We’ve all had moments in our childhood years when we were convinced that our parents didn’t understand us. We all have moments in our parenting years when our children feel the same way about us. Both we and they are right.
We’re both that, too.
Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing is the story of Tyler (Ty) Mills, an angst-ridden seventeen year-old guitar prodigy dealing with his tense relationship with his father, Tom. As the story opens, Ty is six months past the death of his mother, still trying to make sense of the new life he’s been left with in her absence. He’s a good kid who’s been thrown into a tailspin, with entirely different plans for his future than what his father has in mind.
I wanted you to meet him before he makes his big debut into the literary world.
Here’s a bit of what he’s all about, in his own words. In this scene, he’s auditioning to study classical guitar at Conservatory.
I’m at the audition, which wasn’t my idea; I did it at the request of my guitar teacher. Mr. H thinks I should focus on classical; he’s says with the natural skill I show for it, two years in the Conservatory performance program could make me world-class. I agree with half of that. I can play classical, no problem. But I have no intention of going to school for it.
It really isn’t my scene.
There’s a panel of administrators and instructors watching me. Tense and academic. Their table has fresh flowers and water in wine glasses. Notes are being taken, whispers being passed around. About how I look, I’m sure. I dressed the part, but the shirt and tie don’t really detract from the hair or the attitude.
The performance is being recorded for later scrutiny. The cameras are already running. One of the panel speaks: “Whenever you’re ready, Mr. Mills. We’ll give you a minute to prepare.” I don’t need it, though. I’m not nervous. I’m not unsure of myself. Not even as I take position and begin playing. At this point, I’m already gone; I’m nothing but vibration. I’m both aware and unaware of them sitting not seven feet away. And not to sound arrogant, but I’m nailing it.
I’m goddamned nailing it.
This is what I understand: music. I’ve never questioned it. It’s always been there, flowing through my hands. Waiting for me to put an instrument underneath them to pour it all into. Whatever comes out, comes out. Today, it’s classical Spanish. I play, and everything is flow. It just happens. I’m not watching them now, but I can feel the panel is impressed with what I’m doing. That’s nice.
I’m rounding the coda when I realize: I don’t want this.
Not the audition. Not classical Spanish.
I want none of it.
I’m in the middle of a stutter of sixteenth notes, playing them as easily as writing my own name, and now I’m not even sure why I came. There’s no question that I can do this. But I don’t want to. I never really did.
So why am I, then?
For Mr. H? Probably. He’s put a lot into it. He’s a teacher; of course education is going to be a big thing for him. But I already have talent, and training thanks to him. I’m not convinced I need to go further.
For my mother? Probably. Just about every performance since she died has been inspired by her in some way. She loved classical. She would be in tears hearing this. She isn’t here anymore, though.
Those alone wouldn’t be enough to make me go through with it. Mom and Mr. H already believed in me; I have nothing to prove to them by doing this. But I’m clearly trying to prove something here, or I wouldn’t have done it at all. I’m halfway finished when it finally hits me.
I’m doing this for Tom.
I’m doing this to prove myself to him, to my own father. To show him that I am enough as I am. He’s not even here, and I’m performing for his benefit. Whatever I can do, whatever I’ve done up to that point, is insufficient, obviously, or he’d have been impressed by now. He’d act impressed at least, or, even more unlikely, tell me that he can appreciate what I do. What I consider my gift, as lame as it sounds.
I’m coming to the three-quarters mark and all I can think is: why do I even care what he thinks?
I decide that I don’t.
A kid with a boatload of talent, a wealth of confidence and an attitude that won’t quit.
That’s Tyler in a nutshell.
Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing will be released on Tuesday, September 3, but you can to add it to your Goodreads shelf today.