Driving home tonight, Men At Work’s “Overkill” came up on the shuffle of my iPod. My finger twitched on the “next” button, but like always, I can’t resist. Men At Work flashes me back to my first music obsession of staying up late when I was ten years old to watch a live performance on MTV. They also remind me of another distinct childhood memory which is hauntingly accompanied by Greg Ham’s sax solo played at the interlude.
When I was ten years old I had a choice. Fourth grade wasn’t only a transition from baby to adult stature in the elementary school world, it brought a plethora of new opportunities. One was music. We were donned with the option of playing an instrument. (Yes, this was way back in the day where schools had musical programs.) While most gravitated towards their grandmothers’ dreams of the violin, I knew I was destined for the flute. It wasn’t the same reason like every other girl who thought the flute was prettier than the clarinet (even though it was), but instead the choice was solely based on Greg Ham’s solo in ”Down Under.”
In seventh grade, with an overflowing flute section and a sad showing for a saxophone section, the music teacher asked if I wanted to try alto sax. “The fingerings are pretty much the same so it should be an easy transition. Also, there is a lot less competition for first chair.” While “easy transition” and “less competition” spoke to me, the real weight in my decision was once again Greg Ham. I pulled out my Business As Usual cassette tape and in the black print on the glossy innards were the word “saxophone” after Greg Ham’s name. The deal sealed.
Now I wish I could go on with a terrific ending about becoming a concert saxophonist to make Mr. Ham and my parents proud. Unfortunately, the reality was I played into high school in the marching band before moving to the tenor sax for jazz band. In college, I abandoned the instrument all together and now pull it out on special occasions to prove to my children I actually know how to play.
This year when the “In Memoriam” scrolls through all the stars you will remember, Mr. Ham’s name will probably not make the list even though he left this world in April. To most, he was no Whitney Houston, Larry Hagman, Phyllis Diller, Neil Armstrong, or Ron Palillo (Horshack from Welcome Back, Kotter — OMG, he’s dead? I didn’t even know until I searched to put together this list. This may be another blog in the making.) But there is a part of my heart devoted to Mr. Ham. In his flute and sax works he opened a world to me about discipline to learn something new, appreciation of the arts, and the uncomfortable chaffing of a polyester band uniform. I can’t thank him enough. Here is your in memoriam, Mr. Ham. You will be missed.