Double-posting tonight to make up for the week I missed.
Another old friend just popped up on Facebook this week, and hearing from him again was an occasion to rapidly summarize the last several years of my life. In doing so, I realized I’ve come full circle in relation to guitars.
Let’s be clear about something right away–I’m functionally nonmusical. I like it, I sing with the radio, I am the absolute KING of Rock Band 2 (on Medium, anyway), but I don’t have a strong connection to it. When a psychologist or musicologist challenges the audience to “imagine living without music…IF YOU EVEN CAN,” I honestly think I could. I’d miss it, certainly, in the way I wouldn’t want to live in a world without cheese. But if it disappeared (either music or cheese), I would still have a number of other forms of entertainment handy. My mp3 player spends more time loaded with audiobooks than songs, and if I want to unwind and lose myself in an audio realm, I’m more likely to turn to Patrick Stewart, Leo McKern, or Stephen Briggs than the Beatles, Black Sabbath, and the Kinks.
With that in mind, I have to tell you something. Self-important snotbags like Prince (love your music, BTW, I just don’t want to hear your opinions) have the music gaming idea all wrong. He and a few other artists refuse to support Rock Band and Guitar Hero because they think kids should learn to play real instruments instead. This is totally missing the point. The kids who are willing and able to just go learn an instrument always will. These games have no effect on them. What they do accomplish is making people like me, who have tried and failed numerous times to learn an instrument (three years in band and I was terrible) want to give it another shot. Know how to get someone interested in devoting time to practice? Give them a taste of what it feels like to actually do the thing for real. Rock Band makes me feel like a musical genius when I fly through a Tenacious D song by using the Force, because there’s no time to consciously think about where to put my fingers. Suddenly, I have an inkling of what playing guitar must feel like. I’m not an idiot; I know I’m not learning to play real guitar by pressing buttons on a plastic toy. But suddenly I grasp the feeling of making the music myself and I want to learn to do it for real.
An idle remark along these lines prompted a friend to drop off an old Fender acoustic at my house with his encouragement. Having pawned my first guitar, a student-style Applause with a plastic back which nevertheless had a very nice tone (I was told, I mean how would I know?), I picked this battered brown warhorse up with some reluctance. I remembered how long it had taken me to learn what tiny amount of guitar playing I had managed before. I quickly realized that I would need to re-establish all of my fingertip calluses. But after a few days of warily circling it, I managed to pluck out, shakily, the first few bars of Greensleeves. Hell, had I lost this much? At one point I knew Greensleeves well enough to play it onstage during our short run of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). I no longer felt like challenging Jack and Kyle to a duel of axes. I threw the pick back in the case and played quietly, because a novice guitarist sounds like a catfight in a piano.
The good news is that when I first learned to play guitar, there was no such thing as YouTube. Now there are a number of people who are perfectly willing to record themselves giving impromptu guitar lessons and publish the video online for free. I have no idea why they do this, but I am tremendously grateful for them, because I don’t have to apologize for making them show me the same thing 40 times while I struggle to understand it. If I have the self-discipline to keep trying, I think the resources are there for me to actually become a bad guitar player instead of a Rock Band player who owns a guitar. And that would be a real accomplishment.
Hit the comments below to tell me what you think.