The Ole Ax

I used to play guitar obsessively, at least an hour a day and often more, but although I did this for years and years I never got any better after the first year. I could never pick without getting over-excited and just sending my fingers fluttering all over the strings. I have a hard time playing in any rhythm other than some private one that courses through me and comes out in every song. I painstaking learned about three “hard” songs — “Over the Hills and Far Away” was one  — but rarely made it through one without messing up.

I never had any but the slightest dreams of being a pro, anyway, and I never lined up  even the paltriest  coffee shop type gigs. I suppose with lessons I might have gotten a tad better, but maybe it was never really about that. It was just something I did because I enjoyed the feeling of playing. I liked the ringing strings and the cathartic quality of belting out a song. (I would sing, too, but I’m terrible).

I have a friend who’s a painter who said once he loves the process of painting but hates everything he’s painted (even though he’s had some success at it). That’s how I am with guitar. The difference is that everybody else hates it to, or at best tolerates it because they like me personally and find something kind of sad and beautiful about my quixotic efforts to make music.

I don’t think I quit guitar all at once. It kind of petered out. I stopped playing every day. I would get a new guitar book and after stumbling through a couple of songs, set it aside and do something else where  before I would have done nothing but play all night, and maybe forget to eat dinner. And then, as I focused more and more on my writing, I put it away for good.

YEARS went by where I would not take the guitar out even once. I would think pretty often about getting the guitar out, but never do it.

One day I listened to The Avett Brothers “Kick Drum Heart,” and I thought about how much fun it would be to play that song, and how it couldn’t be that hard. I had heard it before, but this time I went home and went into the darkest corner of the basement and found the guitar and brought it upstairs and tuned it and sorted out the chords to “Kick Drum Heart” and strummed it for a good twenty minutes while Byron tried to strum the strings and then found a harmonica to “accompany” me.

And now every day I come home and play for like fifteen minutes, which is all I can do with the kid, etc., and it’s great. I’m getting back my modest leve of skill and my calluses. I’ve missed this part of me and I’m glad to have it back.

But I’m still not that good.

The Ole Ax

2 thoughts on “The Ole Ax

  1. I never got past the F chord on my guitar. My fingers just won’t do it. But I picked up the ukelele this year — just a few months ago actually — and like most new things I do, I obsessively obsessed over it. It’s much easier to play anything in the key of C on the uke, and I only need two fingers for the F chord and they stay right next to each other. But I don’t have much patience and my reach often exceeds my grasp and I get frustrated easily when I want to play a song and I bump along and mess up. I don’t have a good head for remembering lyrics, either. Much of what you describe in your post sounds very, very familiar.

    I mostly play for my preschool classroom, and they seem to tolerate it okay. I don’t think I’ll ever be great, or even very good on the uke or anything else. Not in the way I picked up photography and found I really got very good at it, and not in the way that writing is just a part of me. And I’m at the point where I’m starting to plateau and it feels like work and it makes me kind of sad, because I thought it would be more fun that this. Maybe I need to push through. Or pull back. Or just not overthink it.

  2. That’s the great thing about music (and for some, writing) – it can just be for self…it doesn’t have to be work, it can just be pleasure 🙂

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