“I just hate to be in one corner. I hate to be put as only a guitar player, or either only as a songwriter, or only as a tap dancer. I like to move around.” – Jimi Hendrix / http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ad2EPO_y0ps
While in that strange haze, before trying my hand at the guitar, I saw a documentary about The Ramones with my friend Chelsea Kate Isaacs. They are the definitive punk band, leather jacket clad rockers from Forest Hills, Queens. The Ramones got on stage and didn’t give a damn. Something stopping me, before that point, was a fear of being terrible at playing guitar, if I actually tried.
While Dylan opened my mind, The Ramones, who I barely even listen to, may have taught me to stop caring. Chelsea thought the documentary would inspire me, in some way, even encouraging me to play some atrocious rudimentary guitar immediately after watching. “Well The Ramones only knew about three or four chords. And they were just kids on the block in Queens… Put those two things together and you probably wouldn’t guess they’d be rock legends… but they did it,” Isaacs offered. “They were passionately rebellious and didn’t give a damn what anyone thought about them or their music… they truly believed they were rock stars. If you believe it, then everyone else will. Forget everything else, it’s that rock and roll attitude that propels a band… and The Ramones epitomized it.”
-Lay down your weary tune, lay down-
I’m not a phenomenal guitar player. But that kind of perspective, self-belief, transcends music. Maybe, in some way, while playing guitar, I feel all the different parts of my human condition being somehow reconciled. My friend Amanda Adams recently started playing the axe herself, and her motivations were certainly relatable.
“Although I’ve been playing the piano since I was 5, I feel much more connected to the guitar, even though I only picked it up a week ago,” she said, when asked for a reason. “I tried playing some of my favorite rock songs on the piano but they just didn’t sound the same. So one day I just woke up and decided ‘you know what? I’m getting a guitar today and I’m learning it!’”
She then cited interaction, between her body and mind. “Instead of just pressing keys on a keyboard that cause wood to hit strings, on the guitar your hands are touching the strings, altering sounds with just a move of your finger… The energy flows through your mind into your arm to your fingertips and finally to the guitar. It’s an instrument full of passion. It’s directly connected to you, to your body. I started learning my favorite songs on it and I haven’t put it down since. When I’m away… [From the guitar] sometimes all I can think about is getting home and playing. I get in this zone when I play. It doesn’t matter how bad I am since I’m a beginner. Hours go by without me noticing I’ve been sitting on my butt for hours. All I keep hearing in my head is the final product and I just can’t wait to get there. I relax when I play and all my worries go away. It’s like the world shuts off and it’s just me and my guitar. In that moment nothing else matters.”
Reading Amanda’s explanation, I am reminded of Dylan, and my epiphany about connection. Perhaps it was about more than music. Songs connected to an album, artists connected to each other, players connecting with their instrument, it’s all real… and it’s not about success or attention, but finding that spark.
What could it possibly mean?
“Music is everything,” said my guitar teacher Chris Parks, when asked about why he cared about it so much. “Without music, there’s nothing.”
I do know that fear leads nowhere. And music is somewhere.