Dropping The Bass
June 24, 2012 § Leave a comment
N.B: I have a new website over at johnmoyer.ca , where I will eventually move all of my posts over. It’s currently up and running (despite still needing a few tweaks), so you can head on over there.I’ll cross-post for the next month or so, but start moseying over!
Edit: Uhh, it seems the site is down. It’ll be up…soon? Hopefully?
Let’s get your crippling disappointment out of the way first:
Week 25: Neil Flambé and the Crusader’s Curse,by Kevin Sylvester
Yes, I know I said I was going to read Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman this week, and I’ll say that I did read some of it! That’s like, part of the way to success, right? The problem was simple: I ran out of time. For this, I blame my brother’s bachelor party, which happened on Saturday (and congratulations to him, by the way), and also being strangely productive during the week. I managed to bang out two chapters (well, 1.75) in two days, which is pretty good for me!
In any case, I still managed to finish this book, which, I must say, is everything a good kid’s book should be. It’s technically the third in the series, but I was given the ARC to read and didn’t get the choice in the matter. The books star Neil Flambé, a wunderkind chef with a genius nose that lets him cook culinary marvels despite only being 15. That same nose helps him, yes, solve crimes with the help of the culinary detective, Sean Nakamura, and the mysterious French critic, Jean-Claude Chili.
I’m going to stop you right there; Sylvester uses a lot of food puns. It’s a little hokey of a story concept, but Sylvester makes it charming and fills it with delicious-sounding food (even if Flambé hates a personal love of mine: simple, homey cooking. Why is everything gourmet?).
In any case, in this particular book, Neil has to figure out why his cooking ability seems to be failing him and embarks on a quest to solve a thousand year-old mystery about the Flambé family. This book is funny, well-written, and manages to pull off two things that I feel are important to mention.
First, Sylvester manages to make a completely unlikable character sympathetic. Note that I didn’t say “likeable”, because Flambé is a horrendous jerk for the majority of this book. That’s understandable, considering that his life is literally falling to pieces around him. That, however, means that we’re supposed to be rooting for a, well, an angry, confused, snot-nosed jerk who thinks he knows everything.
In short, a 15 year-old.
It’s wonderful because anyone who’s reading this and isn’t a teenager will want to throttle Neil before the book is halfway over, everyone who is 15 will completely sympathize with Neil, and yet both groups will want to see him come out on top at the end. Writing a character like that, who’s unlikable but sympathetic is really, really hard. Dostoyevsky did it the best in Crime and Punishment (although we can argue if Raskolnikov counts as “sympathetic”, he’s certainly unlikable), but Sylvester handled it quite well, especially for a kid’s book.
But the second thing he did really well was link his third book all the way back to the first one. This book plays out as a culmination of something that had been building since the first book, but (and I’m going out on a limb a bit here) without making it obvious. By sneaking it in there, Sylvester binds the three books tightly together without showing his hand until the last moment. The reader gets a fantastic “a ha!” moment, and those are worth their weight in gold. Gold, readers, gold.
Something very personal happened to me last night, and I’d like to share it. I’m stepping into personal blog territory for a minute, but I’ll be quick.
Way back in high school, many moons ago, I played the bass and I was damn good at it. It got to the point that in Grade 12 (senior year to you yankees), I played music 6 days of the week in 5 different bands/orchestras. I was first bass (we had three? It was kind of weird), could play the upright bass, jazz, rock, and had started composing my own music. And, by the way, I was also writing at this time, but what was written is going to hide in my closer and never see the light of day again.
I remember performing my final music exam in the empty concert room with my teacher (who had such a frustratingly complex Polish last name that he took marks off if we misspelled it). I did my scales and my piece, and did well. My teacher looked at the 3/4 Bass I was using (not quite concert size, which are huge), and said “I’d really like to see you on a full bass. Are you going to apply for music at the university?”
And I said “No”.
I just knew that I wasn’t going to. Somehow, without consciously deciding anything, I knew that I was at a cross-roads, because while in high school you can devote hours and hours a week to many different things, that doesn’t quite work in university or beyond. I would need to focus; I would need to decide what to do with myself, and somehow I knew that professionally playing music wasn’t going to be it.
And I don’t remember this being a particularly difficult decision, either. Just a few weeks before my final, I had won the school’s jazz award and headlined our battle of the bands. These aren’t particularly noteworthy, in and of themselves, but music for me at this point was as natural as breathing. It was something I did. You would be forgiven for thinking that, since I did this a lot, I would want to continue doing this.
Then, abruptly, I decided that I didn’t.
Since then, I don’t think I’ve played my bass more than ten times. I’ve picked up the guitar, but I can hardly say I’m serious about it and frankly, I don’t have the time to be serious. I’ve decided to dedicate myself to writing, and dedicate myself I have. I’m not writing this to say I have regrets because I don’t. I’m happy to be writing, and I’m happy that I have my history background. I wouldn’t be who I am today without those two things.
But this is what gets me: I would be a different me if I had made a different decision back in that room. I’m reminded of that particularly crushing (for someone who works with kids) Biblical passage from Paul (1 Corinthians 13:11) where he says:
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
I didn’t (and don’t) consider music to be a childish thing, but I certainly wonder what my life would have been like if I had chosen otherwise. I can guarantee you that it would be almost 100% different because, and this is the way I am, I would have gone whole-hog into music. I probably would have let my writing wane too, or at least not focused on it nearly as much. But I made a choice, and that’s what I think that passage is actually about. It’s not about whether one thing or another is childish or not, it’s about how being an adult means you actually have to make choices. You actually have to decide between things and no, you can’t go back.
I’ve said it before, but “nostalgia” comes from the Greek roots that, when you put them together, mean “the pain of homecoming”. One of the hard things about being an adult (and anyone who’s moved out but needs to move back home briefly will realize) to be an adult is to realize that you can never go home again.
Last night, at aforementioned bachelor party, one of the guests was my former guitarist who, compared to my abandonment of music, is living the dream. He plays for a band called The Ruby Spirit and he’s making it work. It’s hard, but they’ve managed to survive and make progress. Are they thriving? I’ll say they’re not dying, which is more than can be said for a whole lot of bands.
We talked, and I made another decision, but this was just the second half of the decision I’d already made: I gave him my bass.
It’s not much (it’s not that great a bass), and I really don’t play it, but it meant a big deal for the both of us. For him, because I was one of his inspirations when we were younger (he now plays the bass for his band), and his other big inspiration owned that bass before me. In a way, this is like getting the bat that his coach used to play with (even if it’s old, kind of broken, and not really that useful anymore).
For me, it’s a big thing because now I can look behind me and see the Rubicon. Shakespeare (because damn him! He gets all the good lines) has Guildensternsay:
We cross our bridges when we get to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered.
I don’t agree with that completely, but now I can see the truth in those words. That bridge is burnt, and I was just holding on to something that wasn’t going anywhere. I knew, years ago, that I’m not going to play bass professionally, but, finally, I can say that that’s ok. I am no longer a bassist. I miss it, and I will definitely love music until I die, but I can’t go home again. There’s no home to go to.
Because I’m a writer, damn it, and that is what I want to be.
– John had a dream about Skrillex last night. It got…weird.