Brown River Queen cover art

Friday, January 7, 2011

Guitar, Man

There are things I don’t need, but would like to have anyway.  Rocket launchers, for instance.  A solid red F-18 fighter jet.  Germany.

But, fortunately for my neighbors and the Germans, I’ll never have any of those things.

And then there are things I don’t need but got anyway.  The motorcycle, for instance.  My ghost-hunting gear.  A small particle accelerator.  All these things give me pleasure because they are, in a word, cool.  Especially when you try to use them all at once, and wind up trapping a pair of poltergeists while riding down the Natchez Trace in a cloud of just-created baryons.  Word to the wise, though – ghosts get really grumpy if you shove them in a saddlebag that already contains dangerous amounts of ionizing radiation.  I’m just saying.

Lately, though, I realized something has been lacking in my life.  There’s been an empty spot I needed to fill.

But what was the nature of this void, and how to fill it?

I pondered many things.  Perhaps my fading youth requires me to grow a ponytail, I thought.  Or get a tattoo.  Or don a cape and fight crime by night.

No, I decided one night while piloting a burning hang-glider into a gasoline storage facility.  These are all fine and noble things, but I look goofy with long hair, I can’t find anyone to give me a UNIX ROX tat, and until criminals start getting much smaller and much weaker, I’ll leave the crime-fighting to the convenience store clerks.

But, amid the explosions, it suddenly hit me – what I need, my friends, is a good solid dose of Rock and Roll.

And not the kind you get by nailing a pair of Sennheisers to your skull and cranking up the stereo.  No, for once, I want to be on the creative side of things.

I want to be the guy playing the guitar.

Quiet down, quiet down.  Seriously.  I expected some laughter, sure, but – look, get that guy a paper bag to breathe in, won’t you?  He’s hyperventilating.

Okay.  I admit it.  I have the musical skills of a sack of rivets.  Maybe not even that.

And I’m not exactly young anymore.  I’m 47.  That’s not the preferred time to set about learning complex new motor skills.

And I’m busy.  I’ve got a full-time day job.  I write at night.  I also build ghost hunting gear and various other gadgets, take care of six needy dogs, and of course there’s the whole piloting burning hang-glider gig, which frankly is turning out to be a bit of a drag in terms of time and medical bills.

So, arguably, this is not a good time to pick up a demanding new pastime.

That‘s good advice.  Usually, I follow good advice.  When people tell me ‘Stop sticking your head in that fan’ or ‘There’s a train coming, get off the tracks,’ I usually heed their advice.

But not this time.

There won’t ever be a good time.  There’s not going to come a time in my life at which I can say ‘Wow, I’ve got six extra hours a day for the rest of my life.’

That’s not how House Arrest works.

So today, I bought an electric guitar.  No amp yet – that will come shortly.  But I got the guitar.  It’s a Raven six-string, made in 2001.  It’s used, but in great shape.  I’d tell you all about it, but first I’ll have to learn the terms.  Right now all I can do is describe the knobby things as knobby and the strings as, um, stringy.

In fact, I’ll sum up here everything I know about playing a guitar:


1) A guitar works by sending the vibrations of the strings into the guitar body and then out to record company executives, who then steal most of the money from the actual musician and leave them the lunch tab.

2) The guitar is played by using those bendy bits on the ‘hands’ to move the strings in certain specific ways.  IMPORTANT NOTE – The phrase ‘Playing by ear’ is NOT to be interpreted literally, because the bleeding takes hours to stop.

3) The neck of the guitar is divided into frets, shires, wetlands, and Indian-head nickels.  The fret you should be fingering is always a good half a meter from wherever your stupid fingers actually are.  That’s why the neck is divided into visible frets, otherwise real guitar players would have difficulty judging just how woefully unskilled you actually are.

4) There are eleven million, eight hundred thousand, four hundred and sixteen major chords, and two minor ones.  Don’t be discouraged; in order to play “Stairway to Heaven,” one must only master all the major chords and either of the minor ones (which, sadly, require eight fingers each).

5) Employing a monkey trained in the savage use of a ball-peen hammer is an effective way to learn proper fingering technique OUCH but remember to OUCH set clear schedules MAN THAT HURTS with the monkey OUCH at the beginning STOP IT OMAR CRAP!

6) There is a huge difference between the stage presence required to write novels and that expected of musicians, so always tie the belt on your natty old bathrobe when performing.

7) Always judge your own guitar technique to that of David Gilmour of Pink Floyd fame.

8) Expect to take some time to learn the guitar.  Some players report the process took them hours, even days.  Don’t be discouraged if, after your first practice session, the finer points of Spanish flamenco sessions are slightly less than perfect.  Given another week, you’ll be headlining at the Orpheum – unless you just suck.  And if you do, well, there’s no excuse for you, loser.

So wish me luck, one and all.  Call it a mid-life crisis.  Call it just another ill-advised foray into realms better left uncharted.

Just don’t call me Shirley…

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