SMOKE: Neighbourhood Rock Stars

Originally published: 14 July 2005

I always seem to end up in music-filled neighbourhood - from the family of violin-players to the jazz combo on Saturdays to my latest horror of horrors.

Monkey Boy. The swine has obviously just purchased himself a guitar, because ever since last week he's been drunkenly hacking away on it as his mates play network games (his mother's away somewhere and his friends have been camped at his house since last Thursday).

Fortunately for all concerned it's only an acoustic guitar, or we'd be in real trouble. The last thing anyone on Earth needs is Monkey Boy discovering the joys of Stairway To Heaven on a bad Fender copy.

The worst thing about a novice guitarist is their strumming hand. Anyone can teach themselves the finger positioning to play notes or chords, but the talented ones make those chords come alive with the rhythm in their strumming hand.

Monkey Boy has learned basic strumming - the emphasis is on the word "basic". Down-down up-up, down-down up-up - there is no variation whatsoever. Sometimes he'll do down-down-down-down - but that's only when he has a picture of himself as a death metal axe-man, a fantasy he needs to get over smart quick.

Never gonna happen, Monkey Boy. I've heard the tripe that comes out of your mouth and I've heard nothing to inspire me.

And he's started adding lyrics now which are too indistinct to hear. They always trail off when he gets to the F-chord, which is a tricky bastard for learners - I picture him sitting there with tongue out, perspiring slightly as he tries to tame the beast, and he just stops singing altogether until he gets the chord right.

Except he never gets it right and I'm close to going over there and strangling him with some piano wire, in a deliciously ironic musical moment of murdering madness.

I have an innate hatred for music in the suburbs, mostly because of my own childhood household. If you think Monkey Boy's bad you should have seen us.

All six kids played musical instruments. Not just one instrument each - many instruments each. And since all six of us went for music lessons for all those instruments, it meant we had to practice them.

Every single day of my childhood and teen years was filled with the noises of siblings practising violins, cellos, pianos, recorders, trumpets, clarinets, guitars and drums, and for someone who enjoys their peace and quiet it was harrowing, to say the least.

It would be fine if people were simply playing music all day - beautiful music. But learning music means learning terrible things like scales and arpeggios, and naturally wrong notes are frequently played and repetition is the order of the day.

Many times there would be two people practising different instruments at the same time in different parts of the house, and if you weren't one of them you could hear both.

Lots of technical stuff - the grand performances were saved for eisteddfods and orchestra performances and other musical competitions.

Frankly it all embarrassed me. I'd spent my childhood trying to blend in and hide away, but the Casa Del Tagg was a mini-symphony orchestra - a dark house on a hill to be avoided at all costs.

It was stupid to be embarrassed - with experience of age I would now celebrate such insane diversity - but teenagers are assholes about such things, and have images to uphold.

I only started teaching myself guitar a few months before I moved out of home, but for me it was easy, despite my straight finger which folks told me would stop me from ever playing guitar.

I'd already taken three instruments as far as I could go in the music examination system (Grade 8, for those who know about such things) and with musical genes, ripped jeans and a developing attitude - guitar was a logical and relatively simple step.

I never bothered with stuff like Stairway To Heaven - I learned a few Beatles tunes as there were tons of them and they were easy to play, but pretty much from the second week I started playing I was writing my own songs.

So my various apartment neighbours got plenty of me writing songs drunkenly at 3am and imagining I was a death metal axe-man (never gonna happen, Monkey Boy - I speak from experience), which is why I shouldn't be giving Monkey Boy such a hard time.

It's just that he's adding to a bunch of other budding neighbourhood maestros and it's getting a bit much.

Every Saturday morning a jazz band strikes up from somewhere up the road and diagonally across, and although they can hold their own musically the problem is that the music they are playing is jazz.

I trust we all agree that jazz was invented by the Nazis as a modern torture device and was somehow misappropriated by the European elite who no doubt believed it to be trendy and somewhat dangerous to be playing such outlandish, taboo rubbish.

Working in 9/8 time and with 138 bars of drum solo, the jazz band spends all morning interpreting shit and devising intricate riffs which would defeat even the best Cape Town stoners, and the beret-wearing, scarf-draped, polo-necked, self-indulgent decadence of it all makes me want to hurt small children.

I'll settle for hurting Monkey Boy - happily.

There's also a weekend rave beat coming from somewhere - there's no club in our area so it's mystified us for years. Every weekend - until the sun comes up - there is a persistent rhythm beating somewhere, and the sheer unoriginality of it makes me want to just lay down and cry.

But once again - I've caused others untold misery over my violin-learning years, so I have to just suck it up.

I feel a tune coming on - the lyrics go something like this:

(Strum the following, aggressively: down-down-down-down)

"You suck, Monkey Boy
"You suck, Monkey Boy
"I hate Monkey Boy
"You suck, Monkey Boy"

It's a little rough, but I feel it holds keen potential.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
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Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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