ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

TOUCHING BASS ON COMMON GROUND

My teenage neighbor, Mikey, has taken up the electric bass guitar.  I know this because I could hear the pounding bum-bum-bum of his heavily amplified Fender late into the night last Saturday.  He was playing along with music that was coming – loudly – from his CD player.

I didn’t recognize the song.  Heck, I barely recognized that it was music.  But I did recognize the passionate energy – if not the musical virtuosity – that was flowing from his soul to his fingers to the strings of his electric bass.  It was a feeling I remembered from my own bass-playing days, when I tried to keep up with Peter Cetera’s flying fingers as the Chicago Transit Authority album played on my Mom and Dad’s old RCA hi-fi.

“I’m a man . . . yes I am . . . and I can’t help but love you so . . .”

Bum-bum-bum-bum-BUUUM!

I mentioned this to Mikey the next day at church. At first he was a little embarrassed that I had heard him. But when I told him that I was a fellow bassman and that I thought he sounded pretty good he seemed pleased.  And almost interested.

“Did you play in a group or anything?” he asked.

“Oh yeah,” I said with as much cool as a 52-year-old with short hair and a double chin can muster.  “I was in a few of ‘em.  We played dances and parties and stuff.  It was great.”

Which was essentially true.  I did play in three or four rock bands.  Each one lasted for about one gig.  We’d play a party or a dance, and for some reason that I never fully understood there was no one clamoring for us to play again.  Ever.  So we didn’t (although there has been some talk of at least one Geezer Rock reunion tour – I’ll keep you posted).

“So did you, like, do Woodstock?” Mikey wanted to know.

At first I thought he was being facetious.  And maybe he was – a little.  But I could understand his logic (which in itself is a little frightening, now that I think about it): old guy plus bass plus rock band equals Woodstock.

Doesn’t it?

“Nah,” I told him.  “That was a little before my time.  I was only 14 when Woodstock happened.”  I was going to tell him that my particular age group was probably more responsible for disco, but I stopped myself.  I mean, seriously – who wants to take responsibility for the merciless slaughter of thousands of innocent little polyesters?

Mikey and I chatted for a couple of minutes about the vicissitudes of playing the bass.  I empathized with the calluses he’s growing on his fingers, and I assured him that they will eventually be less painful.  We talked about picking versus plucking (I was always partial to plucking the strings with my fingers, but Mikey makes a good case for the cleaner, crisper sound you can get while using a pick).  And we both smiled knowingly when I shared with him this one infinite and eternal truth: “Chicks dig bass players.”

“Oh, yeah,” Mikey said, with a sly chuckle.  “That’s for sure!”

I don’t think I’m as sure of that as Mikey evidently is, but I am sure of this: for a few minutes last Sunday Mikey and I were not “old guy” and “teenager” – we were brothers, bound by four strings and a desire to make music.  Never mind that his idea of “music” is vastly different from mine.  Forget that he thinks “rap” is something you do with your voice, not your knuckles.  Don’t worry that he has more in common with Sanjaya than Santana.  None of that mattered on Sunday.  For a moment or two we stood together on common ground – which, it turns out, is not really all that difficult to find.

Especially if you don’t mind the late-night bum-bum-bum.

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— © Joseph Walker

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