"It's hard to be depressed around a ukulele. You just pick it up and you're halfway home." -- William H. Macy in The New Yorker
Me, I was born with rhythm and soul -- almost too much.
I credit my Norwegian heritage for my innate sense of rhythm and musicianship that has been just one trademark of my creative life. The late soul man James Brown was Norwegian -- a little known fact, so little known its authenticity has been disputed. Norwegians, in fact, discovered hip-hop not so much as a way of creating powerful socio-political commentary but as a way of not jumping into the nearest fiord during their eternal winters.
The challenge for me has been how to best express my gifts lest the creeping onset of restlessness and immaturity devour me completely. In other words, what instrument would best quench my artistic thirst?
Then, the ukulele called to me.
Ukes are enjoying a resurgence that is baffling particularly to, say, oboe enthusiasts still waiting for their instrument to get hot. Why the uke's popularity? Tiny Tim doesn't count. Maybe credit Train's mega-hit "Hey Soul Sister" or, more likely, the lasting greatness that was the Hawaiian musician IZ, whose "Over the Rainbow" rendition reincarnated the ukulele sound.
I needed me one of them, so last week I went to Severna Park to see a woman about a ukulele.
I bought the cheapest one I could find, $52, and cradled the toy guitar. Never before have my hands felt so big and powerful. Already, I felt halfway home.
I planned on doing nothing more than holding the instrument rather than learning how to play it for learning new things is very taxing. Reminds me of a young man who in 1983 rented a saxophone for six months just because he liked the way it looked strapped to his less-than-strapping chest. The young man eventually turned the sax back in, having never played a song.
But this time I should learn to play something. The uke has only four strings. How hard can it be? Should take me a couple of weeks before I'm busting out with "Stairway to Heaven" or "Layla." Will take me less time to master IZ's "Over the Rainbow," which I will learn once I learn what the heck to do with these A,E,C and G notes. Why they aren't rightly assembled A, B, C and D probably is a sore point with uke manufacturers, so I'll drop it.
To enhance my innate musical talents, I found a book online called "Ukulele for Dummies." I noticed the book is 360 pages. Seems to me a book for dummies about playing the so-called easiest instrument should be about 6 pages. Anyway, I found a cheat sheet for the book diagramming "easy" ukulele chords. I opted against a Metallica ukulele songbook because the music frightens me from any instrument.
The word "easy" should never be attached to any learning, especially music learnin.' As it turns out, a ukulele does not play itself. I have to learn to make music and not just wear the thing around my chest.
Well, I am in a hobby slump, so maybe it's time to do some music learnin.'
Who knows, one day I might serenade tourists at Annapolis' City Dock in the cool of some colonial evening:
"Play Pinball Wizard!" "No, play Jumpin' Jack Flash!" "Hendrix!" the requests will come.
"No, kind people," I will say.
There shall be no Stones or Who or Metallica coming from my ukulele. Instead, I hope to conjure the spirit of the late Hawaiian mountain of a man, Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwo'ole, whose "Over the Rainbow" will break then mend your heart.
And take you all the way home.