Thursday, September 28, 2006

No Strings Attached

Once in a while I get the distinct sensation that I’m the only sane person on this planet and I’m certain that many of you feel the same way from time to time. Then I draw a deep breath and realise that I am not alone and that there are plenty of others around me who are not stark, staring bonkers. And, of course, you are included in this elite group.

This momentary doubting of man’s intelligence was, on this occasion, prompted by my stumbling on a phenomenon connected, in a rather peripheral way, with music. My earliest ambition, other than that of being an engine driver on a train, was to be a musician. The only instrument that I attempted to master thoroughly was the piano but I was able to appreciate most others, with the possible exception of the guitar.

Now it seems to me that the guitar was designed especially for plucking on long languid nights by young men under balconies, primarily as a means of getting Spanish senoritas to loosen up their underwear and, as such, was probably a very effective instrument. I understand “Air on a G String” was written for this very purpose. The guitar never made much of a showing in serious music, unless played by Segovia or Django Reinhardt, and probably would have been relegated to the shadows, along with the sistrum, the aulos and the shofar if some bright spark had not hooked it up to an amplifier.

This has turned it into the instrument of choice for the more non-musical members of society, and I am reliably informed that sales of it regularly out perform those of the contra-bassoon, a truly remarkable achievement.

It must be an extremely simple instrument to play, since most of its better known virtuosos appear to be from some sub-species of hominoids and to have recently crept out from under a flat and rather damp stone.

But chaque au son goût and, if you like that sort of thing, who am I to complain? Just pass me my ear plugs. But then I run across the ultimate dottiness in human behaviour in Wikipedia, the on-line compendium of, usually, useful information.

I refer, of course, to the Air Guitar. If a day or two ago you had asked some of the world’s leading savants, such as myself, Professor Hawking, Kofi Annan and a few others, “What’s an Air Guitar?” I’m sure we would have been stumped. But now I have the answer:

“Air guitar is the act of pretending to play guitar, consisting of an exaggerated strumming motion and often coupled with loud singing or lip-synching. Air guitar is generally used in the imaginary simulation of loud electric guitar music, especially rock, heavy metal, and so on. Although it is acceptable to play air guitar to acoustic songs, it is an act traditionally left to rock. Headbanging is often used in conjunction with an air guitar. Real guitar players also often play air guitar quite accurately while listening to their favourite artists.”

About the only part of this weird behaviour I can relate to is the head banging bit. And how on earth can you play an imaginary guitar accurately?

I’m all in favour of using one’s imagination and, in musical terms, one of the most marvellous examples comes in “The Music Man” where Professor Harold Hill teaches the kids to “think Minuet in G.” The resultant cacophony produced from his orchestra brings tears of joy to the eyes of their proud listening parents and, in my opinion, compares very favourably with most of the music produced by modern exponents of the guitar. But pretending to play a guitar? They’ve got to be nuts!

But it seems there’s a substantial proportion of nutters in this world since the air guitarists actually have an annual get together in Finland, I suppose to compare their air headedness. It must be a truly cerebral gathering and I’m very glad not to have the opportunity to go.

And surely the guitar industry must be concerned. If so many are plonking away on non-existent instruments, who knows what will happen to the guitar makers of the world? Expecting them to switch to contra-bassoons is, I feel, out of the question and the lovers beneath the balconies probably won’t have as much success with the senoritas. The bassoon has a lovely sound but is more likely to seduce a cow than a Spanish bit of hot stuff.

But I suppose the air business has it advantages. My office is cluttered by having a grand piano sitting in it and if I started playing an Air Piano instead, there would be a lot of extra space available and I could trade the thing in.

However, the top of a grand piano is an excellent place for storing the books, papers, unmarked proofs, unpaid bills and other assorted bric a brac that they seem to accumulate (Well mine does anyway).

Now try putting that lot on top of your Air Piano!


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