David Diebold: Nothing is more uncool than an almost-49-year-old saying 'cool'
THE youngest of our three boys is hurtling towards another birthday and, I'm curiously unashamed to admit, I can't quite remember whether he's going to turn 16 or 17.
This, I'm pretty sure, is because he has at least two birthdays a year. Either that, or his parents are actually soon facing the sage age of 49. And this simply isn't possible. That would officially makes us ancient.
I take some solace in the fact that, for his present, he wants another guitar, and wants me to go in to the city with him to help choose it. At least, that's what I fool myself into thinking.
Fact is, he's already been to every music shop in town, slowly narrowing down the choices, probably to keep the pain of shopping with me to a minimum.
No, I'm there, I'm sure, because I told him, in a fit of fatherly affection, that if he really wants a guitar, he should get a good one, and I would match any cash he intends to put towards it.
"How much are you planning on spending anyway?" I asked. "About €600," he said without hesitation, and a little wine shot up my nose, just enough to make me cough as, from the corner of my eye, I caught my wife stifling a horrified look.
"Oh," I managed. "Cool," I winced. Nothing is more uncool than an almost-49-year-old saying 'cool'. Unless perhaps, it's snatching the guitar his teenager wants, right out of his hands, and trying to play Freebird in the middle of the store, just to 'check the action on the frets, man'.
This is why I'm penning a list of commandments before our father-and-son foray into the city on Saturday. For instance, I shall not get over- excited and do the 'wee-wee dance' from guitar to guitar and gasping, 'Ooh! Check this out' and 'Ooh, wait! What about this one?'
I shall not abandon him and run off to the basement to try out the drums, or get all 'rock dad' with the poor guitar salesman, admonishing the poor bloke for claiming he's never listened to The Stones' 'Exile on Main Street' or Joy Division's 'Unknown Pleasures' (this actually happened).
Alas, what I make up for in enthusiasm, I lack in musicianship and my son is a better guitar player than I've ever been. For someone who's always secretly fancied himself as a bit of an overlooked rock star, I have never quite had the staying power to become proficient at an instrument, and still recall, with curling toes, being reduced to tears of frustration at the bewildering array of ant tracks that comprised the sheet music to Three Blind Mice as my father, an accomplished jazz pianist, chewed his cheeks darkly behind me.
Dad was what he called 'a musician's musician'. He didn't care what an audience thought of his playing, but cared deeply about what other musicians thought. It was doubtless the very height of musical snobbery and the bands he sat in with were capable of slagging off a lesser musician simply by missing a beat. It wasn't a world in which I could imagine ever being much more than an observer.
In the early 80s, dad would tow me from one smoky jazz basement to the next, where I occasionally witnessed some of Ireland's best players falling off a stool without breaking tempo - or spilling a drop.
Once, just once, if I'd known what the word 'vindicated' meant, I'd have had a name for the feeling, as the old man passed sheets of music to a band with some arrangement of a swing number he'd sweated over for a week, only to find that some of the country's foremost pit players couldn't read a note. "Just play my bit once on the keys," a trumpet player slurred. "Mine too," said the sax. Dad rattled off the two bits on his piano with one hand.
"Got it," they said.
That Ella number, or whatever it happened to be, was a great deal more complicated than Three Blind Mice, still, I couldn't help the flush of 'Hah!'. Just sheets of ant tracks, as far as they were concerned.
They say talent skips a generation, and while I can talk about bands until The Pixies come home (I've considered getting a T-shirt for my wife that reads 'Please, don't get him started' to wear when we go to parties), our gang's prowess on piano, drums, guitar and ukulele respectively, have put to shame my best attempts at Start Me Up.
But who knows, perhaps this is the year, when birthday boy and I go to buy my, ahem, his guitar and we form a family five piece. And when they trot out the sheet music, I'll just say to the eldest, "Play my bit on the keys…" Yeah. "And, uh, keep playin'."
Even in a dream, see, I know my limitations.