Hey Clockface, Hey Clarinet
By Greg Johnson
Elvis Costello is releasing his first new album in 4 years, but that’s not the big news. The news is this: His title song “Hey Clockface” features a clarinet!
Yes, I was the kid who played the clarinet.
When I was in grade school, we had “band day,” and, although it seems deliriously unhealthy now, that consisted of long folding tables set up in the school lobby with instruments lying on them so that we students could wander around and discover our true musical calling by blowing through various things to see what happened.
There were trumpets and trombones, even tubas. But I liked the looks of the clarinet. It seemed like a blinged-out recorder, and I’d already played one of those. I picked it up, put my fingers over a few holes — and out came sweet, sweet Dixieland jazz. OK, not quite, but it wasn’t a piercing squawk like other kids had produced. “You’re a natural,” the music teacher said.
And thus began my musical career with the world’s dorkiest instrument, except possibly the bassoon or the piccolo. While my hoodlum friends were strumming their cheap electric guitars, I was trilling on an instrument guaranteed to get me no dates whatsoever with anybody at all, ever.
Though I was an outcast in the Age of Rock, I liked playing the clarinet, actually. My high-school band and I even recorded a concert LP with Doc Severinsen of “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.” My tone was so pure and perfect that the band director would have me play a note so that everyone else could tune. And don’t even get me going on my embouchure.
But I put that clarinet on the shelf in college. Eventually, the cork all dried out, and I ended up giving it away. Still, if someone hides a clarinet part in the mix of a song, my ears perk up a little, even now. So, thanks, Elvis C.
This article also appears on page 14 of the November 2020 print edition of ace magazine lex.
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