Hot Twangy Air

Kids, Seen & Heard

I’ve been playing around with the guitar for about four or five years now. I started taking serious lessons a year ago November.

As such, I consider myself nearly the equal of string pluckers like Andres Segovia and Les Paul. That is, when I’m serenading myself in the garage. Oddly, the Loved One, Steve the Dog, and Terra & Kofi the Cats all huddle in an opposite corner of the house, their respective hands and paws over their ears when I play. Don’t ask me why.

Segovia

Andres Segovia

Too, whenever I arrive early for a class with my guitar teacher, the redoubtable Sarah Flint, I sometimes spy her gulping handsful of Extra Strength Tylenol and stuffing cotton wads into her ears. Once I asked her why and she replied, “Oh, don’t mind me, I’m expecting a massive headache coming on within the next half hour.”

Funny thing: Once, a few minutes after our lesson was finished, I came back to her little studio on the square and found her weeping silently. I’m starting to worry about the poor thing.

Anyway, Sarah hipped me to a little recital she was sponsoring for three of her top young students. (I refrained, natch, from quizzing her as to why I wasn’t included in that elite group, but I let it slide). She was to put up three guitarists at Rachael’s Cafe last night so The Loved One and I plowed our way through the 73 feet of snow that has fallen on So Cen Ind in the last week and took it in.

I gotta tell you, we had a ball.

The kids, all under 15, clearly were superior to me. Which means they’ve left pretenders like Segovia and Paul in the dust.

Paul

Les Paul

First let me tell you about the guitar. It ain’t easy. Especially when, like me, you’ve been born with mitts that are better suited to digging ditches without a shovel. See, I’ve got fingers that reveal my mixed ethnic background; they look like so many salsicce and kielbasas.

Whenever I tell people my age that I’ve started taking guitar lessons, they always say it sounds like great fun. And, make no mistake, it is. No more so than when the heretofore dissonant piercing shrieks actually start sounding like music. But, man, it’s a lot of work.

You have to pick up the guitar every single day whether you want to or not. And you have to repeat drills and riffs until you never, ever want to hear them again. Sarah tells me it all has to do with something called muscle memory.

Stubborn old bastard that I am, I’m capable only now of such discipline. When I was, say, 13 years old, I would no more be able to practice PRN as I would walk across Lake Michigan.

Yet the three kids last night really have to have been punching away for regular long hours.

A young gal named Nidhi played a bunch of Green Day songs, some of which, when she announced them, drew gasps of excitement from her teeny-bopper coterie in the audience. She threw in odds and ends like a Lana Del Rey song. Her parents leaped to their feet to cheer when she finished her set.

Nidhi

Nidhi

The Loved One and I immediately agreed scenes like this really would have made parenthood fun had we decided to add to the population. After a beat, though, we also agreed that’d probably be pretty much the only reason to do so.

The next kid up was was an eighth-grader named Serena. She played a few ’90s and ‘aughts pop tunes and, believe it or not, actually did a listenable little version of “Goodnight, Irene.”

A force of nature named Joey finished up the program. He opened his set with “Build Me Up, Buttercup” and even did his interpretation of the original Ocean’s Eleven classic, “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head?”

Serena/Joey

Serena Grins As Joey Strums

Joey’s a funny kid. I know him from the Book Corner where he comes in regularly to update me on his whirlwind life. The kid converses with me as if we’re equals, which is astounding. When I was 14, as he is now, I was scared to death of grown ups. I figured they’d hit me at any moment, or at least call the authorities to report me for the crime of being heard.

Ergo, the most common term in my vocabulary when forced to communicate with adults was the non-specific grunt.

Today, life’s different for young kids. In my day, not only were adults flamboyantly not interested in anything a teenaged kid had to say, our sparse accomplishments were spectacularly unimportant to them.

I recall playing Little League baseball in front of empty stands. No one’s parents came to see them play baseball when I was a kid. Parents were too busy earning a living and and cooking dinner. Not only that, we were certain, they couldn’t have cared less if we’d struck out five times that day or hit a home run every time at bat. We figured that’s the way it was supposed to be.

And before you haul out the violins for me and my generation, keep in mind that on those rare occasions when a parent would show up to watch one of our games — say a dad who was on vacation that week — we weren’t all that pleased. After all, we wouldn’t be able to drop F-bombs that day.

We understood that there was a kids’ world and an adults’ world. And god forbid the twain should meet. The only time adults broke the wall and came into our world was to grab us by the ear to drag us home because, say, report cards had been issued.

Now, it seems, parents and kids occupy the same world. That planet is alien and, quite frankly, disconcerting to me. Then again, Joey’s mom, for instance, had to wipe the tears from her eyes as her kiddo played his first song. And even when he made mistakes — missing a beat, say, or getting himself lost in the middle of a song — she’d flash him the thumbs-up sign and nod to let him know all would be well.

That kind of interplay warms my heart, especially when I recall the parents I’d known, the ones who’d snarl at their kids that we pay good goddamn money for those lessons and you’d better do what the teacher tells you and practice so you don’t make mistakes. To be followed by a clunk on the head, naturally.

Here’s a hoot: There were, actually, one or two sets of parents in my old neighborhood who were supportive and encouraging. Naturally, the rest of us, parents and kids, viewed them as dangerous oddballs.

Like I say, it’s a new world. I think I like this one better.

That’s all for today. Peace, love and soul.

[MG Note: Go ahead, give in to your dreams and start taking guitar lessons. You won’t find a better teacher than Sarah Flint. Contact her now.]

One thought on “Hot Twangy Air

  1. John Bergman says:

    Find someone who wants to play guitar with you (Joey, perhaps). Then pick up a bass, as your hands are absolutely made for it. Basic bass is simple — if you know chords, you can easily figure where to move around. You can try it on your guitar by damping the strings a bit. Put a little drum beat on the computer. Fumble around a few songs, (or better, jam on a 3 chord rock progression) then feel the thrill as you two begin to lock in together. Rhythm, my friend, divine rhythm.
    I think that’s what’s addicting to most musicians. It’s not so much the cosmic thrill of “Expressing Yourself.” It’s locking in tight and rocking, whatever style you’re playing. When it’s good, it’s great. And when it’s great, it’s the closest you can get to a state of grace short of wandering in the desert starved till you hallucinate God. When you hear effortless musical perfection, then see the musicians turn and smile broadly at each other, you know that’s where they’re at: Graceland.

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