Photo by jeangui111 // Licensed by Creative Commons


P: So, why did you quit the piano?


I had an uncle, well not my uncle. The fake kind of uncle. The one who you think you’re related to but he’s just your dad’s good friend? Yeah. So, anyway, he had a bit of a problem with drinking, and one night he shows up drunk at our house.

Now, this guy used to be a jazz pianist, a real standup. He was from the whitest part of the city, but he used to play in these jazz clubs in the 80s and make a big deal about having ‘black friends’ or whatever. Anyhow, he comes over and I’m playing the piano, so he gets really, really excited and tells me he’s going to teach me a song.

Now, at this point in my life, I had been blessed with never seeing someone drunk, and let me tell you, this guy was drunk, so I didn’t really know what was going on. But I was scared. So he asks me, “Oh, what song do you like?!” And I’m in 4th grade, so I say, “Viva la Vida,” and he does the little Italian chef kiss thing, yeah you got it. So, he’s sitting with me on the piano stool, my parents watching, scared, not really sure what to do, and he’s insisting that these chords he’s playing are Viva la Vida. And I’m not Mozart, but it definitely wasn’t Viva la Vida. So, I started arguing with him and he starts getting real angry. Like, who am I, some punk ass little kid about to tell him how to play piano?

After insisting for the hundredth time that he is wrong, he plays it again and comes to the conclusion that the piano is out of tune. He pops it open and stands on the stool and is peering in, and at this point, it’s about 11 o’clock, way past bedtime, so I use this as my opportunity to sneak away and go to sleep.

While I’m asleep, he steals my parents’ car and crashes it.

The next day, I get up and there are these weird scratches all over the piano. I have no idea how he made them, they were horizontal on the keys, but they definitely weren’t there before. So, I quit at the end of my next lesson.


S: So, why did you quit the piano?


There was a song called Lighter than Air. I remember that song like an amnesiac’s wet dream. I wrote lyrics to the song eventually. The words went

Air, air, lighter than air

How do you sleep in the night?

Air, air, lighter than air

Why can’t you stay by my side?

I think that’s pretty good for a fourth grader, but the words meant nothing because I did not sing, I played. And poorly at that. I just couldn’t get the rhythm down, the left hand had me in a vice I could not break with willpower alone, and practice was anathematic. So, instead, I played on, incorrectly, the mistakes I made glossed over by the lyrics and voice, impeccable in my head.

The recital came eventually, and I stood on the stage to play this piece. I sat in the chair and began to play, only to realize the voice had left and all that I had before me were two shaky hands that knew the notes but not how to play them. I played mournfully and without a voice; so I quit the piano the next day.