One of the worst things about ageism is that I, who am old, believe the voice that says old people are declining in every possible way. Of course I don’t sit down and decide to accept all this hogwash. It just seeps into me from the media and jokes and the assumptions of people who treat me differently as my hair gets grayer. I know it’s seeping in because I tend to see every little decline as the end of the world. But often it’s not the end. It’s just one thing departing leaving room for a whole new thing to arrive. That’s why I love the story of Grandma Moses (loved doing needlework/arthritis got her hands/took up painting/became international art phenom at 76). On a far less grand scale, this is now happening to me with the guitar.
I always played guitar, not spectacularly, my hands are too small. But I loved it and did it a lot and I can sing. In the 60’s, I was the ubiquitous blond girl with the guitar, it was a great gig. But in the last few years, too much word processing, texting, using my hands as built-in hammers, binge playing the guitar with poor technique – I just didn’t have it like I used to. The amazing guitars of my youth are idle these days; it is all I can do to pick some tunes on the ukulele. Such a heartbreaking aloha!
However, just when it was looking like all was lost, two of my friends took up the Ukulele. I am very wealthy in my friends, and these two are especially brainy and funny. I’m discovering that it helps to have a bit of an activity if you’re going to have a good long visit – hiking, painting, etc. Turns out the Ukulele is a real winner in this department. One of my friends wanted for me to teach her some songs and we go at it nearly every week. The other already takes lessons, and we play together when we can. Lately another great friend is circling with her Uke. Dare I say it, this is not that far from a band! I always wanted a band and here I am at 71 years old, really close. How great is that.
I remember when I was that blonde girl with the guitar. It was a brand-name guitar and when I would take it out of its case, people would go Ooooo. And then I would sing in a high clarion voice and the room would go hush. THIS GETS LONELY!
But, you pull out a Ukulele and people come close. Because the Ukulele is a highly democartic instrument: All the chords are do-able; the strums are doable too. Many of them are quite fine and capable of great feeling, but they’re not so difficult that you have to become an obsessed hermit it learn them. You can take a Ukulele anywhere. And, like arriving with a puppy, it’s mere presence breaks down barriers causing good things to occur. I have a friend who always takes his uke on planes, no case, just carries it. And everywhere he goes, people asked him to play and then they sing along, thus transforming many a dreary layover. Kids walk right up to a person with a Ukulele. And parents let them. Nobody worries about their kid getting peanut butter smudges on someone’s Stradivarius Ukulele. There are no Stradivarius Ukuleles, even the fancy ones are somehow friendly. Like old people, Ukuleles have lives right on their faces.
I find it so creepy the way ageism works. Without my knowledge or permission, it has installed in me the notion every little loss is the beginning of the end. Like having to put down my beautiful impressive instruments -that felt just awful. But what I’m finding is that this particular loss has made room for a whole new relationship with music. Instead of seeing it as a performance thing, I find it is a thing that fuels my friendships with harmony and fun. This kind of shift in perception must be one of the reasons why old people, in spite of supposedly being mired in the process of pitifully, painfully, persistently petering out, keep coming up in surveys as THE HAPPIEST GENERATION.
I will now attempt to sing you a song that was introduced to me by one of my Ukulele friends. It’s a Taj Majal song, I had never heard before. Maybe if my Ukulele Band dreams comes true, we’ll sing it again with all its glorious verses. In the mean time, press here (then be a little patient, it will come up): IMG_8157