I was given a gift at birth which I have wasted, mostly. I have a very good ear
-- for music, and accents, and pronunciations. While I do enjoy some aspects of
my gift, especially mimicry, I was never interested enough to do the hard work
necessary to develop my gift into even a minor talent.
My mother has perfect pitch. If she hears a note she can tell you whether it's an A flat or an F sharp. I have a lesser version of her gift, called relative pitch. I can hear a G natural in my mind at any time, and I use it as my touchstone, to determine other notes in relation to my G. Every once in a while I think I can identify a note other than G, and I'm right only about a third of the time.
The upside of such gifts includes the ability to tune guitars easily, which I used to do with ease. If you have a good ear and you happen to be a singer, I suppose you can keep yourself in tune.
The downside of a good ear is not often discussed, but Mom and I know it well. Imagine you're in a room full of people listening to Natalie Merchant, or post-retirement Frank Sinatra. Look around the room as Frank stretches lazily to reach a high note he used to hit with ease -- people may be singing along, tapping their toes, lost in a reverie. Not Mom and me. We're cringing in pain. I steal a glance at Mom, and she's suffering. "Pull it up, Frank!" I'm screaming in my brain.
(Photo stolen from these guys)
Natalie Merchant is even worse -- she maintains a constant flatness that is rare even by today's low standards. I can't listen to her for longer than a couple of minutes.
(Photo stolen from this site)
Friday morning I was getting ready for work, listening to the various inanities of the morning news. As I brushed my teeth just around the corner from the television, I heard a Best Foods Mayonnaise commercial which used a jaunty pop instrumental behind the voice over. "That sounds like 'Beach Baby,'" I thought, annoyed that I knew that song in the first place. Listening again, I realized that the descending chords may indeed have been a rip-off of that awful pop song from -- was it the late 70s? trying to sound like the mid-60s? -- but "Beach Baby" ripped it off from Pachelbel's Canon in D first. I went to the piano and played the familiar descending chords, bile rising in my gullet.
Chas walked up just then, not saying anything, but shooting me a "what are you doing NOW" look. I played the familiar chords for him, and said, "Pachelbel's Canon, right?" Then I played it again and sang along with it, "Do you remember back in old L.A., oh-oh-oh . . ." GROAN. Chas shook his head and walked away. I know he thinks his wife is a nut job.
There's a certain smug satisfaction in hearing the "bones" of a song, and realizing where you heard it first (whether or not the songwriter even knew he was heavily borrowing). But most of the time it's a burden. From the physical discomfort I feel when Frank Sinatra or Barbra Streisand
can't . . .
quite . . .
make . . .
that high note, to the big fat bummer of forever hearing "Beach Baby" in my mind as a bride glides down the aisle to Pachelbel's Canon, sometimes a gift is not a gift, it's a curse.
Here's a sample of "Beach Baby" so now you'll share my curse, too.
"Beach Baby" by First Class (you've been warned)