Beyond the Surf: Meet the Ray

Category:  BloggERy
Thursday, May 24th, 2012 at 8:33 PM
Beyond the Surf: Meet the Ray by Toby Keller
Toby Keller/ Erie Reader

I was at work today listening to a rock station, thinking about ZZTop and their crazy beards, when I realized that I had been listening to music all day long. My iPod started playing as an alarm to wake me up (2Pac, fast-paced lyrics and an aggressive vibe); in the shower I hummed a tune I had heard the day before (something catchy, though they never intend to stay and so I have forgotten what it was already); on the way to work I listened to my iPod again, this time through the radio, 89.1 almost comes in too well, but my car’s excellent, or deplorable antenna system would rather filter through the waves coming from a secondhand radio adapter a friend left in my car; I listened to Joe Bonamassa’s Live From Nowhere In Particular, belting the blues along with it); at work, the radio was tuned to whatever station would play music instead of commercials; I hadn’t been without rhythm and sound all day, most days in fact.

I believe that music can tell a lot about a person. After being introduced to someone and settling into whatever occasion surrounds us, asking that stranger what type of music they listen to usually occurs within the first hour of conversation. Their answer conjures judgment, whether I want it to or not. Studies back me up. In 1999 two British psychologists, Dr. North and Dr. Hargreaves, were studying the effects of different types of music on customers in sporting section of a retail store. Their findings were obvious: music affects people, it changes them, it triggers them, and it defines them.

With that said, I have no clue what the music I listen to does to me. I just know that I love it. I have an emotional connection to it. It alters me in predictable ways, and I have learned to fine tune my day through sound, but it is an unconscious movement. I haven’t been able to reasonably explain my taste for any song at any given moment—it’s all feeling.

That’s not a satisfying answer to me, so, logically I decided to buy a guitar and submerse myself in the world of music, to really find the depths in this ocean of preferences and individuality that drowns us all.

My personal history with music is limited. I mostly claim ignorance, and for good reason. I took harmonica lessons when I was seven. They lasted two weeks. I hadn’t played an instrument since, until my Ibanez GRG150 in pearl white was delivered.

My parents brought it from Russell, PA with a Peavey Rage 158 amp I talked a friend into selling me. It looked like a black briefcase that had been squished from the sides making it look deeper and fat. Two chrome buckles with screws hold the rubber handle to the top. There’s no back and the front has small black knobs to control the sound that would flow from the metallic mesh below it.

I was more concerned with the guitar hidden in a strange triangular brown box. I pulled the lid off and inside was an arctic stingray with a chrome face; it had a long, thick black tail with small metal railroad ties barred across it, deepening in distance from each other towards the end where the paralleled, miniature steel cables running parallel to each other the length of the tail ended in twisted spikes as the serrated barb.

I looked for a minute longer, unsure if I should take the beast from its cage. My parents stood by the door waiting for me to react, when my friend walked out of his room and up to the ray, clutching it by the tail at first then by its head as he closed one eye and peered down the strings with the other. He sat down and rested it on his knee and began strumming the strings and stopping to twist the spikes. I was envious of how comfortable he was with it in his hands.

“You should get new strings for this, man,” he said, and then played another tune I felt like I recognized, Pantera maybe, Down even.

I watched him for a bit, feeling the pressure of ignorance mounting. When I got my hands on it, all I could think to do was rest it on my knee like I had just seen, and twist the two black knobs below the strings that I had imagined as stingray’s eyes. They did nothing. I flicked a string, pulling it with my pointer finger and letting it snap back into place. I felt the vibration in my chest, although I don’t think anyone else in the room could even hear it. I looked up at them and asked, “How do you play music on this thing?”

My friend replies, “You just have to play it.”

I became ecstatic, the thought thrills me. I can play anything. Maybe I’m a kid at heart, but “Play” requires skill, focus and fun; those are the most engaging moments of life. Replace “work” with “play” tomorrow, really believe it, believe that your morning coffee is about having fun and by the end of the business week you’ll be enjoying your job so much you’ll have a hard time leaving. Like anything else, there are exceptions—some people loosely define believe. Whether it’s video games, sports, throwing balled-up paper into the wastebasket on the other side of the office, getting a water bottle to stand upright on a beam twenty feet above the ground (proof in pictures included), or just doing your job correctly and cheerfully, life is a game. To do it the best, you have to love it.

I love music; I could play it all day if that’s what it takes.

As I stood ‘one foot in the sea, one on shore’ with the beastly ray, I felt the anticipation of an explorer sinking below the surface on a deep sea dive; I plan to take the first steps towards a better understanding of something we all take for granted, beyond the surf and continental shelf strange things are happening—sound, music, is controlling us.

Erie Reader: Vol. 6, No. 21
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