Ukulele-Harp Gothic Pop/Rock Trio
“It takes a long time to become young.” --Pablo Picasso
I need to keep my fingernails cut short nowadays.
That is probably a good thing; it will prevent the taking up of nail bedazzling as part of this recent midlife glamour-spreading regimen.
There have no doubt always been big nails around throughout the annals of time; no doubt even the women of early civilizations donned such symbols of sexual aggression that bespoke a tiny bit of danger. There have always been such weapons.
There were nails aplenty among the inner-city girls of my youth, festooned in an array of colors and exotic detailing: glued on plastic slivers highlighting the digits in lime green or fuchsia; the dangerous looking, claw-like growths of a predator, bestudded with iridescent rainbows or holographic stars; or, for the more tasteful nail fetishists, a smooth and nude “French Manicure” that looked almost like the slick hood of a car, or the naturally shellacked underside of a cowrie shell.
I had never been a fan of the use of nails as either weapons or showpieces. It always seemed a time consuming and vain endeavor that always ended in heartbreak when a nail broke. Also, the question has never been sufficiently answered as to how one attends to certain personal functions with three-inch nails, each one shellacked with the image of a four leaf clover. How do you adequately pick your nose? Insert a tampon? Chop down a tree? Weld the bow of an aircraft carrier? I have also wondered--most perplexing of all--when a woman has little rhinestones glued onto her claws, how, exactly, does she make meatloaf?
It is clear that for some women, there may be useful purposes to such overgrowth and adornment. It is understandable that some may feel the glamorous look attained while hitchhiking or shooting the middle finger at fellow drivers outweighs any meatloaf encumbrances, especially when in the midst of a midlife crisis. But for me, it simply doesn't work. Form should follow function.
In recent years, I've instead been a proponent of the following “look”: nails a little brittle and yellowish, cuticles red from chewing, clipper cut straight across to the nub. I've been trying to bring back a look, unconsciously or not, which surely was quite popular during the Great Depression, as well as during the Summer of Love.
I wear my nails in this fashion primarily because I play the harp.
Now, surely many people out there are wondering, “The what?” But you know full well what I am talking about. You know I'm talking about the instrument you hear when someone in a romantic Lifetime Movie Network production is going back in time and remembering. We all know the characteristic “going back in time” sound of a harpist's digits rapidly rubbing across a few octaves of strings to craft steadily raising and lowering glissandos. As far as most people know, that is about all a harp does. It stands in an orchestra just waiting, waiting for the “going back in time” moments like this one:
[Young couple stands hand in hand in a field of wildflowers. Random butterflies alight.]
Fabio Romeo: “I love you so much; I cannot imagine what I did without you by my side. I cannot imagine what it was like before I had you to hold, to make me feel whole again.”
Feminine Woman: “My heart goes out to you and always will. It will be only you, for the rest of my life. I will always remember the day that we met, the day you saved my life!”
[Harp glissando plays. Special effects make image on screen appear to fog up and wiggle around (“going back in time wiggle”). We have now gone back in time. Feminine Woman hitchhikes, one purple rhinestone bedazzled thumb held in an upright position. A Rolls Royce slams on the breaks, and the man, very buff, with an angular jawbone and smoldering eyes, drives up alongside Feminine Woman and her large nail.]
Fabio Romeo: “I almost missed you, but then I saw the glint of the afternoon sun on your best hitchhiking nail and knew it was meant to be.”
Aside from setting such beautiful scenes, the harp is widely recognized as an accessory carried by the cherubs you see on Valentine’s Day cards. Apparently it is used by these chubby and precious ones to create some ambient music as Cupid goes around and shoots arrows into people, which usually has the express purpose of making them lust after Jake Gyllenhall.
To play the harp, a cherub floating in the heavens (or a woman sitting on her suburban couch) needs to have short nails. It is impossible to pluck the strings with even so much as a millimeter of nail extending beyond the nail bed. Were you to try playing without clipping first, you would end up with a mixed up jumble of sounds, with random clanging thuds and muddled, buzzy plucks that sound more like a cell phone vibrating on a table than like any type of angel’s song. Since I am in the novice years of learning my instrument, a set of Lee Press-On Nails would be an especially bad idea, despite their indisputable sophistication. A few would be lost with each arpeggio.
Except for the fact that we all have short nails, there is little else in common between myself and the average harpist. I am not slim. I do not have long, flowing hair. I do not own cats. I will never have some dumb “Bless this Home” Celtic cross stitch hanging over my front door. I have an inflexible policy that I will only play “Greensleeves” during Christmas week. I also have the very specific goal of never, ever learning to play “Danny Boy.”
Here’s the thing about the harp. Most people do not realize that the harp is also a required instrument in the most unique of musical genres popularly known as “Ukulele-Harp Gothic Pop/Rock.” If you do not know about this genre, which has grown from there being no bands of this type last decade to there being one band of this type this decade, then you are very much out of the loop. And it can be said definitively that our household has been solely responsible for this surge of popularity.
What, you may ask, is a Ukulele-Harp Gothic Pop/Rock Trio, and what do they play? More importantly, why do they bother to play it? The following "Behind the Music" style true-life scene will give you a glimpse into how such a creative force in the music industry had its beginnings:
“Hey, Tim,” I say to my husband, “quit playing 'Stairway to Heaven' on your uke. I'm practicing my ‘going back in time’ glissandos and can’t hear myself! You're too loud!”
“To hell with ‘going back in time,’” he says. “You need to do something different, something a little Gothic yet somehow still cutting edge, like ‘losing of the mind and going crazy’. Don’t you get sick of always conforming?” And I see that he has a point.
“Well,” I say, “I wonder what would happen if I tried out a little of that ‘losing of the mind and going crazy’ with your “Stairway to Heaven.” I could toss in some chords now and again, too, and make some wails that sound a little like Robert Plant!”
And with this, something new was born.
Why this collaboration was born and why it persists is a mystery. No doubt, as this type of music is in its infancy, it will be some time before it begins to take off and have mass appeal. The Top 40 charts still have seen nary a ripple from this growing musical movement--but we are working on it.
Some time ago, Tim and I held very limited auditions for a lead singer. We sought someone with charisma, with drive, with a real edge that screamed Uke/Harp/Goth/Pop/Rock. We chose my then six-year-old daughter.
Elaina: “Hey, what is a stairway to heaven? Can we get one? And what is a bustle in a hedgerow? What is a hedgerow?”
Tim: “Just sing and leave the analysis to the musicians.”
Since that time, we have really honed our craft. We have moved on and increased our repertoire to include some of the great works of the 1980s, namely the music of Tears For Fears and Weird Al Yankovic. Things are taking shape.