I paused on the basement step and listened to the twanging guitar. Was it an actual song? I stood, hopeful, with a compliment waiting in the wings.
Then the whanging abruptly stopped.
"Were you playing a song?" I asked my teenage son.
"Nah, I was just tuning up," he said.
This boy has been tuning up for four years. He took a year's worth of tuning lessons when he was 13. He's worn out two guitars, tuning them. He practices his tuning faithfully, sometimes for two or three hours a night. Yet, as far as I know, he has yet to play a complete song from first note to finale.
A couple of years ago, he was in a garage band. (OK, a carport band.) All of the band members tuned equally well, some louder than others.
One time I hung around and listened, waiting for the band to get started. They twisted knobs on distortion pedals and amplifiers, strummed a chord here and there, then hollered at each other, "How's it sound?" (Like an amplified chain saw, I could have told them.) They twisted knobs again and asked, "Now how's it sound?" (Like a chorus of chain saws.)
They even recorded these metallic blurts and belches. This continued for a couple of hours before ending another successful practice. It was like being at a party and eating teeny porcupine meatballs for an hour while waiting for the hostess to bring out the main course. Then you find out that the meatballs were the main course.
The band permanently disbanded before ever making it through a song. They considered themselves quite talented - rock-star quality - and would have gone on the road, except that none of them could drive.
My two nephews, too, spent many teen hours hunched over their guitars. I never heard those guys play a real song, either. A familiar crumb of melody or chord would encourage an adult to ask, "Is that a Willie Nelson?"
The answer was always, "That's nothin'. I'm just foolin' around."
For four years, I've been living in the land of "wahs," listening hard for one song of substance so I can give the boy some praise. When I look at him, he seems perfectly content as he blasts out a scrap of who-knows-what, then twists pegs and knobs, then rolls out another "wah, wah, wah."
I've decided that sometimes the journey is more exciting than the destination. Sometimes, tuning up is more fun than the tune. And sometimes, porcupine meatballs taste better than the main course, anyway.