The Gift

22:16, Jul 07 2013

The suggestion for today's topic came from Darryl. He called for a post titled The Gift - so here's an instrumental version of The Gift by The Velvet Underground to get you started; a little mood music (or if you've never heard the album version - with the story - then click here).

Darryl made further stipulations for today's post: In two parts, part one the best thing you have ever received as a music-related gift. Be it a book, album, concert-ticket, ephemera, and what you got out of it. Part two is the worst thing ever given to you and what made it so bad that you had to sell it, re-gift it or just throw it away.

Well, I've told you already about the great surprise when I was given a B.B. King LP, my favourite, Cook County Jail. In recent times that stands as my favourite music-related gift. I certainly don't count - as you know - being given Bobby Womack's water bottle.

I've been given some pretty great music-related gifts actually. Some friends took a photo of a blackboard where Brian Eno had given a lecture about world music - I showed you a photo of it here. In that post you'll also see a couple of other music-related pictures and paintings. And my favourite piece of art, one that inspires me daily, was given to me by my good friend, the artist Matthew Couper.

But I almost never get given albums - and never did. I'm sure the comments section below will show this to be a common problem. You love music but no one buys it for you. That said, if you have particular tastes maybe it's a blessing that you're not getting bought the wrong thing every birthday and Christmas.

It was always music vouchers for me growing up - well, from the age of 10 until about 20. And I loved it. I bought tapes every year and then eventually - when about 17, 18, I started buying CDs. After 20 it stopped because I had a job in a music store and then I started reviewing music.

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I've been bought some pretty cool music books over the years; my brother often gets me music bios and picture books. He knows what I like. And my wife has bought me some great music books too. When my book was published last year she bought me some turntables for DJing, a publishing present. More recently a Kindle. I consider that a music-related gift as I've been reading loads of music books and Kindle Singles on the device.

But I reckon the number one music gift I've been given was my first drum-kit. And in a way this story has elements for the second part of this post too...

I was 11 and I'd had lessons for just a few weeks. I would give them up soon after getting a kit - I was a left-hander, the only one, and it became difficult with gear change-arounds and such. Then the school lost its teacher and I wasn't up for private lessons. By this time I had my own kit and a copy of Abbey Road.

Anyway, that year, must have been the end of 1988, I woke up early on Christmas morning and started snooping about the house. I had no idea I was in for a drum-kit, but it was fun to prowl the house to kill the time; everyone else asleep. It was 5am or something ridiculous like that (a time of the morning that - sadly - no longer seems ridiculous, merely annoying).

I opened the door to the garage and there it was. A drum-kit. Second-hand. It was - in fact - quite hokey. The floor-tom was sparkly red, the rest of the kit a rough marble, the hi-hat slumped with bits of tape hanging from it. The one cymbal, a tiny one with rivets, mounted to the bass-drum, sounded like a trash-can lid. But it was awesome! It was mine! My first drum-kit.

Closing the door quietly, I dashed over the road - my cousin lived across the road at the time. I woke her up, we opened her presents and I told her that I had a drum-kit, but was going to pretend it was a surprise later that morning when everyone woke up. She wanted to see the drums so it was back across the street; we were losing our stealth by the minute. Sometime after 6am I was convinced to just get behind the kit and go for it. So I did. And that is how my family - and most of the street - remember waking up that Christmas of '88.

It was - truth be told - not a great kit at all. But that really didn't matter, I was over the moon. My folks explained that the floor-tom was brand new, bought to complete the kit. The rest of it had come from Waipawa, my parents having driven down there one night - pretending they were going out to a work function. I was left with my aunty and uncle across the road. I remember quizzing them on their casual attire. "Oh, this is just drinks," my mother quick-replied.

Later on Christmas Day another uncle - with no musical ability whatsoever (unless you count mouth-twanging along to every one of David Gilmour's guitar solos whenever Pink Floyd is playing) - decided to have a go on the kit. He broke the skin on the floor-tom. I was a bit sad about that.

But the biggest disaster about this kit - and this is where we get to the part-two that Darryl requested, was the bass-drum. Specifically its front skin. A stencil drawing of a Stetson hat and a guitar sat in front of the home-drawn, home-made logo, Keep It Country. Thanks a lot Waipawa!

As a 12-year-old obsessed with Guns N' Roses and The Beatles and The Beastie Boys and appalled at my grandparents' record collection that featured soft-porn album covers and loads of Charley Pride and Anne Murray and such - keeping it country was very much the last thing I intended to do.

Those drums took a pounding along to Tales of Brave Ulysses and I Want You (She's So Heavy) and, first, the early staples from my learner-days, Queen's Crazy Little Thing Called Love (the shuffle), AC/DC's Highway to Hell (basic eighth-note rock beat) and Bachman Turner Overdrive's You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet (16th note and cowbell!). But they never played the sound of the train, never did anything country shuffle-like, never even got close to country, let alone kept it that way. Good lord, telling a 12-year-old to keep it country was just unfathomable - at least it was for me, then, growing up the way I did.

So you see the worst music-related gift someone gave me was a bass-drum with a Keep It Country logo on in; replete with Stetson and guitar.

It was - in the end - easily fixed. On Boxing Day the lugs were loosened and that skin came off, was placed behind the kit, the logo facing the wall, shamed. Riding it out like a dunce, relegated to the corner of the room.

It's a funny thing though - the passage of time and such.

I've thought of that kit often. It got me through 10,000 minutes at least - and then toward 10,000 hours; tea-towels covering the toms. My mum even sewed elastic bands to wrap around the rims to keep the towels on. Yes, my drums had garters. But I never really thought about the Keep It Country logo. Blanked it from my mind, even.

And then, a couple of years ago I joined a country band. And all I could think - a convert to all sorts of forms of country music - is that I'd kill for those drums back; bare minimum it would have been good to have that bass-drum skin. I'd have modified it, found a way for that logo to fit on to a new skin for a new drum if need be. It couldn't have been more perfect.

That was a longwinded answer.

So I could also just tell you that once someone bought me the first Jewel album. And that was a really cruel thing to do.

Postscript: You'll remember that last week I asked you to pick the headlines for my deadlines. With that in mind, Monday's blog was called With Dignity: When to call it a day, Tuesday's was Albums I regret buying, Wednesday's was A Showdown: 1984, yesterday's was The Majesty of The Muppets and we conclude the week of your headlines for my deadlines today with The Gift. Thanks for playing along...