Friday, May 08, 2009

The Best Creepy Instrument That I Nonetheless Would Like To Learn To Play.


There are a lot of instruments I would like to learn to play.

I'd like to play the bagpipes. I tried, for a long time, to learn how to play the bagpipes, because I own a real bagpipes (set of bagpipes?) (bagpipe? But there's more than one pipe...) given to me by Sweetie when I graduated law school. I then learned that there's a lot more to playing the bagpipes than simply blowing into a pipe and/or standing on a Scottish Moor waiting for Nessie to appear. A lot more breath, for one thing. Bagpipes take a lot of breath. And finger dexterity, which you'd think I have because I play piano and also used to know three card tricks, but I don't have it, or at least not the kind of finger dexterity you need to play "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes.

Learning to play the bagpipes also requires getting a "practice bagpipe" which is like a part of the bagpipes without the other pipes and the bag -- it looks like a recorder -- and practicing with that, and also requires that you learn how to assemble the bagpipes and fill them with something to keep the air from leaking out and rope them together, and in my case it required that I go to a guy's house in Madison 3 or 4 times for bagpipe lessons, until I gave up and now I don't play the bagpipes.

But I'd like to play them, is my point.

I'd like to play the harmonica, too, but that never worked out. And I want to play the accordion, and also the banjo.

And I want to play the xylophone, which is weird because the xylophone kind of freaks me out. It's a creepy sounding instrument, at best. Listen:



That's "The Nurse" by The White Stripes, and before you can say "Well, sure it sounds creepy because it's being played by that weird guy in The White Stripes, and he's singing about a creepy nurse," consider this:



That's "Sleepwalkers" by They Might Be Giants, a band not known for their creepiness, unless you count the rather creepy quality of their song "Someone Keeps Moving My Chair," in which a character has something spill on his brain and the Ugliness Men keep trying to bug Mr. Horrible... but it doesn't include a xylophone, so it comes off more as a playful song in which someone's visiting friend accidentally was killed:




So you see the difference? Xylophones + Sleepwalkers= Creepy song. Brain-spilling dead friends with Ugliness Men - Xylophones = jaunty little tune.

Lest you be unconvinced of how creepy the xylophone can be, let's consider an extreme example. Someone who could never ever be down, someone who's so up, so positive, that he virtually exemplifies all the qualities that we associate with "America." (Note: that's "America" in quotes, the "America" of apple pie and rags to riches and Westward Ho! and stuff, not the America that invades countries and wrecks world economies and puts Sean Hannity on TV night after night.) Let's consider: Neil Diamond.

Here's Neil at his most upbeat:



Nice, right?No Sean Hannity there. No way Neil could ever be a downer or creepy or weird or spook me out. Unless...




You've got to listen close, but the xylophone is there, and it's creepy. Which says a lot. When the King of Upbeat, when Mr. Forever In Blue Jeans wants to go all sadistic and psycho, he puts a xylophone in the song. As does everyone. Like the Violent Femmes, who used the xylophone in their song "Gone Daddy Gone." I wasn't able to find a good Youtube video of that song, but I did find a high school band playing a version of it



and while they don't have a xylophone, I think we can all agree that the feeling is the same -- you could either listen to a xylophone, or you could watch a high school marching band play a Violent Femmes song about love being gone forever. Either one.

And the xylophone only gets creepier the more you look into it. Like if you do a search to try to find other songs with a xylophone in them, because you're not sure your list (of five songs) is complete, you might find a band called "Gorky's Zygotic Mynci," which has a song called "If Fingers Were Xylophones:"



Which is really a weird image, and, oddly, there seem to be no xylophones in that song, but it's instructive, I think, that Gorky didn't choose to say "if fingers were banjos," or "if fingers were clarinets" or "if fingers were pianos," which would seem weirder, but, let's face it, the xylophone is weird, and creepy.

Cool, but weird and creepy. So weird and creepy that the xylophone manages to bring down a black-and-white scene from the 1930s, and everyone knows how funny those are, usually. If I told you there was a fat guy in a tux playing an instrument in a 1930's black-and-white movie, you'd be all like "oh, man, this is gonna' be good. I bet he gets hit in the face with a pie." But watch:



No pie. No humor. And the song sounds spooky, right? If you said no, then do this: Close your eyes. Play that clip again. Wait, do that in reverse, because you won't know where to click if you close your eyes first. Play the clip, then quickly close your eyes. But not right away. First read all this, because you won't be able to if you close your eyes.

So read all this, then play the clip, then close your eyes and do what this paragraph tells you to do, which is, once you close your eyes and listen to that clip again, to picture the most innocent thing you can imagine. Let's say a duck. Ducks are innocent, right?

Okay, go ahead. Click, close, imagine, duck.

Now, open your eyes. Did you imagine a duck with fangs, and glowing red eyes, maybe a duck with fangs and glowing red eyes outside your bedroom window, tonight, at 3 a.m.? Just sitting and looking at you and you're thinking did the duck wake me up, or did I just luck out and happen to wake up before this Vampire Duck killed me?

If you didn't imagine that, then answer me this: Am I weird because I did? And, now you're imagining that, aren't you? So click the clip again and imagine Vampire Duck outside your window.

Creepy, right? I rest my case.

But I still want to play the xylophone, and here's why: It's cool. I'm always on the lookout for a new way to be cool, and/or a new way to impress people at parties -- even though I never go to parties, and even though if you invite me to a party I'll probably make an excuse and tell you that I can't come, and if you force me into it I'll come but I'll probably leave early.

But on the offchance that I do ever go to a party, I like to have a repertoire of cool things ready to go -- card tricks, playing a couple songs on the piano, what-have-you. And since juggling isn't easy (I've tried that) and ventriloquism is on the way out (I can do that pretty well, actually - - it's not so hard once you know the trick) I need backups, and xylophoning is my newest possible backup.

Because look at this:




So. What was the deal with that German interlude, there at the end? That's a video of Ralph Held, the World's Fastest Xylophone Player, and he proves two of my points:

1. If you could do that at a party, people would definitely think you were cool, and
2. Xylophones are creepy, because even in that video, there was something off about it; it goes from a demonstration of superfast xylophoning to a Nazi propaganda film, just like that.

Anyway, though, you can imagine how great the Xylophone-playing-ability would be at a party, and the only flaw in my plan appears to be that xylophones are neither common, nor easily portable, so that the idea that I'd go to a party and simply sit down and begin xylophoning to wow people over is kind of silly...

... unless I had this:






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Nostalgia:



XShot

1 comment:

Husbands Anonymous said...

Creepy instruments?
Do you remember the Stylophone? As made famous by Rolf Harris?

I look forward to "The Best Of Everything Romantic Moods Edition" on the pan-pipes, for easy listening.
I played the French Horn, which is a really cool instrument, but a bit pointless without a band.