Sunday, June 22, 2008

Blow: The Undoing of a Musical Genius

As previously mentioned, and well-known by everyone who knows me, even if only slightly, I am a whistler. It's the one musical talent I inherited from my grandfather, who taught me everything I know about it by simply telling me, "Put your lips together and blow." His lesson, while not the most detailed, and which certainly omits quite a lot about the actual technique of whistling, was a valuable one, and one I have practiced daily since that very first whistle, standing in his garage on Reed Street in Idaho Falls, back when I was no more than five years old. While not the best whistler--I'm certainly no Cartter Frierson!––I am pretty good, especially in the morning. At work. When no one seems to like me. Long years I have entertained the idea of cracking into that great untapped Whistling Market, recording and releasing an album of favorite whistles. I envision a world where farm fields in upstate New York will overflow with the muddy and sometimes nude bodies of tens of thousands of America's youth, who've gathered for a four day music festival of world renowned whistlers, like Frances Bonifazi, Fred Lowery, the Great Roger Whitaker and Mike Riston, a Whistival, if you will, a place where we can meet free of shame, unafraid to practice our art without fear of retribution. But alas, that day has not yet come and so I dream alone, whistling as I work, sending my call out into the world in hopes of attracting others like me.

Like many talented musicians, I am haunted by my art. I spent much of last winter with Arthur Fiedlers's "Sleigh Ride" banging around inside my head, demanding I purse my lips and belt it out at the top of my lungs, or tongue, or whatever it is whistlers like me use to craft our music. "Sleigh Ride" refused to let go of me and still occasionally sneaks up on me when I least expect it. About all I can do in those moments is let it out, over and over again, all day long. Sometimes I whistle the melody, sometimes the harmony leaks out (which is interesting because, unlike my friend Jen, who can harmonize to a fart, I can't pick one out to save my life), and sometimes I attempt a grand symphonic discourse and end up with a strained tongue and chapped lips, which, if you're one of the Whistling Ignorant, is the worst thing that can happen, like writer's block, or a bad hair day.

I do have my standards, those tunes I whistle over and over and over again. There's Für Elise, which I do first as Beethoven intended, but on my second trip through I jazzify it and transform it into a snappy little number you could bebop along with. Then there's "I'll Be Seeing You," which, for three years, drifted over the campus of Lake Forest College late at night as I walked back to my room keeping my eye on the moon, or if there was none, on the halos which glowed around the lamps which lit the paths. There's also "Recipe for Making Love," by Harry Connick, Jr, which is just plain fun on the lips. But of course, as an artist, I must constantly push myself, which is why I've gotten pretty good at whistling "Lose Yourself," by Eminem. I would, after all, hate to be pigeon-holed as a performer of nothing but pop standards. "Lose Yourself" was my version of Dylan going electric.

I hate to admit it, but Summer can be just as dangerous for earworms (those tunes which get stuck in your head) as the holidays and that damn Feidler tune. It's only crept up on me the last day or two as Duncan and I have strolled the park and even on the edges of Lilley Gulch. It starts off innocuously enough but before you know it, it's lodged as firmly as a twin absorbed in vitro. It only appears during the hot Summer months, and typically only within earshot of places where children gather, children with money in their pockets or grown-ups who can be pestered for money.

That's right. It's the ice cream truck with that damn ice cream truck song that every person in this country knows by heart. The damn ice cream truck has crashed my whistling party and made a mockery of the tunes and voices which play constantly in my head. Even Duncan, who normally isn't phased by anything on our walks, other than the hopping-away of a rabbit or a screaming squirrel, has started whining when we walk the park. Or the lake. Or down Leawood. I'm hoping that when my vacation starts next week we can get up into the mountains where there's nothing but peace and tranquility. And Für Elise, of course.


somewhere joe said...

If you can whistle Sleigh Ride, you can whistle anything. (Ok, The Flight Of The Bumble Bee excepted.)

I can whistle, as long as the tune isn't toohappy; you can't whistle and smile at the same time.

Curt Rogers said...

Okay, Joe, you challenged me and I have to tell you, I can whistle "Flight of the Bumblebee" although it's not quite as smooth as I'd like. I'll get back to you on that one!

As for the whistling and smiling at the same time, I guess I'd have to say it all depends on how you smile.

Lori said...

My dad was a great whistler. He could whistle anything, and could also do bird sounds, and a buzzy whistle like a bee. This was all on lazy evenings working in the garden, or on Sunday mornings after breakfast... happy times.

NodakJack said...

Of course, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" is another good earworm.

Greg said...

Oh, you had me thinking we were going in a different direction and as you talked about summertime whistling opportunities, I was sure I was going to learn that you've got the piccolo part down for "The Stars and Stripes Forever" so the ice cream truck took me completely by surprise.

What tune does yours play? Ours plays "The Entertainer".

Meanwhile, I, too, am a whistler from way back, although sometimes I throw caution to the window and find myself actually humming. But I have (and with the right note to set me off could probably still) whistled entire drum and bugle corp field routines.

It's ridiculous and probably the Whistling Ignorant think we're idiots, whistling unrecognizable things...but who cares, it IS happy-making!

(To my mom's chagrin, the labor for me began during "Flight of the Bumblebee"...heh heh...)

Lisa said...

You know who else can whistle? Johnny Depp. Leave it to me clutter up your blog with my obsession.

Call me up and whistle sometime, sailor!

Cheryl said...

I thought you disliked Harry Connick Jr..
The best brain-stick song is The Oscar Myers Bologna song. "Oh, my balony has a first name its O s c a r. My balony has second name....

That otta stick for a day.
Grandpa still whistles

Curt Rogers said...

I like Harry Connick, Jr. I just don't like his Christmas album. His big band stuff from the late 80's and early 90's is my favorite. I whistle it all the time.

Be sure to tell Grandpa I think of him every time I whistle!

traci said...

"Whistival"! Heh, heh, heh. That's funny.

I am not a whistler. I am, as you know, a singer, a hummer and a "da, de, da dum-er". The other day I was walking to the Starbucks and caught myself humming "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire". What the hell? It's the middle of summer! But it was such a beautiful day and the melody is so pretty somehow it fit. So I made up new lyrics and renamed it, "Summer Breeze Filters through Leafy Trees."

Curt Rogers said...

Okay, Taco, the next time we talk you HAVE to sing your new version! You should record it and put it on your myspace page and on a CD!