Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, can play Ebb Tide on the piano better than I play it.
It was a song written in the fifty’s. The best instrumental was done by Santo and Johnny, two guitar brothers during the same era, absolutely awesome. Sinatra sang it, Ella too and so did the Righteous Brothers. But my rendition on the piano beats them all. Why?
The summer I was fifteen my family moved to a new home, in a new town, far away from the few friends I had, which were also new; we had moved from our old town 900 miles away from my old friends. With no one to hang out with, both my parents worked, not that I wanted to spend my summer as my mother’s best friend, I hung out with our piano.
For eight hours a day I played the huge black instrument in our dining room, by ear. An image of me banging on the keyboard with the side of my head, just popped into my mind, no, my ears are fine. For hours on end I sounded out musical phrases until I could play the songs I heard on the radio. When I was little I had taken a few piano lessons, and my mother played beautifully, so I could read the basics of notes. I envied that she could read the ‘sheets’ so well, but not enough for me to study and actually practice songs I disliked, and thought were boring. Though she could read notes, which looked like chicken tick tac toe to me, her actual playing lacked something. I think it was emotion. She played it, like she read it. She expressed it, like the song writer wrote it. Not me. I played it, like I heard it, and performed it, like I felt it.
In one of her music books I found Ebb Tide broken down to its basic, and began to play. I added in keyboard runs, sounding like waves, and a masterpiece was born. All day long, day after day, I practiced. Even now, when I sit down at a piano, the first thing I play is Ebb Tide. It still sounds pretty good too.
It takes a special kind of talent to sound out music and to play it well. It takes dedication to the art form, deep emotional feelings of expression, and a long hot summer of doing nothing but banging on keys.
That’s how I write, by ear.
I know the basics of English grammar and sentence structure. I know what nouns, verbs and adjectives are; beyond that I’m crippled. I remember that you are not supposed to end a sentence with the word from. I just did. That beginning a sentence with ‘that’ is wrong is a rule I occasionally break. And, beginning a sentence with ‘and’ again a no-no, I find a terrific way to get across an additional point. I can’t spell worth a shit, my computer points out quite often just how serious my spelling disability is. And, my use of comma’s, or lack of them, sucketh.
But, (another rule broken by starting a sentence with ‘but’), having said all that, I’ve written some pretty amazing stuff. Well over sixty of my essays have been published by very patient editors who have been able to ‘listen’ to what I have written, and not how awkwardly I have written it. Many of my pieces have gone out over the wire service. Pretty good for a kid who, during the same year as a college freshman, flunked English 101 but got A plus in English Composition and Creative Writing.
Now that I’m querying agents, because my second book is complete, I’m finding the same kind of structural bias I found when my high school music teacher dismissed my rendition of Ebb Tide, the kids went crazy when I played it, because “… I set a bad example”, she said. I wasn’t ‘studied’ enough. The ones, who just sat and listened, enjoyed. That to me was what playing the piano was about.
But, one spectacular song does not a repertoire make.
Side note: I spent fifteen minutes trying to figure out how to spell repertoire on the computer. No luck. Fifteen seconds in my Webster’s Desk Dictionary from high school, found it; doesn’t say much for computer programs or my electronic methods.
In the process of playing the piano I learned to read music but my heart is into a different kind of keyboard now. My hunt and peck for words has become a speed-dial race for written expression that I am extremely proud of. (Never end a sentence with ‘of’ either). I think they are called prepositions.
With half a hundred of books on writing, writing courses, writing groups and being published many, many, many times, I have expanded well beyond Ebb Tide. I have made the leap from ‘published’ essays to ‘never been published’ fiction, and am hoping that somewhere I will find a patient agent who will see past my technical failings, into actual expression. The problem is that in an industry in flux, as much as traditional publishing is today, can they afford to take on such a neophyte as I? Many say absolutely not.
Copy has to be as pristine and as a clean as a virgins past.
So, what to do? Learn.
My Strunk and White, ’79 edition is my music book now. It is Beethoven’s ninth, on paper, to me; I struggle, I’ll get it eventually. I just hope the audience gets to hear it, before I get so old my fingers curl, and my mind goes out with the tide. Gee, I wish I hadn’t sold the old piano. I’m in the mood for some Ebb Tide.