax, so I thought that nobody really knew I wasn’t very good.
I was wrong though. I was a natural. I was so used to being told I was no good at anything, that I would never in million years have believed I was exceptionally talented at something.
I was right about Davey and Mick though. They were really nice people.
Now I was a sax-player without a saxophone. I hardly played guitar any more. I hardly went home any more. I told my mom I was playing in a soccer league, and she never questioned it.
Also I remembered her complaining about listening to me practice playing guitar and I didn’t want to make matters worse by playing a saxophone which was much, much louder.
When the weather was nice I would walk home from school and, on my way, I always passed a junk shop. One evening I noticed an alto sax in the window. It was very battered, and quite cheap. In fact it was so cheap that I just about had enough money in my post office savings account to buy it.
I went in and asked to try it. The proprietor said, “It’s broken. It needs to be repaired by someone who knows what they’re doing.”
I tried blowing it, and it just sounded like a duck call. I realized some of the keys were stuck open. I closed all of the stuck keys and tried again. It worked. I tried all my scales, and they all worked. I just had to stop playing and close the stuck keys between each scale. I went to the post office, emptied my savings account and bought it.
I took it home, went to my father’s tool box, and put some oil on the stuck keys. They freed up. After a bit of jiggling back and forth they opened and closed automatically. It wasn’t a fantastic instrument, but it worked.
I was a saxophone-player with a saxophone.
I was on my way.
Now I had my own sax I could play at home. My mom during the day, but I got home from school about an hour before she got home from work, so I used that hour to practice.
I didn’t advertise the fact that I was playing saxophone to my parents, but I didn’t hide it.
One evening my father asked me to play him something. I played him an old-fashioned tune I’d taught myself, called, STRANGER ON THE SHORE. My father said, “That’s my favorite tune.”
That weekend he had some friends over, and he asked me to play for them. I played just the one tune, then my father and his friends all told me I was very talented. It wasn’t until years later that I realized this was the only occasion when my father had shown any pride in anything I did.
I still played at Mick and Davey’s house at the weekends. One Sunday it was too hot to play, so we went to the park and played cricket. Everyone in the band was as bad at cricket as me. In fact some were worse.
After we finished playing we just lay on the grass laughing.
When we weren’t playing we talked about music. Davey seemed to know a lot about obscure musicians from the past, and he talked a lot about them. I remembered their names, looked them up in the library, and wrote about them fro school. Suddenly I was getting ‘A’s for my work. My math scores improved as well, although I’m not sure why. We did a lot of counting while we were playing, but usually only up to four.
The big problem we had with the band was that we didn’t have a singer. One evening Davey phoned me asked me to come over. A real singer was going to try out with us.
When I arrived there was an unfamiliar girl in the rehearsal room. I think her name was Mandy. Not only did she sing, she also played the flute—-I think that’s how Mick knew her.
It was a cold night, so there were coats all over the floor—-we never hung anything up—-Mandy played her flute for a few bars then put the instrument on the floor. I think I might have put my coat on top of it.
As soon as I started played she laid into me. “You’re playing it all wrong!” She yelled at me. “You’re out of tune and out of time! I can’t believe you’re in this band! You’re terrible!”
We played our best tune, Mandy sang a few verses, then she reached down for her flute. It was bent. Someone must have trodden on it while it was under the coats. Right away she yelled at me again. “You oaf! You stupid clod! You did it on purpose didn’t you!?”
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t think it had been me, but it might have been. Even it had been me I hadn’t done it intentionally.
Mandy shook the flute at me as if she wanted to beat my brains out with it, then she put it back in its case and stormed out.
Sometimes I would leave my sax under the hall coat rack so when I came home from school I could grab it and head straight to Mick and Davey’s house. A few days after the Mandy incident I came home and found the back door open, which was odd. The sax was gone, along with our winter coats, and a bunch of other things, like the television.
We had insurance, but the insurance company only gave us a little money. They said it was our fault we got robbed as our locks were useless.
It was a cold winter. We really needed the coats, and everyone needed the TV, so I was back to being a sax-player without a sax again.
One evening I was passing the junk store on the way home, and I noticed they had a sax in the window. I didn’t have any money but I went to look. I was shocked to see that it was my sax—-the one that had been stolen.
I called the police, but I didn’t have any kind of receipt, so I couldn’t get it back.
Even though the Mandy incident and the theft were close together I have never suspected even for a moment that Many had anything to do with stealing my sax. She might have murdered me, but I don’t think she would have stolen my sax.
A little while later Davey was in a pub (even though he was underage), when a mysterious man came in with a garbage bag. Inside the bag was a Selmer Mark 6 saxophone, the best saxophone money could buy, and it was brand new. The man only wanted the price of a few bottles of beer for it. Davey bought it right away and gave it to Mick. Mick in turn gave me his sax.
I was a sax player with a sax again.