I promised in a previous post ("Amateurs
") that I'd provide Security Guard Guitarist News as it came to hand. I'm honouring my word.
R. caught me playing guitar today. I'd grabbed my beautiful blonde Maton acoustic, headed down to the lower playing field on campus and positioned myself - for reasons hard to comprehend - inside a baseball practice net
. Side question: Why do we even have
baseball nets on campus? Answer: I have no idea. Perhaps planners thought that the mere presence
of the nets
would be all that was required to entice potential players to take up the sport. (The only other sporting facilities in the vast field are two mint-condition triple-jump tracks
. Obviously two
were required to prevent the kind of student unrest that would have ensued if keen jumpers on campus were forced to stand in long lines waiting their turn.)
Whatever. The place is relatively isolated; the nearest structures - the gym and the Assessment and Examination Unit - are a few hundred metres away. People working or working out might see someone holding a guitar and lurching about drunkenly but wouldn't
be able to tell if they were actually playing or (with all due respect to mimes) just miming; or if they were really
drunk, or just a bit weird; or whether or not the performer's eyes were open or closed. (This last point will become relevant.)
I had a cigarette, got into my Chris Fleming - Live at the Budokan pose, and began to sing and strum like...I was playing live at the Budokan. I shut my eyes, craned my neck, and swayed. The Blind Melon Fleming act is part emotional fact and part rock-star act. At its best, playing music is a bit like pulling off some improbable illusion and then believing in the trick. To do this, apparently I need to shut my eyes and contort my face.
Another thing is that I, like my father, often close my eyes to help me to concentrate. And I, also like him, have had to occasionally placate people who judged me to be an intolerably sleepy interlocutor. During the interview for my first academic position I was asked a tangled question about "the origins of modern disciplinarity and disciplinary knowledge." I'm told that I shut my eyes midway through the question, kept them closed while I considered it, and only opened them about a minute into my reply. Even the person who recounted this, long after the fact, admitted that he himself had worried for a few seconds that I actually had nodded off.
I hardly need to remind people that this isn't a self-help blog - and voluntary blindness isn't a panacea. But it's rarely a problem when I play guitar and sing. It may look unusual, but it's not dangerous* - and I can't see myself anyway. (Besides, I got the job.)
But Bat Vision was a problem today. It prevented me, for instance, from noticing the security van as it approached the net - and also from noticing that the car had stopped only metres from where I was standing. And then, finally, it was a major player in me not notice R. roll down his window and then listen and watch for a minute or two. (In my defense, it's surely unreasonable to expect anyone to notice someone listening to them.)
Then, miraculously, I emerged from my coma.
But instead of seeing a blurry and beneficent Oliver Sacks leaning over me, his tears of joy pinging tunefully as they dropped into the bedpan beside my bed, R. sat motionless in the jeep, addressing me with a massive (and possibly psychotic) smile. I hoped that this was a signal that he was amused - or at least that even if he weren't a famous neurologist, at least he wasn't psychotic.
The song he caught me playing is ostensibly "funny." The first verse goes like this:**
Everything in my life is bad, everything is sad.
Everything in my life is shit 'cause of my mum and dad.
Got no money, got no friends, I'm of uncertain health.
Got no woman to call my own, I think I'll shoot myself.
I try to perform the song in a way that would move any Ray-Cyrus. (So "everything" is pronounced "ayvraythang," "I'll" is "owl," "shit" is "sheeyiet," and so on and so forth.) R's stained, Stonehenge smile seemed to have become frozen onto his face - like "the wind had changed," as my mother used to say. Perhaps, I thought, him being amused was no reassurance at all; maybe psychotic people would
find the song funny. Like Petrucio taming Kate, I tried to out-mad R's madness, match him smile for smile, and wait him out. I won.
"Drone tones," he finally said. "The ole drone tone
"You gotta love those drone tones. Play anything with drones and it sounds good - even really simple stuff."
He snapped back into the smile like an alien hoping to avoid detection.
"Yeah, stuff you could play with your eyes closed" I said.
The deep-space silence following my private joke gave me enough time to reflect on the fact that R. had just simultaneously implied that what I was playing "sounded good" - but
that whatever its merits were
, these were entirely reducible to my reliance on a technique so rudimentary it could have formed the basis of pre-hominid folk communication.
"So you just came down here to have a bit of a bash, huh?" R. asked.
"Actually, no - this is a gig. It's just that only you guys turned up."
The guard in the passenger's seat laughed - albeit about ten seconds - too late. Keep joking, Dr C-Dog, keep joking.
"But thanks for doing security for me anyway."
Finally, R. laughed. (Or perhaps it was just an unusual cough
.) "OK - catch you later C. Enjoy
yourself." I started playing again as the two drove off and circled the playing field in the jeep. Ignoring what was in front of him R. pinned his eyes on me as they passed from a distance of about fifty metres. I sang as loudly as I could.
My principal fear wasn't that they'd think I was a shitty player, singer, or comedian - but that, despite being payed more than them while working at the same institution, I apparently had so little to do that I could bring my guitar to work and wander around playing it with my eyes closed. I don't know whether either of them actually did
think this - but it worried me that they might
. It wouldn't have been the first time.
I've worked with members of "non-academic" staff who've come to realise that what they do - like use Excel, check student records, and get people to fill out long forms - is similar to what some academics
do. The main difference seems to be that the academics are: (a) far shitter at the designated tasks; and (b) get paid more money. No one realised this fact more clearly - and was more willing to articulate it - than B. How embarrassed I was then when she walked into my office and caught me reading
. It wasn't The Telegraph
and so it shouldn't have been
"Hi C.. You waiting for someone."
She wasn't asking a question, just requesting confirmation.
"No, actually, I'm reading."
"Oh. Lucky you. What?"
"It's called The Scenic Imagination
. It's about..."
"It's good that you don't have to read it then, huh?"
"No I don't. I'm just reading it because I hate myself. What do you
like to read?"
"Reading is boring. It makes me sleepy."
"But, you know, I actually do
read magazines when I go on leave. Have you been on leave?"
"Or to the beach a lot?"
Ah, I see what you're getting at. I prickled at the question and the prejudice it expressed. You see, I tan very easily, and as a result people are always asking me if I've "been away" when all I've done is walk to IGA a couple of times or push a pram around Sydney Park. I'm not trying
to look like a Bra Boy. I wear sunscreen and a hat and try to walk on the shady side of the road. But I'm not
going to traipse around wearing The Hengtai Corporation's Umbrella Hat simply to prevent people making spurious assumptions about my work ethic
. It would be un-Australian to prefer to be seen by others as a wanker
rather than a bludger
The painful truth is, however, that I work very hard - and am, in fact, something of a wanker. (By way of demonstration, I draw your attention to the fact that this blog has endnotes
* To nuance that assertion slightly, the technique is only mildly dangerous, in that I'm about 100% more likely to walk into things. That's one of the reasons I tend to play and sing in parklands rather than, say, jewellery stores.
**I refuse to say, as is common amongst singer-songwriters, that it "goes a little
like this" or "something