You say staccato; I say Legato, let’s pull the whole thing off…

It’s been awhile since I wrote about my guitar lessons, but my teacher wanted a more musical breakdown not a personal one so…

Here’s the personal, I’ll spare you the musical details of practicing the major and minor pentatonic, diatonic and Legato scales till you know what and where every note your playing on the fretboard is, or the most important piece, how to practice, and the modern physiology and psychology of practice for maximizing results. The technology is astounding and the development of habitual practice, without habitual practicing can overcome any motivation issues that young people have, which has led to the explosion of musical virtuosity in the playing and singing of kids all over the world.

Which depressed me to no end, thinking about the, “Holy Shit if I only knew this then!” debilitating mental exercise that adults seem to succumb to when assessing the then and now.

Sure the hours I spent at age 11 in the panhandle and golden gate park jamming with total strangers, hippies, junkie’s anyone I could learn a song from paid off in being a great bandmate, fearless performer, rhythm guitarist, and part player.
I got hired because I was hardworking, sober, solid, dependable, tasteful, not because I was talented.

It also burned me out and I quit playing in bands at 25.

The guitar teachers in the 60’s were disgruntled jazz, classical, flamenco players who only taught their genre, not the generous teachers of today who say, “what do you want to learn?’
WTF!!!!
You had to wear out records and needles listening to guitar parts over and over again to learn one measure, lick, fingering on a chord, whatever… it was tedious, time consuming, expensive, painful yet productive.
Yet it left no time for practicing scales and the basics needed to grow.

So after my debilitating arthritis went into remission, and I realized just how precious those few moments of playing I had managed meant to me, and after selling my beloved Tele, Strat, Paul thinking I’d never play again, I swallowed my pride and decided to learn the right way, for however long this reprieve lasted, I needed to get my voice back.

Little did I know I’d be stuck in a class with socially disabled pre-teen and teen-age guitar geeks, all the while thinking the teacher was doing this as a joke on me…

Well the joke was on me, with extreme patience I managed to keep an open mind, and although these kids can play rings around me(well not as much as they could at the beginning) I managed to swallow my pride and compete with them and learned that I had something to offer them as well.
For Instance they had no idea that women like Memphis Minnie, and Elizabeth Cotten inspired Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, and most surprising to me, just learning who Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters were.
That Bonnie Raitt, Poison Ivy, Kelley Deal, and Nancy Wilson inspired women across generations to play and challenged men to play better and more honestly. It’s important for young guitarists to know the roots of rock are paved with the guitar picks of women and men.

The moments that changed me was the duet of Gary Moore’s Parisienne Walkways I played with the 14-year-old Goth/thrash girl that made us both cry afterwards(There’s something about Gary Moore’s solo’s that are exhilarating and sad at the same time), and how the class changed after that, and everyone realized that we could all be ourselves here.

Her metalhead Father still hates me for introducing her to the blues, superstring stretching and the pursuit of the perfect vibrato, to bad because she’s going to be so good because of that.

The kids looking at me for my reaction first after they finish there lesson performance. The fact that I can make a difference in how they feel about themselves is important to me because I’m sure they know I sure try to play for them as well.
The instructor for being smart enough to know how these kids would motivate me, despite my codger status.

My kid dancing like a maniac when I play him a new song.

But what I love the most about my brief snippets of time with these talented kids is that music can break through even the most painstakingly constructed walls to connect us all in ways we can never foresee, or forget.

Now back to sweep picking practice, I have an In and Out bet with a 12 year old I must not lose.

Guitar Lesson 1

Long story short, I’ve played guitar since I was 9.

I taught myself how to play because I was lying to my friends about being in Ballet class and I needed a cover story, so guitar lessons became my cover.

Played in rock bands since I was 13, stopped playing in bands when I was 25 because I was tired of Polygamy which is the basis of band dynamics.

Quit playing guitar because of extreme arthritis in my hands around 07’ which has gone into remission, and I’m playing again. So to unlearn all the bad habits developed teaching myself I started taking lessons, and not as a cover for anything else. I just graduated to group lessons from one on one’s and I am required to write down what I learned in my lesson, and this is what I’m learning, I hope this is what the teacher asked for…

I’m sitting in a room with shredders, 11- 14 year old full on prodigy guitar shredders 2 girls and 3 boys all with custom fitted electric guitars. Ibanez, Charvel, and even a Carvin, with the super intense shredder dads hanging outside (little league parents have nothing on these dudes, at least the ones that aren’t stoned) in the lobby prowling like coyotes around a lost Chihuahua.

They are all staring at my guitar, a purple and scarlet haired girl I’ll refer to as Diptherilina the metal Priestess (obviously not her real name) pointed to it and said, “good luck keeping up with that relic, what are you some old school country rocker trying to relive his glory days?”

“Yep.” I replied.

