Ocean Shores. Friday, 12.10pm
They speak their own language, musicians.
‘I’m starting here, pedalling it,’ the bass player says, demonstrating as he speaks, ‘then I’m moving to the sixth.’ His fingers are tentacles on the fretless neck of the double bass.
‘Starting with the major…’ the guitarist says, shaping some jazz chords around that bottom-end melody. He has a 1968 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop slung at his hip. A beautiful thing.
The drummer shimmers a cymbal and nails the swinging ryhthm, brushing the snare drum.
The saxophonist blows noislessly through his instrument, breathing life into it, his fingers pushing the keys, warming it up.
The guitarist continues: ‘And then to A minor…’ He strums a sequence ascending to the change.
The band follows the directive and kicks up to the new chord – a chord flavoured with the sweet melancholy that minor chords can evoke. The saxophone suddenly and mournfully comes to life, wailing like a human attending great loss. It seems to cry for our mortality, for love lost, for the dying reef, the poisoned sea…
The music, sepulchral but euphoric, lifts me from my chair (metaphorically, of course – I have a cast on my leg, and crutches are pinionless), taking me out of the neat suburban house. I’m soaring on thermals of harmony, flying above the roofs of Ocean Shores that roll in tiled tempo towards an ocean sparkling under a prodigal sun.
‘Wait, wait,’ the bass player says.
The band stops. I’m back in my chair.
‘Do you think that the sax should come in after the words? Maybe in the minor?’
‘Okay, let’s try it,’ says the saxophonist.
‘So, stay in the E till then?’ asks the guitarist.
‘Yeah,’ says the bassist. ‘Until the words finish.’
‘Then that run, to intro the hook,’ says the saxophonist.
‘Then the sax solo,’ says the bassist.
‘Let’s try it,’ says the drummer, clicking his sticks together, counting.
The band starts again.
Four bars in, I feel it’s my time. This is why I’m here – I have the words.
Sitting in a wooden chair, a typed page in my hand, a microphone at my mouth, and at a glance from the bassist, I speak my words. They sound different to the inner voice of their creation. There’s new phrasing shaped by the music. The words and music are bedding together, their mutual fertility creating something –
‘Stop,’ the bassist says.
‘This is where we should do that run,’ the saxophonist says to the guitarist. ‘Let’s practise it. Two, three, four –’
As one, the four articulate an intro to the hook. At the intro’s end, in an empty space where only the last ripple of a tremolo-ed guitar chord lingers, I speak the hook phrase. It sounds just right.
‘Now, from the top,’ someone says.
I’m not singing; I’m speaking. But this is not poetry with background music; this is our attempt to create something more than that. The words are coming alive, forced from the page by the music, like punters from their seats at a gig, to boogie with the beat, to move to the melody. This newborn euphony is already graceful, elegant – and ours.
Art is all I have left.
I have struggled with the social responsibilities of career and family (and found joy in them). I have battled the destructive forces of political expediency (and learnt being on the right side in battle is more important than being on the winning side). I have suffered the disappointments of ambition and acquisition (even, or especially, when I’ve achieved with both).
Here and now, there is only art.
Art is what humans do.