Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Play Guitar: Completing the Circle

There's a tai chi move in the long form I used to know, Play Guitar. (Got some evocative names in that old Yang-style dance: Needle at Sea Bottom, Wave Hands Like Clouds, Stork Spreading the Wing to Cool. And I used to have a couple of students who were really funny guys made up some amusing variations: Carry Dynamite to Tiger's Mouth; Step Back and Repulse Monkey While Eating Fried Chicken ...)

Apropos of nothing really, save as an esoteric segue into why I changed my guitar strings, as mentioned here a couple posts back: I had another party gig at which I played and sang.

Same group of people as at Mardi Gras. A pot-luck, as these gatherings tend to be, to avoid making it too much work for the hosts. When they called to ask what we'd make, we offered our standard, boiled shrimp with my special seafood sauce. 

Oh, and, bring your guitar, why don't you?

So, after supper, which included Grand Marnier flamed crepes, all of us full and having had champagne, outstanding red wine, and dessert sauterne that was the best such anybody I even know ever had, we adjourned to the living room and I cranked up the guitar for a few songs. 

I gave them a little bit of history with each: Levon Helm, the drummer for The Band, died a couple weeks ago, so I offered "The Weight," told them about Dylan, Big Pink, and The Last Waltz.

Told them the story of Patti Boyd, George Harrison's first wife, and how Eric Clapton fell in love with her when he and Harrison were best buds. About the four songs the two men wrote for Patty–"Layla," "Bell Bottom Blues," "You Look Wonderful Tonight," (Clapton); "Something in the Way She Moves," (Harrison.) Played "Bell Bottom Blues."

(Aside: After Harrison and Boyd split, she and Clapton married. They had a child who died tragically, fell from an apartment window. Clapton wrote "Tears in Heaven," for his son. 

Lot of rock songs and a blues come out of bad relationships and hard times. And you can get an autographed picture of Patti from her website for twenty pounds ...)

Did "Pick Up Truck Woman," one of mine; finished with "Hallelujah," by Leonard Cohen. I had "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and "Hey, Jude," in reserve, the only two I might have done to follow "Hallelujah." Some songs are hard to follow. But four were enough.

I did okay. Hit a few clams, warbled a couple notes, but they were an easy audience, and especially having had a few drinks, which tends to knock one's critical abilities down a couple notches.

Back in the day, when I knew three or four chords and everything I played sounded like "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore," I would whip out the guitar and sing my entire repertoire at the raise of an eyebrow: You play? Oh, hell, yes! In my youthful exuberance and arrogance, I thought I was pretty good, and was fearless about demonstrating it. No stage fright. 

No chops, either, but that didn't stop me.

A long period went by, decades, during which the guitar sat in its case parked next to the file cabinet. Only time I would drag it out is when I was feeling moody. My wife came home from work and I was strumming my three chords? "What's wrong?" she'd ask.

Playing on strings that were sometimes ten years old ...

Then one day I looked up from a story upon which I was working and not very excited about, and determined that I wanted to learn how to play the guitar beyond my minuscule ability, to make it a creative activity. I knew I wouldn't live long enough to get good at it, but I knew that in five years, I was gonna be five years older, I was still here, and I could be five years deeper into practice or not. And I love music, so ...

So, for the second time since I started trying to get better, I did a solo gig. Made easier by having been in a couple of jam groups, and more so because the audience was a group of friends who didn't expect much, but still, I've circled around to a place where I used to be. True, it's scarier now than it was, because I know what good chops are supposed to be, and I'm not there yet. But it's very much mountain-no mountain-mountain zen, and still somewhat amazing ...


steve-vh said...

forgot to mention, our group is finally playing our first official public gig.
The piano player is moving to Aruba for two years to teach so we're doing a farewell concert.
Renting a local converted movie theater.
Bass player and I are thrilled, everyone else? Scared and excited.
and finally a band name. "Steve Machine"!

Steve Perry said...

That is cool. Get somebody to video up and stick it up on YouTube or somewhere.

Will Nelson said...

I found your blog after buying/replacing Matadora with e-copy.
Your 'work' is highly appreciated.
Where/when you playing?

Steve Perry said...

Me? I'm jamming with a group of old farts once a week. Steve Van Harn is the guy doing a gig in public.

steve-vh said...

hmm, hadn't thought to do a video. we've done a few recording through the mixer and I thought about doing a concert one as a farewell gift.
but a youtube clip? Now you've got something!!! Now to decide which songs. Santana for certain.