Strings And Things
(This turned into a bit of a rambling epic which i should turn into two posts but sod it)
Since my guitar session at my mate’s the other night, I’ve been really in the mood for playing again. So much so that my fingers are actually a bit sore from it which only usually happens when I’ve been having prolonged sessions and trying out new things.
I’m a guitar addict. When I was 14, my sister got a nylon strung acoustic for xmas. Within a month, she was bored with it and I claimed it (her version of the story is that I nicked it before she got a chance to get to grips with it. The nerve of the woman … ). The following Xmas, I convinced my parents to get me a steel strung acoustic. The step up in sounds and finger pain was quite substantial, but by then I was too hooked to care
After much badgering and on the basis of a decent set of exam results, my parents bought me an electric guitar – blue, two humbuckers, a whammy bar and a pointy headstock. I don’t think I’d ever loved anything as much as I loved that guitar. For a while, the rest of my life was just a nuisance. It was all just time I wasn’t playing guitar and i couldn’t see the point of it
By then, I was spending all my lunch hours in the music suite at school, using their equipment and getting to know all the other music nuts doing the same thing. Some of us were metal heads who wanted to be virtuosos like Malmsteen and Vai and Satriani, spending hours practising scales and picking techniques and following the exercises in the latest month’s magazines but never actually doing anything as productive as writing a song. Some people wanted to play covers of pop songs in front of actual people. The really cool ones wrote their own songs.
In my usual way, i was a little bit of each. I was definitely in awe of one guy in the year above who wrote songs and had his own group OUTSIDE of school. He seemed to be running at a slightly different angle to the rest of us, was always listening to more interesting records than us, had better hair than us – and he had the most gorgeous guitar. Instead of the pointy rawwkkkk sticks we all craved, he had a semi-acoustic – all curves and style, with a huge hollow body. He was very protective of it, so i never did get to find out how it felt to play but he was clearly as in love with it as I was with mine.
The music teacher, who played in a local band, encouraged us to the point of creating a school group and getting us to play at a school disco. We learned a load of top 20 hits, and a few off-the-wall things we liked. We hit the stage as “The Groovy Sonic Mushroom Men (with croutons)” – i did mention it was the eighties, didn’t i? – and i don’t think i’ve ever been as happy in my life. Quite apart from my classmates not only noticing me but actually appearing to be impressed by something i was doing, the music teacher had let me use his Les Paul Custom sunburst, a no-nonsense, chunk of guitar that would deafen you at 50 yards, no matter how low you put the amp. I still, to this day, dream of owning one if my bank balance can ever stand the dent.
Once i went to uni, even though i still played, i never managed to wangle my way into any of the bands. Despite my best efforts, i was never much of a songwriter or a singer, so striking out on my own was a non-starter too. I didn’t have as much time to spend on it so it slid further and further to the side. It wasn’t until nearly 10 years later that i finally decided to get serious again. In a fit of madness, i bought a real Fender Telecaster, a genuine American made, professional musician quality iconic symbol that cost the best part of a month’s wages. A few months later, i did it again. On my first visit to Cambridge Folk Festival, I tried a Lowden acoustic and spent all weekend trying to talk myself out of buying it. I failed and ended up cradling it in the back of the car all the way home, wondering how i was going to afford another month without any money.
I’ve still never managed to get much further than playing to myself, though. I buy loads of tutorial books and download videos and search magazines for ways to take it further. For a while Steve and I had some music nights, with the intention of writing some songs and maybe playing somewhere but I quickly realised he was way out of my league and started to feel a bit sheepish playing in front of him. He’ll deny it, but he’s very, very talented. For all my years practising theory and technique and fancy book learning, he has a knack for putting chords and melody together which I just don’t, and He Really Should Use It More (was that enough of a hint, mate? 🙂
So now, I’m nearly 39 and my chances of being a pop star, a rock god or a credible indie artist are fading (ahem). I’m learning to enjoy playing for the sake of playing again. I can afford nice instruments (although still not quite the Les Paul) and I don’t have the exams and hormones to distract me. I can afford to go to gigs and buy CDs. I’ve discovered a love of folk music and singing (however poorly) which is encouraging me to learn songs. Maybe i’ll even manage to write a few that i’m not too embarassed to share.
Most importantly, after all this time, i’m finally realising that it’s not about the guitars or amps or super-locrian modes. It’s about accepting that you love to play and doing it for no other reason. Music is its own reward and it’s more than enough for anyone.