I remember as a young boy noticing that cartoons always depicted a frown as a pronounced arch. But this puzzled me because I never really saw someone frown like that. Certainly not so dramatically as they did in drawings. (I'm guessing I had not fully grasped the concept of caricatures at this point.) Of course, it never really bothered me that no one exactly smiled with a capital 'U' in the middle of their face either, but that's me.
Anyhow, I distinctly remember sitting in front of the mirror, trying to make my face frown like the people in cartoons. And with a little work, I succeeded. Sure, it was a strain. My face muscles fought back, telling me this was not a natural position for the corners of my mouth. But soon I had strengthened those muscles and perfected the cartoon frown.
Now, here I am, probably 35 years later, looking at some recent pictures of my playing in a jazz combo and the orchestra:
What the hell?!?
Now, I realize that musicians make all kinds of facial and bodily contortions when they play. Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull performs some sort of gymnastic floor exercise when he's playing his flute and Joe Cocker appears to be having a seizure when he sings. Numerous guitarists make painful faces, as if it's physically hurting them to make their guitar speak. Premier jazz bassist Rufus Reid goes between two facial expressions: bemused wonder (with pursed lips and wide eyes) and extreme joy (greatest grin I ever did see).
Me? With my furrowed brow and cartoon frown, I have a look that hovers somewhere between anger and sadness, probably because I can't get the bass to play what I'm telling it to play.
When I was in the recording studio last night, I thought about my expression when I'm playing. I had to make a conscious effort to not look angry. I can only image what kind of grimace I came up with. Maybe that's why the engineer kept asking me if I was ok.
These pictures got me wondering just how often I make this face. Do I go through life with a perpetual frown just because I made faces as a kid? Is this why no one ever talks to me? I've found myself looking in my rear view mirror on more than one occasion while driving, trying to turn my frown upside down. I was doing the same thing the other day in the restroom at work before someone else walked in and I had to hurry and pretend to wash my hands.
The thing is, I've seen pictures of me when the photographer yells "Say cheese". I don't look natural. You can see the pain in my eyes. The muscle strain of having to hold my mouth in this awkward, foreign position. Hell, even when I have no expression at all, my mouth isn't straight across; it dips down on the ends. It'll be interesting to see what I look like in 30 or 40 more years...a grumpy old curmudgeon that kids throw eggs at.
Can you train yourself to smile at 44?