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It would be incorrect to say that I never learned to play the piano. I did, for a period of time, take piano lessons at the St. Christopher’s Rectory with Sister Mary Margaret, an elderly nun who called me Angela & smelled like dementia & soup. She was mostly deaf & prone to wandering the halls of rectory, pausing occasionally to wrench back from Death her last glowing embers of life before scuttling off to fetch herself a bit of hard candy. This was the same nun who had once given piano lessons to my aunts &, before them, Jesus. I feared her.

Sister Mary Margaret was less concerned with my musical progress than she was with my technique. I received pairs of tennis balls with instructions to gently cup them for thirty minutes a day, noting the shape of my hands as I did so. This, I was told, was the proper way to play the piano & I would never get anywhere until I learned this basic form. & so, once a week, I would ride my bicycle to the rectory, grinning when the Sister opened the door with a dusty “ANNgelahhh!” & squeeze my tennis balls until, at the end of 45 minutes, I was rewarded with a butterscotch disc.

My attendance at these lessons was not so great, though by default I developed a much better understanding of the Reformation. I also learned the most important thing I could have learned for any subsequent endeavor: I am not talented. Musically, that is. Twitchy & anxious, I’m not what you would call “smooth”. Think Steve Buchemi with cuter shoes. Mind you, this has never stopped me from pursuing music. Guitar, flute, two solid teenage years of spikey haired punk rock – all culled from the same mad love but crushed when confronted with harsh brutality of real life.

The point of all this is that when Greg assigned me the task of learning either Elton John’s “Your Song” or a little ditty like “Chopsticks”, I dove for the former. As my piano education consisted of a nun who told me to squeeze her balls, I had made a poor choice. “Your Song” turned out to be one of the most complex pop pieces I could have tackled. Not even video tutorials like this one were helpful, since every time I had to move my fingers I needed to pause, remind myself where middle C was located, & reposition accordingly for the next chord.

There is a sad, pleading sound a piano makes when it knows it’s being abused, a sound so piercing & desperate that it rides on a higher plane than normal ears can hear. It is a sound audible only to those with true musical talent which, when heard, fills them with a cold void of humanity the likes of which are only felt when puppies are kicked or when bad things happen to Morgan Freeman. It is a wretched, unholy thing & I knew, for the sake of myself & all that was good & pure, I could not play this song.

Unwilling to abandon the assignment, I revamped it, taking an ad hoc course in Elton history with specific attention to his second-ever hit, “Your Song”. I decided to create a small slice-of-life illustration, one which is neither particularly good or funny, detailing how I think the October morning “Your Song” was penned may have started out. You can see it here, if you like. It’s my first public foray into illustration, so I ask you to bear with me when Bernie Taupin ages dramatically from frame to frame.

July 2018
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