Jammin' good with Weird and Gilly
So I’ve mentioned here before that Jack, my boy, 9, good, handsome, smart, got into his skull that he just had to become a rock ‘n’ roll drummer and, despite my attempts to dissuade him, has been taking lessons and hammering away on most horizontal surfaces with his drum sticks whenever possible.
A couple of weeks ago, however, his pal, Lucas, decided that he no longer wanted to take guitar lessons, though his twin, Edith, has been excelling on said instrument and, in fact, last Friday, played “I’m a Believer” to a sold out crowd in the PS41 talent show, and a good time was had by all, except perhaps for Lucas. Anyway, around the same time that Lucas gave up on the guitar, Jack started fooling around on that same guitar, and mentioned casually to me, that maybe playing the guitar was cool and that maybe he’d like to play it someday. My ears pricked up and I suggested that maybe we could both take lessons together, hoping against hope that this might obviate the need for me to fill our peaceful apartment with a gigantic drum kit one of these days.
Yesterday, we went to the guitar store and bought ourselves a pair of Fenders, Jack’s black, mine cadmium red, and the attendant amps and stools and stands and stuff. (I was quite surprised how affordable guitars are, not cheap as, say, Tombow brush markers or glue sticks but not nearly as expensive as the titanium computer I’m writing this story on. I was always so impressed when Pete Townsend smashed a perfectly good guitar onto the unforgiving floor boards or when, in about 1980 and at CBGBs, I watched the Plasmatics bisect a plugged in guitar with a chainsaw and it bucked and screamed and finally fell in two, its strings geysering. I was most impressed not by the noise or the gesture but the sheer waste of money. Anyway, it turns out it wasn’t that much money after all). So now our apartment looks like backstage at Madison Square Garden, what with all this gear and amps and half empty bottles of JD standing around. First thing this morning, Jack walks into our bedroom wearing only a bathrobe and his guitar, ready to rock and roll. I had taught him the one song I know, learned when I was 15, the same song every one of my generation learns in order to impress girls, the opening chords of “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple.Dum, dum, dum. Dum dum de dum. Dum, dum, dum, dum de dum. So, Jack walks around, in his robe, hammering out the song and sounding much like the Plasmatics with a good Billy Idol curl to his lip.
This evening, when I got home from work, Russell, our teacher was half way through Jack’s lesson. Then it was my turn to learn how to sit, how to hold the guitar, how to curl my fingers into impossible contortions and press my delicate finger pads into the egg-slicer strings. Russell has decided that of son-and-pop, I am to be the first one to learn how to tune the “machine” as he calls it and showed me the first steps and then launched into an erudite monologue about the physics of sound. My innocent questions ricocheted his ample brain into all sorts of directions incorporating Aristotle, Euclidean geometry, Miles Davis’s early ineptness, the Well Tempered Clavier, electrical engineering, and the real difference between Sinatra and Torme. It was the sort of rich broth I love but, after an hour or so and with a sigh, we went back to filleting my finger pads.
I have always loved music of all sorts, however, it has always mystified me. I have half-heartedly studied other instruments before but the harmonica is the only one I have been at all fluid with and then, only in the shower. So music and the people who play it have all been suffused with magic. Musicians, particularly improvisational jazz cats, seem like another species, with some sort of extraterrestrial knowledge that I can never begin to comprehend. It’s a foolish sort of obstacle that I set up for myself so long ago, this absolute sense that I could never hope to play an instrument, even on an amateur level.
And yet, in my one lesson, I have already begun to feel the door inching open. One of the points that Russell emphasized to me was take the time to listen and savor the note. While my body is learning and stretching, my tendons lengthening, my bones shifting, I should give my mind the time to feel the music, to hear the decay of a note, to see how the sound emerges and then how the harmonics fall away. What I find fascinating is that, yet again, the lessons I learned in drawing are at the core of all creative effort.
To suspend time and to appreciate the moment.
To be gentle with myself and feel comfortable with ‘errors’.
To realize that no matter how few hairs I have and how grey they may be, I can always learn new things and that once I open my mind to learning, everything becomes a fresh lesson.
Finally, I am also so excited to be learning something with Jack, as he does. In many ways, he is a much better artist than I am — freer, bolder and clearer. I hope he never loses that way he has with making things. I am also interested to see what it is like to be as new to something as he is, to learn alongside him, to see how we tackle our frustrations differently. I think this guitar thing is going to be quite an adventure and a good investment of what little free time I have left. My true goal: to play “The Milkman of Human Kindness” or anything else by Billy Bragg.