Sitting around inside my head I’ve noticed that a few things have changed over the last few years. I’ve gone from being a fat kid with spots to a fat bloke with a beard who, although no less ugly, no longer hides from mirrors. This process, however has a major side effect and that side effect appears to be that I’m becoming a nasty, arrogant bastard.*
This process began one day a few years ago when I took my dad’s old Gibson out of its mangled, sticker plastered case - ignoring the old sock and the label that quite clearly said ‘ainzorf!’** And, one bored spring afternoon, learned to play the bassline from a blink-182 song. I forget which one now; they all sound much the same. I had two friends who had been playing the bass for about a year each they were keen to help me on my way.
About a fortnight after I first played the thing, I sat down and spent an entire Sunday learning the chorus riff from Travelling Without Moving when I should have been doing my homework. I expect my timing and technique was awful and now I’d cringe to hear it, but at the time I felt like I’d climbed a mountain - partly because it made my fingers hurt. This was the first thing I’d done where there seemed to be a real relation between the effort I put in and the result I got. I started trying to play more and more complicated songs to see if I could, even making some very rudimentary forays into the world of slap bass. Within about a month I’d gone past the standard of my friends’ playing.
In a side note, the confidence this gave me made me actually able to control my nerves for long enough to get a girlfriend and from that route most of the positive aspects of my metamorphosis have sprung. That, however, isn’t what I’m concerned with here, and I think that any discussion of the details of how that transformation took place would be rather sentimental and involve a couple of rather obscene diagrams.
I’ve encountered few people who are better bass players than me since then, my dad and Nick of Mumrah being the only two I can think of at the moment, which is probably more testament to how little I leave the house than my actual ability. But in the absence of anyone better than me I’ve ended up building a great big ego around the fact that I can play Jerry was a Racecar Driver or something like that.
I’ve got better at other things in the last few years - I’ve got consistently high marks this term, and I excel in seminars and the like - probably due to the fact that I don’t notice when other people are trying to speak and I like the sound of my own voice. My arrogance, in other words, has spread into many other areas of my mind, I’m even starting to think that I’m reasonably good looking now, which is just weird.
All these other little conceits, however, are ultimately grounded in the fact that I can do something better than most other people, someone might get a better mark than me in an essay but I can think ‘bet they can’t even play Aeroplane’ and this salves my wounded ego.
Whilst I dislike the nasty person I’ve become I’d rather not let him go, You see, whilst I can keep my unpleasantness under control most of the time I have become aware that the faculty of this university is mostly made up of nasty, arrogant people, and they seem to respond well to those like them; giving me good marks and tolerating my laziness. I need the overconfident attitude to continue to do well here.
This all gives me a mortal fear of the people saying things like ‘my flatmate plays bass’ or something like that - I’ve built myself up from a depressed lonely teenager with the self esteem of a suicidal platypus to an academically successful and reasonably well adjusted, if overconfident person on the basis of my ability to play a four stringed fretted instrument better than anyone else. I live in mortal fear that one day someone will come along and burst my bubble, every new bass player I hear about makes me nervous, last week I heard that the boyfriend of someone in my seminar group was really good and I lost sleep. I probably won’t feel calm until I’ve satisfied myself that I’m better than him, whether that involves actually meeting the guy or just convincing myself that he's almost certainly rubbish.
So I apologise to all those people that I’ve shown off at, all those kids in guitar shops or people who’ve tried to impress me, I don’t mean to be a bastard, it just happens.
* I can think of a few people who would dispute this, saying that I’ve always been a nasty, arrogant bastard and hte examples I can think of I can't say I blame them for it.
** in a south east London accent that word is the phonetic spelling of ‘hands off’. It’s a pretty weak joke but it was the seventies, and good ones were expensive.