I’ve always wanted to play the guitar. To the point where, oh these many decades ago when I was 15, I took my life savings in babysitting money and bought myself a beautiful $200 Guild acoustic folk guitar. People my age are probably gasping because, young’uns, we remember how vast a sum $200 was way back when and how many months of babysitting — at what I recall was about 75¢ an hour — that chunk of change represents. However, I didn’t get just any guitar. I lived in Newport, Rhode Island at the time, site of the famed Newport Folk Festival, where every folk luminary has played but which also launched Janis Joplin, where Bob Dylan electrified and where Johnny Cash introduced Kris Kristofferson. The music store I went to was famous as a festival gathering place where a lot of the acts would sell, buy and swap instruments. While I was in the shop, trying guitars and finding that most were too big for my small hands, a sales person brought out a used Guild guitar from the back. He said it had just been traded in by a woman about my size who’d been playing the Festival. I have no idea who that artist was — but, of course, I like to believe it was Joan Baez. It probably wasn’t. But my guitar can boast a little bit of street cred.
So the next chapter should be how I practiced and practiced and am now a guitar virtuoso. Sadly, that is not the case. I think I managed to teach myself three chords and finally got to the point where I could plink out a slow, halting version of “I Ride an Old Paint”. Then my little brother walked into the room. As is often the case, talent is not evenly distributed in families. My brother not only got all the musical ability in our immediate family, he got all the musical talent that should have been evenly distributed among at least seven generations of our family. He asked if he could hold my guitar and, without to my knowledge ever before having played a note, he blasted out a perfect Pete Townshend/Who riff. I put down that guitar and never picked it up again.
Well here I am, four decades later, thinking it’s now or never. And it’s tough going. I’ve signed up for guitar lessons starting August 1st. I figured that would give me time to toughen my fingers and relearn a few chords. It’s gonna take more time than that. So far, following along in a Teach Yourself Guitar book, I’ve mastered holding the guitar and putting the strap properly over my shoulders. I have yet to master even one chord as those steel strings cut into my fingers so much I can only play for five minutes at a time. I’ve also revised my original plan to learn three chords. That’s probably two chords too many for my current lack of proficiency. Sadly, there are no one chord songs, so I’ve been scouring the downloadable music sites for two chord songs I might have a hope of learning. So far, I’ve found several: Jambalaya (Hank Williams, good!), Skip to My Lou (Pete Seeger version), Down in the Valley (Earl Scruggs version) and He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands. Even with two chords, the tempo and strumming patterns for these songs are still daunting to me. The easiest two chord song I’ve found is — horror of horrors — Achy Breaky Heart. I don’t think I can go there. Whatever songs I attempt at this point are going to be played ad nauseum. I just don’t think I could stand to hear Achy Breaky Heart even once, let alone every day at every practice session. Not that I’m at any point where I can plink out a song with even the scant proficiency of Billy Ray Cyrus.
So here I am, trying, in five minute chunks, to learn the C and the G chord so I can play my two chord repertoire. I’d update you on how it goes. But my fingertips are hurting so much at this point, I may have to choose between blogging and playing. Or texting. Or really doing anything with my hands. Makes me wonder why I didn’t choose a safer instrument. Like a ukulele. Or a kazoo.