“Not even!” said the youngest kid with teeth wound so tight with wire he could be a 50’s era Humbucker.

“You’re probably some divorced 80’s metal head trying to impress his younger girlfriend, at least that’s what my Dad says…” the room went silent and everyone looked at him like he just threw up all over himself, which figuratively he did.

“Yep.” I reiterated.

We all laughed, and then the teacher came in…

“All right plug in and tune up!” he said, and everyone got busy with their assorted pedals and modeling amps, while I plugged into the fender Vibro-Champ I borrowed from the instructor, I started tuning while they were busy adjusting their tone. The lesson was a 4-minute song that was pre-recorded with one-track drums and bass, which we had to play the rhythm guitar to, and another with the drums, bass, and rhythm guitar we had to play a lead to and hit every note in the root chord minimum, and improvise around it. As we went around the room and played our lesson I quickly realized I was witnessing Macho hormonal guitar battling the likes I’ve never seen before, and that the solo I created based on the lesson was going to sound like Sid Vicious vs. Jaco Pastorius because these kids were throwing down some serious shit! I mean there was Van Halen, Zakk Wylde, Guthrie Govan, and Satriani licks, and tone being bled out into the room like spilled coffee, and cigarette ashes at an AA meeting.

These kids were awesome and… I was well obviously going to come up short, real short.

Mercifully I was last, and I think that was the intention of the instructor so that the lesson would end, the class would empty, and the kids could talk about me outside the room like they did when I had to read out loud in Catholic school.

I dialed in the amp so that the beautiful tone of my Tele would come through (at least I could hear my guitar through an amp it was made to be played through) and played the chords at a beautiful ringing 110 bpm, with no staccato fills or bursts and was filled with joy at the warm round, sweet bass notes, and ringing timbre of the chords and finished. Not looking up I went right into the solo lesson and played the solo like I heard it in my head, a saxophone in a brick ally bending and sliding into the root notes and bursting into the chorus letting the reverb fill in the void like the fading cry of a seabird flying beyond ears reach on a foggy beach, and fuck it these were kids what did they know of life and how Muddy Waters, Django Reinhardt, Jeff Beck used their guitar as a voice to vent their emotions and make there plea for validation and worth the only way they can and isn’t that why the guitar was created to give our emotion a voice, my kid… a voice.

I caught myself singing the notes with my mouth silently open like it was my voice, my eyes closed, my face up, the song ended, embarrassed I looked down. I could hear the kids unplugging there stuff and packing up not looking at me but talking to each other, the teacher coming up to me and saying, “hey, you got a minute to jam a bit?”

Me saying, “yeah, sure.”

I ended up showing my guitar teacher my vibrato technique, I mean it took me 30 years to develop and he was still in his twenties, and he taught me a few licks to add to my A minor scale repertoire. He said nothing about my lesson other then “write it down” so here you go.

For the price of bus fare

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Why me?

Is it my week for crazy’s?

On the bus or on the street corner, I can’t escape them.

Is it me, do I look like that person that’s going to validate their existence, the one that’s going to make all their inane/insane rambling thought, or sidewalk/bus/public processes worth while, am I their validation messiah?

Take heart all you crazies, loonies, and sidewalk prophets your validation messiah has come…

I climbed onto the bus full of strangers, brooding, smartphone obsessed, desperately trying to ignore each other. Smartly, barely, haphazardly dressed, on their way to work, and hoping for an uneventful bus ride.

Then SHE flows onto the bus, a twenty something dressed in bag lady sheik, or in sixties vintage originals, I couldn’t figure out which, bathed in Chanel no. 5 and eagerly trying to catch someone’s eye.

I look down quickly burying my face in my phone, but its too late she catches me looking and swirls over to me and looks up into my face and says, “do you have a few moments while we’re trapped here together to listen to the good news my troubled brother?”

“Troubled?” I ask.

“Yes brother you have that look on your face, that look that only the love of Jesus can cure and help bring a smile to your dying face!” she drawled.

“Wow, I’m impressed, no howdy do, no innocuous chit chat lead in, just straight for the jugular? Nice!” I deadpanned.

“You look like a smart man, I know you know who Jesus is, but do you really know how much he loves you, and cherishes your soul?” She asked demurely.

“Kind of like Satan does, only with good intentions?” I ask.

“Not like Satan at all, he just wants to save your soul from the pits of hellfire?’ she calmly replied not taking the bait.

“As opposed to the everlasting torture of angels singing, and harp music?” I asked, dropping the hook again.

At this point I noticed everyone on the bus watching us, some with trepidation and fear of what was going to happen next, and the majority waiting patiently for me to get stabbed.

Sighing with that all too familiar sad, forlorn, and faraway look on her face she shrugged her shoulders, softened her face and breathed, “I know you’ll think about me and what I said the rest of the day, so I’m blessed with god’s grace, how will you sleep tonight?”

