Sunday, December 19, 2010

Please Refer to My Corpse as “Jane Do-Re-Mi”

A couple of years ago, when I started running my mouth about how desperately I wanted to learn how to play the guitar, I was given a pimped-out acoustic one as a gift. It’s become a decoration in my home, part of my interior design, propped up against a wall in my living room. I usually forget it’s there until someone comes into my apartment for the first time, points to it, and asks: “you play?” And all I can say is: “huh?”

Today, I had my first one-on-one lesson. I wiped some of the dust off my latest musical instrument before walking it (without any kind of carrying case) across the park. “Good luck - hope you turn the place out,” a bursting-with-pride panhandler sang out as I passed.

The place almost turned me out. Since the caseless guitar and my coat were so heavy, I didn’t feel like adding a purse or my bulging wallet to the mix. The only small items I stuffed into my pockets were a wad of cash, my phone, and my keys. The music-lesson building’s front-desk security guard scolded me for not carrying any forms of ID. “What if you were in a serious accident? We wouldn’t have any idea who you were and would have to call you Jane Doe.” This was one of the only times in my adult life that I didn’t argue or talk back when provoked. I’d been looking forward to my session for a damn long time and needed this police-academy prodigy to let me through.

When I finally met my teacher, I told him I wanted to play an Ani DiFranco song. He was all: “Uh, I don’t think so,” because she uses an atypical tuning style that’s not fit for beginners. That’s about when I lost most of my interest in this mission. The whole reason I ever signed up for guitar lessons was so I could learn an Ani song – immediately. (And the instructor later pronounced Ani’s name as “Annie.”)

I regained my composure and was shown the standard way of tuning the strings. By the time we finished this drill, I was ready to pack up my ID-free belongings and call it a wrap. But we had 50 minutes left to go.

I'm not supposed to have this much trouble mastering the basics. I had repeatedly been told that it’s usually pretty easy for people with formal musical backgrounds to pick up the guitar. I do have a formal musical background. It may have been 15-20 years ago – but it’s there.

When I got back home, I started practicing within 3 minutes of walking through the door so I wouldn’t forget any of my new skills. After successfully tuning the top few strings, I tried working on one of the lower ones, twisting and turning its tuning knob. There was a mini-explosion and a sharp sting against my hand. The string had dramatically popped off from one of its ends and is now lopsidedly dangling by a thread. So’s my future in the music-making business. Again.

For a full hour after my only “serious accident” of the day, I was taunted by the sound of my upstairs neighbor expertly strumming his own unbroken, exquisitely-tuned acoustic guitar. I sat on my couch, listening, resting my head on one of my hands. The other hand was busy tapping my old tambourine as back-up. I’m better at percussion.


  1. Didn't you have an acoustic guitar decorating your basement as a child? Thought that may have given you some practice..

  2. I have figured out how to do comments. Just want to say, hang in there with the guitar, if it gives you pleasure.

    Fondly, Jain