Yesterday was Valentine's Day and I decided to sing my beloved a love song on guitar because I'm a sweet, romantic kind of guy who forgot to buy her a card or anything. At first I thought I'd sing a beautiful classic like The Beatles Here, There and Everywhere, but then I thought, "Stop living in the past, man! Sing a beautiful classic from today!", so I settled on Justin Bieber's Yummy ("Yeah, you got that yummy, yum. That yummy, yum. That yummy, yummy. Yeah, you got that yummy yum).
But when I sat down to practise, I snapped a guitar string – I must've strummed too hard, or the string took its own life out of shame. So I headed down to my local music shop to buy a new string – and yes I suppose I could've picked up a card or flowers on the way. Easy to think of in hindsight. Too easy.
The suburban music shop was once the busy buzzy hub of the music-making community – the Bunnings of music. People went there to shop, browse, chat, get advice, then they'd leave with trailer-loads of sheet music and Marshall amps and baby grands. People would hang around for hours, sitting in corners, playing the instruments – strumming guitars, plonking pianos, plucking a rare Japanese shamisen (making sure they never played that Japanese folk-rock standard Staircase to the Lofty Celestial Abode. That old chestnut was totally banned).
But the suburban music shop is no longer the busy buzzy Bunnings it once was. Now people buy their music equipment from websites, get their sheet music for free online, play virtual digitised Japanese instruments on Garage Band (it's a crying shamisen, it really is). Suburban music shops have become small, struggling places, usually sandwiched between a Kawasaki dealership and a body-waxing clinic. Not much stock in the front window: maybe a $12,000 Gibson guitar, a couple of $12 ukuleles in a traditional "plastic teal finish", and a toy velcro-dartboard because they've been forced to diversify. And inside, a sad-faced shop-owner, desperate for customers, drumming the counter with his long guitar-picking fingernails that make guitarists look like a bondage mistress from the cuticles down.
The moment I walked into my local music shop I knew I'd come at a bad time. A dramatic scene was happening: the shop owner was in the middle of a heavy conversation with another guy, saying, "I'm really gonna miss you, mate. Melbourne's loss will be London's gain. Can't believe you're leaving for good." It was a very personal moment and I didn't want to intrude so I just hung out near the brass instruments, playing with spit-valves, trying to look busy. But the shop-owner spotted me and he was faced with a tough decision: does he farewell a dear friend, or make a much-needed sale? He'd been feeding his family violin-bow rosin for a month and supplies were running low. He chose the sale: he hugged his friend awkwardly, saying, "Sorry, got a customer. Guess this is goodbye." Then the friend walked out and the shop-owner watched him go, wiping away a tear with his long, creepy fingernail. Choked with emotion, he turned to me and said: "So how can I help you?" I said, "A guitar string, please." He said "You mean a set of strings?" I said, "No, just one. A D-string. Thanks." He sold me a $3.20 string. I felt terrible but he didn't seem angry. He knew I was potential return-business. In about five or six years I might break another one.
Danny Katz is a Melbourne humorist.
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