Monday, April 06, 2009

Bass Instincts - Starting a New Hobby?

He or she is usually off to the side of the stage, head down, laying down the bass line that everything else simply embellishes. Bass players rarely sing, they don't bounce around like over-caffeinated teenagers, but they have always struck me as the coolest people on the stage.

It was probably the bass line in the Grass Roots' Midnight Confessions that first grabbed me. I don't even remember what the A-side of the 45 was, but I played it constantly before I was 10. I didn't know anything about music, but that little "BUMP bah da da da da da" dominated the whole song for me, and made it a favorite.

Unfortunately, I remained a musical illiterate. My older sisters were talented guitar players, but I don't recall any of my brothers playing an instrument. In one of my most regretted moments, Sr. Margaret offered to teach me the stand-up bass when I was in 6th grade, and I turned the opportunity down. I have no idea why - perhaps street hockey and hanging out with my friends in the alley seemed more important, but that childhood decision remains a source of self-inflicted disappointment.

Later this month, I'm turning 49. Half way to 98. Two thirds of the way to 73 and a half. Almost entirely to 50. I still don't know how to play an instrument. I don't really know what chords are, or what A sounds like compared to C, or any of that stuff. I love listening to music, and I love watching musicians perform, but it's just magic to me.

I'm going to get a bass guitar for my birthday. I don't know what make or model or even whether to go acoustic or electric. I don't know about amps or frets or pickups, but I'll do some internet reading and take advice from friends. I won't get anything expensive - just a beginner setup to see if I can catch on, and whether I have the determination to put up with the frustration and sore fingers I know are waiting for me.

Perhaps it's too late for someone like me to become "musically inclined". I'm not anticipating invitations to join bands, and it's not like coffee houses seek solo bass guitarists with crappy voices to draw in customers. It will be a solitary pursuit, and that's fine.

What I'm really hoping for is to gain a better appreciation of music. When I cook, I gain an appreciation of what a great chef does. When I paint, I become more aware of colors and shapes around me. When I make beer, I learn more about the style of beer I am brewing.

Perhaps because of the opportunity to learn, I am a hobby slut. I have books full of pre-1945 used postal stationery that I hope to spend time on someday when time is more plentiful. I am teaching myself flyfishing. This blog is a hobby - a hobby that reinforces my hobbies of reading, writing, poetry and observing local politics. I brew beer, I bake, and I have dabbled in woodworking. I try to golf, and I have a novel that still kicks me in the back of my mind.

I'm really not very good at any of it. That's not false modesty - that's an honest appraisal. But excelling has never been my target in my hobbies. Sure, I would love to be the best homebrewer brewing. I am proud of my recognition in the Pitch as the Best Political Blogger, but I know there are better bloggers. I don't have the means or the time to excel at flyfishing or golf, but that's okay. Improvement is enough, even if toward mere adequacy.

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Anonymous Sophia said...

The bass is a lovely instrument. But there's something kind of sad about deciding to play a rhythm instrument as a solitary pursuit. Don't discount the possibility of finding some similarly situated hobbyists and playing in a band (even if you never play in public). You'll be cheating yourself if you don't play with others!

4/06/2009 9:30 AM  
Anonymous GMC70 said...

Go for it, Dan. As a guitarist for many years (though not a great one - I'm a singer, and a damn good one), music is an investment that always pays off. It will be frustrating at first - it is very much like learning a second language (something I've not had the self-discipline to do) but the rewards are vast.

Consider guitar as well. They go together; the strings are tuned the same, and what you learn on guitar (chord positions, scales) transfers directly to base.

Whatever you choose to do, enjoy. And pass it along to your kids and grandkids when they are young. All three of my boys took piano lessons at a young age, even though at the time they weren't very excited about it. All are thankful for doing so now.

4/06/2009 9:31 AM  
Anonymous GMC70 said...

Uh, and that's bass, not (duh) base. Ooops!

4/06/2009 9:32 AM  
Blogger les said...

Hey, go for it. The other half, at an age beyond yours, is singing with a band, picking up bass, seeing if the four strings translate to 6, and having a great time. And pay no attention to "only a rhythm" stuff--the bass can make wonderful music on its own.

4/06/2009 10:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bass is an excellent choice. If you're buying something new, then a Mexican-made Fender is a good choice. Were I in your shoes, I'd look around for some good used gear. For about the same price, you could pick up something which will sell for about what you paid for it later and maybe even find something much better than a Mexi-Fender like an old Rickenbacker or something. I love those.

4/06/2009 11:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought there was a Phil Lesh or a Dusty Hill in you

4/07/2009 9:25 AM  

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