Today’s post is entirely the fault of Trampled by Turtles.
Their new album, Stars and Satellites, came out today. I had a few hours at home this afternoon
playing hookey waiting for my new dishwasher to arrive, and it turns out that my very thoughtful March self had pre-ordered Stars and Satellites for my April self. I’ve listened over and over, and for some reason Trampled by Turtles makes me think about music in kind of a different and serious way, so that’s what I’ve been doing since about 2 pm. Maybe it’s because their songs are each intense, but in entirely different ways; maybe it’s because of the traditional music brought into this modern era and feeling entirely right here. Maybe it’s because a few of their songs stop me in my tracks every time; always the ones where the fiddle really sings. The fiddle always does that to me, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. It cuts through all my filters and gets right to the center of whatever it is that I’m feeling, and it resonates, and then settles down and stays there.
So my question for you, gentle reader, is this: do you know what instrument you are, deep down inside? Do you have to hesitate more than five or ten seconds before answering that question? My mom, for example, is grand piano. She has the Steinway baby grand with ebony keys that belonged to my great aunt Virginia, who played in a jazz band back in the early 1930’s. I love to hear her play, but she won’t do it very often. My brother is piano, too, but more free-form than classical; one thing I really miss about my growing-up years is listening to him write songs and play them in sweeping loops, changing a little each time, while I did my homework.
Some people will surprise you, though. My grandfather, one of the most upright, stoic, strong-and-silent-and-stern people you’ve ever encountered, played the accordion. I still can’t picture it, and he never demonstrated, but he really wanted one of us to learn.
I once removed someone from my short list of crushes, after I saw him play the saxophone. Dealbreaker. I can’t handle a saxophone.
Also, I had to leave Lincoln Theater the other night when a tuba appeared on stage. It is completely unreasonable, other than at a football game or symphony orchestra, to subject people to a tuba. For the love of all that is decent and holy, we live in a civilized society.
My boss plays all kinds of instruments, fiddle and guitar and mandolin included. He got a clarinet for Christmas, and promised to bring it back in and play it for us after he’s had some time to practice. “Great!” I said, and because I am a punk, added, “That won’t be awkward at all.” Because, good heavens, friends, what look are you supposed to put on your face when the boss is practicing clarinet at the office? Maybe I just can’t hear woodwinds and think of anything but marching band. It’s my failing, not the fault of the woodwind people. But I’m a string girl, through and through.
Audrey, I’m pretty sure, is harmonica. (Actually, she might also be a theremin, but I still think that sounds like a totally made-up thing.) Julia’s a whistler. Willow is a singer. And I know plenty of music lovers who don’t play or sing, and that’s fine, too. They have other gifts. I have a commitment problem, so I’ve dabbled at piano and singing and guitar and fiddle, just enough to know how much work it takes to be good at any of them.
When I’m in the audience, pedal steel always makes me cry, as I’ve documented here previously. The guitar is kind of a show-stealer, and a banjo is pretty conversational, in terms of storytelling. A mandolin has a driving intensity, and a kickdrum will go right through you, in a good way, and piano can take a crowd from magic silence to dancing on top of a bar. But for me, it always comes down to fiddle. It gets next to me. It speaks my language.