Friday, May 6, 2016

Sing Street

Sing Street
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens

Pilar played guitar. (Funny how all these years later, this is the first time I noticed that rhyme.) I played keyboard. We weren't in a band, not really, and you could barely call us musicians in those days. It didn't matter. We were young. We were in love... and we had the music.

I was seventeen, she was sixteen. The 80s were coming to a close. New wave was starting to decline. Gangster rap was slowly becoming a thing. Grunge was just around the corner. You could still turn on the radio and not be embarrassed by what you heard: Michael Jackson, Madonna, Guns 'n' Roses, the Beastie Boys. We were children of MTV, no doubt about it. Yet when we made the decision to pick up instruments and make our own music, we looked not to the present, but to the past.

I've talked before about how my high school friends and I embraced classic rock. I was a Top 40 nerd, but at some point, the Beatles, the Stones, Floyd, Hendrix, bands and performers like those struck me as cooler; the music they made, more meaningful. Pilar dug the Who. To this day, I can't hear a single record of theirs without thinking of her and her almost single-minded devotion to them. I don't think I had one favorite classic rock band, though I was partial to groups like the Doors and the Kinks - the former in particular, because of Ray Manzarek's psychedelic stylings on the organ.

Pilar and I were artists, and our friends were too, part of a school full of aspiring musicians and dancers and singers and actors, so perhaps it was inevitable that we'd want to try our hand at making music. The two of us have older sisters who are singers, and growing up around them likely provided a subtle influence as well. Our friends had an informal band of sorts, but the kind of music they made had more in common with Monty Python than Black Sabbath. They were more interested in laughs than rockin' out.

I remember evenings practicing at Pilar's house, she hunched over an tablature book of Tommy or Who's Next, doing her best to follow along on her guitar. Sometimes she'd have a harmonica with her, favoring its bluesy sound. I was the type who preferred trying to pick out tunes on the keyboard after hearing them on the radio. I was formally trained on the organ, so I knew scales. One evening, her stepfather watched as we played what little we knew of "All Along the Watchtower." We were enthusiastic, if nothing else.

There were at least two attempts at original music on my part. One was a young-lovers-in-peril ditty that I imagined as a rocker, but I was never able to cut loose on it, Billy Joel-style, like I felt I should have. The other was a love ballad dedicated to Pilar. She liked it, which is all that counts in the end, right? Even if I was no Billy Joel.

Ultimately, Pilar and I chose to pursue art over music, but music brought us together in many ways. We had a song we considered "ours." Our tastes in songs and bands were almost completely compatible. Don't underestimate this! It's more important than you realize! Most of all, we both chose to try becoming musicians at more or less the same time. Music may not have brought us together, but looking back on it now, I think it may have kept us together, at least for as long as we were a couple.

Watching Sing Street made me a little nostalgic for those days. I don't regret the choice to study cartooning instead of music, but a movie like this does make me wonder what if, especially since I, like the protagonist, had a girl to inspire me. One part The Commitments, one part School of Rock, the love story at its heart elevates the material and makes the whole thing feel special. Some of the Irish accents were a bit difficult to parse, but it's worth the effort. Writer-director John Carney has got a real yen for movies about music, between this, Begin Again, and his brilliant debut, Once. Who knows how much further he'll mine this vein, but let's enjoy it while we can!

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