The death of Prince has had a MAJOR effect on me. I will admit that I had no idea of how much I loved him until he passed away. I have heard other people express the same thing. I also had no idea of how much of a musical influence he had on me when I first started playing music instruments in high school.
My first experience playing contrabass in high school left something to be desired. In the interest of “practicality” and taking “college preparatory courses,” I gave it up, but not without considerable heartbreak on my behalf.
I TRIED to be like everyone else and just pick and choose one interest or better yet, nothing at all. Just go to work, interest myself with Netflix and the next strip mall opening. But the truth of the matter is that I am an interdisciplinary artist: writing, textiles, and music. It has been this way for me all my life. And the past four months, this has become obvious for me. I’ve played other instruments before, but the contrabass has always captured my heart.
The past few months made me remember my never forgotten dream to play my contrabass again, just like I did in high school orchestra band. I am grateful for my textile arts group. Next to books by Julia Cameron and Elizabeth Gilbert, they have been more valuable than words could ever say for helping me to recover my creativity. I wrote out for people who may not know the times I noted in my mind where I wanted to play my contrabass again and what I did as a direct result of this desire. This series is numerous, but this is Part 1.
- In elementary school, I made my own makeshift contrabass with rubber bands and card board boxes. Even though I didn’t know any bass players, I told people, “I’m going to play a bass when I grow up.”
- My father had an impressive jazz LP collection when I was growing up. He had everything in his LP collection, but the jazz was phenomenal. There were jazz clubs all over the South Side of Chicago and my father attended them frequently to listen to live music. Anytime I heard the jazz artists in his LP collection when I was growing up, I thought, “That sounds like fun. I want to do that.”
- Anytime I heard anything by Prince, especially the string arrangement of “Purple Rain,” I thought, “That is so heartbreakingly beautiful. I MUST learn how to play it.”
- One day I was walking around Downtown Chicago and I saw some vendors in front of Daily Plaza. One of them sold a pair of silver earrings in the shape of a contrabass with an amber stone in the middle. I still have those earrings. Each time I wore them, I said, “One day, I will play my bass again.”
- Anytime I heard the string arrangement of the reprise version of “Human Beings” by Seal, I thought, “That is heartbreakingly beautiful and I want to learn how to play it.”
- I saw the Uptown String Quartet live at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign. Watching their amazing performance, I thought, “One day, I am going to play my contrabass again.”
- When Transitions Bookstore was still in business in Chicago, I came across a book called, Music for the Joy of It by Stephanie Judy. Next to The Artist Way by Julia Cameron, this book has saved my life. I knew I would go back to my contrabass some day.
- When I started working as a nurse, I met someone who quit a high stress corporate America job to take another job that allowed him to practice with his band after work. I thought, “This person has the right idea.” And I remembered how I wanted to play my contrabass again.
- When I worked as a nurse in a long term care facility, I had a patient whose great grandchildren had formed a string quartet. Their performed Beethoven for their great grandmother as a Christmas present. They sounded so beautiful I literally wept for my contrabass in the medication room.
- I work as a pediatrics nurse. Needless to say, Finding Nemo is an all around favorite cartoon. Anytime I heard the string arrangement to the songs or even the jazz song “Beyond the Sea,” I thought, “That is beautiful I want to learn how to play that.”
- For years, I have literally had nocturnal dreams of myself where I saw myself with my contrabass again. These were some of the best dreams I have ever had.
- Anytime I saw Rhonda Smith, a female bassist, perform with Prince, I thought, “I remember when I used to play a contrabass.”
- One of my aunt’s friends got us tickets to a jazz concert at Millennium Parkway in Chicago. The group was from New York. I stared at the contrabass player, thinking, “I want to play my contrabass again.”
- When I met Zhena Muzyka, an editor for Simon and Schuster in Ojai, California, I went home the day after the Grammys were televised. I happened to walk around LAX and see people carrying cases for their French horns, guitars, and of course, a contrabass. Again, my heart swelled, ached and longed for my contrabass.
- I never dated in high school. I didn’t even get asked out to the prom, but I did play my contrabass, write for the yearbook, sit under my family as they made textiles and volunteered helping medically compromised children, a precursor to my future self. The person who taught me how to play didn’t remember how to play a contrabass and kept switching around my notes, which became confusing. I couldn’t afford decent contrabass class instruction. I used violin rosin on my bow. I wasn’t given a choice with my contrabass. I was just handed a contrabass that was too tall and too wide for me. Still, I hung on. I was not provided with a case for my contrabass. Instead, I walked around with a naked bass, but I guarded it with my life and it never needed to be serviced. People disturbed me when I practiced my bass at school. “Maybe this experience isn’t ideal,” I thought, “But I am getting exposure musically and when the time is right, I will work as a nurse and use my money to finance my own creative pursuits.”
- When Prince died, I remembered when my high school orchestra band went to perform at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign for a weekend. Needless to say, we performed classical. Still, every teenager on that bus had Sign O’ the Times by Prince on their Walkman. With so many diverse people, it was interesting to note our collective love for Prince. Our favorite song was not the more profane ones or even the more popular ones played on the radio during that time. It was “Starfish and Coffee,” a jazz number. We paid special attention to the chord progressions, trying to figure out how to play it. I ate vegetarian Gyros and French fries that weekend at a local Greek restaurant all weekend. I bought the 12 inch dance version of “Desire” by U2 at a local record shop. I stared into the windows of the local bookstores, begging God to please bless me one day by becoming a published author. I played until the tips of my fingers had blisters that popped and bled. Afterwards, the skin became smooth, but tough. Later when I worked as a nurse, I found out that construction workers get these same blisters. I didn’t care. I kept playing anyway. Later our orchestra band teacher played the sound recording of our performance back to us. We sounded awful. It didn’t matter. It had nothing to do with money, fame or being on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine one day. I was still happier in that weekend than I could say I was with the things that I was told would make me happy, but didn’t: romantic relationships, careers, etc. And I listened to “Starfish and Coffee” by Prince all weekend on my Walkman, confident that one day, I would learn how to play it and play it right.