The Origin Story of an Everyday Ukulele Hero

My dog has fleas

<from the blog of Carmen Mills:>

I was haggling over a bit of purple bridesmaid dress with a cross-dressing Reno housewife at a free boutique in Black Rock City, Nevada. Maria Mango strolled up. She was strumming a ukulele and she crooned, “love is sumthin’ if you give it away, you keep on gettin’ more. ” When that moment returned to my mind, what was most utterly vivid was the ukulele.

As soon as I got home to Vancouver I rinsed the dust off my body and went to Long & Mcquade to meet Ralph Shaw, who would be my ukelele guru. His blue Cannondale recumbent was parked outside the store. As soon as i entered the store i heard enthusiastic strumming emanating from the guitar section. I followed the sound to find a tall thin guy wearing suspenders and a bowtie. Ralph nodded his approval and held the ukulele out to me: this one. A Mahalo, born in China but conceived in Hawaii. Its body is mahogany, finish slightly rough to the touch. The neck is rosewood. I paid $75 and walked out of the store holding the uke in its cardboard box.

I couldn’t quite believe I had just bought myself a musical instrument. I would have felt more comfortable with a machine gun in a violin case. The words ‘musical instrument’ scare me, you see, because I am a Mills. Millses are drawn to the visual arts. Millses draw well. Millses are verbal and tend toward the literary. But when everyone stands up to sing oh canada at the baseball game the Millses do not. Millses stand up in respect but they only mouth the words or hum really low, because you see, Millses are not musical. Millses DON’T SING. So there is something furtive and transgressive about the whole act of buying a musical instrument, feeling almost ashamed, like I’ve violated my caste. What are you DOING?! You’re not a MUSICIAN! You are a MILLS!!

But I am learning some things about music. Obvious mysteries. Like, when you walk with your feet you set a beat, and you can play to the beat. And, that 4/4 time exists the same in a djembe as it does in a techno track (which i kind of knew), but it also lives in a ukelele! A strum is a beat!

Hot damn.

So I’ve been practicing walking around on the street with the uke, just to see how that feels. I notice guys carrying guitars look at me, and we meet eyes and smile a little. There’s that insider secret recognition like I always used to get with dreadies when I had dreadlocks. And I wonder then, should I even have smiled back? Because, was that really honest, implying that i might be, like, a musician or something? I’m  a Mills, not a musician. I’m just carrying a ukulele. It is a disguise.

But get this: I’m learning some SONGS. Really–songs! I have never played a song on a musical instrument before. And what songs! Songs about cowboys, and amphibians! Hello my baby, hello my honey, hello my ragtime gaaaaaaal…. Frogs, and ukeleles, and singing Millses. Strange but true.