When I was in 4th grade, my mom presented me with an ultimatum. “Pick a musical instrument, you’re gonna learn how to play something.” I suppose my disinterest in sports coupled with my interest in Super Nintendo had her worrying that I’d end up an after-school shut-in. Whatever the case, I did not resist. I wanted to play a musical instrument – the coolest musical instrument.
The able percussionist; the rhythm-keeper; the sick drum solo guy; me.
Not me. Mom kiboshed my drumming ambition. “Too noisy”. I called an audible and went with the saxophone. I had a good run with it, too. Elementary school performances of “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?”. Jazz recitals. Pep band rallies. All great little experiences, but not with the sort of cool cachet that comes from those drums that had been so flatly denied. I made the most of the saxophone, but I still felt robbed. The saxophonist isn’t an unsung hero. The saxophonist doesn’t hold the whole thing together. The saxophonist keeps his shirt on.
In high school, I joined the concert band. In a concert band environment, uneasy Game-of-Thrones-esque alliances are formed within each instrument group. Saxophones are definitely the Starks of the woodwind group – honorable to a fault but also pretty badass within the strict context of a high school concert band. Flutes are the Boltons; they don’t have to use reeds and thus their commitment is questionable. Clarinets are the Tullys; not bringing much to the table but they’re just happy to be there. There was the occasional crow bastard oboe in there too. We had to band together, though, to overpower the brass while keeping the strings and percussion at bay.
The saxophone clearly set me on a different path, one where rock music is appreciated but not created, and where parallels are drawn between concert bands and Game of Thrones. For years, I felt like the saxophone was decidedly uncool. I dropped it after high school, convinced that it held no future for me. Use of saxophone in popular music, “Young Americans” excepted (seriously, it’s not that bad), had justified this decision. That is, until I heard this song by UK band Melt Yourself Down. The song immediately rips out an aggressive saxophone jam over a dance punk rhythm. I love it. The rest of their self-titled album, which came out last year, is just as wild.
If an Afro-Caribbean dance punk band prominently featuring saxophones can reach my ears, then truly we are living in the golden age of disaggregated tastes. It goes beyond taste, though. I could have been the one kicking out that aggro sax jam. If I had only stuck with it and been more open to the saxophone’s possibilities within modern music, I probably wouldn’t have given it up so easily. Didn’t need those drums to be cool, turns out after all. Those rock star dreams might be long dead, but after hearing MYD’s stuff I’m thinking about dusting off that old saxophone case and seeing what I’ve still got. What is dead may never die.
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