“Like a dog tired old man after 3 fingers of bourbon, and a 20 minute neck and shoulder massage.” I replied.

“Can I ask you a question?” it was my turn to drawl.

“Sure thing!” she replied, her face beaming, her back arched, and her body tense waiting for the kill.

My head still down looking at her nose, I raised my eyes and looked around the bus, and I could see they were waiting for me to lose it, or tail between my legs mumble something awkward move across the bus, or get off at the next stop.

For them I would have done it, but if it were I watching this whole scene unfold, I would have wanted something else; I don’t know what but something else.

I had this canned response, this clever retort I always give them (them… why when it’s a weird one is it always THEM…) tried and true, fucks them up every-time, tail between the legs, running away before the next time they get the nerve up, the meds kick-in, or whatever drives them to do it.

So let her have it, I told myself as I looked in her eyes.

All of a sudden I heard my voice, not the one in my head, my actual voice weird and stony like an aging tired surfer dude, “How bout this…”

I paused at the weirdness of it all but continued.

“How ‘bout the next time you kneel by your bed to pray and thank the lord for your bountiful blessings, you pray to, and thank that beautiful star that died a billion years ago that made the carbon in your body, you pray and thank that incredible comet that sacrificed itself against this planet to give you the water that you drink, the air that you breathe and the DNA that created you, and most of all right now you thank all of us on this bus, and everyone on this planet for having the compassion and love for you and each other not to destroy us all in a ball of fire.

You apologize to that star, that comet, and us for believing in something intangible and unreal, and forsaking what’s real on this planet, the only fucking thing that’s real on this planet… You, Me, humanity, because that’s the only thing that’s going to save us… I save you, you save me, and we save ourselves… that’s how the fuck it is, now ‘scuse the fuck out of me this is my stop.”

I gave her a huge hug, turned not looking at her, and stepped off the stairs out the door.

I didn’t look back, and strangely enough the only thing I was thinking was how happy I was I didn’t raise my voice (although it was a little Samuel L Jackson-ish), how much I hate smelling like Chanel no. 5, and how I finally out-weirded the weird.

sidewalk wake

I knew the time would come eventually where I would have to sack up as a parent and explain some of the essential aspects of life to my son, but I didn’t expect it to come so soon.

School mornings are usually full of laughter, and noise. Sounds come from every part of the house, and are sometimes overstimulating to an atypical child or the inspiration for a new discovery. This morning between the hustle of eating breakfast, (which is a joyous event for us) getting dressed, and being distracted by the bus or garbage truck on the street, there was the new sound of loud little finch’s or sparrows in the tree right outside our front window.

So this was the entertainment for the morning, and while keeping a sharp eye on what was happening he managed to finish eating, dressing, and brushing his teeth.

So halfway down the steps loaded with a backpack we heard screech’s coming from the tree followed by a burst of about twenty small birds being roused by a Peregrine falcon.

My son moving quicker than I’ve ever seen him, managed the steps and got to the bottom in time to see the Falcon isolate a bird and within a few seconds catch him with his talons where he swooped up to an exposed top of a freshly trimmed sycamore tree just 30 feet in front of us. All this happened within a few feet of us, and the birds totally ignored our presence in their battle for survival.

My son who loves a good game of tag, was excited and clapping as the chase unfolded, but his expression changed as the falcon proceeded to eat the bird right there in the tree, and as we watched the bird render his meal with feathers drifting slowly down he turned, his expression changing as his hands dropped to his sides. We looked straight into each others eyes and as much as I wanted to avert my eyes and redirect him to the task of loading up the car to head off to school I held his gaze, and I could see the realization of what just happened in his face and body.

He looked at the swirling feathers still floating in the air turned back to me, and drew his finger from beneath his eye and down his cheek which is the sign for sad. He turned and walked into the garage without the usual game of tag around the car, or excited vocalizations, and then open the door, climb into his seat and wait for me to buckle him up.

I had only a brief moment to think of what I was going to say as I followed him into the garage. I was a little slower than usual loading up the trunk to give myself a bit more time to think of how I could explain this to him in the 30 seconds his mom would whirlwind down the steps, running across the garage her heels tic-tacing on the cold floor.

I bent over to buckle him up, and he grabbed me in a tighter than usual hug. Pulling away he looked at me with concern as he usually does when I look upset about something, gave me a smile, and blew me a kiss letting me know I would be okay.

He smiled at me as I shut the car door, still smiling as I gave his mother a quick kiss goodbye. They backed out of the garage and he turned his attention toward his mother to start complaining about the music in the typical morning routine.

Walking out of the garage the falcon all but forgotten, the tree had returned to it’s noisy party atmosphere. The falcon in a nook of St. Vincent’s steeple was I imagine feeding her baby’s.

Trying to collect my thought’s before a morning interview I sat on the front steps under the tree and watched the festivities above.