I was haggling over a bit of purple bridesmaid dress with a Reno housewife at a free boutique in Black Rock City. All of a sudden Maria Mango walked up, carrying a ukulele. She sang, “love is sumthin’ if you give it away, you keep on gettin’ more..” And when that moment returned to my mind, what I remembered most was the ukulele.
So I went to Long & Mcquade on Friday and I bought it: its a Mahalo, born in China but conceived in Hawaii. Its body is mahogany, finish slightly rough to the touch, and the neck is rosewood. My ukelele mentor met me at L&M. He wears suspenders and a bowtie and rides a blue Cannondale recumbent: www.ralphshaw.ca. When I walked into the store I heard Ralph strumming away in the guitar section. He nodded approval, and held the Maholo out to me: this one.
I couldn’t believe I’d bought a musical instrument. The words ‘musical instrument.’ scare me, because you see, I am a Mills. Millses are drawn to the visual arts. Millses tend to draw well. Millses are verbal and tend toward the literary. But when everyone stands up to sing oh canada at the baseball game the Millses don’t. They stand up but they only mouth the words or hum really low, because Millses are not musical. Millses DON’T SING. So there is something furtive and transgressive about the whole act of buying a musical instrument. And then these moments of feeling almost ashamed like I’ve violated my caste: what are you DOING? You’re not a MUSICIAN?
So I’ve been walking around with the uke, to see how that feels. I notice guys carrying guitars look at me, we meet eyes and smile, there’s that insider secret recognition like I always used to do with dreadies when I had dreads. Wonder then, should I even have smiled back because was that really honest, implying that i might be a musician or something. I’m not a musician. I’m just carrying a ukulele.
I am learning some things about music. Obvious mysteries. Like, when you walk with your feet you set a beat, and you can play to the beat. And, that 4/4 time exists the same in a djembe as it does in a techno track (which i kind of knew), but it also lives in a ukelele! A strum is a beat. Hot damn, that’s obvious.
Also, I’m learning SONGS. I have never played a song on a musical instrument before. And what songs! Songs about amphibians! Hello my baby, hello my honey, hello my ragtime gaaaaaaal! Frogs and ukeleles. Oh yeah.