For three semesters, in my academic career, I was enrolled in music school. Not just any music school, mind you, I tall-talked my way into the New School's Guitar Study Center. For three semesters, I learned to make elementary chords on a guitar I optimistically named "Sutego" ("motherless child" in Japanese). Twice a week, I went from Hamden to New Haven to Grand Central to 14th Street, either six minutes early or five minutes late, to be greeted by a tall, Preppy-looking man, who wore brownish clothing, always seemed preoccupied and almost never spoke. (I've long lost his name, but I found out he was, long after I'd left the school, a Grammy-winner.) Keith Richards was teaching master classes that year, under the Townshend Act, in his honor, we all got silver skull rings. Few actually encountered him.
If I had my guitar, he'd wave me in. If not, I got to go to the 'brothel', where the loaner guitars were kept.
It was a warm humid atmosphere that smelled of fine wood. The ladies showed their hips to me. I learned which had which flaws: the crack in the neck, the one that was a little too hard to tune, that one...Once, Brownish Man peeled one off and played "Sor's Etude", without any explanation whatsoever.
And if I was early, he'd unlock the classroom, and I'd tune, strip everything off my fingers and wrists, and we'd start.
Classes were fun, and fairly easy, even though I learned to do things with my fingers that Nature never intended. About all that got roundly chastised was stopping. Just keep going, no matter how awkward the chord change was, just keep on, if you can't do Chuck Berry's exact barre chord, fake with a straight chord, and soldier on. My Waterloo was "Hard Day's Night". It's in the key of F, which is the chord, according to some scholars, of the folk songs sung by pitmen in the coal mining regions of Britain. It might as well have been in the key of S. Naturally, the dominant and subdominant were even more exotic, and there were a few further tortures that I was only to re-encounter when I tried "She Loves You" (the Yeah, Yeah song), where one guitar subs for two. Naturally, I adapted, as an oyster does an inclusion, by making it my pearl.
I got it so there were only a couple of hard bits, then smoothed over the easier ones until there were only a few rock-points sticking up through the drifted snow of my hard repetition.
Although I cannot entirely swallow the idea of an addictive personality, there's something about guitar playing that synchs with knitting, needlework, and perhaps, a great deal of other pre-industrial pursuits. It's not so much that you have a skill, or talent, but that you're very good, and in some cases, very good, at doing a limited set of fine motor skills over, and over, and over, perfectly.Now and then, you're called upon to do something showy -- lead work, where every note sings for itself -- but a lead guitarist can only do so much. There's a reason why it's Keith Richards, not the Brian Jones substitute, who fronts the Rolling Stones...
And on the last day of class, there was the Project. You were to play a song, behind a screen. The instructors would grade you. And then, there'd be two standard speeches:
"Wow, that was great! Now, we've been looking over your skills, and we're just wondering where you'd like to take this talent you have...take your time, maybe you'd like to talk with everyone, see who you'd like as your next teacher.."
"Thank you for your playing. Now, we understand your enthusiasm, but we've been talking...and perhaps your gifts might be better served by some other place in the music business...Have you ever thought of production?"
Everyone knew, if they'd never heard, the second speech. For my third finals, I expected the second, I knew that I'd just been sliding along to up my academic standing. I sat behind the curtain. I announced my piece. "I'd like to play 'Hard Day's Night'." I played.
I cannot remember much of what I played, except trying to get over those little crags that stood up like basalt
in Antarctic snows, in trying to just get through the piece.
Finally, it was over.
My instructor, a vivacious woman with black hair said "That was great."
"Did I pass?"
"Read the remarks. The odd thing is, you don't sound like anyone. You don't sound like Lennon, you don't have Lennon's licks. You like Clapton, but you don't sound Claptonish, either. You like Townshend, and you do a passable Chuck Berry, but that's not your idol, either. It's as if you're just bending the song to sound like what you want it to do. We don't often get that. We're pretty much stumped."
I read the remarks...and the one phrase I got was 'emotionally complex'. Now how could you get that out of being in a cold sweat?