Before Jack was born I fantasized that he would be a musical prodigy. I’m not sure when or why this yearning to father a wunderkind developed, but if Mozart’s first compositions were written when he was only five years old, Buddy Rich began playing drums at 18 months old and Yo-Yo Ma was performing for audiences at the age of five then damnit it was just as likely that my son would also display a profound talent for a musical instrument at an early age.
Now, whether this meant that he would stroll from the birth canal rhythmically finger picking his umbilical chord like a Mariachi with a flamenco guitar or whether it meant he would bear a resemblance to Dizzy Gillespie while nursing a bebop solo into the conic mouthpiece of Kathleen’s nipple, I was certain that by the time Jack was five he’d be performing at the Ed Sullivan Theater on The David Letterman Show while I chugged Vodka and Red Bulls with Tina Fey in the Green Room.
However, every instrument we’ve introduced to Jack with the hopes of it being the catalyst to inspire his dormant musical genius only wound up sharing space in a canvas bin with the disassembled body parts of the Potato Head family; and there’s nothing more heartbreaking than baby’s first didgeridoo tangled in the black polyester cape of Darth Tater.
The acoustic guitar we bought him for his third birthday gathers dust and hangs on the wall in his toy room like a rabbit in a butcher’s window, he refuses to complete the essay portion of his Julliard application and not a single item from the Budding Musicians Band in a Bucket (including kazoo, rhythm fish, harmonica, tambourine, egg shakers, musical spoons, 3T Leather pants, Jose Cuervo Sippy Cup, and Crayola Eye Liner) captivated his interest for longer than a few seconds.
In fact, he’s tone deaf, forgets the words to songs and plays air guitar like he’s itching a poison sumac rash on his stomach. I knew those traits were inheritable but I honestly thought they skipped a generation.
Jack turns five next month, has given no indication that he is a musical prodigy, and can’t even use a Yo-Yo let alone perform like one, but there was this one time when he was holding his harmonica that I thought maybe, just maybe I was seeing the first spark of brilliance flickering behind his eyes. He sat motionless while staring at the 12-hole chromatic and I whispered, “This is it. My God, this must be what Stevie Wonder’s parents felt like.” As he raised the instrument to his mouth I closed my eyes and waited for him to bend a soulful wail reminiscent of Fingertips (Pt. 2) that would be the long-waited indicator of his prodigious talent.
Silence…then what sounded like a sneaker on wet bathroom tile. “Daddy, I burped in my harmonica.” he confessed. “Just put it in with the Potato Heads.” I sighed.