Falling In Love

The one part of my PhD that I desperately wanted to finish was the artist’s statement. It’s an essay of sorts that describes why one creates. In a way, it’s a “Why do you exist” sort of exercise. I really, really wanted to do it. I’ve started it a thousand times. It’s difficult. There is so much that goes into why I do what I do and the lengths to which I’ve gone to sustain my creative work. It seems that many of the tough and counterintuitive decisions I’ve made over the last 20 years have all come down to being about my creative work. That’s hard to believe given how destructive some of my choices were. That’s all (mostly) water under the bridge by this point but I do want to take a crack at explaining myself to all seven of my readers (and two of those might be me). My little girl is making sure that this will never be properly edited. Let’s just turn on the fire hose and let it run. Here goes.

I wish I could remember how old I was when I decided that I wanted to take guitar lessons. My parents were savvy and decided to make sure that I had some skin in the game so they told me that they’d go 50/50 on an instrument. I did some shopping around at Woodsy’s Music in Kent, OH and figured out that a starter Yamaha steel string was going to set me back $150. That meant I had to come up with $75. It may as well have been a million, but it was near enough to my birthday that I had a head start. I also had an allowance of sorts and a job helping deliver papers 3 days a week. The icing on the cake was my super secret plan: saving my lunch money.

My buddy Jeremy helped me out by packing an extra sandwich in his lunch. I was making an extra dollar a day every time I didn’t eat lunch and the cash started to pile up. Before too long the glorious day came that I presented my mom with the cash that I had been saving in a coin bank shaped like a Tootsie Roll. She was a little surprised. True to her word, she took me to Woodsy’s that weekend and we bought the guitar and I was signed up for lessons. Classical guitar lessons. She was paying so my dreams of being Andy Summers or The Edge or Jimi Hendrix were on hold – or so it seemed at the time. I was just excited to have the instrument.

We went home and I took it down to the basement. I laid it out on my lap and strummed it in what was an attempt at rhythm. I can still remember it. The open strings rang out and I was struck by the volume of the instrument. It was a spruce top with laminated sides. The finish was glossy and then neck was narrow but chunky. It was a standard issue dreadnought and in the scheme of all of the guitars made in the world thus far it was utterly forgettable. But I fell in love.

The next week I had my first lesson. My teacher, Ken, was brilliant. He started off by getting me hooked. The first tune I learned was “Another Brick In The Wall.” He transposed it to the key of G and taught me different strumming patterns on the simplified chords. I was hooked. I took to it like a fish to water – at least intellectually.

I practiced almost constantly. I would sit in my room alone and strum to myself. I took the chords I learned and arranged them intuitively. Sometimes it sounded OK. But what I learned quickly was that I could make sounds that moved me. I could do something that made me feel very alive and in a way that only an early teenaged boy can understand I felt validated.

When I was introduced the the Frederick Noad book “Solo Guitar Playing” I memorized the exercises I was given weekly as though they were holy texts. In a very real way they became my practice. They were my religion. I intoned them as a way of keeping myself in tact in those horrendous days of adolescence. In the dying days of my parents’ marriage the guitar was my best friend. It didn’t ask any tough questions and always responded to everything that I did regardless of my mood. I could wail on it in anger and it screamed with me. I could touch its strings softly and it would sing me to sleep.

Practicing and lessons were the only non-negotiables in my life. Sports came and went. Drama came and went. Girlfriends came and went. The only real constant in my life was music. More importantly, guitar music.

I have talked with other musicians and heard the stories of how they came to their instruments. Many were forced into lessons (invariably Suzuki violinists (shudder) and pianists) or picked it up and were surprisingly good at it (clarinets and flutes) and just ran with it. I have known a few who shared the passion for their instrument with me and had the almost shamanic attachment that I do. Returning to their instrument daily meant healing and focus. I’ve started to understand that there are many who have a relationship like this with their work. Writers, painters, actors, and creators of all media fall into that trance and experience a renewal. I can’t explain it though I’ve read many books on the topic. I’m not sure that I really want to know what it is about six strings stretched over a piece of wood that excites every fiber of my being. The why doesn’t matter. It’s that it does that counts.

By the time I was 18 it was all over. I was completely in love with the instrument, its repertoire, and its potential. The world of music was starting to open up to me though admittedly through a fairly narrow and highly opinionated lens. My feet were on the path.

  1. Good thing you’re so damned talented at it, would have been sad if you’d been all thumbs.

  2. You are far too kind! I had my all thumbs period. I’d like to think that I’ve gotten past it by now but I still practice like I haven’t.

    As soon as my little girl settles in we need to make more tunes. I miss collaborating!

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